Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Pictures

These are pictures that my Mom took over thanksgiving weekend..

Here are some pictures from that Thanksgiving weekend - I don't seem to have any with my cousins though...

What a beautiful weekend..

My dad holding his dog Sophie and my uncle Don

My mom Carol and her sister (aunt)Vickii

Don wondering how he can get my ATV in his Nissan (behind him)

Dad, Sophie (back turned to camera) Mom

Vickii, Dad, Don and Nick

The morning after the night from hell when Casey woke me up every hour. I am trying to smile but just staying awake was a chore. Why do they look so happy?

Vickii, Don and some big Amazon that showed up for dinner. We tried to use the play house to keep Sophie in but Dad had a problem with that...

Wow! we are a pale bunch... and when did I get that fat?

Friday, December 11, 2009

December 11th... has it been that long?

I have been so busy since my last post on Thanksgiving day so let's see if I can get you up to date....

That saturday of Thanksgiving weekend I had some of my family up at the house. It was a blast! I had spent the day before priming the whole kitchen and it looks better even with just the primer. I was so proud of myself for getting that done. And I fixed the gasket on the wood stove so I can use it again. At the dinner on Sat was my mom and dad (and their dog Sophie), my aunt vickii and uncle don from Oregon and my cousin Larry with his wife Kerri and son Noah. Oh and Nick too! My family is what you might call rambunctious.. a little loud, love to eat and lots of fun. I really enjoyed having Vickii and Larry there since I hadn't seen them since Cindy's funeral. It was nice to be able to do things with them without it being incredibly sad.
We ate a lot, drank some, rode the atv around and generally just had a good time. They all loved the view from the deck and shook their heads at the funny addition the previous owners did. No one can make any sense of it either.
Mom and Dad and Vickii and Don all spent the night. Unfortunately, Casey was very sick all night and I had to keep taking her outside. She was up about every hour and it just wore me out... Nick drove us both home in the morning and we left the truck up there. Mom and Dad stayed for a bit and helped clean up.. what troopers! Casey was fine by Monday but man.. that was ruff! (a bad bit of humor there)
When I got home to Moraga, things were not good. Remember the call from my neighbor on Thanksgiving day about the transformer that blew out? Well.. I got home and I had no heat, no hot water (I have a tankless water heater, all computerized), no washer or dryer and no range. They all had their chips melted down and were not working.  So for the last week and a half I have been getting things repaired or replaced. It has not been fun I can tell you. I am so busy at work right now too! But today I got my dryer which is the last remaining appliance and I am happy.....

On Monday Dec 7th, we got hit with a big cold storm and we got snow here in Moraga. Nick wanted to go up to Mokehill to see the snow but I wouldn't let him.. here are some pictures of that:

out in front of my house

my snow covered rose

snow covered dwarf orange tree

view from my balcony


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving !

Today is Thanksgiving and it is my 2nd favorite holiday after Christmas. It is the first time though that I have spent it by myself. It was totally my choice to come up to Mokehill even though Nick has to be at his dad's house and my parent's were at home. Saturday, my parents are coming, my aunt and uncle who live in Oregon and maybe my sis and niece and my cousins... lots of maybes but I am happy with whomever comes.

I am at the house right now and using an ATT connection thingie my work gave me in case of an emergency. It sorta works.. but it is slow and takes a long time to load things. This webpage took 5 mins..

Today I got a call from my neighbor in Moraga that a transformer blew out and some of the appliances were smoking... and the fire dept was there and yes... my house was affected. They couldn't get in to check but looked through the windows and didn't see anything on fire. PGE is supposed to pay for the damaged items so when I get home I will have to check. Everything was off but I have that big flat screen tv and nick's gaming computer that are really expensive... hope they made it okay.

I have been  priming the kitchen walls and got that done finally. I was painting the kitchen ceiling but ran out of paint so I will need to get some tomorrow and finish it. Hope Lowe's isn't a zoo... don't see how it could be but you never know.

Walked down by the creek and saw a covey of quail with at least 30 birds! Amazing! We have them in Moraga but not that many in one group. They are living in that mass of branches from all those down trees. So maybe I will leave those for now.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! And I hope this gets posted... 


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nov 14th and 15th

The dog and I went up to the hill house this weekend and brrrr... it was chilly up there! But I was so excited because it meant that I could finally fire up the wood stove. When I got there I got the ATV out and moved some more wood from the front.. just 1 load. Then I rode down the hill over to the meadow area. Casey actually followed me really well and only ran in front of the ATV 1 time and stopped. She seemed to really like running with me like that! Until she had to come up the hill back to the house. That was a bit slow but she is an old lady so I can't blame her.

I finished 2 window screens and that took a long time. You can't buy premade screens anymore, they just don't make them. So you have to buy these kits and build them yourself. The screen frame is held together by these plastic pieces you shove into the corners. The problem is that they break really easily! I thought I could put it together, see if it fit in the window, pull it apart and fix the length and put them back together. Nope. Once they are in, they are stuck and pulling them out will break them. I broke 3 corners at one time because I pulled 1 corner too hard and the frame twisted and the others snapped. I was so mad! I had to use the corners from the 3rd kit just to finish the 2 screens. Now I have to see if I can find some corners somewhere so that I can build the last screen I need in the living room. It took me about 2 hours to put the screens together and another hour to get the screening material in. It would have gone faster if I hadn't used the old screen as a guide. You see they made the screen that was in the window too big and they were keeping it up (and together) with tape and I didn't realize the size was wrong. I put a new one together and just figured it would work and of course it didn't. I should have known. Nothing in that house was done right and that is why everything has to be redone.

I lit up the woodstove that night and boy does it warm up the place! But I forgot that I wasn't suppose to close the door because the paint is curing and the material used around the door will stick to the stove. It is fiberglass insulation braided together in a rope and glued around the door frame. I had to go out so I closed the door tight and when I came back, half of the baffle fell down. I have just ordered some more glue so I can stick it back on. Here is a picture..

1st fire in wood stove!

Other news.. my mom's friend's plants are all still alive. I watered them well and hopefully they will get some rain here soon to keep them going.
No signs of the rats so I am hoping that with the trees gone and my bugging them they have left the attic. Dad is bringing his long ladder up, over Thanksgiving, so that I can plug up the holes that are way up high.
Mom and Dad are coming up for Thanksgiving. I got a 18lb turkey because last time I cooked for just the 3 of us they complained that my turkey was too small! I plan to be up there all weekend so if anyone wants to come visit, give me a call! I can't guarantee that I won't put you to work though... :)


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Quiet Sunday... in Moraga

I needed to stay home this weekend and just try and recover some.. running between the 2 houses and working has made me tired. But today I feel much better and will go out and work in my (little) yard here that I have been neglecting so much. I have some tulip bulbs that are sold in sets that I bought to plant in pots. They have been "chilling" in Nick's drink frig and he had a hard time explaining to his friends why they were there! Oh well! We picked up a sofa bed, chair and drop leaf table this weekend for free. I belong to this yahoo group called freecycle and this lady was getting rid of all this stuff. I got the sofa and chair for nick's basement room and the table for the dining room. I am going over the Thanksgiving weekend and my parent's might come up so I needed a bigger table. And did I mention it was free?
This group is a great resource for giving and getting stuff. I got someone to pick up the bricks in my yard for free off of it. Annoyed my dad because he said I should have sold them but I knew that I didn't have the back strength to dig them out and stack them and the sell them.. so someone else did it for me.
They have all sorts of things on there and you would be surprised at what people are trying to give away.
To find a group go to Yahoo Groups and type in Freecycle to find the one in your area.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I ditched the Moraga house for a quick trip up to Mokehill this past Halloween weekend. Not a lot to share but I did get the wildflowers seeds out there, and the plants my mom's friend gave me got planted. So some stuff got done on my list!
My dog, Casey, found me a Halloween trick in the garage...

Baby Scorpion in my Garage
He/She was very small about 1 1/2 inches so I wasn't feeling threatnened at all.. in fact it was so small it disappeared into a crack in the floor! Casey hears these things or smells them and goes over and sniffs around until I notice what she is doing and come investigate. It was a bag on the floor that she never paid attention to before.. and there she is pushing it with her nose trying to move it. So I waltz over and pick it up and this big beetle comes out! I mean big... 2 inches or more! (that thing scared me!) I think that is what all the fuss is about and I go to move the bag, and there is a movement again.. and there is this little scorpion. Kinda of a creepy moment to have on Halloween...and my dog is going nuts because she wants to eat it and I am trying to get a picture of it...i got a bad one as you can see. (My life sometimes feels like it should be on candid camera... or for the young crowd out there... punk'd. I sometimes catch myself doing stupid/clumsy/crazy things and think, I am glad no one is here to see this!)

There are 3 things up in the hills that give people trouble:
1. Rattlesnakes  - poisonous
2. Scorpions - Ouch!
3. Tarantulas - Scary but not poisonous

I have had 2 of 3 so far... waiting for my next creepy crawlie!

Oh! I got my home warranty information finally!! Scorpions are not covered... I checked..


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The problem of too much "to-do" and not enough "to-do it with"

Oct 27,2009

The wind is really blowing here in Moraga today! I can just imagine what it is doing up in the hills. I am wrestling with what to do next on my list and where I am going to find the time and money to do it.
I like keeping lists, even if they are just in my head because they help me focus, and weigh my priorities. Here is my short-term "to-do" list:

Not in any particular order:
1. Replace the window screens that are missing or destroyed. (I have the material do that just need to get to it. (time)
2. Paint the kitchen.. for pete's sake I need to just get this done. I don't have the paint bought yet though.. (time & money)
3. Move all the remaining logs from the front yard area. (ugg... time)
4. Plant the seeds I ordered and the other plants that I have gotten from my mom's friend. (time)
5. Block the rat entrance points and place the poison in the attic. (time)
6. Get some kind of flooring down in Nick's room. There is just concrete right now and an area rug. (time & money)
7. Remove the dead trees from the planting area down the hill and rebuild the planter boxes. (time)

As you can see most of these are time related... with 2 having money issues. Right now I have used up my budget for renovation for a I am going to have to get creative and figure out how to pay for some of these things.

Long term to do's are all being pushed to next year until I can get the budget saved up....

If there is anyone out there that has hardwood flooring they are ripping out, would love to talk to you!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wildflower Seeds- in BULK!

I was able to find an online resource for wildflower seed mixes that are just for my area... trouble is that I had to buy 2 pounds to meet their minimum order size. That will cover about 6000 sq ft so I will be spreading them around lots of places I guess... more than I thought I would. Hope something actually grows!

The stump grinder guy called and he finished the stumps in the front yard. But then said that when he was unloading the grinder from his truck, the truck lost traction and slid down my driveway into a fence post. And got stuck.. so he had to call out a tow truck to "unstick" him.. apparently my fence post is bent a little and his truck is fine. I can just imagine what that must have looked like! And thankfully the post stopped it from continuing down the hill or he would have been in a world of hurt!
** Just got off the phone with Tom, the guy who did the stump grinding. He parked his truck and trailer on my driveway on the hill. The slope there is steep... and he could have pulled up to the flat part on top. He put it in park and proceeded to off load the grinder. When the grinder hit the ground, the weight came off the trailer and popped the wheels up on the truck and it started sliding. The truck headed to the left and the trailer went 90 degrees to the right. This means the truck was sliding to go over that steep hill next to the road. It hit one of my big fence posts and stopped but was completely wedged since the trailer was 90 degrees from the back of the truck.. he had to have a tow truck come out and yank everything into the right position. I can't imagine the horror of watching your vehicle start sliding towards that hill! He says he has learned his lesson and will now use blocks.. good grief!**

Oh and the home warranty saga continues.. just got an email from the company saying that all my mail is being returned to them. Really? Maybe if you would fix your records after the first time I called it would help! Sorry... sarcasm sneaking out.. :) So I politely emailed them the correct MAILING address and hopefully the 4th time is the charm!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Taxes and Home Warranties

This week has been so strange because I have been sick and still trying to work and do house stuff..
My home warranty company on this house has a big problem with property address vs. mailing address. It has been since June and they still can't seem to mail me the warranty information to my Moraga address. I called them again to request it and to ask if my policy covers rats.. and unfortunately it doesn't. it is back to the planned assualt whenever I can get back there again.
I highly recommend a home warranty especially the first year, just not sure I will use this company again.
Just paid the property tax bill on both houses and it is strange... the Calaveras county tax collector has valued my property at $70,000 more than I paid for it. I think that is probably right since other houses in the area are selling for $200k more.. but still.. why didn't they use the sales price?
Oh and my financial adviser said I need to build up my cash reserves again.. only have about 2 months worth in there. That was something I was aware of with all the expenses I have had... but I am working on paying down my debt. Maybe I will change that up a bit and move more into my emergency fund when I sell my stock next time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quick Trip - 10/17/09

I went up to the house this weekend for a quick overnight trip to check to see how things were after the big storm. According to the locals the winds were fierce and the power went out but everything looked okay. No leaks in the house and the crawl space was dry, so that is a good thing.

There were dozens of baby lizards running around, about 2-3 inches long feasting on the bugs that the rain brought out. Oh the bugs were just crazy! We have had a pretty bug free couple of months, but this weekend there were things flying in the air that I had never seen before. My young buck was there again in the back yard area. He is just not afraid of me even though I tried to shoo him off so I can let the dog out. He actually seems to be interested in what I am doing... not the smartest deer in the herd. Thankfully, we don't allow hunting in the subdivision so he should be safe as long as he stays around.. he is just too familiar with people to be in "wilder" areas. He would never survive!  

I didn't do much because I have been fighting a cold.. just hung up some mini-blinds in the bedroom. I don't need any window coverings for privacy because no one can see me, but I do for the light coming in the morning. Casey seems to think that as soon as it gets light out it is time to wake up! Which means it is time for me to get up... at the crack of dawn. Here in Moraga it is almost always overcast in the morning so she gets up when my alarm goes off... but there.. it is bright in the morning and all the animals are making noise and my normally lazy dog becomes energized.
The same thing happens with people as well. After the Columbus Day weekend Nick said that I was actually acting like a normal person on vacation. I have vacation "to-do" lists running in my head the same as my normal "to-do" lists and find it hard to slow down. I get this from my dad who took us to Hawaii when I was 15 or 16 and made a point of seeing everything on the islands worth seeing... no laying on the beach for us! Nope we got our money's worth from that vacation. But up there, I know I have at least 2 years of work but it seems I am also okay just sitting on my deck watching the animals.
Speaking of my dog Casey, where did it get written in the dog genetic code that rolling in stinky stuff is a good thing? She went out and found a mess of deer poo.. diarrhea like stuff and rolled in it with determination and purpose. I mean come on! She hates baths so I have to tie her up outside to hose her off..I just don't get it. I watched one show that said that wolves do it to mask their scent when they are hunting, but the only thing my dog hunts is flies. (She is really good at that too!)
I was hoping my rat problem would go away with the trees gone but even with the rat highway and bridge system torn out, they are still there. (Determined little varmints!)  I have the stuff now to really go after them and block all their entrances but was not up to balancing on a ladder that was set on a slope while all alone. Nope... so they get to enjoy the good life for a bit longer.

Almost over this stupid cold and next week is the final birthday party for Nick at my parent's house.. so the birthday month is finally going to be over!

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Snake...and NICKS 17th Bday

Looking at google pictures, I think my baby rattler was actually a gopher snake.. that and he was so mellow! Unless I am really, really sure I will treat all the snakes as poisonous... I like snakes because they eat rats and I HATE rats...

Going to try and go up this weekend to the house but I am not feeling so good.. will see how I am in the morning..

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Columbus Day(Nick's Photos) by Nick

The dirty ATV after a morning ride.

The FIRE PIT!!! and the big log Jason and I hauled up with the ATV.

The first tree that was laying across the path you either had to go up and around or over...

The mess that was 4 trees fallen in the same area at once on the path... Jason and I cleared it out. Amazing what an ATV, chainsaw, axe and a bunch of hatchets can do.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day Weekend

Nick, Jason and I went up to the house this weekend and it was quite a surprise to see all the trees in the front cut down. I knew it was coming since I hired them but it sure looked different. All that was left was piles and piles of wood... when all that dries I will have a bunch of firewood for the next few years..

Here is a before picture:

Front before

And here is now..

Front minus the trees

Because I live in a high fire area I am supposed to have 100 ft of defensible space around the house. I think I have it now! The blue tarps are covering the piles that are left out in the yard because it is supposed to storm really hard this week. We moved one pile under the deck in the back to give it a better shot at staying dry. I am going to put out some wildflower seeds and hope they take... just to try and keep down the weeds.

When we drove up on Saturday the deer were everywhere including a new buck that we hadn't seen before. (actually, he might have been the "teen" deer we saw in early summer that was hanging with the baby. Only now he has some small antlers.) He was hanging out with the 2 females and our "baby" that was born there... she is getting big !
Here is her picture...

Our baby is about 3 months old now... she is not afraid of us at all.. and loves to hang out in the yard with the fruit trees.

Also in that area I found a baby rattle snake..

Can you see him in the middle of the picture?
I moved him to the other side of the hill where we don't go.. didn't want him to cause any trouble with the dog and kids. Although the dog has a rattlesnake vaccine now so even though it would still hurt her, it won't kill her. Which makes me wonder, why do they have rattlesnake vaccines for dogs and not for people?

All weekend we heard about the storm that is coming tomorrow.. in every store that I went to they were talking about it. The locals were all getting prepared because it is supposed to have 50 mph winds and 2 to 4 inches of rain on Tuesday. I wish I could have stayed for it but have to get back to work sometime, and once again, we were all out of clean clothes. You get so dirty working up there! The boys had a blast and even dragged a log up to use by the fire pit. (On the ATV of course! ) They worked hard cutting up wood and helping me move the other wood around. But we have to have fun as well so they got to ride the ATV just for fun... My back hurt too much so I couldn't ride it this weekend. Next weekend hopefully I will be better and can do it..

Still no painting done! Oh well, it was important to get things set up before that storm hit..maybe next time? I think I have to have a wine and paint weekend with my friends... lure them up there with winery tours and surprise them with a room to paint! Hmm..  I may not have any friends left after that!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Step #2 in buying a house - Area Research

This is the fun part! I loved doing the research and could spend hours looking at homes.

Have you ever met someone who has lived in the same place all of their life? If you are one of these people, you will never need this advice so you can go back to watching T.V.
(I actually knew someone who not only lived in the same house all her life, it was her parent's house and she had bought it from them! )

For those who are willing to change their venue from where they are now, you have to know what you are looking for in a new area. What matters to you in terms of location? The reason you focus on the area first and then what you want in a house is simple.. houses are basically the same everywhere but everywhere that has houses is not the same.

I was looking for the following things:

1. Price - lthe lower the better in terms of real estate, looking for lots of foreclosures 
2. Open Space - not much development, buildings or freeways
3. Location near my current house, mom and sister without being "too near" (I came up with 2 hours as the distance I thought was easy to cover in a weekend trip.)
4. Small town feel with proximity to the larger town amenities I would need to survive (Lowes, Safeway, Starbucks and a hospital were on the top of the list.)

Where do you start looking? I used my parent's house as the starting point and like I said earlier, started looking in a foothill town called Coarsegold. It has a huge group of houses in Yosemite Lakes that offers lots of amenities and still has a feeling of seclusion. At first, Coarsegold looked like it would meet all of my criteria:
1. Price- the number of foreclosures in just Yosemite Lakes was staggering.. I would say nearly 20% of the development was for sale when I saw it. And very few were not foreclosures...
2. Open space- it is a planned community but they had all different lot sizes and house sizes. You could get a lot right up next to your neighbor or a house that you actually couldn't see from the road..
3. Location- It was only about 45 minutes from my parent's house but it would be 3 hours for me and my sister to get there. That is what tipped the scale away from Coarsegold. Why would I buy a house down the road from my parent's for a vacation place? It made no sense...
And so I moved on... to the gold country around Jackson, CA.

I got curious about the houses here from an internet auction site that I found.. and that is where I first saw that Wilseyville house. So I created an alert in and starting looking around the internet to see what was available.
It seemed to meet all of my criteria with tons of foreclosures, lots of space, 2 hours from everyone in almost a perfect triangle and location to big town stuff. They even had a brand new hospital in Jackson that was very pretty and modern.
I looked on the websites I use to track real estate and just kept watching what came up for sale to get an idea of what a good value would be when I saw it. (This is important for someone coming from out of the area. Think about all us bay area folks with out jacked up home prices going somewhere like Winnemucca and thinking that the house for sale at $150,000 is a steal! What if it isn't? What if you are paying too much because you don't know the market well enough. I live in fear of paying too much!)

 I keep looking at the internet houses for a couple of months until saw the house in Glencoe and called Kathy.. with Kathy driving I covered 100's of miles up there... I saw houses in wilseyville, pioneer, railroad flat, glencoe and mokelumne hill. Having a realtor who is familar with the area is another key thing to find. Kathy was able to tell me what the snow fall looked like at houses we would see. Where they are having to drill for more water... what happens when a powerful storm comes and how long it takes to get power back one..just invaluable information. 
All together I spent months on the area research and looked at 100's of houses on line and probably 25-30 in person... but I knew that was the area I wanted to buy in and since I had in mind my criteria for a house, when one came up that matched I made an offer.

A lot of people go with their "gut" or a "feeling" when buying a house and that works out well only if you know exactly what you want. When people think of buying a house and just start looking at open houses, that is the wrong way to go about it. Emotions can make you think you have to buy a house right away, but it is too far from work, or your neighbors have a yard full of junk, or it is out of your price range... so research is important.

You have to stick to the plan or you will not be happy in the long run with the house you bought.
Here is where I got my info and these are just a fraction of the sites out there that can be helpful:
This is the best site for just the sheer number of listings and from it you can link to the realtor's home pages and see what else is in the area. 
Most people think of this as a valuation site for pricing but it has great research has well. You can see aerial views of lot sizes to see how close the neighbors are and of course, past sales data if it is not too old.
The real estate section is limited but once again gives you some more information. You can also find the weather in the location you are thinking about and local thing is the snapshot feature. Right now it says that 42 homes are for sale in mokehill with 22 of them being foreclosures and the pricing believe it or not is actually going up... hmm..
This site is one you have to pay for but i get an alert without paying, it just doesn't give you the exact address. But it does give you the street name.. so you can usually figure it out.
This an online auction site that lets you see the properties without signing up. If you wanted to bid on a place you would have to register with them. Not a lot of properties but some interesting things.

Lesson here... identify your needs first, choose some possible candidate locations and do your research.

BRRR- Cold in Moraga

Still in Moraga but will get to mokehill this weekend.... the ATV safety class was fun and now I am "certified" on the ATV. (Please no jokes about being "certifiable"! I know that was too easy and you couldn't help yourself.) They had different ATV models than what we have and they were fun because they were smaller and able to take turns faster.  Although I was slow compared to the other guys in the class! And my shoulders are so stiff, because it takes a lot of work on those things to get it to turn.

The weather has really changed and I am hoping that we are heading into fall/winter now. (Rain is forecast for next week so that will be the second rain shower in October which is pretty early!) I can't wait for a big storm to happen when I am up at the house! I bet it is impressive when the wind is howling around that place... I will not be able to afford the new windows this year so I expect it will be drafty. But we have the woodstove and that should heat the house up good. Now if we can only get the firewood finished! Nick is coming up this weekend and if we can get Dad's saw fixed we might be able to get it done.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Beautiful October Sat in Moraga - 10/3/09

I couldn't make it up to the house last weekend because of work and again this weekend because of the ATV class. Nick and I are taking an ATV safety course this afternoon in Antioch and actually the weather is perfect here! The high will be about 75 degrees as opposed to last weekend when it was 105 or so! Since we have this high powered ATV and are riding it on hills that are pretty steep, I thought that would be a good idea to take this class. Nick is the typical teen boy who believes he was born with the genes to drive things and why does he need lessons? But he is still going and it should be fun, if a bit tiring!
I am hoping that I can get some pictures and post them here later..
Also, October 16th is Nick's 17th birthday but the birthday parties go on all month long... after the ATV class tonight some of his friends and him are going to a movie and pizza here in town. Then next weekend we will be back at the MokHill house! Finally! And I am taking Monday off so I will have a 3day weekend up there with Nick. The tree guy called and he said about 1/2 the trees are down and the rest will be down next week... which is great because I want to get the wildflower meadow going out front before the rains come. I have packets of seeds but still think I need more... so I am on the lookout for a good deal on wildflower seeds.
We also got a big truck for the house, a Nissan Titan and I think Nick posted pics on facebook but I will see if I can get some too. Then the birthdays continue.. he has 1 weekend at his dad's for his b-day and then 1 weekend in Madera for the family party... A whole month of parties for his birthday... wow!
Got to get going now... will try and get pictures up after the class...

Monday, September 21, 2009


I went for a quick trip out to the house this saturday, coming back sunday.. just to check on things and see if I can get anything done. It was a bit warm, hitting around 90 degrees and for some reason I decided to work on the drip system. OUTSIDE. Sometimes I even amaze myself with the strange decisions I make. The plan was to fix the drip line and then spend the rest of the day inside... so i started working on the line that covers the citrus trees. Tinkered here and there on it and of course there is water going everywhere making all this mud.. on a hill... with trees that have thorns and ants... so i dig some steps into the hill.. in the heat. See? Sometimes i just shake my head at myself. Anyway i would work for 1 hour and then go in for an hour while i drank a gallon of water and go back out. Things were going okay until I turned on the lines that I worked on over labor day weekend. I repaired lots of broken drip emitters.. but there was water shooting up in the air down at the bottom of the hill. Picture of the hill...

Do you ever have those conversations with yourself, or your dog, where you just are not believing what you are seeing? Cuz you know you fixed that line and the time it took to do that? I drug my wheelbarrow down the hill and stared at the leak spot for a second trying to comprehend what I was seeing. My pristine new emitter was there and not broken.. but there was a hole in the small hose that connects to the big one. I bend down and see not a hole but it was chewed clean through by little teeth... Rats had chewed my new lines to get to the water inside. 2 of them were that way.. just when i was thinking i was done i had more repair work to do.. i covered the new lines with stones to hopefully dissuade them varmints next time. 
And while i am going through all this my dog has been roaming around and getting hot and laying under the trees. I call her and she comes prancing down the hill and i see that she is covered in mud.. she was laying in the wet spots that i had been working on before... it was actually kind of funny! She is older and very dainty and feminine for a big dog and to see her side, chest, belly and tail in mud was hysterical. But she was so hot!
A squirt with the hose was not what she had in mind but it cleaned her up... and then a full bath when we got home.
I didn't get any painting done but it was okay... KC and I were "dog" tired and stayed in watching a movie later that night. Trying to balance my time up there with some work and some relaxing.. so it is not all work.

Watching the sunset from that deck is just amazing.. you see all the trees turn colors as the sun hits them just right. One tree off in the distance is the neon green almost and it stands out from the others.. it is so relaxing. And all the animals start "going home" for the night while the night shift animals start coming out. I know i bit off a bit more than I bargained for, but sitting on that deck in the morning with coffee or at sunset with a glass of wine is so worth it...

These next 8 days is the busiest time of the quarter for me so I won't be up there for at least 2 weeks. Next weekend we have an ATV safety class so that should be fun!


Friday, September 18, 2009

No time this week to add to this blog...

i have been sooo busy at work that i have been unable to add to this blog. The computer programs that I work with are possessed and conspiring against me to stop me from watching the fresno state vs. boise state game....
I am leaving tomorrow for the house and will have an update when i get back... supposed to be hot hot hot !

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The art of buying a house- it is all in the preparation!

A lot of people have asked me for advice on how they could buy a house..seems like a popular thing to do. What confuses me is when I ask them some questions, they don't really know the answer and that tells me they to get more prepared.
Before buying a house you have to do some work in the following areas:
1. Finances (duh!)
2. Area research
3. House Condition
4. Mental preparation

Let's start with the basics... before I bought this house in June 2009, I was actually working towards it in late 2007/early 2008. Does that sound crazy? Not really if you understand my thought process and the steps I took to be able to buy a 2nd house if I found the right one. Here is what I did financially although these steps would not necessarily apply to everyone, the basics are the same.

I refinanced my current house in early 2008 in preparation to buy a 2nd home. My Moraga house was bought with a conventional loan at a very low interest rate in 2004. I put 20% down when I bought it and my equity had gone up by approximately 15% to 25% more by 2008. But the monthly payments were higher than I could manage if I bought another house so I refinanced into an interest only loan at 5% interest and that lowered my payments by about $400/month. This is not something that everyone should do because there is risk involved but it worked for me. Other things were looking at the recurring monthly bills that I could eliminate like permit parking at BART...and Nick's online games.. these recurring subscriptions that are automatically billed are so easy to ignore. These cuts saved another $100 per month.

Every time I sold stock I would put it in an Etrade account so that I would have "cash on hand" to show a potential bank. Banks these days want to see cash reserves to make them feel okay if you lost your job or anything else bad happened. It also shows that you are good enough with your finances to not spend every dime you bring home. It is hard to say what is a good amount to have minimally, you have to have enough to cover the down payment. (This is not to say you will use the money that way, but you need to have it.) If you don't have enough cash in a traditional liquid account, banks will also take into consideration your retirement savings. By adding to your 401k account, besides it being essential to retiring, it could be helpful in buying a house. Automatic deductions are the best way to save... if money goes into my checking account it seems impossible for me to not spend it. Set up automatic deductions through work and make sure the account the money is going to, is not one tied to your everyday checking account.

I got my HELOC increased in late 2008 anticipating that I would use it to either buy a house for cash or for the down payment. 6 months after I refinanced my primary home loan I went to my bank and got them to increase my HELOC to the max they would loan me. This gave me the money for a down payment for the new house. Timing is critical on these things too. I did things in a very methodical order so as not to give the bank the impression that I might be desperate for cash. The patience you learn here, will pay off later when you need to get that new house financed!

With all this bank stuff going on, I knew what my credit score was within 10 points. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT - especially these days where money is tight that you know what your score is before you call to apply for a loan. Traditional banks don't want to talk to you unless you at least 720 on your FICO score and the higher the better. To keep that up, I kept my credit cards low and made sure to always pay more than I needed to on my loans. My score was high enough to get the bank to pay attention when I called and they always gave me better service (and better rates) than folks who they knew would take a lot of work to get into a loan. Is it fair to base your loan on your FICO score? Probably not. But that is how it works so if your score is lower than 720, get a copy of your credit report and start paying those bills down.
When I went to buy a house the very 1st time, I was shocked to learn that my credit score was really low. Those of you with spouses, or in my case "ex-spouse" need to be aware that credit information is shared. My ex-husband had a credit card that he defaulted on that was not in my name but was on my report. You have to get that stuff off your report right away. I wrote a letter to all 3 reporting agencies to let them know that this was not my account and they needed to remove it. They investigated and removed it and that made a difference. Before applying for a home loan, get your credit report and make sure you know what is in it.
The other shocking thing about your credit score is that goes lower if you don't have enough credit. I had to apply for a credit card and start using it to get my score up back when I bought my first house. I don't recommend store cards or gas cards, just the normal visa and mastercard. I have 3 cards and use 2 of them and never get to more than 25% of my limit and usually I am a lot lower. I feel like 3 cards is the right number and although I don't use one except a couple of times a year to keep it active, I will not close any accounts either. You have to have the right balance of credit that you can use (high limit) and credit you are using (average balance). I don't know exactly where that balance is but I would say if you are looking to get financing for a house, stay below 30%. Before you go to apply for a home loan, pay off your credit cards as much as possible. I got 2 cards to zero balances and the other to just a couple of hundred dollars for the 2 months before I applied for the loan. This is hard to do! But it is worth the effort!

This sounds silly but it is to keep you out of trouble in the future. For me I knew that I didn't want my mortage on my 2nd house to be more $1000/month and preferrably around $700/month. By using the mortgage calculators on Yahoo and even bank websites you can see the price range of house you should be looking based on what you can afford monthly.
Don't let the amount the bank will loan you become your montly payment by default. Figure it out yourself.. look at all your expenses and what your NET income and see what you have left. If the amount isn't enough to buy the house of your dreams, you have a couple of options:

1. Look at your expenses to see where you can cut back more. You need the basics but basics are different from person to person. I have to have high speed internet and it is costly. But I work from home 1 day a week and can't function without it.

2. Take a bit longer and stash more cash for a bigger downpayment. If you really want to get a house and you can't afford the monthly payment, you can increase your downpayment. No one says you can only put down 20%, if it takes 5% more to get a comfortable monthly payment, take the time to do it.

3. Change your idea of a dream house to something more modest. When I moved to Moraga I was set on buying a single family home. (SFR) But after looking at at least 70 houses and losing bids over and over I started to become more open towards buying a townhouse. It had to have 2 car garage and at least some kind of yard.. that I wouldn't compromise. Once I opened up to that idea I found my current house and was able to buy it and afford it. Sometimes we let society, friends and family dictate more than we think we do. We set our hearts on that SFR with 4 bedrooms and a massive backyard... but is that what you need? Look at the bare minimum of what you need and work up from there. I had to have 2 bedrooms and 2 baths along with the garage and yard. That was the minimum and once I let go of the SFR idea, I found a lot more options available.
Know what you can afford monthly and still eat! Don't let anyone persuade you to over extend yourself financially or the long-term results will be bad.

That's enough for now... Finances are not scary if you attack them a little at a time...


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rain Lightning Thunder - Oh my!

I am staying in Moraga this weekend and last night was a wild one! We had several bouts of lightning and thunder and sporadic rain... really neat! We usually don't get these kinds of storms and hopefully it won't start any fires. My poor dog hates thunder as do most animals.. she crawled under my bed side table when it started happening. If you have seen her picture here standing next to the ATV, you know she isn't a little dog, weighing around 70lbs, but man she can curl up small! My neighbor has 4 cats and you would think that they would be hiding too. But I just looked outside and 1 of them is on the roof just looking around... we think he is permanently high because he is always so mellow!
I need to get outside and fix a vent that is draining water into the garage.. should be fun! Home projects never seem to stop...


Friday, September 11, 2009

Today still hurts.. 9/11/01 - I will never forget...

Taking a break from the renovation for something much more important.

 Every year it gets less and less raw but today still hurts.. I worked for BEA at the time of the attacks and was a friend of Ed Felt who died on flt 93. He was a brilliant man who actually created the encryption program we used there. After his death the people who knew him placed flowers outside of his office door. And his last voicemail "out of office" message was posted on the internal web site.

I remember calling my friend at the time who lived in NJ and asking him what was happening... and hearing him break down because he didn't know if his best friend who worked in WTC had survived.(he did!)

My son was so upset when I cried that he ran around to find me something and brought back a sock.. made me laugh for a second.

My boss had just hired a new sales rep who was attending the conference being held in the Windows on the World restaurant on the top of the WTC. He didn't make it down.

So today, don't take anyone for granted in your life. Don't assume they will be there tomorrow. Make sure the people you care about it know how you feel.

God Bless America and the families/friends/loved ones of the people that died that day..


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Labor Day Weekend... lot of labor!

Now I know why they call it Labor Day!

Nick and I went up to the house this weekend and starting working Saturday morning. We had a plumber up to fix the shower in his bathroom.. and I totally forgot about my home warranty! oh well....

Nick's job was cutting firewood up and he got about 2 loads done when the chainsaw stopped working. We spent all day Sunday priming and painting on nick's bedroom... all day and we still need another coat of red paint. His room theme is a 1930's style speak easy.. you know dark wood, rich paint etc.. i have a picture here.
I put in the light fixture to replace the one that the water leak had ruined. Worked on the irrigation for the drip system... etc..
Red paint - 1 coat.. curtain hides the sleeping alcove, think old train car
Light fixture

Fun thing was the goats. Our neighbor has these nubian goats who are very friendly. We would go out and feed them carrots and pet them in the afternoon. Now when i stand at the fence corner and yell for them they come running!
Goat getting a pet from Nick
Leader of the goats- these goats have horns no matter what gender
Shy goat
Couple of the babies...

The other fun thing is the ATV.. we got it because dragging stuff up those hills is a little rough. You will see a picture of how steep my driveway is and understand that hauling loads of wood up those hills is just not going to happen.

Nick riding the ATV
Top of the driveway- Casey & Nick

We have this deck off the back that has a great view... Nick loves to bbq and I like to watch the animals
Nick BBQ's on the deck - taking a break from painting
Covered in paint- he is not a neat painter
View #1 from the deck
View #2 from the deck
Can you see the deer by the tree? We have 2 mom's, 3 babies and 1 teenager that visit us.
Also, here are some of the front views of the house.. I am taking all those trees out. (well not me, i am hiring someone to do it!) They all are too close to the roof and 3 are dead or dying.
Oh and if you ever want to keep your camera and cell phone working... don't put them on the top of your car and drive off.... it really messes them up when they get run over.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pictures of the house when I bought it.

Here are pictures of the house and what it looked like when we bought it.. The living room/dining/kitchen are all connected.
The only appliance that they left was the dishwasher and it didn't work.
Kitchen  and dining room have yellow flower wall paper. The wood stove was removed but it is the divide between the yellow dining and the pink living room....

The wood floors are not levelled but "curled" so some are flat and come are convex and some are concave. And they have gaps between the planks of up to 1/4 inch so it is impossible to clean.
The pink living room walls continue down the hallway to the 1st bathroom... which is robin's egg blue.
Now down the hall is a small spare bedroom in white...
Then we come to the master bedroom which I don't know how to explain. It was added on to after the house was built and they put an space like a family room and office there. And the laundry room as well.. but the only way to get there is through the master bedroom. This is the main reason I think the house didn't sell. Lots of people couldn't see past this horrible remodel and just crazy floorplan.
This is standing at the master bath area and looking into the remodel.
The door to the right goes to the office/laundry room.
then you have the master bath.. open to the room
Lots of work that needs to be done.
And lastly downstairs is a bedroom and full bath that Nick is getting for his bedroom. This is where the water leak happened. That hall bath upstairs had a broken shower valve and that was the leak. It was a slower leak in the walls and then down through the ceiling of the lower bedroom.
I should have known there was a problem because this floor is cement.. all the carpet is torn out.
This does have a walk in shower that is really nice. But the whole room is needing some work.
Well it is Friday night and i am going to get packed and go up there. I hope to get some primer up on the walls at least!