California At 6 Months

Well, 7 months actually. But 6 just sounds much better for a title.

We’ve pretty much settled in, I guess. We still have art to hang and books to unbox, but the husband is going to handle that next month when he is unemployed [more on that in a sec]. The apartment was sufficiently cozy over the holidays – the fireplace certainly helped – and all of the decorations we brought with us fit in the space. The tree looks a little short now though, with the high ceilings. My suggestion to buy another in the Balsam Hill sample sale was summarily dismissed. It’s not like I was really going to buy it though; I can hardly justify spending that kind of money on a second tree when we are stretched thin already. Just play along with my winter wonderland fantasy. A tree in every room! Lights in every corner! An ornament in every bowl!

Christmas Eve at Half Moon Bay

I actually didn’t end up going to the sample sale at all even though I’d been looking forward to it since October. Completely forgot.

I still can’t believe that I uprooted my entire life and moved cross-country in the short span of seven weeks. I say “me” instead of “we,” because the rest of the family had an extra two months. I do not recommend following my lead and doing something like this on such a short time line. Especially not if you have a family and pets and too many doctors to count and a house to sell. Damn! Does it make me seem romantic and impulsive? I’m neither of those things, but I’ll support the illusion if it comes off that way.

Things I’ve Discovered or Acquired since Arriving in California: a favorite Chinese place, a love of fresh baked bread from the Asian grocery store (go figure!), an air of pretentiousness about living on the peninsula, way too many tote bags, a favorite free spot (Cantor Center for Visual Arts @ Stanford), a favorite Mediterranean place, a Starbuck’s habit (it’s next door), an extreme dislike of seagulls, a fear of double-decker highways (earthquakes!).

Still no good pizza. Although we have adopted a Chicago-style place that is more than acceptable (that’s high praise considering some of the options we’ve tried).

Let’s get back to that unemployed husband. His current job ends this month and his new job begins in March, leaving a little over a full month of stay-at-home-dad territory. Since we no longer own a home, his honey-do list will be significantly shorter than it would have been in Arkansas. Lots of errands, laundry, and . . . holding down the couch. That isn’t some kind of jab at him – there just won’t be much else to do. Someone has to watch all that Netflix.

In April, the husband starts working the night shift. I predict a truly awful month or so as we all (but especially him!) try to adjust to that. Oh the things we do to keep from having to hire a special needs nanny. . . . ::insert ch-ching sounds here::

Let’s Talk Housing

I’m going to start with some stats. Yes folks, instead of just rambling on and on about how much my rent is, I actually did some research! This information comes from and applies to the City of San Francisco.

Median Sales Price: $1.15 million
Median Monthly Rent: $4,685
Median Household Income: $78,087
*Is it just me or does that last number not match the first two? Congratulations! You’ve just recognized one of the massive problems with the local housing market.

I live on the peninsula where it is a bit cheaper, so let’s check out similar stats for Foster City.

Median Sales Price: $1.1 million
Median Monthly Rent: $4,380
Median Household Income: $117,872

Ah, interesting. See that increase in median income? Foster City doesn’t have a Caltrain station and 95% of its residents commute by car making it much less appealing for residents dependent on public transportation (by need or by choice). Additionally, only 28% of the population is single (compared to 52% in the city), i.e. more two-income households. Foster City also boasts 70% home ownership. Is that the difference half a million in median price makes? No. This area has a booming condo/townhome industry with prices available well under a million. That’s a much more reasonable price for professional-level household incomes under $200,000. [Hello, that’s me!]

And here is a nifty chart from that gives a good picture of what has actually been happening with the housing market in San Francisco as compared to both California and the U.S. as a whole.
Wolf Street
Yikes. Am I right? According to a lot of sources out there, prices appear to at the beginning of a decline. Let’s hope that is true.

Okay, now let’s run some numbers. If you want to live in San Francisco and keep your rent/mortgage costs (minus insurance and utilities) down around a reasonable 25% of your gross, you’d need a median household income of . . . ::drumroll please::. . . $224,880. Minimum wage in the city is $13, so two adults in full-time minimum wage jobs will have an annual gross household income of . . . ::slide whistle:: . . . $54,080.

What’s the solution? Multiple jobs, cheaper apartments, unsafe areas, horrific commutes, roommates. All unsustainable when you think about the long-term market.

The first thing people me ask when confronted with the rising hiring market is “Well, doesn’t your salary increase too?” Answer: Yes, but not in proportion. Take me for example. I’m a white collar professional with a Master’s degree in a federal position. My salary tripled from low-cost-of-living-Arkansas (and is in a comfortable range for us, did my research there too), while my housing costs quintupled. We are spending around 1/3 of our income on rent alone – a number I would never have even entertained in Arkansas, but one that is considered perfectly acceptable here.

Naturally the situation isn’t quite that cut and dry. There are cost benefits associated with apartment living – no home or yard maintenance, lower utility costs, lower insurance costs – but it certainly doesn’t even out.

So, time to ponder the million dollar question – is it worth it?

4 Things I Do Not Love About Living in San Francisco

1) The Apartment Living
I haven’t gotten used to the apartment way of life yet. Honestly, it makes me feel like a college student who decorates by lining up empty liquor bottles over the kitchen cabinets. I miss my little house. All of our furniture is too big for this apartment, even though we left 1/3 of it behind. There is no place to store anything. And – get this! – there are people everywhere. They walk around living their own lives way too close to my dwelling. Yes, I’m joking around. But it is still a big adjustment. I’m used to a quiet suburb, not a complex with eight four-story buildings.

It is an adjustment and I’m just not there yet. I refuse to shell out $5000 a month to rent a house in this town though, so I better get over it.
Apartment Dino
2) The Seagulls
Or other random coastal birds that make a lot of noise. I’ve never actually seen them, so I guess I can’t blame seagulls 100%. Either way, these noisy little varmints wake me up a lot in the mornings, ruining the peaceful and cool bedroom. Birds man, big jerks. Nature and I never really have gotten along. . .

3) The Pizza
I’m looking for recommendations if you know of something better, but – so far – most of what I’ve tried has been bad. I’ve enjoyed a few slices that were fine. Nothing that met my craving for lazy Friday night gooey-cheesy pizza. It makes me want to order from Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut! In a city where you can find any type of food imaginable. . . I want to hit up a boring chain pizza place. There are plenty of delicious looking wood fire pizza joints around. That isn’t lazy Friday night pizza though.

I’m not alone in my opinion of Bay Area pizza, as demonstrated by this awesome comic I found. Click through to see the rest of her NY vs. SF series.
SF PIzza.

4) The Lack of Rain
I know I shouldn’t complain about this because winter rain is coming. But guys, I miss it. I’ve been here two months and I haven’t seen a drop! The fog helps fill my need for overcast days, but what I wouldn’t give to go to sleep listening to a rain storm. Remind me that I complained about this when we are getting a month’s worth of rain in a couple of days. Apparently when it rains, it really rains.

4 Things I Love About the San Francisco Bay Area

First impressions, really. I have only been here for two months, after all. I still have 99.6% of the area left to explore. Everyone seems to be happy and the adjustment has been a lot smoother than expected. I guess we really are all just go-with-the-flow people when it comes to where we live. I mean, I do miss my Arkansas house. But only because it is actually a house instead of an apartment, not because I’m having any sentimental attachment. I am cold and unfeeling to the core though . . . so there’s that.

In no particular order, here are four things I love about living in the Bay Area.* Stay tuned for Monday when I’ll share four things I do not love about living in the Bay Area.

1) The Weather
I don’t really feel like I need to explain this one a lot as everyone knows the weather is beautiful in San Francisco. We live on the east side of the peninsula and, although it has gotten up into the lower 80s a few days this summer, the breeze (aka natural air conditioner) comes through and cools everything back down. It can get a little hot in the house around 3-5pm on those warmer days, but almost instantly becomes ultra-pleasant again when the direct sunlight moves on. And yes, I’ve been cold at night many times.

2) The Views
Ya’ll. I’ve been a lot of beautiful places. A lot. But this one . . . this one is high up on the list. You never know when you are going to turn a corner and be blown away. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “It is so beautiful here!” Well. . . I could go out for a nice dinner, at least.

3) The Clapper
The Clapper is a nickname given to an elderly Asian man who walks around our complex for his daily exercise clapping the entire time. I actually didn’t even notice him until my husband arrived and pointed him out. And I’ve still never actually laid eyes on the guy personally. But something about his clapping makes me smile. It seems like it should be annoying, but since he is walking you only really hear it for a few moments at a time.

I don’t know why I feel strongly about having The Clapper on this list, but I suppose it is because little things like this make a place feel like home.

4) The Internet
Five times faster with no ridiculous data cap. And cheaper too. It’s a Silicon Valley perk – Comcast can’t be too much of a jerk about internet usage because Google (or something similar) would come in and save the day. We used part of the money we are now saving to get cable so I can watch RuPaul’s Drag Race in real time. What? Don’t judge me. Watch it with me. We’ll be best friends.

The little man is pretty perturbed by commercials though. He has lived most of his life without them.

Honorable Mentions: Tpumps; Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park; It’s-It Ice Cream Treats; Delicious and Plentiful Asian Food; Delicious and Plentiful Mediterranean Food; 60s-Era Architecture; The Asian Grocery Next Door

*I still haven’t figured out whether or not you capitalize that.

From Oakland to Sac-town, the Bay Area and Back Down

My brain is fried and full of new information, so we’re going to do this update bullet point-style. I promise that I’ll eventually stop titling these California posts with song lyrics. . . but for now, how could you not?!

Our new home on a beautiful day.
Our new home on a beautiful day.

-I’m back at the same Barnes and Noble I was at last Sunday. With many of the same people who were hanging around in the Starbucks last week. While I don’t have wifi at home yet, I can access an xfinity hotspot so I’m not completely cut off. It works better for my phone than the computer though. For some reason that can only be qualified as a first-world-problem, I have difficulty working on my laptop without being connected. This makes no sense.

-I bought a new air mattress, so I’m now elevated a few inches above the floor instead of waking up with most of my body on it. I’d love to be in a real bed, but I’m fairly comfy with this arrangement. And the dog seems to like it.

-I went out on Saturday and bought all of the things I had overlooked when moving out here. Like something sharper than a butter knife. I also picked up a pizza pan and a pot for making pasta. My plan to exist on sandwiches and chicken breasts bit the dust big time. I do still need to buy a coffee cup – how I made it out here without one is beyond me – but I’m being picky since it will be my only one until the boxes get here.

-Perk of living alone = my apartment is super clean. Annoyance of living alone = no one else to take the dog out.

-Speaking of a clean house, Merry Maids tackled the Arkansas house last week in prep for realtor photos on Monday (today!). The husband sent me a video and that place has never looked as clean. We basically asked for them to come in and give it their deep clean treatment and I highly recommend it if you ever need to reset your home. They cleaned things we didn’t even know existed.

-The Arkansas house will be listed on Wednesday. I’ll be so glad to get out from under that. It isn’t a huge expense (especially compared to my California residence), but it will be a big mental relief. I’d love for it to be under contract before the husband and kids move out here at the end of the summer. Cross your fingers!

-I have no clue where I am at any given moment because this place is just a whole bunch of tiny towns smushed together. For example, I’m in five different cities during my eleven-mile drive to work. Five! I’ll work it all out eventually, but for now I just map everything because the address doesn’t tell me anything about how far away if might be.

-I have photos from the drive out here I keep meaning to share. I need to do it soon or it will just have been too long. How about a teaser?

Golden Gate Bridge - foggy, but beautiful.
Golden Gate Bridge – foggy, but beautiful.

-It is going to get a little hot today (Sunday, when I’m writing this). Yes, the high is a scorching 80 degrees down by the water where I live. Ha! You bet I’m rubbing it in. Southerners just can help but rub it in when we visit or move to areas with more temperate climates.

Arkansas – What I’ll Miss

As I begin this journey across the country, I can’t help but think about some of the things that I will miss most about my home in Arkansas. I’m not talking about family and friends here – no, they are all dead to me now.* I’m talking about that other stuff, those little things that make a place feel like home, or brighten your day when you are feeling a bit down.

I’ll find new places to fill the void, but – for now – this is my list.
Fort Smith National Historic Site
Visiting Judge Parker’s gallows, complete with the sound recording of the little door opening and a rope tightening as a criminal dropped, was an annual trip when I was a kid. It is likely what set me on the path to becoming a historian. And probably made me a little bit morbid.

The Capitol on Christmas Eve
One of my favorite family traditions is taking the kids in their pajamas to see the lights, exhibit, and Santa’s workshop at the Arkansas State Capitol on Christmas Eve. We would tour the building and take lots of photographs. Someone would make the assertion that the daughter was posing in front of her future office when we make her stand by the door labeled governor. Assuming it was actually cold, we would get hot chocolate on the drive home.

Crystal Bridges Museum of Art
Crystal Bridges is hands-down one of the best things in Arkansas and can compete with pretty much any other museum of its size. I’ve written about a couple of trips there already, read them here and here.

Shopping for Gifts at Ten Thousand Villages
Okay, so it is a chain. It is still something I’m going to miss though. I worked just down the block, so it was an easy to pop down there on a lunch break to pick up something nice for a friend of family member.

Yes, that is in Tennessee. But It still counts as something I will miss about Arkansas because we could just pop up there for a Saturday anytime we wanted. Memphis always felt comfortable and I’ll miss not playing tourist on its streets.

And some food spots, of course
Eating pimento cheese at Capital Bar and Grill, juicy burgers from David’s Burgers, hummus from YaYas Bistro, hushpuppies from the Flying Fish, and cheese dip from Mexico Chiquito . . . just to name a few.

*Kidding. Actually, I left so fast I didn’t get to say goodbye in person to a huge number of people that I’m really going to miss. It is all quite sad.

My [imaginary] office

When we moved into this house seven years ago, I had an office – a cozy office with a great big desk. When the little man joined the family, I had to [willingly] vacate my office and set back up in a small odd corner of the kitchen/dining area. Oh, how I miss that office.

I like to think that one-day we will be able to move into a larger house and I will once again have my office. In keeping with that fantasy, I’d like to take you on a little decorating journey. Here are the components of my future, fantasy office:

-A big desk, with just a little storage. I prefer to store things outside of the desk.

-A comfortable office chair for writing and working.

-A large storage unit with hide-holes everywhere.

-A large comfortable chair to curl up in for reading and thinking.

-A large lamp giving off a soft light just in one corner.

-Unique art that speaks to my personality.

Here is how that plays out in reality:

Playfullytacky's Office Re-do

Nesty McNesterson*

You know how some new parents will say that they never knew how much they could love someone until they looked into their new baby’s eyes? Well, I feel that way about my thermostat. [And my kids too! I’m not completely a heartless monster.]

My husband and I bought ourselves a Nest for Christmas. Yes kids, there will be a time where you willing purchase home upgrades as Christmas gifts – and even enjoy it! $250 is pricey, but the internet is full of uber-positive reviews and my husband-the-techie was pretty enthused about it. We ended up using some Amazon gift cards we had from taking surveys on and from trading in old electronics on Gazelle. I wrapped it and put it under the tree, so we had to wait until Christmas to open it. My husband was off on vacation, so he installed it a couple of days later. We programmed in our typical schedule (if you want, Nest will create your own schedule based on how you set the temperature after about a week of use, but we already knew what we wanted to start with) and waited to see if it would be worth the money.


And. . . . it was! It took about a month, but this nifty little gadget started to learn about our habits. For example: We forgot to set the alarm one morning and didn’t get up at our regular time. The Nest turned our heat up as part of our regular morning routine, but turned it back down after a bit when no one walked past the thermostat. When we did get up and frantically start to toss on clothes and wake the children, it detected our motion and started up our regular temperature schedule. I’m living in the future folks!

I can adjust the home temperature from my phone and ipad. So, if I’m cold and sitting on the couch, the Nest enables my laziness and lets me kick the heat up a degree or two from underneath my blanket. If I’m coming home early and need to get our heat going before its regularly scheduled time, I can just do that very quickly and arrive home to toasty house. If our work schedules change and we start messing with the temperature consistently off-schedule, the Nest will learn and adjust accordingly.


Another plus – the Nest tracks our energy usage so we can see how our activities and temperature changes play into our monthly bills. A little green leaf appears on the thermostat when we have it set to an energy-saving temperature allowing us to save every extra little penny (or not, if we turn it past that point).

I did not know I could love a thermostat this much.

If should be perfectly clear this isn’t the kind of blog that gets fancy perks in exchange for positive reviews. But just in case you are wondering – No, Nest did not send me a free thermostat. I would love one of those fancy smoke alarms though. Feel free to send one my way, Nest!

*What else would you title a post about thermostats?