Touring the Winchester Mystery House

I took the day off from work on Monday to spend some kid-free time with the husband. We ended up at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose – someplace we could never visit with the little man as it isn’t wheelchair accessible. You’ve heard of this place, I’m sure. It is the house built by Sarah Winchester and kept in constant construction for 38 years, obstinately to make amends for those killed by Winchester weapons.

The front of the house. You can’t take photographs inside.

It is a standard feature of any show about unique architecture, historic places, or ghosts. Watching shows like that put the house on my to-do list, but there are some major difference between that television house and what I saw in person.

Specifically –

1) It is a lot smaller.
2) It is less crazy.
3) It is more interesting.

You pull up to the house and it looks a little tourist-trapish. The gift shop, café, and tour-waiting area (complete with arcade shooting gallery) certainly doesn’t help. The husband and I were getting quite a laugh out of the tacky, but also wondering if we’d wasted our money. The tours aren’t exactly cheap; $36 per adult for the basic mansion tour. We had pretty much decided that we were about to walk into a space that looked like a Victorian catalog threw up all over it. You know what I’m talking about – those historic homes or attractions that are just too much. Too over the top. Too ridiculous.

I’m happy to say this was not the case when we made it inside. So let’s talk about these takeaways –

It is a lot smaller. It is a mansion, don’t get me wrong. But it is hardly a sprawling Rose Red-esque estate. An entire floor plus a 3-floor tower were lost after the 1906 earthquake, leaving a house that varies from 3 to 4 stories depending on what part you are in. The interior is large, but the constant construction left all but the front original rooms small and cozy. The grand front rooms were gorgeous and looked a bit more like what you might expect of a mansion, but were still lovely and homey. I quite liked it.

It is less crazy. One of the strangest things about the house you see on television is the weird, tiny, winding staircases located in closets and back passageways. These actually have a perfectly logical function – Sarah had severe arthritis and installed small easy-rise stairs so she could get around her home easily. With these stairs you only had to raise your foot a couple of inches, but retrofitting the new access points meant a lot of turns and narrow openings. At the beginning of the tour we went up 44 stairs with 7 turns just to make it to the second floor. The tiny stairs for the 4’10” lady didn’t occupy any more space than a traditional staircase. They were hilarious to navigate, but made perfect sense for her situation. Once you could see the entire house at once, a lot of the weird just looked like a house that had been added to haphazardly.

It is more interesting. Sarah Winchester was an extremely wealthy woman. When she started construction on her home in 1881, she had $20 million (equivalent to nearly half a billion today) with shares in the Winchester company that generated an additional $1000 a day (between $20,000-$25,000 today). She started her staff at twice the regular rate for the area, gave pay raises, fed everyone, and built houses for families on her land (single workers lived in the house). She had funds to bring in all sort of modern conveniences for both her and her workers. Including the ability to just try things out and design efficient systems inside her weird house. Sarah Winchester closed up the front rooms of the house after the 1906 earthquake, so you were able to see details about building construction and the damage the house sustained when you toured those rooms.

So yeah, it is a weird house built by a troubled woman. But there is a lot more to the story. I suggest checking it out.

Back to our visit. For the $36, we got a guided tour of 110 out of 160 rooms in the house. It lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our tour guide was great! It did occasionally lean a little to the hokey side – talking about the unusual things spiritualists did, could it be haunted, you could get lost and we’d never find you, etc. – but she was very knowledgeable. She spouted off facts about the house without even having to think and the sillier side of the tour kept the two kids that were with us fully-engaged. It was a great balance between fun and facts.

Overall, I had a lot of fun and I’m really glad we went. Totally worth the tour price.

On My Bookshelf, December 2016-January 2017

Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies by Jason Diamond (2016)

From “For all fans of John Hughes and his hit films such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and Home Alone, comes Jason Diamond’s hilarious memoir of growing up obsessed with the iconic filmmaker’s movies—a preoccupation that eventually convinces Diamond he should write Hughes’ biography and travel to New York City on a quest that is as funny as it is hopeless.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book involving travel
-A book with a subtitle

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: An American Hero by Ronald D. Lankford Jr. (2016)

Don’t let the playful topic, decorative layout, and colorful images fool you – this is a detailed historical study of Rudolph and his place in American history and culture. Probably not the best choice for someone looking for simple holiday nostalgia, but a great read for the history-buff. Lankford’s work is well-researched and interesting. Recommended – if you like that kind of thing.

From “Ronald D. Lankford has written the definitive history of this iconic and much-loved Christmas character. . . . The result is both a glowing tribute and a rigorously researched biography that will appeal to fans and lovers of classic American holiday culture.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book involving a mythical creature
-A book with a subtitle

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (2016)

My husband got me this book for Christmas, not knowing how relevant it would be. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Wishful Drinking, but I’m also not a Star Wars fan. Of course, just being a Star Wars fan is no reason to read this book. In fact, unless you already know about Carrie Fisher’s writing, you would probably be really disappointed. At its core, this is a coming of age story – more about a teenager struggling with the transition to adulthood than behind the scenes stories from the movie. It is a good read if you like Fisher.

From “When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book about an interesting woman
-A bestseller from 2016

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)

This one I read for book club and it is absolutely not a genre I would typically pick up off of the shelf. Call me pleasantly surprised, I enjoyed it overall. Yes, I found the plot of the crime ridiculously tangled and the noir doublespeak ultimately cloying, but Chandler was clearly a master of his craft. And it turns out he didn’t write this first book until he 44 and unemployed during the Depression. Good for him! If you are a fan of this genre, you’ve probably already read this. If you aren’t, this is probably a good one to start with.

From “In crime fiction master Raymond Chandler’s iconic first novel, a dying millionaire hires private eye Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, and Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read

*This post contains Amazon Associate referral links.

Monday Morning You Gave Me No Warning

I wrote something. It was about Monica Lewinsky and body image and things we learn from television . . . but I’m not going to share it. For some reason, this one feels too personal. You’d probably disagree if you read it and compared it to some of the stuff I’ve already written about here. It feels different to me though. So let’s skip it.

To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on anything else expect the increasingly bleak political situation in America. I don’t intend to write anything in detail about it. I like to keep my little corner of the internet light and there are plenty of people out there – liberal and conservative – writing about it much more eloquently than I could. In my everyday life, I’m just trying to help any little way I can. It is hard to know what to do, but at least I can contribute to history’s remembering of these years as “and the resistance never gave up the fight” instead of “why didn’t they do something?”

So . . . how about some humor? Let’s start with The Awkward Yeti showing the kidneys a little love in honor of my father’s successful kidney transplant (!) week before last.

Up next, we have Adam Ellis illustrating the plight of the introvert.

Reading, POPSUGAR Style

I’ve decided to tackle the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge this year. Never heard of it? The site puts out a few lists every year providing prompts to guide your reading. Some are themed, but the main list (this one!) is more general.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to read one book for each prompt or if I’ll accept some overlap. I already know that there are a couple I likely won’t try on the main list. Specifically “the first book in a series you haven’t read before” and “a book you bought on a trip.” I’m not a good series reader and usually avoid books that aren’t a one-off as I’ve been disappointed so many times. I’m not crossing that off the list immediately though; there might be something out there for me (make me a recommendation in the comments?). And I won’t purposely plan to buy a book on a trip.

I’ll consider anything I read from the Advanced section a bonus. Seriously . . . who has time for 800+ pages these days? I tap out around 500 or 600, at the most.

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::

Favorite Things . . . 2016 Edition

I did it in 2013, then again in 2014, and once more in 2015. Now it is time to continue the tradition and share my favorite things from 2016. As usual, all of these things are either new (to me) discoveries or things that suddenly became a fixture in my life during 2016.

No, I didn’t just discover fire last year. But this is the first time I’ve ever had a fireplace in my home. It is definitely a plus for this apartment. I love a good glass of wine next to the fire and dealing with the wood didn’t turn out to be nearly as annoying as I expected. Bonus! – The San Francisco weather means we can enjoy it a good portion of the year.

Caramel Macchiato
The daughter introduced me to this drink. Yes, I love a good overpriced coffee from the mainstream coffee joint that people pretend to be embarrassed to order from. My daughter introduced me to this drink – it is the perfect amount of “extra” when I want more than a plain cup of coffee without having a ridiculous calorie count to go along with it. Good thing too, since that nameless coffee shop is right next door.

Cracked After Hours
Another thing that has been around for a while, but I just latched on to recently. I want all of my conversations to be as hilarious and well-written as their meta discussions at the late-night diner. Maybe one day. . . .

Here, watch one of my favorite episodes – Why Sauron Is Secretly The Good Guy In ‘Lord Of The Rings’.

And. . . that’s about it. I’ve been pretty boring this year.

2016 Has Left the Building!

If the way you start the new year sets the tone for the entire 365 days, what do you think this says about me?

December 31, 3:00pm: I realize that I could watch the ball drop at 9pm my time then head straight to bed. West coast perk! The family doesn’t really support this plan.

December 31, 9:30pm: I close my eyes on the couch and tell my husband to wake me up when it is time to go to bed. We are in the middle of binge-watching Good Mythical Morning episodes we have already seen countless time.

December 31, 10:00pm: I throw in the towel and head to bed anyway. I cozy up and browse the web on my phone while listening to an episode of World’s Dumbest [Blank], as I love trashy television best.

December 31, 11:59pm: Hey, I’m still awake. Guess I’ll welcome the new year after all. This is the first time in a couple of years I’ve actually been awake.

January 1, 12:00am: Hmm. . . those people having the party next door didn’t count down. That seems like a waste.

January 1, 12:00:45am: Oh, there they go. Our clocks must be different.

January 1, 12:20pm: The husband comes to bed and we browse the internet together because we are boring.


My day started fairly early – I rolled out of bed at 7:10am to take my mom to the airport. She has been visiting us for two weeks. After sending her on her way, I grabbed one last peppermint mocha for the holiday season and headed to Target. Yes, Target. Where I shopped for very interesting things like trash bags, a 2017 planner for my kid, and 75% off Christmas candy (candy cane Hershey Kisses, for the win!).

My big plan for the rest of the day is to take a nap. So . . . what does all this say about my upcoming new year? Nothing. It doesn’t say anything. I’m a normal person who enjoys sleep and needs bags to collect her household garbage.

I do have some plans for the new year though. While I don’t bother to make traditional resolutions (too silly), I do sometimes identify something I want to focus on. This year I want to take more photographs of neat things, especially the neat things that we are doing. I could pretend that I don’t take photos because I’m trying to be in the moment. . . but that’s a lie. I much prefer to document what is happening, but I’ve just been too lazy to do it.

Practically speaking, I need to find a primary care physician/gynecologist/optometrist in the new local. I need to unbox the books cluttering up our bedroom and take the little man’s toys out of the moving box they have been in for six months. I need to sit down and refile all of the paperwork I’ve been ignoring since it was unpacked.

And I need to read more. I’ve gotten out of the habit.

*Let’s just all agree to ignore that I haven’t regularly posted anything to this site in months. The shared delusion only works if you all participate, people!

Is this blog dead? And other updates.

Let’s start with the first question – Is this blog dead?
Well, I’m honestly not sure. I’m not ready for it to be dead, but it has been well over a month since I last posted. Maybe I’m just delaying the inevitable?

When I started PlayfullyTacky, I needed a place to vent and decompress. I was working a job that stressed me out and left me feeling a little dejected when I came home every evening. On top of that, my home life isn’t exactly of the most stress-free type (hello, little man!). Writing here helped me control that stress – to a point, I’m sure my husband is rolling his eyes right about now – and gave me a creative outlet.

My current job doesn’t stress me out, it wears me out.* When I come home I want to sit on the couch with my kids and watch television. [Yes, still Bob’s Burgers on repeat.] When I’m not at home sitting on the couch, I want to explore this amazing area. When I have that magical combination of spare time and motivation, I spend it working on a personal research project.

So. . . I’m not sure. I won’t be going back to my three posts a week schedule, but don’t count me out yet.

Update #1: I’m picking up a seasonal retail job for the holidays. We are still paying the Arkansas mortgage (you don’t even want to hear the drama involved with that) and once you add in rent ($$$$) and other bills, there just isn’t anything left. Not a dime. We are cutting it very close every month. And sometimes worse – we have come up short a few times and resorted to taking from our already-nearly-empty savings. Yeah . . . that won’t work for much longer. I’m uncomfortable with our current financial situation, so I’m doing something about it.

I’m not thrilled – I absolutely live for this time of year. I am one of those ridiculous holiday people that you love to hate and being tied down at the mall will keep me from optimal celebration levels. But it is easier for me to pick up something extra since the husband is still working from home and hunting for a local position. He doesn’t need to be locked in to a weird schedule. I’m feeling fairly positive about it now, but check back with me the week before Christmas when I’m ready to gouge-out eyeballs.

Update #2: It seems I have volunteered for our school district’s PTA special needs committee. If you don’t understand how someone can just suddenly find themselves volunteering . . . well, you clearly don’t have a problem with over-commitment and do have the ability to say no when you are passionate about something. I’m a chronic volunteer-aholic. In a moment of clarity, I managed to turn down serving as chair, instead signing up for treasurer. I’m excited about this, but it is quite a commitment. I’m happy to be involved though. The goal is for this committee to eventually break off as a standalone PTA. I think that is extremely promising and really fills a need.

Of course I was going to volunteer. . .

Update #3: The new job is going well, I think. I feel like I’m settling in and hitting my stride. At least, I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did when I arrived in June. That is a positive sign. I won’t talk about the details – because you know I don’t do that here – but I’m pretty sure I made the right decision. Moving into a nearly-100%-administration job has been an adjustment (and I say nearly-100% just b/c I have the opportunity to still do a little bit of collections work in the future). I’m glad I took the leap though.

Update #4: Ya’ll, I can’t say I’ve adjusted to apartment living any better than I had last time we spoke. There are just people . . all over . . living their lives . . in my space. It doesn’t even fulfill the enjoyment I get out of eavesdropping, as most of the people who talk loudly enough to be heard through the windows are speaking in languages I can’t even identify. I really want to get over being cranky about this, but I’m having trouble moving on. I know that makes me a spoiled, first world problem kind of person. But geez. I’m too introverted to be around all of these folks all of the time. There are eight buildings in my complex with 24-32 apartments each.

And a lot of residents look at you like you have horns growing out of your head if you speak to them. Ha! That is a stereotype, of course, but – you guys, I’m not making this up – I confused one older lady so badly by talking to her in the elevator that she offered me a magazine before running off. She literally didn’t know how to handle me.

Okay, I’m being silly now. There are some things I like about our home, but all of the people around isn’t one of them.

Update #5: The Christmas tree is up and lighted [lit?], but not decorated. The husband made a deal with the daughter that she could put the tree up early if she dug it out of the storage closet. Of course, I’m sure you all know that he still ended up doing a lot of that work. My husband is extremely pro-Thanksgiving, so this is a big concession for him. And it appears to have worked – he told me a couple of days ago that he was listening to Christmas music while working. Oh how quickly he abandons his beloved Thanksgiving.

I’m not in any hurry to get ornaments on the tree any time soon. I’m picturing a slow build-up to full-on-Christmas-joy over the next few weeks. But the lights and tree and gorgeous. It looks too short though when compared to our high ceilings. I might need to upgrade when Balsam Hill has their January sale. There goes all that extra money from the second job. . .

Speaking of Balsam Hill, their first catalog arrived over the weekend. That signals the beginning of the holiday season for me. I don’t usually buy anything (our tree was absolutely worth the money, but that is about as much as I can invest), but just turning the thick, glossy pages makes me smile.

*I would just like to point out that this is a super-big-deal for me and the reason we made this 2000-mile move. Husband says my entire demeanor is happier and I do feel better. Success!!

Happy Friday!

Time to jump on the meme bandwagon!
Here is me, as illustrated by three fictional characters. I think I nailed it!

On My Bookshelf, August-September 2016

sunlight-pilgrimsThe Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (2016)

So, I just didn’t get this book. None of the plot lines really seemed to fit together for any real purpose and I still don’t have a clue while this story takes place during the last days before a modern ice age. Some of the plot points seemed pointless. Overall, it was just random. Not necessarily bad, but it read more like a lengthy short story than a novel.

From “It’s November of 2020, and the world is freezing over. Each day colder than the last. . . . As ice water melts into the Atlantic, frenzied London residents evacuate by the thousands for warmer temperatures down south. But not Dylan. Grieving and ready to build life anew, he heads north to bury his mother’s and grandmother’s ashes on the Scottish islands where they once lived. Hundreds of miles away, twelve-year-old Estella and her survivalist mother, Constance, scrape by in the snowy, mountainous Highlands, preparing for a record-breaking winter. . . . When Dylan arrives in their caravan park in the middle of the night, life changes course for Estella and Constance. Though the weather worsens, his presence brings a new light to daily life, and when the ultimate disaster finally strikes, they’ll all be ready.”

the-girlsThe Girls by Emma Cline

Overall, I enjoyed this one. But I found the portions set in present day to be distracting without adding anything to the story and Cline has a tendency to poetically-overuse her thesaurus. Lots of scene-setting that ultimately takes away from character building. A nice read though.

From “Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.”

Currently Reading: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

*This post contains Amazon Associate referral links.