Backyard blooms

When we toured this house in September, there was lots of greenery, but nothing in bloom. So winter has brought some incredible surprises to our yard!

The tree outside our bedroom window has fruit! Any suggestions which citrus it could be?


Another tree has gorgeous pink blossoms.


The vine against the garage surprised us with enormous trumpet-shaped flowers.



Fuchsia bushes line the front of the house.


We have two different types of berry bushes.



Tiny white flowers came unexpectedly from a rubbery succulent.


And our valiant Meyer lemon tree, which we brought from our last place, is showing signs it might survive after all.


Winter is beautiful in San Diego!


Craigslist treasure: midcentury sewing table

In our last home, my sewing machine sat in the bedroom on an Ikea Expedit desk like this:


It was great to have so much storage right at hand. Unfortunately the new house has no good place for such a large piece, so I decided to search Craigslist for a desk that would fit the spare wall in our new bedroom.

My sewing machine is my grandma’s 1958 Singer Slant-O-Matic 401A. Grandma used it on a card table with a custom-sized hole where the machine’s base nested, making a seamless work surface where it met the table. See how the bottom is kind of unfinished, as though it’s meant to be concealed?


Grandma’s sewing table is across the country in my parents’ basement, though, so at first I assumed I’d just get a regular desk. But one of the first Craigslist results was an “awesome mid century sewing table that has been converted to a desk.” I emailed the seller to ask if the sewing machine hole was still operable. She said yes! I traced the base of my machine onto paper and brought the template with me to the seller’s house. (Bringing the whole thing would’ve been a hassle — it’s made of at least 25 lbs of solid metal.)

It was perfect. I brought it straight home. The drawers were full of old straight pins and lint, and the finish was a bit murky… but after some determined scrubbing with diluted apple cider vinegar, it’s clean and fresh.


Turns out this table was originally made for a 1950s Singer, and the hole fits my machine exactly.


There are two hinges on the back of the hole. They’re intended to fasten to the base of the machine, so that you can pivot it toward you into the table to conceal it with an extra piece of wood when you’re not sewing (so cool!!).


[Incidentally, this photo was taken before the rest, and before I’d scrubbed it with vinegar. See the dull finish on top and the white marring on the right leg and drawer front? All better now!]

The hinge pegs fit into the holes on my machine, but I haven’t yet figured out how to secure them so they don’t slip out when you tilt the machine. Here’s a photo I found of how it’s supposed to work.


If anyone reading this happens to know how to make the hinges work, please leave a comment! I will probably have to buy hardware like one of these, which seem to be easily available on ebay.


But in the meantime, I’m more than happy to leave the machine on display.

Next quest: a chair that complements the desk, preferably without arms so it can tuck under the desk.

Funky little details

Our old house has lots of cool or quirky details that you rarely see in new construction…

Push-button light switches! Most throughout the house are modern, but a few of these original ones control outdoor lights.


Skylights in the bathroom give flattering natural light.


Charming crystal knobs on all the doors and built-ins.


Thick molding over doors and windows, and crown molding in a few rooms.


Rope-and-pulley single-pane windows. Some work while others are stuck shut…


Wacky salt and pepper shakers built into the top of the stove (pardon the grime… let’s just say it’s historical too).


What’s your favorite? Does your place have funky little details?

Painting the office (repeatedly)

For the first time since 2009, my new lease allows painting the walls! Most of the rooms don’t really need it. For example, check out how the bedroom’s soft blue walls perfectly match our quilt and lamps.


But neither of us liked the yellow walls in what the previous tenants used as a kids’ bedroom. The color seemed playful or juvenile to me, when we’re aiming for sophisticated. Also, the kids’ room kind of smelled like pee (see the stained mattress they left us? we were shocked to get money for it on craigslist) and the yellow walls sure weren’t helping that association.


Remember the row of bookshelves from our last place?


Well, they didn’t make sense in the living room this time because of all the beautiful built-ins. They wound up in the second bedroom/office. Recent experience taught us that it’s a total headache to move them once they’re loaded, bolted together, and anchored to the wall. So I declared that we must paint the room before loading the shelves. Dan wasn’t super excited but he agreed with the logic. We set a goal to get it done that weekend so we could straighten up the house’s biggest mess!


Here’s where I took a risky shortcut. To save time I decided to skip testing paint swatches in the room. Instead we’d go with a color I’d seen on a wall at work: Sherwin Williams Mindful Gray. It’s a medium gray that I thought would pop against the wood floors and white trim while serving as a neutral backdrop for future decorating choices.


We had Home Depot color-match it in the more affordable Behr brand paint and started rolling it on the walls. (Daylight is much more flattering to skin tones than nighttime, eh?)


It looked kinda blue.

Paint often looks weird wet so I resolved not to think much of it. We finished two coats on the first, biggest wall, and went to sleep. But in the morning, it looked even more blue-green. I worried about it all day and even made a mockup of what it looked like (top) versus what it was supposed to look like (bottom):


I was so annoyed at myself for not testing swatches. It served me right to end up with a color that didn’t work as planned. We discussed what to do. Since we didn’t want to waste more money or time, we reluctantly decided just to keep going. That night we moved the bookshelves into place and tackled the remaining walls. Strangely, though, the fresh paint did NOT look blue. Trust me — the difference was pronounced in real life.


After a few days of scratching our heads, we came up with a theory. I didn’t stir the paint can the first day — it had just been in the mixing machine at the store! But I stirred it on subsequent days. Maybe excess blue pigment had been floating at the top of the can? There was only one way to test.

I painted over a small strip of the blue-green.

It dried gray.

After smacking my forehead against the wall, I suggested to Dan that we paint around the shelves so we didn’t have to move them. But he took the high road and said we should do it right. We unloaded all the shelves again, moved them out of the way again, and painted the wall again. We finished with only a few ounces of paint to spare.

As your reward for sticking around through all the neurotic details — you deserve some “after” pictures!



The room is still a long way from decorated, but we’re super proud of our first big step toward making this house our own.

An ode to Craigslist

There once was a website called Craigslist
That made classified listings more painless
Many think it’s just furnishings
But it’s also for bigger things
Found my new job and house, and sold all of this!


ps – That’s just the stuff we’ve sold since September when we decided to move! The items on white carpet were ours, and the items on wood floors were left by the previous house tenants for us to dispose of however we wished. Doesn’t even include the countless things we gave to friends and Goodwill.

pps – Wait till you see the cool thing I bought via Craigslist last weekend…

Setting up house

It’s official — we’ve moved! Cleaning and packing/unpacking and selling excess furniture on Craigslist have taken up most of my free time this past month. But now, two weeks after moving day, the house is finally becoming liveable. Here I’ll share details from before we moved in (even though some of you have already seen these via my constant emails and texts!). Soon I’ll show you how things are looking now that it’s ours.

So goodbye downtown high-rise condo (still with unrepaired water damage)…


We’ll miss living in this neighborhood, but it’s only two miles away. We’ll be back to visit.


Hello Hillcrest house! It’s an authentic 1923 Craftsman bungalow with two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, and 1250 square feet. It’s on a corner lot but feels super private with trees and shrubs plus fencing. Most of the windows aren’t very visible from the street and the backyard is entirely invisible.


The front porch was glassed in long ago to create an extra room/sunroom.


The light-filled living room…


…is open to the dining room. (Remember, all these photos are with the previous tenants’ decor.)


Original wood floors, built-in bookcases and sideboard, wood-burning fireplace, and windows.


Two pretty spacious bedrooms — master (left) with windows onto back and side yards, and guest/office (right) with windows onto front yard.


Unusual bathroom setup with two half baths (one off hall, one off master) connected by shower room. The landlady retiled the shower for us before we moved.


The kitchen is not my style and the cabinets are very tired… but at least it’s got a nice layout and a dishwasher. I might be allowed to make superficial improvements like changing the color of the yellow laminate counters. Check out that 1940s vintage gas stove. We love the breakfast nook with its built-in table and benches. On the other side is a laundry closet with stackable washer/dryer.


Sliding doors there open onto a lovely back patio and yard. There’s a sunny garden bed available for vegetables. A detached one-car garage has a manual door so we’ll use it for storage; there’s ample street parking.


A canyon half a block from our front door is full of nicely maintained trails that lead into the Balboa Park network of trails.


The location is perfect. By walking 10 minutes we can reach the zoo and museums in Balboa Park, or the Hillcrest shops and restaurants on University Ave. Best of all, we are a bit closer to most of our friends’ places now — and since parking is so easy compared to downtown, they’ve been visiting us all the time! It’s really nice to have more casual drop-in company. Like impromptu game night this past Friday.


We got all the boxes emptied and collapsed this weekend (though not much is organized/put away yet). We set them outside the garage with a “free” sign, and with the help of a Craigslist curb alert, they were gone within 30 minutes.

2013-11-03-boxes copy

I’ll close this long update with a sneak peek of our first home improvement project…


How NOT to rent a house

It’s now week 4 of our water damage disaster and repairs are nowhere near complete. Despite not planning to move this year, we’ve begun exploring potential rental houses — since all our stuff is in boxes, moving doesn’t seem like as much of an effort.

But we had no idea it was such a competitive time in the rental market! Any house that meets our specs is rented within days, for high prices. It’s a total seller’s market. This contrasts with our last hunt two years ago when multiple landlords, including the one we chose, were willing to negotiate lower rent and friendlier lease terms.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Craigslist and Padmapper. We’ve toured eight houses and applied to three, but no success yet. In retrospect, here are some of the mistakes we’ve made.

Fall for a great house in the wrong location


This house (yes, the one I already mentioned) had an absolutely incredible backyard. Private decks and terraces led down into a leafy canyon that channeled an light breeze. The interior was nicely updated although we didn’t like its layout with lots of tiny rooms arranged in a weird puzzle. The price was right. But the home was just too far from commercial areas — we really don’t want to give up our walkable lifestyle. I don’t know if we’ll see a rental house with such amazing outdoor space ever again… it was very hard to let it go.

Ask for improvements


This house’s location was perfect. It was on a quiet cul-de-sac between two of our favorite business districts, a two-minute walk to an excellent grocery store. The yard was small but private, with fig and banana trees. The interior was charming and spacious, though not in the best shape. But the kitchen was not good. There was a very vintage (1940s?) stove, no dishwasher, and the fridge was set in an adjacent room. Although it was expensive, the pluses of this house outweighed the minuses, so we made a conditional offer that included a request for a dishwasher (which the landlord had said was possible). But he declined our offer.

Underbid on an expensive house


With a secluded, leafy location 12 minutes from a great commercial district, this house had a wonderful “country in the city” feel. The spacious interior had some luxury features, including a double oven and a double bathroom vanity, but was painted a fleshy peach tone and carpeted in beige berber. Huge sliding doors opened the entire living space onto the yard. But the yard was uninspiring and didn’t have a view of the canyon behind the big fence. The master bedroom didn’t have a door — just a huge opening closed with an accordion screen. Given the downsides, we were not willing to exceed our budget, but we still could see ourselves living there. So we applied and offered slightly lower rent, giving our good financial record as evidence we’d be great tenants. He said we would have gotten the house if we were willing to pay the full amount.

Say you still need to give notice


My very favorite house so far was located just a few blocks from Balboa Park and a 12-minute walk to great restaurants. It had gorgeous wood floors and built-ins, a couple bonus rooms for office space, and a basement for storage (rare in San Diego). The private backyard had lemon, lime, and avocado trees, vegetable garden beds, and shaded arbors. And it was in our price range. Honestly, I saw no major downside. Dan was excited and I was totally smitten, so we applied. But the landlord wanted to call rental references the very next day (a Sunday!) and we explained that we haven’t given notice at our current place, and would like to avoid doing so unless we were his top pick. Unfortunately, I think that was what ruined our chances. He told us we were well-qualified but gave the place to someone else. I cried.

Stop looking

This is a mistake we haven’t made yet. Although I’m tired of all the uncertainty and upheaval, Dan reminds me that since we’re on a month-to-month lease, we have the luxury of time. We can wait until we find the ideal place — there’s no rush. We can use these hard-earned lessons to become better candidates. And we might encounter less competition or lower prices once the summer moving season ends. So keep your fingers crossed for the hunt…


…and in the meantime, for the repairs, too.