Where to Begin

Between stripping, nailing, painting, and caulking, Dale “squeegeed” the garage of the torrents of water that flowed down our practically precipitous driveway, and just one more problem we faced.

Dale’s work on our mountain home—where to start—on a place that sat untouched for seven years? Seven seasons of uncontrolled plant growth, seven years of hurricane winds that stripped paint and battered siding, seven years of rodents and spiders who made a home in our home, seven seasons of neglect inside and out made for an extensive list.

Dale first tackled the inside painting. This, and the removal of the red, paisley flocked wallpaper a la 1960s, kept him busy while I prepped our Indian Springs home.  A golden knotty pine framed doors and windows of the entire house and our choice of “Open Arms”—a soft, mellow yellow, almost a butter color, blended deliciously. I was relieved when I received the picture, after the fact, of the finished vaulted ceiling and Dale in complete climbing gear, minus the helmet which he claimed he removed to take the picture.

Dale in climbing gear

Before we could enjoy this house, the basics, e.g. solar panels for electricity required priming. While workers installed a new inverter, Dale focused on the inside of the house. The showers and tubs drained slowly or not at all, so plumbers labored on that—basically, calcium and other mineral deposits clogged the house after years of disuse. A “water softener” guy worked on the water softener. A “propane” guy restored and refueled the gas tank. Our purchase of the deluxe home warranty paid off with the dishwasher and oven, two of the many appliances that hadn’t been tested or used in years, and needed fixing.

Finally, November can be an Indian summer of scorching temperatures and raging wildfires, or as happened last year, an El Nino of rains and floods. A flood, not one or two, more like five floods, soaked the boxes that survived the trek from Indian Springs to our mountain home. Between stripping, nailing, painting, and caulking, Dale “squeegeed” the garage of the torrents of water that flowed down our practically precipitous driveway, and just one more problem we faced.

 

 

Memories of What’s Left Behind

How I wished we’d had money to pay for pool resurfacing and tile or better heater and pool pump, but life is choices and seeing Sam graduate with little college debt was the right decision for us. True to life’s irony, the pool contractor arrived for the pool redo on the official start of escrow on the mountain home.

Before launching into our “new/used” home, I want to remember what we left behind. The house on Indian Springs Road was supposed to be our forever home, the home where our children, grandchildren, and future great-grandchildren came for visits. Like in The Father of the Bride, our daughters’ wedding reception could be held in the backyard. In our retirement, we’d have raucous pool parties or quiet dinners enjoying the sunset on the surrounding hills. Our children, who learned to swim in the pool, could teach their children and they theirs. The fruit trees, the pomegranate, peach, and almond trees, we planted these past few years might yield bountiful harvests, and I’d make fancy jams. The play set in the far corner of the yard, the one Dale built on Christmas twenty-five years ago, would delight our grandchildren. These were my dreams, but life has a funny way with dreams and plans. Sometimes dreams come true, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes life presents a better scenario than ever imagined.

Our adult children flew our feathered nest, settling in San Diego, circling home once/year. They landed near their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. At visits to my parents’ home, my girls slept in my old bedroom. So as our daughters embraced San Diego, it looked less likely they’d return to Salinas. My dreams, after all, were my dreams not theirs. Dale and I decided that a move south made sense, whether or not we closed on the mountain house, we were at peace. Sad at leaving our home, our friends, Indian Springs neighborhood, family at St. Joseph’s, but at peace.

Now, we turned to prep our Indian Springs house—this house needed to look as good as our loving feelings for it—but in reality we had neglected so much.  We ignored floors, foundation repair, exterior painting, and pool repair—all “big ticket” items, paying college tuition instead. How I wished we’d had money to pay for pool resurfacing and tile or better heater and pool pump, but life is choices and seeing Sam graduate with little college debt was the right decision for us. True to life’s irony, the pool contractor arrived for the pool redo on the official start of escrow on the mountain home.

When our kids were little, they swam in that little pool with no care about blue lips and toes, uncontrollable shivers, and green water, when chlorine levels dipped and algae bloomed. Our kids and their friends learned to swim in the tiny pool, not much bigger than a truck. Everything being relative, this was a “bare bones” pool installed by the previous owner. When we first moved there, the pool deck was a random collection of pavers connected by weeds.  A patchwork deck was an eyesore, a cosmetic problem, while the lack of a pool fence was a safety issue. The Monterey Fence Company heard my frantic cry, “I have two small children, and we’re moving in a week.”  Two days later, the workers completed the fence, but—blame it on my years of lifeguarding—we needed more–an alarm, the floating kind, the gate kind, the impenetrable kind, the kind with a direct link to the fire department. We settled on a gate alarm, plus an additional one for the back door. Ear piercing and louder than a bank’s burglar alarm, a screech warned everyone within a five-mile radius that the gate was open. It cost us over $500, a stretch for us, but it was the best $500 ever spent.

One Sunday afternoon five months after we moved in, and not fully unpacked, we threw a pool party. Parents partied inside, kids played outside. A few minutes into the party, the gate alarm sounded. One of the older kids managed to open the pool gate, but couldn’t shut off the alarm. Within seconds, parents tore out the backdoor to the bewilderment of the ten children, five under the age of five and non-swimmers. In that moment, the alarm paid for itself. Birthdays, graduations, retirements—twenty-five years of pool parties—and, thankfully, celebrations without accidents.

Preparing to Sell

Three days and three sleepless nights later, we heard from our realtor that “Fanny Mae” accepted our offer. We only had to secure financing, sell our home, pack, move, and unpack. Easy, right?

Three days and three sleepless nights later, we heard from our realtor that “Fanny Mae” accepted our offer.  We only had to secure financing, sell our home, pack, move, and unpack. Easy, right?

Buying or selling a home is completed primarily by fax or email, so we stayed in Salinas and began packing. First task—Gathering boxes by daily trips to the Salinas High book room, where Ms. Patricia gladly unloaded her extras. Ms. Patricia runs a “tight ship” of books for 2500 students, while high on her stilettos, but that’s another story.  UPS delivers daily to the high school, so we had a good start on boxes. Second task—picking an agent. We posted a shot of our home; cast a description on FB to see if we could garner any nibbles. Sure enough by the next day, a parade of cars “drove by” (lookey-loos) and a realtor-neighbor knocked on our door with a portfolio of impressive materials. Gloria seemed young and eager, yet we had a scheduled meeting with Linda, our friend of 30 plus years. Gloria’s bubbly enthusiasm buoyed us—“This house will sell fast. It’s in a great neighborhood with excellent schools.”  And she suggested a price, which wowed us.

When Linda and her partner Kevin arrived, both long-time Coldwell Banker Realtors, their assessment was not as ebullient as Gloria’s.  A quick look at our house through their eyes, and we began to see things we neglected over the years, especially, the mismatched floors, such as medium oak in the living room, lighter oak in the master bedroom, bamboo in the kitchen, plus peel and stick oak in the kids rooms, the latter retained black marker drawings from when our kids were young.  A few years earlier (okay, probably much earlier—but not more than a score), Dale ingeniously installed a “white board” on their bedroom wall, actually a white Formica countertop turned upside down, so our kids could express themselves; problem was containing their creativity, as it overflowed onto floors and doors. At some point, Sam, our youngest, drew a beautiful piece of art—stick figures really—on the back of the garage door. I considered nailing a frame around it, and then rethought I shouldn’t reinforce her behavior.  Whatever, I never had the heart to repaint or repair, so the floors held our kids’ artwork intact. At least, Allie’s blue room, during her blue period, was now white. During Allie’s high school years, she painted the entire room including ceiling, the bluest sky-blue with floating white clouds. It was her room. Since it was too blue for my taste, I kept her door closed. When Sam, our youngest, took over that room, she repainted it.

M’s room reflected her taste—the only room in the house with carpet—and not surprising a blue color, had soft yellow painted walls. M. moved away for college and grad school, never returned except for random visits, daughter #2 followed, then finally the youngest. Bedroom #1, formerly the blue room, became Dale’s office, the middle bedroom, which all three girls occupied at different times, morphed into my office, or storage shed—depending on my projects, while bedroom #3 the guest room. With our fledglings flown the nest, time for the parents to move on.

Habitat for Humanity and the Bedroom Set

Okay, this now involved work. Dale called local truck rentals, and the next day we loaded everything home to Salinas. Even with the $300 cost of the truck rental, this bedroom set was worth ten times that.

Funny thing is we moved everything, all five pieces, back to San Diego three months later.

Our last remodel was the kitchen of our Monterey-Salinas home. We chose the contractor, marked off the five-six week stretch when we’d live on fast food (hard for me since I love to cook), and thanks to friend, Cindy who’d survived the same experience, got tips on expediting the entire process. Her first suggestion was to pick out appliances, sink, flooring, etc. ahead of time and store them in the garage, so the contractor wouldn’t need to wait on materials. We picked tile, flooring, countertops; we kept our refrigerator and dishwasher to reduce costs. Cindy’s second suggestion of shopping at Habitat for Humanity helped us stay under cost and on time!

Habitat for Humanity is a win for everyone, especially the environment. The “restore” carries appliances, furniture, building materials, e.g. lighting fixtures, plumbing parts, you name it. Contractors drop off useable materials, and other contractors pick them up. Homeowners shop as well.  Some pieces are “gently used” or “pre-owned,” while other pieces are brand new, extras donated by builders. Little lands in the landfill, meanwhile proceeds benefit the homeless, who under supervision of Habitat for Humanity workers build their own houses. I picked a double convection oven for $250 and brand new, deluxe microwave for $25. We also purchased heavy oak double front doors for $400 total. Such steals.

On one of many trips to San Diego, we visited the local Habitat for Humanity restore store. This time we searched for furniture for our daughter’s small condo, and scored a mahogany bookcase with beautiful trim and an even more beautiful price of $50. As we perused the warehouse, a new arrival wrapped in plastic rested against a wall.  A Mission style, stunning, solid oak five piece bedroom set. The set included king-sized bed frame, large armoire with mirror, and two smaller side pieces in a light oak that coordinated perfectly with our Mission style house in Salinas. The price? Crazy amazing of $700 for all the five pieces. Total. I whipped out my checkbook, since I know about shopping at Habitat. Things come and go pretty quickly.

Clerk—“Today all furniture is half off. Lucky you.”

Me—“I get all this for $350?” I’m all about a bargain, but not at short-changing a non-profit. I couldn’t believe my fortune.

Clerk—“But you have to get this stuff outta here by tomorrow, since we have more shipments coming in.”

Okay, this now involved work. Dale called local truck rentals, and the next day we loaded everything home to Salinas. Even with the $300 cost of the truck rental, this bedroom set was worth ten times that.

Funny thing is we moved everything, all five pieces, back to San Diego three months later.

Sleepless Second Night

Is this house going to be too much work? After little sleep, we decided to go back and look at the house again.

We hardly slept that night, tossing and turning over our many questions. Should we bid on the house? What if we get the house? What if we don’t get the house? Are we moving too quickly? Should we sell our home after 26 years? Is Julian the right place to retire? Is this house going to be too much work? After little sleep, we decided to go back and look at the house again.

This time, we took a different route–Interstate 8 through Alpine and Descanso–and marveled at the near continuous Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. The side door to the house was unlocked, so we “broke in” as we did the day before. We noticed more things needing repair: peeling paint, broken cement fiberboard, ugly tile, overgrown trees and shrubs, and of course, the steep, steep–10% at least steep–driveway. I imagined driving in rain, sleet, or snow. Yikes. We’d need another car, four-wheel drive for sure. Then we saw the sun shining on Lake Cuyamaca.
In the sun room and living room, Dale practically swooned over the fans, decorated with antlers and a chain of dangling bear claws. What a guy. The house hollered “man-cave,” it screamed wilderness. I could live with antlers and bear claws, but the other fans not so much. On one bedroom ceiling hung a tropical fan with faux palm fronds, on another bedroom ceiling a modernist stainless steel model that resembled a UFO–both strange fixtures in a mountain cabin. Fans hung in every room, including the laundry room; we deduced the house must swelter in the summer. No air conditioning, but at 5400 feet, how hot can it possibly get? Then we watched planes taking off from the San Diego Airport and boats sailing in the harbor.
The living room’s fireplace of beautiful stone work and mantle was set with reddish grout. Not my choice of colors, until I realized the fireplace reflected the rocks and soil surrounding the house. I liked the open concept living room, dining room, and kitchen; I didn’t like the custom range hood coated in grease–more work to be done, while replacing it was a pricey option. Then we stared at the haze of Catalina and San Clemente Islands on the horizon.
The master bedroom with en suite master bath rivaled five-star hotel rooms–the super-sized shower supported by a multitude of jets, a whirlpool spa, walk in closet, and the “piece de resistance”– a fireplace that opened to both the master bedroom and bath. The tile around the fireplace needed replacing; the red flocked wallpaper needed stripping—both cosmetic. No vanities or medicine cabinets in any bathrooms–more expenses to add to the growing list. Then we saw Mt. Laguna to the east and Middle Peak of Rancho Cuyamaca State Park to the south from the bedroom windows.

We inspected the perimeter of the house, careful not to twist an ankle on the rocky path. How was this house ever constructed? It emerged from rocks and boulders that dotted the landscape. The piers supporting the wrap-around deck appeared in good condition; well, except for two or three, those piers and beams needed structural engineers, not us. Every ten feet or so, the blackened trunk of a burned conifer told the story of the Cedar Fire that blazed through this mountain. Other archeological remnants e.g. cement foundations, rebar, pottery fragments, painted the sad picture of that fire that destroyed lives and homes in 2003. We could only guess what happened here. Then we saw the expanse of the Cleveland National Forest and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
We were sold.