Sunday, September 9, 2007


I remember the movie from my childhood, probably from a Saturday afternoon sprawled on the criss-cross brown & beige carpeted floor in the TV room: Giant Ants! In black and white! They were mutated from atomic testing somewhere in the southwest, and were attacking people. And who could blame them--if I got myself mutated I'd probably bite someone too.

It comes to mind as we prep the house for the market here, because we're having a lot of conversations about "Them." Not the ants, but those mystical future buyers of the house, a nebulous "Them,' with preferences and predilictions that we're trying to imagine and cater too without much evidence based in anything but hearsay. "They" clearly wouldn't like our downstairs bathroom with the rich dark blue paint: so it becomes beige. "They" certainly wouldn't put up with a master bath as cluttered as ours was, not to mention the (ok, I'll admit it--not our best color choice) faux-finished purple walls. So, a yellow-beige for that room, too, and we have discussions over what kind of mirror and light fixture 'They' will like best. (Our only defense for the purple--you should have seen those walls when we bought the house. Purple was a blessing.) Those cracks in the corner of the ceiling where the sheetrock tape is peeling? Yep, gotta fix it or it'll turn Them off. A bedroom without a closet? What were we thinking? (There's one there now, thanks to the contractor we call Super Bob, and it looks like it grew there it fits in so well.)

We're all becoming conditioned by those endless home shows on HGTV: 'They' are automatically assumed to have little taste or imagination, to have a perverse fetish for beige, to be unnerved by small things like that divet of no-paint on the kitchen cabinet from where I whacked it with the rice cooker in a fit of what-will-Ben-actually-eat-tonight frustration. They like hardwood floors and don't like clutter. And so we wrap our house with a veneer of normalcy that feels kinda boring. When I'm putting together the house's website, I'm not using the cool pic of the kids having fun in Giselle's cluttered painting loft and my PJ'ed feet hanging over the edge; I'm using a carefully lit picture of the bathroom cabinets with some simple flowers. I'm not using a picture of the big hippie window out back--instead it's the kitchen that's cleaner for a brief moment of a photo than it has ever been before, and likely will ever be again.

It's a shame that here in the states, the place we call ours, in which we play out our domestic lives, is also one of our most significant financial investments--and so the tyranny of the dollar weighs heavy even in bathroom fixtures. "They" are around the corner, those furry, bug-eyed giants, waiting with their checkbooks to pass judgement on our offbeat aesthetic.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Santa Cruz Mountains Ecology

The Santa Cruz Mountains are a region of large biological diversity, encompassing cool, moist coastal ecosystems as well as warm, dry chaparral. In valleys and moist ocean-facing slopes some of the southernmost coast redwoods grow, along with Douglas fir, coast live oak, Pacific madrone, wax myrtle, and California bay laurel. There do exist several small and isolated stands of old growth forest, most notably at Big Basin, Henry Cowell Redwoods and Portola Redwoods State Parks. At higher elevations and on sunny south slopes a more drought-resistant chaparral vegetation dominates: manzanita, California scrub oak, chamise, and chaparral pea. Spring wildflowers are also widespread throughout the range.

The area welcomes a tremendous number of species of birds. (see: bird list). California Mule Deer are common, as are gray squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons. Foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions also inhabit the region but are rarely seen. Rattlesnakes are also habitants, mostly in the high, dry chaparral.

--From Wikipedia

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Packing up

I was down at the apartment we own tonight, taking keys from one set of tenants and passing them on to the next ones, and I was thinking about how strange it is right now: we'll be moving out of the house we own, to go and rent someone elses house, all the while owning another piece of property that *we* rent out to someone else. It feels somehow like a constantly running shell game, where the ball under a shell keeps moving and you never know exactly where it calls its home. Here's a picture of the rental property, featuring the One Dead Bush out front. The bush is gone now, but for awhile it was the only way for me to identify the place from it's neighbors when I drove by it. Strange, too: to own a place you will never know well.

The new tenants seemed nice--two younger guys striking out in an apartment, a UHaul they were struggling to find a place to park (since there's no good place to do it--in the alley, you have to walk the stuf around to the front since the back stairs are narrow. In front, it's a busy road and you have to bump it up onto the lawn), a pack of friends and parents on hand to help move them in. I brought them some beer and stuck it in the fridge. The former tenants, two female students, seemed somewhat embarrased moving out, and we'd had a whole issue where they'd given notice on the place to move a month early, had a reference from another place call us, and then seemed surprised when we actually rented it and then they actually had to move. We were a little surprised at the number of pets they'd acquired despite the lease.

Moving is a ton of work and stress, and there's little way to avoid it. Here in the Midlothian house, we've gotten rid of a ton of stuff from the attic, the garage, a lot of furniture. Our contractor SuperBob and his brother-in-law have been putting up a closet in our daughter's room and painting the master bath and downstairs baths, and this coming week they'll put a new ceiling in the guest room. Soon, new sliding glass doors will arrive (there are five in a line across the face of the house, which you can see from this picture) and will open up the front view in a way we've never seen it, since they've been frosted over with condensation on the interior pretty much since we've lived here. We have clothes in boxes and in laundry bins, and the kids are bunking together they way they've taken to doing this summer. They like it, and they sleep fine there in Ben's room, so we like it. We have less places to sit and more things stacked around or near those that remain, such that you have to weave your way from resting place to resting place. Our son Ben has taken up carting around an empty box with him that he puts toys in to make sure they won't disappear and will come with him to California.

This week: painting kitchen cabinets, sorting more kid stuff, painting a bathroom floor, hauling some brush from the great pin-oak up at the top of the property near the road, hauling everything out of the garage to wash that floor down.