Monday, September 15, 2014

Guanajuato, donde empezará mi aventura


Cuando le digo a alguien sobre mis planes de viajar por México en el 2015 siempre me preguntan a dónde viajaré y a qué me dedicaré durante el año. Preguntas razonables.

Y a la mayoría de la gente, después de que les digo que no tengo un horario detallado — ni aún cuál ciudad en cuál mes específico — expresa sorpresa. Solo en algunas ocasiones, me encuentro a una persona que entiende la idea de viajar como mochilero, sin planes fijos, mudándome a cualquier lugar que me interesa.

Pero esta falta de horario me encanta. La llamada de una aventura inesperada. No entiendo por qué esta idea es algo tan increíble. Es una narrativa tan común como la del "road trip" americano, ¿no?

Sin embargo. Lo único que yo sé por cierto es que quiero empezar mi aventura en la ciudad de Guanajuato, en el estado central del mismo nombre. Forrest y yo fuimos allí en julio — sólo por 2 días, pero la ciudad nos parece encantadora.

He leído mucho sobre Guanajuato antes de nuestras vacaciones cortas, y fue todo lo que he esperado. (Casi nos dejamos de San Miguel de Allende, la ciudad tan popular con los expatriados americanos, para regresar a Guanajuato por 2 días más, nos gusta tanto.)

Es una ciudad vieja, construida por los españoles por sus minas de plata. Geográficamente, está ubicado en un cañón. Existen túneles debajo de todo el centro histórico, donde va la mayoría del tráfico de los coches. Por esa razón, la zona histórica es sorprendentemente seguro para los caminantes. En el área más central, el zócalo que se llama El Jardín, no se permite ningún coche.

En espíritu mexicano verdadero, los superficies de los edificios son un caos de colores vibrantes. A mí no me parece muy bonito, pero sí me da algo de ánima por la energía de tantos colores. :) Las calles estrechas son empedradas, y por todos lados hay callejones aún más estrechas que serpentean entre las casas antiguas.

Una tradición turística y divertida es la "callejoneada," un paseo por los callejones guiado por una banda con guitarras y otros instrumentos musicales. Entretienen a los clientes con canciones y chistes procaces. :P Este dura por más de una hora, y creo que ocurre cada noche del año; no sé cómo se adapta la gente de la ciudad al ruido constante! Pero es muy divertido y te la recomiendo. :)

Hay una universidad en el centro, así que la edad mediana es un poco más joven, por causa de todos los estudiantes que viven allí. También es popular la ciudad con los turistas mexicanos (pero no tanto con los americanos). Así que hay mucho que hacer, y las cosas son baratos también.

Es casi ideal (para mí) para el comienzo de mi aventura.

Corrected by Aldebaran.


When I tell people about my plans to travel in Mexico in 2015, they always ask me where I plan to go and what I'll do during the year. Reasonable questions.

And most people, after I tell them that I have no detailed schedule - not even which cities in which specific months - they're surprised. Only occasionally do I find someone who understands the idea of backpacking without fixed plans, going to any place that interests me.

But I love this lack of schedule. The call of an unexpected adventure. I don't understand why this idea is so incredible. It's as common as the American "road trip" narrative, isn't it?

Anyway. All I know for certain is that I want to start my adventure in the city of Guanajuato, in the central state of the same name. Forrest and I went there in July - only for 2 days, but the city was enchanting.

I'd read a lot about Guanajuato before our short vacation, and it was everything I expected. (We almost left San Miguel de Allende, the city so popular with American expatriates, to return to Guanajuato for 2 days, we loved it so much.)

It's an old city, built by the Spanish for its silver mines. Geographically, it's located in a canyon. There are tunnels beneath the historic center of town, where most of the traffic goes. For that reason, the historic area is surprisingly safe for pedestrians. In the central area, the plaza is called The Garden, no cars are allowed.

In true Mexican spirit, building surfaces are a riot of vibrant colors. I do not think it looks very pretty, but so many colors are energizing. :) The narrow streets are cobbled, and everywhere there are even narrower alleys that wind between the old houses.

A touristy and fun tradition is the "callejoneada," a stroll through the alleys led by a band with guitars and other musical instruments. They regale guests with songs and ribald jokes. :P This lasts for over an hour, and I think it happens every night of the year; I don't know how people in the city adapt to the constant noise! But it's great fun and I recommend it. :)

There's a university downtown, so the average age is a bit younger, because of all the students living there. The city is also popular with Mexican tourists (but not so much with American tourists). So there's a lot to do, and things are cheap too.

It's almost perfect (for me) for the beginning of my adventure.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

2015: My Year Abroad

Since my first trip abroad, to Spain one summer with my high school class, I've longed to live abroad for a substantial time period. I've wanted the adventure, the thrill of being in a different environment, the mental challenge of being immersed in a foreign language and foreign culture.

I made one more short trip to Spain with my mom, and I spent three weeks in Oaxaca (in southern Mexico), attending a language school and participating in the life of a homestay family there. I wanted to take a half year — an entire year — and really live somewhere else.

But I graduated college without doing any study abroad. It just never fit with the class schedule for my major. I started working full time. I got married, bought a house. Although I still wanted to have that adventure, it seemed increasingly likely that it just wasn't ever going to actually work out. The timing never seemed right, and I saw no reason why the timing would get any easier.

Yet I would still wistfully mention it to Forrest. To his credit, he consistently told me I should do it. I just felt like it wasn't something that could reasonably happen in reality.

When I started describing such a trip as something I'd regret never doing, Forrest finally told me that while he didn't have the same live-abroad wanderlust that I did, I shouldn't let that stop me. He told me I should just make it happen already. At which point, I started talking to people about when I would spend a year abroad, rather than if. It's amazing how much difference a single word can make, even just in my own mind.

So after spending almost half my life (damn! I make myself feel simultaneously old and young!) wanting this, and spending the past year seriously turning to the practical and logistical side of things, I am finally going to make it happen.

Many of my friends and family — and any strangers foolish enough to express any interest ;) — have already heard some portion of my plans. It's been over a year since my last blog post; this seems like a suitable "announcement" to break that silence:

I will be spending 2015 in Mexico!

I'm going to be rather busy up until I actually leave. I'm no longer at Google, and Forrest gave his notice earlier this month, so we're planning to do some traveling together before I go off on my own adventure.

In September, I'm spending the weekly camping at Lake Wenatchee State Park with friends, attending CatalystCon West (a sexuality/sex-positive/education/activism con) in LA, and meeting up with the old Jambool gang to go wine tasting 4 years post-acquisition. Then, mid-October, we're going to Disneyland with Jambool-Ben and his friends.

On either side of the Disneyland trip, Forrest and I will visit family in California At the very end of October, we're then heading to Baja with my parents. They'll road-trip with us for ~2 weeks then head back while Forrest and I continue wandering around the peninsula. We'll will return to California in time for Thanksgiving, and also spend Christmas and New Year's with family.

Once January 2015 rolls around, I'll be heading for the city of Guanajuato and the start of my one-year Mexico adventure!


Friday, September 12, 2014

Livescribe 3 Smartpen

First use of Livescribe 3 smartpen
First use of Livescribe 3 smartpen

I've rediscovered how much I enjoy writing things out long-hand, and I'd like to get back into journaling regularly. But I've also noticed that I tend not to transcribe things into blog posts. It's been over a year since I blogged!

Then I suddenly remembered that "smart pens" were a thing. So I googled what the current state of the world was for smart pens and ended up convincing myself to buy a Livescribe 3.

(I just paused to see what the OCR software made of my natural, unaltered handwriting. Holy shit! Those first two paragraphs above it made zero errors into transcription! It didn't catch the paragraph-break the way I would have typed it manually, but I'll forgive it. It even correctly placed a comma I had gone back in and added after I'd kept on writing. It did miss an apostrophe, but I suppose that one was nearly non- existent. As for underlined words, it just ignored it entirely. Which seems fair. Smileys confuse it, though.)

The docs also say it can be multi-lingual...

Y ahora he cambiado el idioma. Me parece que no es posible escribir en dos idiomas a la vez — debes cambiar los ajustes, que se aplican a una parte? página? cuaderno? Sí es posible re-transcribir algo en otro idioma. Pero no se puede mezclarlos.

Und kann ich auf Deutsch schreiben auch! Sehr toll. :)

Perhaps there shall be more blogging in the future...


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Broken Foot

One Accident-Recounting to Rule Them All

Many have heard by now about my foot, but I've been inconsistent in how much I felt like retelling the story when various people have asked. So I'm going to write it up here, and refer people here for the details.

One-Stop Pub Crawl

The in-laws visited last week. On Wednesday night, Forrest's brother, Ari, stayed over at our house so we could do a "pub crawl" with our friends Jerry and Aaron. We ended up staying at the first bar we went to: Ballard Smoke Shop, my favorite locals' bar in Seattle. They pour cheap but strong drinks, and are always friendly in a down-to-earth, no-nonsense sort of way.

Walking Without Rhythm

After several drinks, we started walking the 1.5 miles back to our house. We were definitely buzzed, but no one was weaving or stumbling or talking funny or anything like that.

I forget how the subject came up, but I started talking about the funny dance/walk thing that Christopher Walken does in the music video Weapon of Choice. The lyric goes, "Walk without rhythm, and you won't attract the worm" (which is a Dune reference). I started to demonstrate the silly walk.

Unfortunately, I happened to start walking in this exaggerated, unstable manner right at the corner, where the sidewalk slopes down for wheelchair ramp access. My bad right ankle, which I have twisted before, rolled on the uneven ground. I fell onto my left side. Somehow, I skinned my left elbow and knee without tearing my jacket or pants — luckily, this means I got more of a "rug burn" than dirt and gravel dug into my skin.

I'm pretty sure I would have twisted my ankle regardless of whether I'd been drinking before; this is the ankle I've rolled several times over the years, and it's prone to injury these days. But maybe I would have tried to catch myself while falling. But then maybe I would have hurt my wrist too? Or gone down harder on the knee cap itself, rather than distributing my weight over my entire side? Being tipsy might have actually been a blessing in disguise. (I absolutely am willing to "walk silly" in public without any alcohol, so that wasn't a factor in the inciting incident. ;))

Painful Foot

I knew right away that I'd hurt my ankle pretty bad. I didn't even try to get up on it. Instead, I asked my friends to pull my fully onto the sidewalk and out of the street I'd half fallen into. (I'm grateful this was past midnight, so traffic was very light.)

In an encouraging note for humanity, no less than 3 separate strangers stopped and asked if I was okay. I looked up at each of them and calmly told them I'd just twisted my ankle, my friends could help me get home, but thanks for the concern.

They helped me stand up, and I thought I could still hobble on it. So Forrest helped me cross the street, continuing toward home. But we didn't even get halfway across the street before I realized my foot was hurt much more than the "usual" twists and sprains I'd had before. I really couldn't put any weight at all on the foot. So we ordered up an Uber taxi, even though we were less than a mile from home. (I learned that Uber has a $12 minimum. Worth it.)

Only 3 or 4 people could fit in the Uber car, so Jerry and Aaron graciously offered to walk home, leaving enough space for me, Forrest, and his brother to get back to our house. I'm really grateful that everyone was chill about me "ruining" the evening and having to cut the night a little short. Good friends.

Dealing With the Injury That Night (smart)

At home, Forrest had the unenviable task of bandaging my skinned elbow and knee. Damn did that sting. (And, unfortunately, we didn't get the larger knee scrape cleaned enough. It's still sore a week later, so I suspect it might be mildly infected.) He helped me to bed, got me a bag of ice to get the swelling down, and gave me some ibuprofen. Once we'd done everything we could, I stayed lying down while he went back out to the living room to spend some more time with his brother.

In the half hour or so that it took for the combination of ice and ibuprofen to kick in, I was very uncomfortable and distraught with the pain of it. But finally the pain subsided to more manageable levels, and I fell asleep.

Ignoring the Injury the Next Day (not smart)

In the morning, I figured out a funky way of moving on my left foot, sort of a "twist and shout" dance maneuver to get enough momentum to slide on my sock while only on one foot. I also used the wood trim of the house to pull myself along; it made surprising good handholds. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to go in to work that Thursday, so I stayed home.

Between my semi-mobility and Forrest still visiting with his family, I didn't think I needed to take the time to go to a doctor. I figured it would heal up and be fine, just like the previous times I'd twisted the ankle. We went to dinner at The Met to celebrate his parents' 30th anniversary. I hobbled around, often with help from someone, definitely in pain, but I was determined to be as normally-mobile as possible. (Dinner was fantastic, as always.)

But everyone at dinner expressed concern about my hobbling, and insisted that I have a doctor look at my foot. So I agreed that I'd take a taxi to a walk-in clinic the next day.

We also stopped at the drugstore on the way home and bought me some crutches, so I could stop doing the twist and shout around the house. ;)

Diagnosis: Fractured Metatarsal, Undisplaced

And I'm glad I did have a doctor look at it. Because, as it turns out, I actually broke the damn foot.

The doctor gently poked at my foot in various places. Based on where it hurt (the ankle, a little; and especially mid-foot on the outside) and where it didn't hurt (anywhere along the inside of the foot), he said that pattern of pain was normally seen with a fractured metatarsal.

How does twisting an ankle break the foot bone, you ask? Read Dancer’s Fracture (5th Metatarsal Avulsion Fracture) for details. But basically, there's a ligament that goes between your ankle and the outside metatarsal. When you twist your ankle, sometimes that tears. But other times, it holds, and instead pulls on the base of the metatarsal it's attached to so strongly that it actually fractures the bone. That latter scenario is what happened to me.

I took a wheelchair ride down the hall to get x-rayed, then was wheelchaired back. The doctor came back in and told me the x-rays confirmed the fracture. As far as broken bones go, mine was relatively minor: it's not "displaced," meaning it didn't completely break of a chunk of bone; and it didn't even go all the way through the bone, either.

I asked him to scare me with what would happen if I ignore his recommendation to keep my weight off the foot; he laughed and said, "Oh, you're one of those personalities." :P The potential Bad Stuff was sufficiently bad that I have not tried to walk on the foot since my doctor's appointment. Surgery and pins in my foot are things I'd like to avoid!

The doctor offered a prescription for vicodin, but last time I had it (for my wisdom teeth) it made me nauseous, so I declined. He told me to be wary of talking any NSAIDs like ibuprofen, because it might interfere with bone healing. He instead recommended acetaminophen, although you have to be careful with the dosage and avoid drinking while taking it.

Finally, he got me a "walking boot" to semi-immobilize my foot and told me to follow up with my regular doctor in a week.

I'll know more about how it's been healing up, and how long to expect complete healing to take, this Friday at that follow-up appointment.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

¿Otro Viaje a México?


Hace algunos años — creo que fue en 2008 — mi mamá y yo planeamos un viaje a San Miguel de Allende, donde asistiríamos en una escuela de idiomas y viviríamos con una familia mexicana allí.

Pero teníamos que posponer nuestro viaje. Así es la vida, algunas veces.

Ahora, cuando estoy pensando otra vez en una de mis metas de la vida — hablar español fluido — recordé estes planes olvidados. Llamé a mi mamá y la pregunté si todavía viajaría ella conmigo. Tiene que pensarlo más, pensar en el precio y el horario... ¡pero quizás me dirá sí! :)


A few years ago — I think it was 2008 — my mom and I planned a trip to San Miguel de Allende, where we would attend a language school and live with a Mexican family there.

But we had to postpone our trip. Such is life sometimes.

Now, when I'm thinking again about one of my life goals — to speak Spanish fluently — I remembered these forgotten plans. I called my mom and asked her if she would still go with me. She has to think about it more, think about the cost and the schedule... but maybe she will say yes! :)


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Treadmill Desk, Two Weeks Later

On April 11th, after months of toying with the idea of setting up a permanent treadmill at my work desk and asking my coworkers if they'd be bothered if I did so, I bought a (relatively cheap) treadmill off of Amazon. On April 16th, the treadmill was delivered. (Shout out to the amazing facilities crew at work, whose only questions were "when would it be convenient to you for us to bring the treadmill to your desk?" and "let us know if you need any help putting it in a vehicle later!")

It's been a little over two weeks of using the treadmill at work now, and I have to say: treadmill desks are awesome!

I had been using a standing desk for months, listening to my body: sitting when I was tired, standing when I was restless. I'd gotten to the point that I was standing most of the time. I think this has helped in my quick transition to the treadmill desk, which obviously doesn't allow for a chair at all. And anyway, I think walking is easier on your feet than standing still, at least for long periods of time.

When my feet really do want a rest, I just take my laptop over to the couch that's just 50 feet away and take a short break.

I am "allowed" the treadmill in an open office floor plan only at my coworkers' good graces. So the first thing I did to the treadmill after turning it on was disable its super-annoying, constant beeping.

Thankfully, the treadmill itself is only minimally noisy. Honestly, I think the tiny fan I bought is noisier than the treadmill. The important point is that no one at work has complained about the treadmill yet. On the contrary, even strangers have wandered over to ask variations on "what the heck is that?" and "how did you get it?" and "can you really type on that thing?" (Answers: a treadmill! with money! and yes, just as fast as before.)

The treadmill's computer console does not disconnect entirely, but its cords are long enough that I can set it down on my old standing desk and get it out of the way. The handlebars are welded to the base frame, and as such are not (easily ;)) removed. But they are horizontal enough that a $6 wooden shelf from Lowe's is extremely stable plopped across them. I thought I would have to somehow secure the plank to the handlebars, but so far it's shown no inclination to move and I haven't bothered.

From the photo of the treadmill's console hiding on the old standing desk, you might think that it's really inconvenient to use. Luckily, this treadmill model also has redundant controls at the ends of the handlebars, which stick out well beyond my shelf "desk". So I only need to reach across the desk to push the console buttons when I want to reset the statistics mid-day (which I almost never care enough to do; my Fitbit tracks all the stats I want).

As for the health benefits... Make no mistake, walking at a speed that doesn't interfere with creative computer work (ie, 1–1.5 mph) is not an aerobic workout. I barely break a sweat when I walk for an hour straight. But what it is better than is sitting my butt in a chair 8 hours a day, only to come home and sit on the couch until bedtime.

The treadmill does not replace my actual workout/gym time. But it does replace a large chunk of my 100% sedentary time that I otherwise couldn't get away from, given my job as a programmer.

Ask me how I feel about my treaddesk setup in two months... But after two weeks, I'm just mad I didn't decide to do this sooner!


Thursday, April 18, 2013

How to disable the buzzer on a treadmill in 8 steps

I bought a treadmill to use at my standing desk at work. It's just a cheap one, the Exerpeutic TF1000 Walk to Fitness Electric Treadmill. Given that it's not a, uh, deluxe model, there is no way to control the volume of the beep it makes, nor a way to disable it.

And wow does it like to beep. It makes two beeps when you first power it on, to say that it's boot-up test completed. Then it beeps when you press the Start button, and it does a 3-beep countdown as it's about to start, and it beeps every time you modify the speed — which you have to do a lot, since it changes in only 0.1–mile increments.

Since I'm using this treadmill in an open office plan, that beep had to go. Even if I were using it the treadmill at home, I want that beep to go! So here is what I did to kill the annoying beep (do at your own risk, unplug the treadmill & ground yourself, etc etc):

Step 1: open the console

Get a Phillips screwdriver and unscrew the back of the console.

Step 2: unscrew the circuit board

Set aside the back of the console and unscrew the circuit board too.

Step 3: identify the buzzer

See the little black cylinder in the top center of the circuit board? That is the buzzer that makes the terrible beeping!

Step 4: flip the circuit board over

Be careful when flipping over the circuit board — the LCD screen is just taped onto the board, not soldered, and it will fall off if you bump the board around too much. (If that happens, just put it back in place. The circuit board screws hold it in place.

Step 5: identify the trace to cut

On the back side of buzzer, identify the copper traces that connect to it. Those are the traces that need to be cut to shut up the buzzer. (See the next step, showing the trace cut, if you're not sure which ones I mean.)

Step 6: cut the trace

Use an exacto knife or similar to cut the copper trace to the buzzer. (I didn't have an exacto knife handy, so I made do with a puship and a pair of scissors. I don't really recommend those tools, but they got the job done.)

Step 7: confirm the trace is cut

Get some good light in there to verify that the copper is no longer continuous.

Step 8: make sure the buttons are "loose"

When I first put the console back together, I realized that my Start button was stuck down on the left side, and pushed up on the right side. So I had to open the console up again, unscrew the circuit board to un-stick the button, jiggle things around until the button was "loose" again, and the re-close the console.

So! Make sure your button is not stuck before closing up the console.

Success! No more annoying beeps!


Friday, April 12, 2013

CrossFit Seattle: not a "cult" gym

So @PhDinParenting on Twitter shared a post their personal trainer wrote about CrossFit.

And I have to say whoa, that is not my CrossFit gym at all! Thankfully!

"Everybody does the same exercise, with the same load, for the same reps with absolutely no respect to form and technique. Get it up with any means necessary."

This is so opposite of my gym, CrossFit Seattle! My gym won't even let you join the group classes until you've done three 1:1 sessions with a trainer to focus exclusively on form, because they don't want you to just jump into classes, not know what you're doing, push yourself too hard, and hurt yourself.

Then, once you're in the group classes, each individual is lifting different weights, depending on ability. And the trainers absolutely modify exercises for newbies or people with medical conditions. Because I'm a weak newbie myself (everybody's gotta start somewhere), the trainers have lowered my weights, reps, or changed the exercise entirely to something more appropriate for where I'm at as an individual. The other members are equally supportive of starting at where you're at, which is great.

I've also seen no evidence of other cult-like aspects I've heard ascribed to CrossFit. Namely, I've seen no one encouraged to "work until they puke"(!), pressured into adopting toe-shoes, or converted to a Paleo diet. Everyone looks like they're working with high intensity, but in a sustainable manner, not a crazed manner. People wear a variety of things, and no one seems judgmental or even caring about what you're wearing. I've overheard two members talking after a workout about how they eat, but it seems like a normal conversation about health, not anything evangelical.

In short, I'm thankful that I chose my CrossFit gym based on coworkers' specific recommendations of it as a "non-cult-ish" CrossFit place. I think I'm getting a challenging yet safe workout from CrossFit Seattle.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sneaky Valentine Cupcakes

A few weeks before Valentine's Day, a local cupcake vendor had samples at work and a sign-up sheet for people to send "cupcake-grams". I went and partook of the delicious samples and "casually mentioned" the sign-up sheet to my husband. He muttered that he had already been planning to do that and it took away the surprise for me to mention it.

Except that later, he sheepishly admitted that he had then completely forgotten about it until the vendor had left. I found it amusing, not disappointing, so it's all good. I don't really need cupcakes anyway, right?

Then today, Valentine's Day, I got up early, before Forrest, and walked in to work. (It's a 2.3 mile walk and I'm really enjoying the walk, which I've done every day so far this week. But I digress.) Not long after I get in to the office, I get a text from Forrest asking if I could meet him in the lobby of my building. It's our frequent meeting spot to exchange items forgotten, chat in person, or to meet up before going somewhere together, so I didn't think anything of it.

Can you meet me in the PKV lobby?

I got there in a minute, but Forrest wasn't there yet. I was mildly annoyed that he wasn't there already, because he personally hates being made to wait and complains about it. But I was generally in a good mood, so I just did language-learning flashcards on my phone to pass the time.

Valentine cupcakes & ladybug roses
Valentine cupcakes & ladybug roses

A couple minutes later, Forrest steps out of the elevator. He smiles, hugs & kisses me, and says, "Good morning!" This is unusual. I interpreted this as his Valentine's Day gift to me, and it really did make me happy. I thought he'd taken the time just to come over and say hi and be friendly.

Little did I know.

Forrest goes back to his building and I go back to my desk. As I'm plugging my cell phone back into its charger, I notice a cupcake next to my charger cable! I suddenly realize that his asking me to meet in the lobby was just a ruse to get me away from my desk!

(Unless the cupcake in the special cupcake container was sneakily left by a secret admirer, in which case nevermind. ;)))
Omg another!
And a baby one!
My coworkers confirm that some suspicious-looking bearded dude was mucking around my desk. ;)
Love you


Monday, October 1, 2012



Spoiler version: a tale told in tweets

  • [Wed Sept 12 4:15 PM] Hey, we just saw you / and this is crazy / but here's our offer / so own you, maybe?
  • [Wed Sept 12 6:40 PM] You have to weigh the cost of a house vs the opportunity costs. I mean, that's a LOT of mochas & cookies worth of money we're talking about...
  • [Thur Sept 13 1:35 PM] So yeah, it turns out that it's really hard to concentrate on other things when you're expecting to hear back about your house offer... :P
  • [Thur Sept 13 4:53 PM] Our offer was accepted!! (contingent on inspection, of course) And our "personal letter" with this photo helped get it!
  • [Fri Sept 14 7:06 PM] I'm making up a list of home maintenance tasks. OMG how is there so much to dooooooo? *whine*
  • [Sat Sept 15 5:58 PM] Alrighty. That's enough drooling over garden ideas for one day. ;)
  • [Wed Sept 19 12:15 PM] The sellers agreed to ALL our repair requests! We'd been warned how difficult it could be, but buying this house has been great so far. :D
  • [Wed Sept 19 3:38 PM] Since we're pretty sure we're going to close on this house without issues at this point, I feel okay sharing photos!
  • [Wed Sept 19 6:28 PM] Suddenly I am like, SUBSCRIBE TO ALL THE HOMES & GARDENS.

The long story...

"Just looking," ha ha

On September 8th, while I was visiting Forrest in Seattle for our 1-year anniversary, we decided to look at some houses for sale. It was mostly on a whim; while we'd be watching the market closely for an entire year, and we did have our down payment ready, we didn't think we were quite ready to actually buy a house. But going to open houses and touring some others with a Redfin agent sounded kinda fun, so we just went ahead and did it.

This was, of course, a dangerous idea.

Among the eight houses we looked at, we saw one that we actually really liked. It was a beautiful house with a huge, open, airy second floor addition. It had mature pear and apple trees in the front yard. It had a generous first floor with a kitchen that was well-connected to the living and dining rooms. It was the only house on the tour that we really liked, and that excitement was hard to ignore.

It had some issues, though. For one thing, the basement was practically inaccessible. The sellers had built this big backyard deck built of Trex — but they built it on top of the basement door. They had this cellar door type access to it, but without hinges — you had to lift the two doors up and set them aside, then drop down vertically to the basement door underneath the deck. Since Forrest wanted a workshop, we would have to make the basement access more sane, which would probably involve tearing out the nice, obviously new, deck.

The backyard was a little small and right up against a busy street. The noise didn't really bother us, and I told myself that bigger yards really didn't exist this close to downtown Seattle... The half of the yard that wasn't taken up by the deck was covered with paving tile. Yet another thing we'd want to tear out.

A third problem was that the house was heated with oil. We wanted a gas stove, and gas lines to the backyard for brewing beer. That would mean converting the house from oil to gas, then properly decommissioning the oil tank.

The fourth, and major, problem was the foundation. It was post and pier construction, which does not do well in earthquakes. In fact, our Redfin agent told us that some insurance companies won't even sell you earthquake regular homeowners insurance if you have that type of foundation. It was enough to make these two native Californians nervous.

Updated, Oct 2: Forrest corrected me that the insurance situation was even worse than I had realized.

Almost making an offer

But before we had really thought through all of the above negative points, we were just excited, liking the rest of the house. The master bedroom really was amazing, with very high, sloping ceilings and a balcony with a view (if you craned your neck ;)) of the snow-covered Olympics. So we told our agent that we wanted to put in an offer.

Our Redfin agent was really great, both in telling us exactly what we needed to do to aggressively move forward with a competitive offer (there were already other offers on the house), who to contact to get pre-approved over the weekend (since we didn't think we were really looking at houses, we hadn't bothered to get pre-approved), and then was extremely kind and understanding when we woke up the next morning, freaked out, thought better of the whole thing, and decided not to put in an offer after all.

The very fast-paced almost-offer did help us out a lot, though. First, it clarified for us what was actually important in a house (we hadn't realized that an accessible workshop and a better yard were really dealbreakers for us) and what was merely optional (the decor was nice, but it didn't make up for the other things). Second, it made us get all our financial documentation in line, since we had forwarded it all to the pre-approval guy.

We decided to take it more slowly, now that we knew what we wanted and now that we had all our papers ready. There would be other houses.

Second time's the charm

Wouldn't you know it, "other houses" showed up as Forrest was driving me to the airport on the Tuesday after our weekend of open houses. This new house looked good on paper, and it had an open house the next day, mid-afternoon. Forrest agreed to check it out. (Because we had agreed on virtually everything about every house we looked at together, we were both comfortable with Forrest "ruling out" houses that I didn't need to bother seeing and letting me know if he found a house good enough for me to fly up to see.)

This is how I ended up buying a last-minute ticket back up to Seattle less than 24 hours since I had return to the Bay Area.

The Wednesday "open house" that Forrest had attended wasn't a normal open house, but rather a "brokers' open house", technically open to the public but scheduled midday and midweek and specifically meant for real estate agents. We didn't know this at the time, of course; the house showed up on Redfin and Forrest wandered on in. The brokers' open house explains why all the other "buyers" he saw there were dressed in business suits, and why the listing agent's assistant seemed surprised by Forrest's presence. ;)

The house turned out to be even better in real life than on paper, so Forrest wanted me to see it and then make an offer. We contacted our Redfin agent, to whom we apologized for having cold feet on the last house but this time we're sure, we promise. She arranged for us to see the house bring and early (read: 9 AM) on Thursday morning.

When I saw the house, I completely agreed with Forrest: this house would be a great fit for us, and the price was right.

One thing that was unusual about viewing the house: the sellers were still living in it! They had cleared out the vast majority of their possessions, but we found their microwave hiding in an out-of-the-way closet, clothes in the master bedroom's closet... and the sellers themselves camped out in the basement, trying to stay out of our way as much as possible!

I think our agent was a little worried about them being there while we looked at the house. But they turned out to be very friendly, nice people. The woman reminded us of one of Forrest's aunts (in a good way). In some parallel universe, where it wouldn't be excessively weird to socialize with the previous owners of your new house, I wouldn't mind hanging out with her. Anyway, I chatted with them, pet their three cats, told them about our two cats, and asked for advice on how to maintain the garden. Later, our agent said she was quite pleased with how the conversation had gone. :P

After we were done looking around at everything, we walked from the house to a nearby cafe with our agent to put together our offer! There had already been two other offers, so we knew we had to be aggressive. We took our agent's advice in writing the offer (because really, that's what she was there for).

Then I mentioned that I had heard of people writing personal letters to include along with their offer. Forrest had never heard of it and thought it sounded a little weird. Our agent had definitely heard of the practice, though, and said that it couldn't hurt. So we went home to write a personal letter while our agent finished getting the rest of the paperwork in order.

Updated, Oct 2: Apparently Forrest had heard of these personal letters before. My memory is of him being reluctant about the idea of writing one, but he says he thought they were a good idea. Not sure how to reconcile our opposite memories except to state both our memories. :P

Waiting is soooooo hard

We wrote up a personal letter talking about how much we loved the wood throughout the house, the intact period character, and the yard. We included photos of us and the cats. We saved the letter as a PDF so it would withstand whatever forwarding shenanigans it might go through, emailed it to our agent at 12:30 PM, and then we waited.

We were technically back at work by this point, but neither of us could really concentrate. We kept checking our emails and our phones for any contact from our agent. We pointlessly speculated. We called our respective parental units to share our nervous excitement.

Finally, at 3 PM, we got a good news / bad news call from our agent. Bad news: there was a higher offer. Good news: despite the higher offer, the sellers wanted us to have the house! But only if we were willing to match the higher offer. The way multiple bids work (at least in the Seattle real estate market) is a little like eBay: buyers submit their offer, their highest price, and the increments by which they will "automatically" outbid other buyers up until their highest price. The higher offer had pushed us to our highest price, then gone up by an increment to beat our price. The sellers counteroffered us, saying that if we would go up one more increment to match this higher offer, they would sell the house to us.

We thought about it briefly, but we were pretty comfortable going up one more increment (because we had previously been firm about not putting our "highest price" automatic bid number higher than we were genuinely comfortable with). We agreed to the counteroffer. The house would be ours — pending contingencies!

We later found out that the exposed wood trim, which we had complimented in our personal letter, had originally been painted when the owners bought the house. They had spent three years of their own time meticulously stripping the paint. So we suspect that they especially liked us calling out that detail in our letter. What luck! :)

Inspections go well

We had a general inspector out the next day, Friday, to look over everything. He said that when he looks at old houses, he usually has bad news to tell the buyers, but in our case the house actually looked in good condition. We were so relieved to hear that; I had been psyching myself up for multiple tens of thousands of dollars in terrible repairs, something bad enough to make us walk. But nothing like that was found!

The only major issue with the crumbling mortar of the chimney in the basement. But when we had the specialist chimney inspector come out to look at it, he said the rest of the chimney was sound. Only the obviously crumbling section needed to be tuck-pointed, and then it would be fine.

Even more exciting, the sellers agreed to all of our (intentionally modest) list of repairs to be completed or credited against the purchase price. At this point, there is really no reason for the deal to fall through!

The house itself

The house is a 1925 Craftsman, with beautiful wood floors and wide exposed wood trim throughout. It's not too big — 980 square feet — and has a room layout that makes the most of the square footage. The previous owners didn't do any remodels, so it's kept its period character; and they did appear to do regular home maintenance, so it's in good shape.

It's technically a 2-bedroom house, but the front room adjacent to the living room will be a reading room (and sometimes guest room). I have always wanted a reading room (not a library; you're allowed to talk ;)). The other bedroom — or in our case, the only bedroom — is in the back of the house, next to the kitchen and looking over the garden. In between them is the one bathroom in the house; luckily, you don't have to go through either bedroom to get to it. The rest of the house is a large living/dining room open area, which includes a fireplace.

It has an attic and basement, both unfinished and — happily — dry. So we have lots of expansion possibilities if we ever want more space, but really, the main level is all we really need; we would be content to always have just that floor finished. But it's good to have options for the unforeseen, right?

The backyard is a pretty good size (again, for the area; one-acre lots like where I grew up just don't exist). It already has mulch down everywhere, so that should buy us a good amount of time to figure out what we want to do with the yard without letting the weeds take over in the meanwhile. We'll probably leave the fruits & vegetables in the raised planter boxes as they are. Mature tomatoes and thornless raspberries sound good to us. :)

Location-wise, the house is between the centers of Ballard and Fremont (1 mile from the former, 2 miles from the latter, and essentially flat to both destinations). It's half a mile from a grocery store, 1 mile from a close friend's place, and around the corner from a cafe, pizza joint, and some bar & grill type restaurants that look good. It's on a major bus line, so getting further afield without a car is easy too. We also have easy street parking, should friends who do drive want to visit.

But the key take-away is this: we're really excited/scared/excited ;) about buying a house! It's going to be AWESOME.