Wow, it's been almost 4 years since my last blog post, if you can call it a post...

A lot has happened in our lives in the Oakland flats. We redid our yard once, added a sunroom to our cozy home. Little D is already in 2nd grade, and little N will be entering kindergarten this Fall.

I had a career change last year! Yay! After 20 years in the Fashion Design industry and 10 years as a part-time real estate investor, I am now a full-time real estate agent/investor. I could no longer deny myself the urge to devote my waking hours to pouring over every home listings within a 20 mile radius. I am fortunate to live in an area with so much interesting architecture and local history.

I am starting to blog again, thanks for visiting and see you again soon!



Good bye 2014 and Hello 2015!


Garden/Walkway Planning

Yay, my blog got a facelift! I sat down one day and just started messing around with the blog template. After few hours of tinkering, it finally came together. I am pretty happy with the new look.

We are going on our fourth year living in this house and we are finally going to get our yard done this year. At least that's what we are hoping to accomplish before the end of the year. So far I've gotten one estimate and waiting to meet with two other landscaping companies. I had some idea of what it costs to redo our yard from talking to a neighbor couple of years ago who has a landscaping business. Our first estimate came in at over $21,000, more than doubled what we wanted to spend.

This is not a project that we can easily do it ourselves especially with two small children but the bulk of the cost is in labor. Get this, the estimate does not include demolition of the old walkway and disposal, that's another $3000-$5000. So it looks like we might have to do the project in phases to save up for each stage. Getting a new walkway is our priority so we'll get that done first.

I am super excited to get the work started but am also hating the fact that it's going to cost so much money!

Here are some inspirations I've thinking we could use in our garden make-over. I am such a sucker for the cottage garden look, with flowers, textures, colors, basically I want plants all over in every nook and cranny. It's funny because I prefer my interior surroundings to be minimalistic but when it comes to the outdoors, I am such a maximalist.

This walkway is done by using broken up concrete. I am looking for ideas to save money on the concrete disposal and cost of material. Flagstones maybe be natural but they don't come cheap.
Here is a patio built with repurposed concrete, also known as urbanite.

Before and after of a path made with urbanite. 


It's Good to be Back!

I took a hiatus from blogging due to a busy life...work, a new family member, and general lack of time. Anything new with the house reno? Why yes! We had mouldings and baseboards put in finally, but that's kind of old news because that happened almost a year ago. Without further ado, here are some before and after pictures. We feel relieved to have this project out of the way, next up on the agenda is the hardscape in our yard. But who knows how long it will take us to get around to break ground in the yard. 

That's a lot of priming. Two coats on both sides, window & door trims, baseboard for living room and the master bed room.
Got my painting outfit on. About 3 months pregnant so not showing yet.
Rosettes for the doors.
We live with the unfinished windows and doors for close to 3 years! You kind of learn to not pay attention after a while.
Talked to several carpenters and this window was the trickiest to make the trims work. It was partly due to the improvisational nature of how it was "fixed" by the carpenter who worked on this house during our big renovation.
Finished but before I patched the nail holes and gave it a coat of Benjamin Moore's Simply White to finish it off. 
Looking much more presentable. 
The "carpenter" who put this door in was kind of in over his head and left gaping holes on top on half of our doors. I felt embarrassed to have people over to our unfinished house.

Yay! The bedroom door looks almost finished. It even closes properly now, all that's left to do is get the doors refinished. I tried to do that myself before but the layers of paint from the past 100 years are on there pretty good. Still deciding on how or where to get them refinished and what to do about not having doors while they are being refinished. It just never seems to end right?
The window had cracks that let in ants during rainy seasons. So happy to not see the raw drywall edge and insulations sticking out. 
Another look at the unfinished windows that I tried to hide with the curtains 
Bam! finished windows. I got rid of the curtains and put up roller blinds from Ikea. It looks much better now. 
With the roller blind installed the look is cleaner lines and diffused light. The blinds were very inexpensive and were easy to cut to the right length, perfect DIY project for a novice.
Weird window in the front. 
Before caulking and painting.
After caulk and paint.
Patio door before.
Patio door after.
Nice view of a loquat tree out the window
No baseboard but who notices anymore.
I took on the job of caulking the gaps, patching nails, sanding all the patches and painting all the trims. Well, I did get some help from the husband. It was not so easy when your stomach is growing by the minute and super tired all the time. Why don't I just sit down and nod off for a minute or two hours.


Goodbye 2013

So the triplex behind our house finally sold. It came on the market last October with an asking price of $549k, we were a little shocked by the price. This house was sold for $250k two years ago. We went to the open house and saw that this place needed major work so there was no way it would get the asking price. After two priced reductions later it sold for $400k last December.

I haven't seen the new owner yet and the current tenants are still around a month after closing. About a week ago, we saw a big dumpster dropped off in front of the building and it was filled to the rim with trash within 3 days. The past several days, the previous owner, who lived on the property was seen packing and moving his stuff with the help of movers. We chatted with him briefly and found out he bought another house in East Oakland with more room for him and his son to live in. I saw the unit he and his son lived in and it was super cramped and cavernous due to the bad layout.

I wonder if the new owner will remodel the place, keep it as a rental or will they actually move in. And more importantly whether the new owner is an investor looking to do a flip which I wouldn't be opposed to because it would take a lot of money to bring the house back to life.

Speaking of new neighbors, the warehouse across the street from our house is finally being put to use again. The owners of the warehouse have been fixing the place up and putting in offices many of which have already been rented. Our street is seeing a lot more traffic now a days and I haven't seen any illegal dumping at least on the block where this warehouse sits. They even planted some trees along the side of the building.

There has been talk of building condos on the vacant land across from our house but the architect fell ill, so the plan has been postponed. We are just hoping if the condo plans gets the go ahead we can negotiate with the developers to put in some sidewalk on our side of the road. It's a long shot but one can dream...

Oh and by the way, we welcomed a new addition to the family last November! Little D is now a big brother. Tiny "N" was born on November 9th at a healthy 7lb. 9oz and 19 inches long, just one ounce lighter than her older brother when he was born. She's been a pretty good sleeper so far, knock on wood. Besides a little bit of the sniffles she's been getting bigger by the day. She's so sweet and cuddly sometimes I find it hard to put her down. Little D has been a great big brother and he just can't stop kissing and hugging her all the time. I can't wait until she's old enough so the two of them can play together.

Born at the same hospital as her brother, Alta Bates medical center, Berkeley, CA.
Here she is at 2 months old. Look at those cheeks!



Long Weekend Getaway

I started to write this post 3 months ago about a trip we took back at the end of May. So yes, I am super behind on blogging as usual...

Every since we got married last December, we've been thinking about taking a honeymoon/family trip to Hawaii. Justin has never been and I was only there for a few days years ago. After doing some price checking, I realized a trip to Hawaii is just out of our reach right now. So instead of spending thousands of dollars and taking a week long vacation in a tropical paradise, we opted to do a 3 hour drive north of San Francisco and spend a long weekend on the Mendocino Coast. I don't know where I got the idea that it's a place that I've wanted to visit for a while now. I bring it up on such a regular basis that it's turned into a running joke between us. So we finally bit the bullet and made the trip happened. We ended up spending over 600 dollars for the trip, with a biggest portion of the budget spent on lodging and then food. I was hoping to spend under $500 but I didn't know about the tourist premium one has to pay in a place like Mendocino.

It's not the easiest to take a trip with a toddler but I guess I have to adjust my expectations when I travel as a parent. Trying to keep a nap schedule and making sure the kid has enough room to run around and burn off excess energy definitely puts some restraints on what we can do and when we can do it. I am still trying to figure out a good rhythm when it comes to going on trips with the little man.

The drive to Fort Bragg  took us through Anderson Valley and a quaint little town called Boonville. We stretched out our legs there, got some snacks and checked out the general store. It's quite a sophisticated little town in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

We stayed at the Beachcomber Inn which is pretty much right on the beach. Our patio opened out onto the road leading to the beach below it. I will never get sick of watching the sunset over the pacific ocean for as long as I live. I wish we spent more time on the beach but for such a short trip we didn't have a lot of down time to just lay out in the sun.

We stayed in one of the suites in the building pictured. Fantastic location on the beach. 

One thing I didn't expect was how expensive everything was. We took the Skunk Train, which is an old fashion steam train that goes through the redwoods. But the train ride was shortened due to a collapsed section in the tunnel along the route. The train ride was enjoyable nonetheless. There was music entertainment and lots of steam which was pretty much all that's needed to keep the little one engaged.

We had dinner at North Coast brewery. Justin ordered the beer sampler and I unfortunately only had couple of sips of his because I was 3 months pregnant. The food was not bad but the best part was the beer samplers!

We did lots of sightseeing around town. Went to the Mendocino Botanical garden to see all the beautiful plants in bloom. Saw a set of whale bones along the way and checked out tide pools at a nearby beach.

Someday when I win the lottery I would definitely buy a vacation home in this part of California for mini family get aways to relax and unwind. But for now I will have to settle for driving along highway 1 to take in the breathtaking views.


What's for Dinner?

I have been the cook of the family ever since moving in together with Justin. The only dishes he can make are BBQ tofu and french toast. I never took the time to learn to cook while living at home or living on my own in my 20s. It also didn't help that I never cooked meat in my life due to being a vegetarian for over a decade. Not a strict vegetarian, I occasionally ate seafood when eating out.

My cooking philosophy have always been just throwing a protein, usually tofu or fake meat and some vegetables in a pan, cook, season and a side of rice, dinner is served. I would try to make something different when the mood strikes me. But I never planned our meals in advance, it's usually cobbled together right before dinner time depending on what we have in the fridge. That's how I would shop for groceries too, just buy whatever produce appealed to me and get the usual proteins for the week.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany while fretting about what to prepare for dinner for the husband and child. I was attending a twice a week night class and wanted to have dinner ready for the two of them before I leave home in the afternoon. So I got organized and put together a grocery list, which was something I've never used before. It helped to know what ingredients I was going to need for the week if there was a dinner menu. Having a list also helps to keep me from buying unnecessary food items.

I used to enjoy taking my time at the grocery store wandering all the aisles and picking out things that catches my eye. After having a child, I can no longer afford the luxury of time to do that. Plus I don't have the brain power to remember everything, there are just too many things to keep track of, so making a list is the only way to go.

Anyway, since I started making a weekly menu, I've been trying out new recipes and making the occasional meat dishes too. Our dinners are more varied now than ever, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Mexican, and American, all in one week.

I had hoped that by shopping in a more systematic way our grocery bill would go down, but that's not the case at all. Our grocery bill hovers around $600 a month, so when I read online about other people's grocery bill of $200-$300 a month, I didn't know what to cut back on. But what I've realized is that having a healthy diet is worth the money. I don't buy fancy food, not even organic, and try to get stuff in bulk when available. It's just that we live in an expensive part of the country and everything cost more here.

Here are some of the meals from these past few months and they all came out pretty tasty.

Black bean Enchiladas.
I started to make granola because Justin eats a ton of cereal. Box cereals are expensive and the packagings are bad for the environment.
I was buying pizza dough from Trader Joe's but hated how hard it was to roll out the dough which always end up in weird shapes. I discovered that pita bread is perfect for a personal sized pizza and it comes out as a crispy crust. 
Sadly,  I still haven't perfected the roast chicken after couple of tries. I am taking a break from it for a while to regain my confidence. 
Lazy taco night. Canned black beans, homemade pico de gallo, Trader Joe's breaded fish and taco shells, mexican cheese and avocado. 
I usually buy frozen pot stickers from Asian supermarkets but you can't beat the fresh made potstickers. The wrappers were store bought. 
This was an ambitious brunch. The hollandaise sauce too forever to make but it sure was delicious and full of calories. Next time I would probably make the sauce the night before to save time.
This was an indulgent night. Canned refried beans, homemade pico de gallo, Trader Joe's guacamole, cheese and big dollops of greek yogurt in place of sour cream. 

Meatless ground, pico de gallo, sliced radishes, lettuce, and mexican cheese. 

This chicken parmesan came out so good. It's not super healthy so I can't make this too often.  

Shepherd's pie with meatless ground. I prefer to use meatless ground as a substitute in my dishes even though we are not vegetarians.
Indian coconut curry with cauliflower, chick peas and carrots. 
For the soup, I used broccoli stalks I saved from other recipes, celery and carrot and homemade lentil leftover from another meal. Sandwich is sautéed mushrooms and cheddar on rye bread.  
I totally lucked out on getting 2 giant bags of blueberries on sale for 99 cents each. The berries were super ripe so I froze one bag and used the other one for this pie. Pie crust was store bought because making pastry is not my cup of tea. I recently saw homemade pies for sale at a farm stand we visited. The pies were selling for $25 each, granted all the ingredients were organic and handmade. Even with the cost of the frozen pie crust, my pie only cost $6.
Another staple that Justin cannot live without is peanut butter. We used to buy giant jars of organic peanut butter online. We don't like  peanut butter like Jif because it's too processed. I've been buying pint size fresh made honey peanut butter from Berkeley Bowl, but I have to get one every week. I looked online and found out how easy it was to make it at home. Bought peanuts in bulk and made some the other day, so easy and delicious and cheap!
Black bean and corn enchiladas with fresh avocado and tomatoes. I was trying to make some guacamole, but the avocados were not quite ripe yet, so it came out more like pico de gallo instead, still tasty though. 

Used the avocado pico de gallo on my eggs this morning. Yum!