Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Early Christmas gift to myself. Got a Stelton Vacuum flask to replace our previous utilitarian hot water thermos.
Got this new toy for my Canon dslr camera. 
Justin's mom made her holiday cookies for us. I got the recipe from her to carry on the tradition. 
I baked some pumpkin spice cupcakes for the little man with what I had on hand. Nothing fancy, but they were pretty yummy. 
Little D turned 2 this month. How time flies.
We celebrated Justin's birthday too but sadly without a cake. 
We picked out a real tree with Justin's mom while she was visiting earlier this month.  She helped decorated our tree.
A fake wreath with added ornaments adorn our door this year. 

Since the 2 men in the house both have birthdays in December, we get cards for holidays and birthdays. 
Christmas morning, opening presents. Little D got a lot of cars this year, little ones and big ones. Thank you Santa aka grandparents!


Refinancing Rant

Yes this is a long rant but it is also a glimpse of what I've keeping busy with for the last several months. We wanted to do another refinance a little over a year after our first cash out for the house because rates came down and Justin's credit scores improved albeit not by much. In September we started talking to several mortgage brokers I found online and also the lender we worked with last time. At first I was really gung-ho about working with the lender with the lowest interest rate but once we started signing papers and I dug a little deeper, I discovered a lot of negative reviews about the lender the mortgage broker was working with. I got cold feet and backed out of that deal.

The rate we got from our current lender was not the lowest but we have had a good experience with them so it was worth paying a little extra for a peace of mind. Everything was going swimmingly until we got our appraisal back. Our appraisal came in at almost $80,000 less than the appraisal from a year ago. This came as a huge surprise to us because all the houses in our neighborhood are selling like hot cakes. Housing prices in our area are going up. Single family homes with 3 - 4 bedrooms are selling for almost half million dollars here! Our triplex wouldn't get as much as a single family home with similar square footage but certainly would get close if not more that what it was appraised for from the last appraisal.

The new appraisal amount is not enough to refinance the house with our current loan amount. A lot of the details in the appraisal report were, in our opinion, inaccurate. And the comparable houses used in the report were so off base that we immediately wrote to the lender complaining about those mistakes. After many emails with the lender trying to appeal our appraisal and a month later, our appeal was denied. It really stung because we've already paid almost $600 for the appraisal fee. The fee would've been refunded if we went through with the refinance. Yikes, that's a lot of money flushed down the drain.

The mortgage lender also felt our appraisal came in too low and did all he could to appeal the appraisal. In a last ditch effort to help, he recommended a former colleague with a different lender to work with us if we wanted to keep trying. The upside with the new lender is that the appraisal fee will be waived even if the appraisal came in too low again. We started the whole process again with this new lender, signing and submitting what seemed like an endless list of documents and finally met with the new appraiser last week.

After almost four months from the start of the whole refinancing saga, our appraisal finally came in $150,000 higher then the other appraisal. WTF?! This is great news but also boggles my mind how two appraisers can come up with such different results within the span of 2 months? I plan to do a detail comparison of the two reports when I get the new report from the lender. I still believe that the other appraiser was unfamiliar with our neighborhood and used poor comparable sold houses in his report. According to this new appraisal, we'll have over 40% in equity with our current loan amount! Not too bad for three years of very sweaty equity.

The new loan will save us about $200 a month. It's a 30 year fixed with 1.25% lower than our current rate. The blessing of the failed refinance is that the closing cost with the new lender is almost 50% less than the other lender. I know this sounds silly but I feel like we have a guardian angel looking over us. It helped us avoided the expensive lender by giving us the low appraisal. Take that mega multinational bank! Our refinance will take another three months to close due to the high volume of refi the lender is dealing with right now. I am keeping my fingers double crossed in the mean time until we sign those papers and close the deal in the new year!


Winter is Coming

Okay it's not quite winter yet and being in the Bay Area, the winters here are pretty mild. But the first rain of the season arrived this week. I took the opportunity to put a bunch of seedlings in the ground because letting Mother Nature water my plants is better than hand watering all the plants myself. 

I deadheaded the spent flowers and made room for a lot more new stuff. It's always exciting to learn which new additions to the garden will thrive and which ones won't make it. And it makes me so happy when ones that I thought were dead comes back to life.

A new indoor plant I got from Big Longs recently. I forget the name but I love the waxy looking leave with the light color veins.  
More indoor plants from Big Longs. They are not looking too happy at the moment, kind of droopy. 

Also from Big Longs. Although their nursery is a ghost of its former self, their prices just can't be beat. According to a couple of professional plant people I talked to, their sell plants at close to whole sale prices.  The plant's name escapes me right now. 
Echeveria setosa, "Firecracker plant". Got this little guy from where else? Annie's annuals.

I think this is Oxalis griffithii. This kind of looks like the weedy sour grass that's currently popping up all over our lawn and garden. So I am not sure what I was thinking when I bought it.
I think this is a Oxalis corniculata,  "Creeping Woodsorrel". I just really like the reddish purple leaves and tiny yellow flowers. 
This was another find at Big Long. I don't know the name of this shrub. But I love the pale purple flowers . 
Pretty sure this is a Lavandula lanata "Wooly lavender". I just love the furry leaves, it will go well with the Lamps Ear that grows wildly in my yard. 
This was a Alcea rosea 'Nigra' "Black Hollyhock" I planted last year. It didn't flower last year, died back last winter and popped up this summer and have been flowering ever since. I just love how productive and gorgeous these flowers are.
This is Anagallis monellii "Blue Pimpernel". I am constantly amazed by how hardy and beautiful this plant is. I planted this in the spring and it just took off with hardly any water and care.       
Abutilon from Big Longs. It seems to be doing ok. The resident squirrels tried to dig the roots up a few times, but it's hanging in there. 
Salvia leucantha "Mexican Sage Bush" from Big Longs. I love the velvety flowers on the plant. Can't wait to see it bloom. 
I got this gal at the farmer's market. The name is written on the wooden stick but I don't know the name off the top of my head. It had a single long stem with a flower at the end when I bought it which has fallen off. I usually keep my succulents in containers but trying to see if I can make it work in the ground 
I've been told that this is a Euphorbia. It came out of nowhere in a different part of the yard and I transplanted it's current location. Upon further research, it turn out to be a Euphorbia lathyris. It's a weird looking plant for sure. Apparently all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. 
Setcreasea purpurea, "Purple Heart". After killing two ferns in this spot, I giving it a go with this plant. Have I mentioned that I am cursed when it comes to ferns? I have not been able to keep one alive for longer than a year. 
The little green vine in the middle of the picture is a passion flower vine I bought online in the spring. It died shortly after I put it in the ground but seemed to have came back to life in the last couple of months. It's supposed to be an easy vine and grows fast. It hasn't grown much for me though.
I bought the tall planter of pre-arranged plants a while back to add some colors to the landing. I have since moved all the succulents from our back deck to the landing too because it gets super hot and dry there on the south facing deck. I am surprised the succulents lasted as long as they did with such neglect. I may have only watered them 3 times this whole summer. I must say that I've had pretty good luck with succulents, about 90% survival rate versus 60% for the rest of the plants. 
It is October after all. We went to a pumpkin patch and picked out some pumpkins for the munchkin.

Happy Halloween!


August Recap

Did I just let the whole month of August go by without a post? It's gotten really hard to find the motivation to sit down, upload photos an blog about what's happening in my life lately. Here are some photos of what we've been up to this past month. I will be back with another post soon, I promise!

My first attempt at baking bread. It came out a little dense but still edible! 
Saw a little humming bird perched on the wire in my garden. It's the first one I've seen since living here. 
Randomly picked a park on the map to visit and discovered this little gem hidden in  Grand Lake area. Morcom Rose  Garden, built under the WPA era. 
Caught a funny look on little D's face during the rose garden walk.
Cliché picture of roses but I can't help it.
Cherry tomatoes finally ripening in my garden. Little D ate them all right after I picked them.
Baby potatoes from the garden.
Beets from the garden.
The petting zoo was the most popular attractions at our neighborhood National Night Out.
The fire department made an appearance at our National Night Out party.
Justin being inter viewed by local news station about the recovery of his bicycle after 6 long years.  Here is the link to the news story.
Albino alligator at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. 
On board the USS Hornet Museum aircraft carrier. 
On board the USS Hornet Museum aircraft carrier. 
Finally bit the bullet and bought a refurbished Macbook Air. The is my second computer purchase in 10 years. I love my new computer and no more fear of computer crashing anymore.  
Visit to the Sacramento Railroad Museum.
Visit to the Heath Ceramics factory/store in Sausalito. I hope to own some of their beautiful pottery someday.


Game of Trones

When we first moved into the house we stored the shoes we wear everyday on an old Ikea shoe rack. Then I got rid of the two tiered rack when Desmond started pulling shoes off the rack and putting them in his mouth. For the past year there's always a pile of shoes at the entry way and it drives me nuts.

Who knew that finding the right shoe storage was so hard. I finally made up my mind over the weekend and brought home Ikea's Trones shoe cabinet. I had been going back and forth with the Trones cabinet. On the one hand, I love the compact design because our entry is so small, there's no room for a big bulky thing. But on the other hand I am not crazy about the plastic that it's made of. After a year of not finding the right shoe cabinet, I gave up the search and settled on the Trones.

I had intended to get the Trones in white, but only the red ones were available so I bought the red ones. Although I am still not sure if the red cabinets work with the room. The great thing about Ikea stuff is that they are so DIYfriendly. So if I get sick of looking at the red, I can always get a can of spray paint and give them a face lift. Only took me about 30 minutes to put them up. The shoe free entry looks so much better I wonder why I didn't do this sooner? 

Please ignore the missing base board, that's our next big project. There are usually a lot more shoes strewn about, it's impossible to keep the shoes neatly lined up.
The shoes on the floor are the first things you see when the door opens. 
Another view of the entry way. Not much room to work with. 
Cabinets up and shoes hidden and off the floor!
The cabinets are a perfect fit behind the door.
This is where I've been keeping some of the extra toiletries due to our lack of storage. I am am still planning on making shelves in this narrow space someday for even more storage space.
The Trones cabinets came in a set of 3. Since I could only fit 2 of them behind the front door, the left over cabinet came in the master bath for a little extra storage.
Everything's off the floor and fit perfectly in the cabinet.