Archive for August, 2013


August 29, 2013

August — or Fogust, as someone cleverly put it on Twitter — is a rough time to be in San Francisco. (Even The Daily Show agrees: “It’s August and it’s always fucking cold there!” John Oliver said earlier this month.)

Of course it’s not news that SF has terrible summers or that I have a hard time in the dark days of August, but this year, I finally realized that I need to have a better plan of action.


In my dream life, I would leave town for July and August. But while my long-term plan may be to find a job that allows me to leave town for months at a time and pays me enough to buy a summer home (ideally with a pool), in the short term, I need to come up with some better day trips that get me out of the fog. (My current six-day a week work schedule doesn’t give me enough time to go away for a whole weekend.)


Almost every August, I end up taking day trips in search of sunshine, but these trips come more out of desperation to get out of the fog than a real desire to be somewhere in particular. One year, I read the Sunday New York Times on a bench in Sonoma. Another year I picnicked on the grass in Ross.

This year, after waiting until 2pm for the fog to clear one Sunday, I drove south and ended up at Wunderlich Park in Woodside, a moneyed town west of Highway 280. (I parked between a BWM and a Mercedes and a Tesla passed me on the road). The hike I took wasn’t very exciting, but it was easy to get to, it was warm, and I could look up and see a bright blue sky through the trees. That was enough.


But I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice to have a few more places to go, to spent a little more time in the sun. It would have been nice to pair the hike with a stop in at a new ice cream shop, for example. For me, my ideal trips usually include a nice place to walk and something nice to eat or drink so my goal for next year is to have fleshed out a few more options. I’ve been collecting ideas — bookmarking a brewery near Santa Cruz, a bike trail in the East Bay, a new bakery in Marin — so that when the fog settles in, I can head out.


The Remodel Doughnut

August 8, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about our remodel a lot this summer. July, in particular, was full of reminders. On the Fourth of July last year, we moved into our bedroom and fell asleep to the sound of fireworks. Going to Tahoe this year reminded me of the conversation I had with our contractor as we were packing up for the lake last year.  We came home from Tahoe last July to a mostly finished kitchen and finally (eight weeks late, but who’s counting?) got to start seriously unpacking.

With a little distance from the remodel, I’ve been able to think about why I’d struggled so much with it (and to write about it without getting furious). The clearest (or the least emotional) illustration of why our remodel was a struggle for me is this image of where we spent our money last June and July.

june-july-mintThe plain-part of the doughnut shows what portion of our income was spent on the house. This includes remodel costs, mortgage payments, and HOA dues. The two little bands in the upper quadrant is everything else. This image quantified something that I’d often felt — and resented — about the remodel: it outweighed everything else. Although the image looks only at our finances, it could just as easily be a picture of where our heads were last summer or what we spent our time on. And to me, this isn’t a picture of a healthy mind or a full and varied life.

The doughnut doesn’t show all the other things that often competed for our time and attention during the remodel. It doesn’t show that I was taking the last editing classes I needed to finish the U.C. Berkeley extension Professional Sequence in Editing. It doesn’t show how Mr. WholeHog and I were trying to deal with his work schedule, which gave him more time to help with the remodel (and helped us afford it), but left us with no time off together. It doesn’t show the HOA drama we dealt with last summer when one owner sold their unit and moved out without fully paying their HOA costs.

And I don’t want to downplay what the doughnut does show: the financial side of the remodel. I’d never spent so much money so quickly and I found it really scary. About month into our remodel, I wrote that remodeling was like wedding planning. It turned out to be the equivalent of planning and paying for a wedding every month. (I’ll take a moment to let that sink in  — and if you just ran screaming from the room, I don’t blame you at all). While I feel happy when I spend money at the farmers market or when I’m booking a trip, spending money on a faucet or a sink did absolutely nothing for me. It felt like money that we’d misplaced somewhere. “What happened to that $200? Oh right, we bought….a sink.”

For me, the time and financial side of remodeling was a constant source of stress. In hindsight, we should have budgeted twice as much money and twice as much time, but we didn’t have that sort of money or time. We did it the only way we felt we could, and the best thing I can say about it is that we don’t have to do it again anytime soon. (And yet, when I look at homes for sale, I realize that chances are, we will end up doing a remodel again at some point. So many homes need some sort of updating.)

I have friends who hope to eventually remodel their homes and I try not to be too negative about our remodel around them. I remind them that there are some nutjobs people who like remodeling. My father-in-law, for example, seems happiest when he’s in the midst of a major overhaul. He says he makes learns something new every time and that every new remodel is an opportunity to re-do or perfect something he tried the time before.

I learned that I am really not one of those people who enjoys going through a remodel. (For me, the parts of the remodel that weren’t stressful were terribly boring. See: light switches, grout colors, trim.) But the remodel did make me realize how much is possible, and even now, I’ll still catch myself at times, thinking, “well if we’ll just remove part of this wall…” or “In a few years, maybe we’ll build out the attic”.

This was July

August 2, 2013

San Francisco’s cool, foggy summer weather arrived in July. It was a good month to spend time swimming (and hiking) in Lake Tahoe and hanging out in Sonoma.

BART Strike
I survived BART strike #1 (it looks like #2 is coming my way next week). My commute to work was certainly longer than usual (and more crowded) on MUNI. The J Church is the closest transit line for me, but I usually walk to BART because BART trains come more frequently and they make fewer stops on their way downtown. bartstrike-jchurch I sometimes feel frustrated when I hear about union negotiations over annual raises (since I haven’t had a raise in five years). But after watching the Bill Moyers’ documentary, Two American Families, last month, I thought a little differently about the importance of unions.

To Market to Market
I got a little burnt out selling just flowers and two weeks later, there were apples to sell!


(My favorite question on the first day of 2013’s apple season? “Are these apples?” True story).

Sonoma Escape(s)
Sitting outside at El Molino Central on a hot summer day is one of my very favorite things to do (either before or after a beer at Russian River Brewing company). I’d love to make an overnight trip to the Weber ranch in Petaluma a summer tradition.


Another year at the lake. Some said it was the hottest Tahoe weather on record (90s). All I can say is that I did a lot of swimming. As nice as it was to swim in the heat of the day, Mr. WholeHog and I took a few memorable evening swims. The lake is quiet (no jet skis!) and still at night, and we swam under a sky full of stars and a nearly full moon.


Ranch Dinner

August 1, 2013

As much as I like the idea of farm-to-table events, in reality, they can often be a bit precious. At times, they seem to be trying to be more than they need to be, and this leads to farm dinners that are upscale in a way that seems at odds with the realities of farming, or events that feel more like places to see-and-be-seen rather than the chance to enjoy a meal close to the source.

So when I went to one of Della Fattoria’s ranch dinners in Petaluma last weekend, what stood out for me was that it was exactly what it claimed to be: it was dinner at the Weber family’s ranch.

della-dinner It wasn’t a showcase for some new chef from the City, and it didn’t appear to involve a bunch of Chez Panisse alums. The space was beautiful, but it didn’t look like it was vying to get on Pinterest or catering to the latest design trends. And the dinner wasn’t used a marketing opportunity for Della. We weren’t urged to buy anything extra. We were welcomed, fed, and left to make the rest of evening what we wanted it to be.

We got there late, driving up (and trying to stay awake) after the farmers market, and when we arrived, everyone seemed to be doing their own thing. Some people sat at their table drinking wine and socializing with their friends, while others walked around the grounds, checking out the sheep or the chickens or the nearby gardens. Since Della’s bread bakery is right on the ranch, some people watched the bread come out of the ovens, while others snacked on the bread over at the appetizer table. A group of people sat on an upholstered sofa and chairs that were set up outside around an outdoor fireplace. Dogs of all sizes ran around (one came up and licked my arm during dinner).

della-ovensEveryone was drawn back at the table when the food started to come out: first, a green salad full of summer produce, then a platter of roast pork surrounded by grilled peaches and an enormous dish of potatoes au gratin. We passed around cutting boards that held loaves of still-warm bread from the bakery. (Meals are always an issue at my family’s annual Tahoe trip and the meal at Della was a reminder of what group meals can be. Of course professional cooks and staff also help).

After dinner, slices of galette were put out (with a bowl of extra whipping cream) as well as the fixings for s’mores.  Most people left soon after they’d had dessert and coffee, but Mr. WholeHog and I had been invited to stay overnight in one of Della’s adorable little cottages (yet another example of how all good things in our life seem to come from the farmers market), and eventually we were the only ones still sitting outside in front of one of the fireplaces. The staff urged us to finish up the s’mores (like we need much encouragement) and after the tables were cleared, one of the servers came by to make a few s’mores and to keep the fire going for us.


The evening was full of moments like this, full of small gestures that made me feel like family rather than a visitor. And it continued even as we prepared to turn in for the night. One of the Weber’s reminded us to get some eggs and a loaf of bread at the bakery so that we’d have something for breakfast the next morning.