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Playing Father Christmas

Tonight I had the rare privilege of keeping the dream alive for some 70 kids who came to our street to visit with Santa. Our street gets totally decked out in lights for the month (we even got covered in the SF Chronicle) and to cap things off, we have a little Santa’s workshop thing going on the median right in front of my house.

Santa duty is on a volunteer basis and, wanting to make a good impression with my neighbors, I jumped in with both feet and signed myself up for an evening. Izumi told the kids I had to step out for a few hours to take care of something and I ducked into the garage to change into the suit which the fellow from the night before brought over for me earlier in the day. The beard was kind of funky smelling so I spritzed it with some cologne, threw on an extra sweater for warmth and then threw open the garage door for my 6:30 appearance.

I had some quick explaining to do to the startled kids that wondered why Santa was coming out of a garage to which I said that it’s the best place for the sled b/c parking is tough in this town. I settled into the chair that had been set out for me and then realized that, (a) the cologne smell was going to make me woozy, (b) I couldn’t see a thing b/c of the spotlight on me and the condensation on my glasses, and (c) I was going to sweat up a storm with all this gear on because the wig and hat were actually quite warm.

No matter, my elves, which were older kids from the neighborhood, moved things along nicely and whispered each child’s name into my ear before they approached. It was great to see their eyes when I would say to them, “Jose! How good to see you again! Now, tell me young man, you have been good haven’t you?” In one glance I could tell if they were good or bad because they were either happy to see me or looked at their toes in guilt. A few words of advice later (“be sure to make your bed each morning, pick up after yourself, and eat all your veggies”) and then I would get an education on the state of the toy market.

Most popular request? Bikes followed by Gameboys.

Then there was the handwritten note slipped to me by one boy when I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. It was a simple boy’s request for some things to make his life better:

  • Juice
  • Stuffed Cat & Dog
  • Clock
  • Garbage Can for Room
  • Telephone
  • Rescue Hero Hyper Jet
  • Green Long Hair for Daddy
  • 100 Quarters ($25)

Some things seem so mundane, like a shopping list, then there’s the Rescue Hero, an indulgence, and the “Green Long Hair for Daddy” – I would love to know the full story behind that one but alas I didn’t have that much time.

The other note slipped my way was from a father who had scrawled on the back of an envelope:

Santa,
Please mention to Jonathan to be sure to take the rubber snake off our garage roof so it doesn’t frighten Prancer.

When I discussed this with Jonathan, he almost lost his cap! He was just beside himself and solemnly promised to tell his father about Prancer’s ophiciophobia.

Good fun, it was totally worth it.

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Boating with my neighbor

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My neighbor has a small powerboat that he takes out to cruise around the Bay, including over to SBC Park where he’s got season tickets to see the Giants. This morning, at his invitation, Tyler and I went out to cruise around Alameda Island passing the giant cargo cranes (pictured) on the way out of the estuary that lies between the Island and West Oakland. These cranes were built by Hitachi many years ago and passing them one time on the Bart train, the driver came on the PA to tell the passengers that the cranes were the inspiration for the Imperial Walkers in the Star Wars films.

Once we cleared Alameda Point, we were hit by the full force of the wind and water on the open Bay. We then spent the next 20 minutes soaking ourselves as we motored down the leeward side of the Island. Tyler and the neighbor’s son, Julian, whooped it up enjoying the morning thrill but as a parent I was a bit concerned with all the violent thumping – happy to have noted earlier that the hull was “Kevlar enforced.”Drying off later, we headed into the city for supper in Chinatown. Another weekend in San Francisco.

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Home at Last!

Almost two months to the day of searching and we finally got the house of our dreams. We are now going to be residents of the Island of Alameda!

We must have reviewed at least 50 houses and were in bidding wars on three of them. I was beginning to get blase about the whole process, with all the offers & counter-offers, and it was getting to be kind of enjoyable. Such a game! Our realtor came to meet us while we were eating dinner with Mie & Dav so we could sign our latest counter-offer. Dav mentioned that the last time he went to dinner with someone who was sitting on an offer, they won. He must have some kind of real estate karma thing that rubbed off on us – thanks Dav!

I’m glad it’s over. We were cooling our jets in Berkeley on the latest round of bidding when our realtor called and said, “So, are you ready to move in?” We immediately whooped it up and sang “we got a house. . . .we’ve. . . got. . . a. . .house” all the way back to the apartment.

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Otis School Picnic

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Tyler’s school had a school-wide picnic today. Jello eating, three-legged racing, water balloon toss, potato sack racing, and pot luck picnic. Tyler’s making some good friends.

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From the ground up

The price of homes are so high and the opportunities for massive appreciation on the sale of a restored Victorian that those with time and money on their hands are buying old run down houses and giving them a complete makeover. We met one couple that had this dream and they would drive the streets looking for old houses in need of repair, noting the addresses, and then looking them up at City Hall. If the house had the same owner for more than 30 years, they would write the owner and ask if they were interested in cashing out their home equity by selling. They wrote over 100 letters before they got a positive response.

One problem with the old Vics is that they were often build on a brick foundation which is crumbles over time. Modern building code suggests concrete foundations with the house bolted into the concrete which is what’s going on with this house which is down the block from us.

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Tyler’s First Day of Kindergarten

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Today was Tyler’s first day of school. Here are the before and after photos of the day.

The parents got to see all the kids get settled and watch the teacher welcome the class and read them a story. I have a good feeling about the school, a nice mix of kids with two teachers to handle the twenty kids in Tyler’s class.

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After
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Electric Coils & Chickens

KitchenA shot of our kitchen/dinning room which looks like one of those life-sized dioramas in the Smithsonian that should be titled something like “Rental Apartment in Alameda, circ. 1980.” Behind me on the wall someone thought it’d be funny to put up a Norman Rockwell print (signed litho by the way) of some Pilgrim in the stockade with the words “Ye Glutton” on a sign around his neck – not exactly the thing you want to see while eating dinner.

The stove has those electric coil things which never really works for cooking anything but Campbell’s soups because it takes forever to heat up. Also, the largest of the coils is busted so we only have three tiny ones to work with.

Roosters

But the strangest thing in the kitchen are these two stuffed roosters up on the shelf. I know they want to put things up there to fill up the space and make it cozy but stuffed poultry? When you look at them up close, as in the shot below, you’ll see that the one on the right is particularly menacing. There’s really not a good seat at the dinning table – you either have to look at “Ye Glutton,” the menacing chicken, or out the window at this weird stone cherub/angel thing that’s placed right outside the window with the plastic ivy.

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New Category: Alameda

As we begin to put down roots (no, we don’t have a permanent home yet) I thought it only fair that I create a new category to bring together all anticipated observations about our new home. Here are some snippets:

– Alameda residents are pround of their city. “A small island off the coast of Oakland” is how one person describes it to outsiders. Most of the local publications (there are two local newspapers) refer to Alameda as “the Island” with a capital “I”

– We just got Izumi’s new cellphone (Verizon provides the best coverage on the Island) at a small local store on Park Street and looking at all the signed photos on the wall, I discoverd that this little mom & pop store has provided almost all the Oakland Raiders with their cell phones.

– I’ve become a big fan of Topix’s Alameda page. A great resource for local news and information about the area.

– The Island has a population of 58,000 and used to host a large naval base which was given over to the county in 1998. They are currently coverting the land to a mixture of housing, high-end shopping (someone mentioned a Nordstrom’s), and buisiness parks.

– Alameda is very convenient. A $5 ferry ride takes you over to the Ferry Terminal in downtown San Francisco. Oakland International Airport is only 10 minutes away and is a hub for Southwest and JetBlue, two of the leading discount domestic airlines, Aloha Air also flys out of Oakland to Hawaii. The Express “O” bus leaves from Alameda over the bus lane to downtown San Francisco. Drive 10 minutes East to the 880 and you can loop around North to the Bay Bridge to San Francisco or South to San Jose.

– Alameda has the feel of a small, semi-urban neighborhood in Los Angeles, circa – 1940. There are cute little 15 foot high lamps that line some of the streets. The houses all have really flimsy locks on them and when I asked, they said that the crime rate is extremely low. Put more simply by another gentleman we were talking to, “There are only three ways on and off the Island. If you have any trouble, call the police and there’s now way for the bad guys to get away.”

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Breather

We took some time off from the house hunt today to spend some time enjoying the beautiful weather with the kids who were fraying at the edges after three solid days in which we must have previewed over 20 homes around the Bay Area.

We first headed over to Alameda to check out the 20th Annual Park Street Art & Wine Faire. We then caught a ferry over to the Ferry Building in San Francisco to peruse the shops and the weekend farmer’s market. We then hopped on the F line, with it’s historic trolley cars, up to Pier 39 to see the fishies in the Aquarium of the Bay which I highly recommend for it’s two 300 foot glass-walled tunnels which give you a unique view of the fish. We wrapped up the day with a meal at the No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto, one of those totally tacky 1950’s era SF attractions that is actually quite good.

Tomorrow is open house day so we’re back in the saddle for another day of looking at how other people live.