Alcatraz and champagne fountains

December 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , ,

On Friday night Blake and I went to the YouTube holiday party, and it was about three times fancier than any party I have previously attended. Ever. And I went to a presidential inaugural ball in D.C. once, so that’s really saying something.

Earlier in the week I’d asked Blake to find a female coworker and get some guidance on how much I should dress up. Before that could occur, however, he heard a guy on his team brainstorming about where he could come up with a tuxedo at the last minute. A tuxedo! When Blake told me, I was sure the coworker was kidding. I have been to a number of business-sponsored parties — Christmas and otherwise — but usually I would stand out as the most dressed up in a sedate ensemble of tights, a skirt, and a turtleneck.

Not this party, though: to our great surprise, nearly everybody was wearing a suit. And in my blue rehearsal-dinner dress (which you can also see in the sidebar of this blog), I was among the more mildly-dressed women.  Once we got inside, it was clear why: this party was fancy. Bowties. Cummerbunds. Dresses covered in sequins. I was glad I wasn’t wearing a turtleneck!

It was held on the fourth floor of a building in downtown San Francisco with an incredible skyline view and a terrace. After we checked our coats, we mostly just drifted around oohing and ahhing about, well, everything: the champagne fountains, the caterers in tuxedos carrying around little trays of rare ahi tuna or mini croque monsieurs, the many open bars with every liquor imaginable, the free photo booths, the dim sum station and mashed-potato station and fancy meatballs and salmon skewers, the crab sliders… it just kept going. When I asked the bartender for the girliest drink he had, he made me a cosmo which left me pretty wobbly for the next 25 minutes. We found out the next day that there had been a doughnut-making machine on the terrace, but sadly we missed it.

Anyway, it was pretty neat. I met most of Blake’s teammates, which was fun, and all in all it was a lovely evening. I asked Blake to please not start a company until after next December so we can attend next year’s party as well. =)

Oh, yeah, the party was James Bond themed. I'm not really sure what that has to do with the holidays, but whatever. Blake's coworkers assured me that the tuxedos were because of the party itself, not the James Bond theme.

The next day we went to see Alcatraz, which was pretty nifty. The weather was great and the tour was pretty interesting. Here are some photos:

Alcatraz Island (taken from the ferry). To our surprise, the prison itself is only that little building on the top, which really isn't even that big. It only held about 300 prisoners at a time! The rest of the island is other stuff -- a garden, a nature preserve, apartments for the guards' families, etc. That lighthouse was the first lighthouse on the Pacific coast.

From Alcatraz with San Francisco in the background and century plants in the foreground. Those things always look like they came out of a Dr. Seuss book.

The view of downtown San Francisco from inside the cellblock. (The bridge on the left is the less famous Bay Bridge to Oakland -- the Golden Gate is behind us.)

Anyway, it was pretty neat. Driving around San Francisco was a huge pain, though — not even considering the terrible Saturday-afternoon traffic — and it convinced us that we need to get a GPS. It’s too frustrating to have to spend our drive consumed with navigation instead of conversing and having fun.

Moving day! Again!

December 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , ,

Honestly, sometimes it feels like all we ever do is move boxes from one place to another and live out of our suitcase. But not anymore! Today is the last time for quite a while. For the first time since July 2010, we are planning on residing in the same building for at least one full year. (You may recall that at each stage of our time in Seattle, we thought we’d only be in the current place for a few months — which prevented us from really settling in.)

Sunset over San Bruno Mountain on our last night in San Francisco. (Looking southwest.)

So here we are (finally!) in the lovely town of Foster City. We actually were able to get into the apartment one day early — on November 28 — which made our transition from the San Francisco apartment much less hurried.  We had almost 48 hours of overlap between the two places, so I could ferry items over in several trips while Blake was working. It was stressful, but nothing too terrible. And every time I walked down the path to our new building with a load of stuff, it was so nice to see the trees and the birds and the lagoon and the grass and the flowers and the sunshine. Rarely have I been so happy to move into a place.

On Tuesday the moving truck came, and for five hours the movers squeezed boxes and furniture from an 1,800-square-foot house into a  1,050-square-foot apartment. We knew it would be tight and we expected to have to get rid of a lot of stuff before it’ll really be pleasant in here, but the movers still made me nervous. As each new guy would come in for the first time with a handtruck full of boxes, he’d look around, widen his eyes, frown a little, and say “Do you have a garage? I don’t know if this will all fit in here.” We don’t have a garage, but I told them we expected it to be tight and we’d just deal with it. Then he’d give a look of concern and futility, look around some more, and say “okay…” And even though he was saying okay, his tone said “you’re the customer and I’m not going to argue, but no way is this going to work.” And these were professional movers. They put boxes in houses for a living. My confidence cracked a little.

The dining room. This shot was taken when the movers had unloaded about 30% of our stuff. (It's more crowded now.) But look, it's my ficus! Just seeing it makes me happy. (The paper lanterns in it were a gift from Bonny many years ago.)

But it all fit. We knew it would. It is tight, though. The guest bed is leaning up against the wall, and my white couch is still wrapped in plastic and up on its end in the second bedroom. We’re planning to get rid of some of my excess furniture, a fair amount of excess kitchen stuff (since Blake and I each had a full kitchen before we met), and a boatload of excess clothes. Okay, really the excess clothes mostly just belong to me. I think I might have ten pairs of shoes for each one Blake has. Maybe fifteen.

Everybody knows I have trouble getting rid of stuff. I love to look at some old piece of junk and think “Ooh, remember when I was [some age] and I went to [some place] and I had to buy that pair of shoes because my other pair broke? That was a nice trip.” And now that pair of shoes is scuffed up and dirty and kind of outdated and pinches my toe a little and I have five other pairs that I like better that are also black and cute and look nicer and are more comfortable. But it still makes me sad to contemplate throwing them away! Honestly, I think at least 40% of my clothes fit into that category. It’s going to to be rough.

Who doesn't love close-ups of dogs' faces? Nobody, that's who. Have some Nano.

But I’m determined. And having lived in Uwajimaya for a year is really helping. When I moved into Blake’s house I went through my clothes and got rid of a lot, but there were many items I just couldn’t part with. Like the yellow shirt I got in Rome when I went to Europe with Brad and Eric in college. It’s kind of stretched out and the arms are stained (bleached?) with deodorant. I never want to wear it. Yellow doesn’t really look very good on me. But there it hangs in the closet reminding me of college and Italy and Brad and Eric, and the idea of getting rid of it just tugs at my heartstrings. Those were good times!

But being in Uwajimaya for a year and not seeing my stuff for so long has reminded me of how little I care about some of it. I don’t know if I can part with my yellow Rome shirt yet, but as we’ve unpacked I’ve seen lots of clothes that I can kiss goodbye with a clear conscience.

There’s more to say, but I need to go run some errands and do some more unpacking. The rest will have to wait for a future post. But life is good! We’re finally settled in a place for a long time, and that’s pretty exciting. It’s nice here.

The view from our porch. It's so beautiful!

Moving to San Francisco: Part 2 (The exciting* conclusion!)

November 20, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,

*Disclaimer: may not actually be exciting. This post is part 2 of 2 — you may want to check out part 1 first.

As we drove into San Francisco in our two separate cars, the first thing that struck me was the sheer number of little buildings. I couldn’t really look carefully since I was driving, and I definitely couldn’t take a photo. But all around us — on both sides of the highway and as far as we could see — it just seemed to be low rolling hills that were made of little houses. In most cities (I think?), that continuity is broken by apartment buildings and billboards and water towers and lots of structures of different heights. But for whatever reason — zoning and other government regulations, no doubt — all the buildings just formed a continuous gentle slope that looked like it matched the ground beneath it. It was very strange looking and almost alien. Not bad, really, just… surreal.

The Victorian house from the street

Eventually we got to the place we’re staying. It’s a little cottage in a neighborhood called Glen Park, and it’s situated sort of behind and below a pretty Victorian-style house. Since this is San Francisco, however, it’s of course on a big steep hill. It’s an interesting setup: the Victorian house at street level only appears to be 1 or 1.5 stories tall, but the land slopes away steeply as you go further away from the street. So from the car you walk down eight or ten steps to the area under the front porch, open a locked gate, then walk down ten more steps (which are much more rickety) under part of the house. Then you go down a straight section (where yesterday’s photo was taken)  and come out from under the house, and then it’s down about ten more steps, and then you’re at the front door to the cottage. It wasn’t too terrible a distance or too strenuous a climb, but we weren’t relishing unloading our cars this way.

Happily, however, we knew that there was a cute little alley behind the row of houses. It’s an old-fashioned alley — the kind that runs parallel to the street and all the houses’ garages open up to it.  After a while we also realized that our cottage seems to be a studio apartment over the free-standing garage that goes with the Victorian house — there’s a little internal staircase in the “cottage” that goes down to the alley below. It’s good for walking the dogs.

The back of the Victorian house rising up into the sky (blue building) with the back of our "cottage" on the left (dark building with white on the corners). The street level, where our cars are parked, is even with the top floor of the blue house.

Anyway, so having just arrived with our two laden cars, we got the bright idea to pull our cars into the alley one at a time and then unload them via the single flight of stairs in the cottage — far easier than the trek from the street, which was nearly three stories tall. Since Blake’s car had most of the stuff, we decided to do his first, and I waited in the alley for him to drive around. It actually ended up taking quite a while — the entrance to the alley was a block or so away, and the tiny streets were technically two-way but certainly not big enough to turn a car around. But eventually he arrived and we got to work. The whole unloading part went pretty quickly, and we were psyched. It had been such a long day already, and with most of the unpacking done, surely it was just going to be downhill from there.

The alley. Pretty, but not very wide. Our "cottage" is the dark building above the garage on the right.

Unfortunately, we still had a few more obstacles. Once the car was empty, Blake drove forward and made the sad discovery that the alley was a dead end. And even worse, there was no cul-de-sac down there. It just ended in someone’s garage, and there was absolutely not enough room to turn around. So instead he had to start backing up, and it was probably a good eighth of a mile. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, but near the main road the alley started getting very curvy and narrow and hilly and full of pot holes. Apparently it hadn’t been too difficult driving in, but it was considerably less fun to back out of.

And next we had my car. Blake warned me about the length and unpleasantness of the alley, which I hadn’t yet seen, and we weighed our options. Eventually we decided that the trek from the street would still be worse than the complexity of navigating the alley backwards, and so off I went to bring my car around. To my dismay, the curviness and narrowness were even worse than I’d pictured, and I was starting to get a little nervous in advance. But I kept driving until I got to our building where Blake was waiting.

…at which point we discovered that we had locked ourselves out of the cottage. The back door had fallen closed and locked automatically, and there we both were in the alley — four stories and a several-minute walk from the path to the cottage’s front door. So we cursed our luck and Blake made the walk back around while I stayed with the car. As mentioned previously, the alley is definitely not wide enough for two cars to pass, so the entire time he was gone I kept nervously glancing at my rear-view mirror and hoping nobody was going to drive up behind me. Thankfully, nobody did, and after about eight minutes Blake reappeared from inside the cottage and everything was fine. (We hadn’t even been certain that the front door was still unlocked, so I was very relieved to see him.)

The view from the cottage with my plants in the foreground

So we unloaded my car, which was even faster still, and then we began the arduous process of extricating it from the alley. But although Blake’s car couldn’t have turned around, a mini-driveway at the end of the alley looked more promising for my smaller car. So I put the top down for increased visibility, Blake climbed out to tell me exactly where the corners of my car were, and after about twelve minutes we were able to actually drive forward out of the alley. I think I could have done it backwards if necessary — especially with the top down so I could see everything — but it was certainly pleasant to drive out the way nature intended people to drive: facing forward.

Walking the dogs in the alley in the rain. (Blake took this from the window of the cottage.)

After so much unloading, the cottage looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Every horizontal surface was full of stuff. As I’m writing this, 24 hours later, it looks substantially better but still pretty crowded. (This is why there are no photos of the cottage’s interior yet.) I hope to make it look a lot better in here while Blake’s at work tomorrow, and then maybe I’ll get a shot or two.

But the inside of the cottage really is cute. It’s about 400 square feet, but in that space they’ve squeezed a small couch, a small fridge, a small microwave, a small table and chairs, small bedside tables, a small closet, and a full-size oven. With no dishwasher, though, we aren’t going to attempt to make Thanksgiving dinner here. (We have restaurant reservations near Foster City.) The listing for this place said there were laundry facilities available, but it turns out that “available” means four blocks away in a laundromat (up and down a steep hill, of course). That’s a little irritating, but otherwise the place is great and the price is good.

The view at sunset tonight. Our window faces southwest.

So all in all we’re pretty pleased. The place is clean and cute and meets almost all our needs. We had a lovely dinner at an upscale pizza place a few blocks away, and I think it will be fun living in San Francisco for a short time. It’s funny; walking around here, I can see why people love it — but I’m also very glad that we’re not going to be living here permanently. I’ll have to expand on that in another post, however, because now it’s time to relax.

Moving to San Francisco: Part 1

November 20, 2011 at 12:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today Blake and I packed up our stuff from the corporate housing in San Bruno and drove fifteen minutes to San Francisco. (We rented a little cottage here for ten days until our apartment in Foster City is ready.) It’s actually been a pretty eventful day.

For the last 90 minutes we’ve been listening to something we haven’t heard in a long time: the sound of rain on the roof. You’d think we’d have encountered that frequently in Seattle, but we were on the second floor of a five-story building — well insulated from charming rainy roof sounds. The rare hard rain would occasionally pitter-pat against our window, but not that frequently. I guess the last time we heard this was in our house in Austin. It’s cozy.

Adding to the coze is the intermittent gentle bonking of the south-facing window. Every time the wind blows, it bonks around a little in its frame and I think, “Hm? What’s that?” Then an instant later I remember it’s the wind outside and we’re warm in here, and I feel even cozier. I’m sure I’ll get used to it in an hour or two — it’s not unpleasant.

Pico and Blake in the San Bruno apartment

Anyhow, here we are after an exhausting day. We started out at the crack of 8 a.m., which is pretty early for us, and began loading the car and doing some last-minute cleaning. (We’d loaded as much as possible last night, but there was still quite a collection of bags and stuff to go this morning.) When we moved in last month there was a fantastic large orange cart — big, like the ones at Home Depot — which made our move-in process take about 30 minutes tops. Maybe two trips max. We had to take an elevator from the parking garage to our floor, so the cart was invaluable.

But yesterday when I went to retrieve the cart to load some stuff, I couldn’t find it. I walked all around the garage, looked high and low, but it was nowhere to be found — or any of the four others which are often sitting there when I come home with a trunk full of groceries. Then, just as I was about to give up, I spied one cart sitting forlornly in a dusty corner. It was pretty sad — dirty, small, in cosmetic disrepair, and just altogether not very good. But it had wheels that worked, and that was good enough for me. So the cart and I rolled back towards the elevator.

Just as I was about to press the button, however, an apartment employee stopped me with some bad news: the carts had all apparently been stolen from nearby stores and were being returned. And the ones that weren’t stolen or whose sources were unknown — like my poor little cart I’d found — well, they were being thrown away. After a little discussion it became apparent that the carts were mostly being removed because people bonked them into walls and made little marks, which seemed like a pretty crappy reason. As Blake pointed out, they could just buy two carts with corner guards and they’d have happy residents and clean walls.

Nano is cozy.

But no, this guy really wanted me to leave the cart so he could throw it away! I told him we were leaving the next morning, and after much effort I convinced him to delay its demise for 24 more hours. It was pretty irritating in the first place, because that apartment would suck without a way to get stuff upstairs, but c’est la vie. At least we won’t be living there anymore.

But anyway, the whole point of this side story is that it took us nearly three hours to load the car and get ready to go — even though we had only one carload of stuff. The cart was like a long narrow trapezoid, but it was smaller than a regular grocery cart. I couldn’t even fit a banker’s box in there because the cart was so narrow! So we took stuff down, trip after trip, waiting for the elevator twice per trip, and it took forever. Each trip was easy because the cart sure wasn’t heavy and there was little stuff to move each time, but it just sort of dragged on and on.

Once we got everything packed, we had a lot of time to kill. Apartment checkout was 11 a.m., but our place in San Francisco wasn’t available til 3. So we had two cars full of worldly possessions, two people, two dogs, and a bag or two of perishable groceries — with no place to go.

Except we kind of had a place to go because we had known this was going to happen. So we dropped off Blake’s car at a safe shopping center and then headed over the Santa Cruz mountains to the charming town of Pacifica. It’s pretty quaint and very beautiful and right on the Pacific, so we mostly just walked around with the dogs and soaked up the sunny beachy views. Here are some nice shots of Pacifica, and the story continues (briefly) afterwards:

As we came over the Santa Cruz mountains, this view of Pacifica's Rockaway Beach opened up in front of us. It's hard to tell from this photo, but the waves crashing on the beach were huge! Nothing like the Atlantic waves I'm used to.

The beach in Pacifica looking southeastish

Looking northwestish

A nice guy took this photo of us on the rocks at Pacifica. We mostly stayed off the sand because of the dogs -- we didn't need eight dirty paws to clean before putting them back in the car.

A little trail in Pacifica. This place is so beautiful!

After that we headed south on highway 1 to Half Moon Bay, and I think I can wholeheartedly describe the drive between the two cities as “stunning.” Simply one of the most incredible stretches of road I have ever seen — amazing ocean views and trees and land and surf and surfers and boats. It was amazing and beautiful, and everybody who comes to visit us will definitely get a trip there. Northern California is really something.

After a few hours of that, we headed back to San Bruno to pick up Blake’s car and continued north to San Francisco. And that seems like a good place to stop for now. To be continued in part 2!

The entrance to the cottage is down the stairs to the right. Doesn't it look charming?

Weather in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area

November 8, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Once we decided to move to California, I started looking at the weather in detail to help choose a place to live. This actually turned out to be very complicated (but very interesting) because the Bay area has many microclimates. (According to Wikipedia, a microclimate is a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area.)

A warning: this whole post is about weather. If you aren’t interested in weather, you may want to just give this one a miss.

For example, let’s look at three different cities that span all of Silicon Valley:

San Francisco – 22 inches of rain per year:

Mountain View – 15 inches of rain per year:

San Jose – 15 inches of rain per year:

The differences are especially noticeable in the summer: in August, San Francisco’s average high is only 69 compared to Mountain View’s 79 and to San Jose’s 87. Which might not seem that unreasonable until you realize how close they all are — SF and SJ are only an hour apart and have a difference of almost twenty degrees!

So what’s going on? Why the microclimates, and how can we use this information to make sure we live someplace warm?

Well, let’s look at a map of the area:

As I mentioned in my last post, the term “Silicon Valley” generally refers to the area between San Francisco and San Jose. Now let’s look at the terrain version of this map with some added notes:

Even though this is labeled, I’ll describe it anyway:

  • The Santa Cruz mountain range (yellow arrows) runs NW and SE. On the map you can see that the southern “side” of it is all green with plants, whereas the northern side is much more brownish gray.
  • Silicon Valley is the area between the red arrows.
  • The San Francisco Bay is specified with blue arrows. The Golden Gate bridge is at its mouth to the Pacific on the west.
  • The area on the NE side of the Bay is generally called the “east bay,” (green arrows) and several people have told us that it’s kind of a crappy area.

Now it just so happens that the weather in this part of the world generally comes up from the ocean to the southwest. So when cold and rain and clouds and etc. are blowing NE towards Silicon Valley, an interesting thing happens: they hit the Santa Cruz mountains. And just like a stunt motorcyclist who rides up a ramp, all the weather and precipitation from the ocean shoots way high up in the atmosphere and continues its northeast-ward path too far up to cause any rain. You can see evidence of this on the mountains themselves: on the ocean side, they’re all green and lush from where the rain constantly hits them. On the land side, though, it’s actually quite dry. (This area is called a rain shadow.)

Over time, of course, the weather drifts back down and begins raining on land, but by this time it has moved even further northeast and has missed Silicon Valley entirely. (A similar thing happens in Seattle, actually — downtown Seattle is in the rain shadow of mountains to the west, so it gets far less rain than many of its more easterly suburbs.)

But this is certainly not the only effect. Let’s look at another one:

As I said, the weather is heading NE from the Pacific. At the bottom of this image, you can see the last effect I discussed: the red arrows show the cold air moving NE and the orange arrows show the weather shooting up when it hits the mountains. But take another look at that mountain range: it pretty much stops at the town of Pacifica (slightly below the blue arrows near the middle of the map). This means that unlike Silicon Valley, San Francisco really has nothing to shield it from the chilly Pacific air. Consequently it is actually a pretty cool city (and it is even colder than Seattle some of the time even though SF is at a much lower latitude).

Once the cold air passes through San Francisco, it continues right across the Bay without any obstacles in its path. Then it hits the east bay and makes them colder and wetter as well. Not as cold, of course, because that weather has been warming up a little over the land, but still much colder than sheltered Silicon Valley.

Along similar lines, once that weather has come inland north of the Santa Cruz mountains, some of it will reach the northern part of Silicon Valley. In particular, San Bruno (where we are staying right now), Burlingame, and San Mateo are much cooler than San Jose (which is at the southeastern edge of Silicon Valley and can be seen two maps up from this one).

There are other effects at work here as well, but these are the main ones I’ve been able to find. I know practically nothing about weather, but this post is what I’ve been able to put together from an evening of reading various weather blogs. And I’m half writing this because nobody seems to have written an article like this before — this is the article I was trying to find and didn’t seem to exist. =)

So to generalize: San Francisco and the east bay are cold and wet. San Jose is warm and dry. The Silicon Valley cities between them vary more or less linearly.

We’re hoping to find an apartment in Foster City, which is still pretty warm despite being close to chilly San Bruno. Driving to Mountain View these days is lovely — I keep my top down all day and drive around without a coat and it almost makes me forget that there even is a cold Seattle where I couldn’t go jacket-free all summer long. It’s nice. =)

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.