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For my birthday, my husband bought me a house. I like to mention this nonchalantly to strangers because I think it makes us sound like the type of people who might own a yacht or take exotic vacations. But the reality is that my seven-year-old truck has two large dents from camping trips and we buy Two-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.

I will also admit that we waited for the housing market to take a dive before purchasing our first home — or rather, my husband waited. He is the type of person who had his future mapped out by the age of six. Every day, he sets his wristwatch to alert him to his ten o’clock bedtime so that he will get exactly eight hours of shut-eye each and every night. That’s just how he rolls. Aaron does not make rash decisions, ever. When 900 square feet was going for half a mil in San Diego, he never considered becoming a homeowner.

I knew the moment we saw our house that it would belong to us, despite its old-lady mauve-y pink color and the weeds growing out of the rain gutters. It looked like us. It was on a cul-de-sac lined with trees. The sound of lawn mowers was coupled with children’s laughter. I could picture our kids setting up a lemonade stand in our driveway or riding their bicycles to school with the rest of the neighborhood kids.

Other people looked at the house that day. There was a middle-aged man in a baseball cap holding his wife’s chubby hand. Their sedan was parked haphazardly on the street, its rear window crowded with neatly arranged stuffed animals. Dozens of little black eyes stared at the road. The wife was unimpressed by the decades-old kitchen, but I overheard her say she saw “promise in the floor plan.”

There was a young couple with a newborn. The woman spoke loudly to her petite bleached blonde agent while balancing in one arm an oversized infant carrier with her sleeping baby bundled up inside. She spoke matter-of-factly about the offer they planned to make on the house. Her husband sat outside on the curb, smoking a cigarette. I felt anxious, worried that our home would end up in the hands of a smoker or a hoarder. The walls would yellow, or worse, the rooms would be overcrowded with stuffed animals, straight from QVC. That just wouldn’t do.

When we got in our car, I told Aaron that I wanted to die in that house at an old age, peacefully in my sleep, with my dog-eared copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House resting in my lap. I, of course, would be in the middle bedroom, the one at the top of the stairs that has the clearest view of Mount Helix. Aaron let out a slow and heavy sigh because he could tell that I was already envisioning where we would place our furniture.

“Just don’t fall in love with it yet,” he warned.

I could tell by the way he said it, in that long drawn-out way, that he was in love with it, too, and trying his hardest to mask his excitement.

I tend to get my hopes up. What my husband refers to as insane expectations I like to think of as optimism. We are a good balance of rational and irrational. I tell myself that it makes our life together exciting, not messy.

On our drive back to our rental in Tierrasanta, Aaron reminded me of the Ronald McDonald house incident. Six years ago we bought a $200 raffle ticket for our dream home. Aaron did it for the cause. He was sucked in by the photos of bald children with IVs running like spider webs across their arms. He wanted them to see Justin Bieber in concert or parade around Disneyland in princess costumes like other American children. He wanted their dreams to come true, while I wanted to live in a mansion. So we bought a ticket.

The moment she saw it, Braun knew she belonged in this house.

The home was in Rancho Bernardo, in a neighborhood where everything looked identical — the winding streets, the strip malls, the well-tended flower beds, the oversized silver SUVs parked in just about every driveway. It wasn’t us, but I didn’t care. I was drawn in by the home’s glossy wood floors and the staged little-girl bedroom dripping in butterflies, all pale pinks and purples. I could see myself in the master suite’s bubbling sauna with a glass of wine while rereading East of Eden after a rough day. I envisioned a life of potlucks, carpools, and block parties.

On the day of the raffle, after we toured the house, I was certain that we would win. I felt it was divine providence that led us to purchase a ticket. I was in disbelief when the winning name called out wasn’t ours. The people who won didn’t even show up that day. I wanted to punch them for robbing me of a life filled with pretty things.

On the car ride home, Aaron methodically processed the heartbreak: “Do you really think our furniture from craigslist would have looked okay in that house?” We both laughed hard, and I attempted to get over it.

When we first set foot in the old-lady mauve house, we had been actively looking to buy a home for two years. We had placed five offers on other houses. Our first was a townhome in Ocean Beach, less than a mile from the water. It had a community pool and fitness room frequented by thirtysomething professionals in tracksuits and dry-weave sweatshirts. The home was attached to the house next door. It would be a tight squeeze for our five-person household.

Aaron loved it immediately. He pictured family surf sessions and wet suits drying on our back porch. I didn’t love it, but I pretended to because Aaron was enamored with the idea of us being a beach family.

When our realtor took us to see the inside, the family who owned it was home. They were trying to unload it before the bank took it back. We were greeted at the door by their crotch-sniffing golden retriever. There was colorful artwork on the walls and a peaceful Zen decor. The husband told us that they had gone into debt due to a homeowner association nightmare having to do with mold issues in five townhouses on his side of the street. Through gritted teeth, he added, “Through no fault of our own, it cost all of us a fortune. Our mortgage doubled because of it. We can’t afford this place anymore.” At the end of the month, they would be moving into an apartment in Point Loma.

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Barb2756 Nov. 16, 2011 @ 5:40 p.m.

I wish you the best with your new house. Your adventure sounds familiar except I am on the other side of the time continuum. For seventeen years my husband and I have chipped away at our fixer upper in a neighborhood where many if not most houses are beyond beautiful. We raised our children in this house which still has the popcorn right there above us everyday on the ceiling. It didn't bother the kids as they still, when home from college, like to come here because as one boy put it years ago, "this house is homey and warm". Just because your kids are in school doesn't mean there is ample time for a job. I didn't work regularly through the school years and we scrimped but the time is priceless. Someone has to be the glue for the family. Hang in there! The time goes fast.


Fred Williams Nov. 16, 2011 @ 9:53 p.m.

"I have zero qualifications. The prospect of seeking a job makes me feel silly, like the person with a really bad perm in a roomful of well-dressed La Jollans. I don’t know what to do with my life. Who would hire me?"

Amazing! You write like a dream.

Employers complain, loudly, that they cannot find anyone who can write.

There's a missing connection. You need to get out and meet some people who also write for a living -- but about boring (yet highly lucrative) topics such as law, technology, or finance. They probably won't describe themselves as writers, but if you ask how they spend their days you'll find that they complain about endlessly drafting and editing reports, letters, emails, documentation...and that's what actually brings in the day to day pay. They'd love some help, but who can actually write these days?

When they find out that you are a very skilled writer...well, at least hint that you could do some editing for them.

It's a start. Then it depends on who you meet, how productive you can be, and how much time and emotion you want to put into making money.

Working a menial service job would be wasting your hard won writing skills. Still, writing for a living, especially on boring topics you don't really care about but need to work on because it's what pays best, requires an unwelcome intensity that drifts into the rest of your life...so beware.

(Sometimes I'd rather wash dishes for a living than face another requirements specification draft!)

I sincerely wish you the best, not just with the house which you have all the time in the world to transform.



P.s. The neighbors don't really care what you do with the pink lady, since they're living under their own imagined spotlights performing for YOU in their turn. Jump off that merry-go-round and enjoy your home and your life...besides, those "weeds" are simply asserting their evolving views of landscape design and if the neighbors disagree they should take it up with their favorite deity. Dandelions can make excellent salads and wines... :-)


Twister Nov. 17, 2011 @ 10:07 p.m.

You must mean "zero CERTIFICATIONS." There's a HUGE difference between certifications and QUALIFICATIONS. Of course we do live in a culture that puts a lot of stock in certifications and other bullshit, largely because the corporate gnomes know they know nothing other than what they have been indoctrinated with, and they fear anyone who is really QUALIFIED, who can actually think and forge new directions. I offer you the late, uncertified Steve Jobs as an example . . .

You could "find a need and fill it," maybe right there in your wonderful house (or garage). On the other hand, you could get a job waiting tables or working a counter. The "wait staff" at place where I hang out make pretty good tips, and there is a mutually nurturing atmosphere there that makes the job not only tolerable, but mind-expanding. So if you must have a job, pick one carefully. Find a place where you would like to work, and pester them until they hire you. Start near the bottom and work up. Find value in what you do and do what you find value in. Read Studs Terkel's "Working."


PS: You could write, but it's hard work, and even harder to get paid. But do listen to Fred.


mommylinda Nov. 24, 2011 @ 5:25 a.m.

Siobhan, I alwayas enjoy your articles, especially when you tell on your rascally husband. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving. We are going to Ginny and Rick's house with Beck and big David and the boys.
I wish you would write more on this blog.


snjfg Nov. 28, 2011 @ 1:18 p.m.

I would first like to congratulate you on a very well written & funny article. I can relate as my wife and I are in the middle of the long, arduous process of finding our dream home. We were just curious if you had a home inspection done prior to signing? If so, who did you use? I know there are several companies out there, however we've heard mixed reviews. Any suggestions?




Ponzi Nov. 28, 2011 @ 2:33 p.m.

snifg, you absolutely should get a home inspection done before signing.


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