EEF33646-832E-47C7-9329-A006153AD436 Category: Life in Massachusetts | Baghdad By The Bay

We Found A House!

It’s been awhile since I was last able to post and part of that is that we were able to find a house here in Northampton, MA. We got to move in the beginning of May so we’ve been kind of busy settling in.

The first thing I have to say is that this house actually spoiled us. It cost us ? of what we got for our home in San Francisco and it really needs very little work. It’s a three bedroom/one bathroom house at the moment, but we’re going to change that. The way houses are sold here is a little bit different so I’ll have to explain a bit.

The listed size isn’t really the size of the house. Our house was listed as being only 1334 sq. ft. which compared to the 1511 sq ft we had in San Francisco sounds smaller, but the concept of livable space is a little different here.

  1. There’s a room connecting the garage to the house that is sort of a mudroom/laundry room. It’s 300 sq ft, but isn’t considered livable space so it wasn’t included in the overall size of the house.
  2. Basements are in pretty much every house and not considered livable space. We have a finished basement that we’re adding in a 4th bedroom, full bathroom, office/studio, media room and storage. Total area of the basement after we’re finished is 900 sq ft. Even though basements aren’t considered livable space they are used for more than junk storage here and it’s not unusual to find bedrooms and bathrooms and workshops, game rooms, movie theater, man cave, etc in the basement. 
  3. Total square footage for the house is actually 2534 sq ft.

The house itself is on ? acre of land to compare that to our home in San Francisco, we could fit four and half of our old home plus the backyard into the space we got here…for ? the cost of what our house sold for in San Francisco.

It’s a pretty quiet neighborhood about five minutes from downtown Florence [a village that’s a part of Northampton] and eight to ten minutes from downtown Northampton or Easthampton. The people are all very nice and friendly around here and there is plenty of wildlife running around. I get up in the mornings and pour myself a cup of coffee and look out into my backyard and notice the tons of squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits running around our backyard. We inherited some bird feeders and bird houses so we have blue jays, cardinals and chickadees holing up in them and having babies right now.

Probably the best thing about the backyard is that it really is usable unlike our overgrow terraced backyard in the Sunset District. I do miss looking out my dining room window to see some of the ocean, but looking out into a forest isn’t that bad either. I’m sure people who live on the hills in SF would agree with me.

The summer has been a bit on the warm side being in the upper 90’s for a week, but now we’re down in the comfortable low 80’s. Luckily we have central air conditioning and heating so heat and cold aren’t a problem for us. In addition to that little downside there are bugs. Ants are different here. We don’t have any coming into the house, but we have tons of little ant hills outside in the front and back of the house. There are also little gnats which are only annoying when they buzz up to your ear and you think it’s a mosquito or one of the wasps that there are quite a few of as well. I’ve heard there are ticks here, but I haven’t seen any yet. 

As for getting down to dollars and cents, houses around us run around the $230k-$500k price range. They’re a little newer on poured concrete foundations. As you get closer to town the homes are a bit more on the historic side so they’ll have brick or fieldstone foundations and have been messed with over the years because it’s not unusual to found homes built in the early 1800’s here. When you look at the layouts of these homes you’re reminded that people lived a lot different back then and while there’s been a lot of remodeling there are still a few odd quirks you can find in the houses.

I’ve almost finished getting my video studio up so the videos will return shortly.

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Driving Through The ‘Hamptons…

I’ve been debating telling people that I’ve left San Francisco for an easier life in the Hamptons because it’s less expensive. I’d be sort of correct, but not exactly talking about the same Hamptons they’d be thinking about.

Today we took a drive through the ‘Hamptons. Note the apostrophe. We drove from Northampton down route 5 to Easthampton and then continued on to Southampton, but we didn’t make it quite as far as Westhampton today because we were getting hungry and well, Easthampton was the best choice for food [close to the only choice as well outside of Northampton unless you wanted to eat more Dunkin‘ Donuts.

Easthampton is an interesting town. It’s small, but they’re working really really hard to make it a hip and artsy place. We stopped in at Eastworks which oddly enough is also the home to the Department of Motor Vehicles as well as lots of hip cafes, bars and art spaces. Like everyone else we’ve met here everyone was nice [except in the DMV, or RMV as they call it here which is it’s only little slice of hell.] They were happy to talk to you even if you were going to buy something. It’s just the way they are here.

If I had to come up with a label for the locals here I’d have to call them working class hipsters. There’s lots of factories here, not necessarily steel mill type factories, but most of the people, women included have a look like if you got into a fight with them you’d probably get tired of punching them because they’d just be able to stand there and take it. There were lots of piercings, tats and non-naturally colored hair like you were walking around Haight Street in San Francisco, but there was no waifishness to any of the locals. They were all really passionate about what ever it was they were doing. One was the owner of Crooked Stick Pops who was telling me about how he gets some of the ideas for his creations…I think you might be able to guess if you click on the link.

We were hungry though and decided to stop in at the Easthampton Diner. Diners are a big thing here usually, if they’ve been around a long time you can see the remains of the train car that they started as. This place had a rather large menu and I should have learned that if I’m paying $10.95 for something at lunch it’s going to be a lot more than I can eat. I ordered the Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla and it’s so far served as lunch and dinner and probably lunch tomorrow as well. Things like my quesadilla are typical here. They aren’t exactly traditional in anyway like you’d expect, but none the less they’re pretty darn good. Check out the menu on the link above and you’ll see for yourself. 

Easthampton was about a five minute drive from Northampton and in those five minutes there was some beautiful scenery along the way. I think we’ll be going back there often. Here’s a few pictures of the Easthampton Diner you might enjoy it’s quite popular with the locals.

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Walking In A Winter Wonderhell…

I knew it would be cold when we moved to Massachusetts, but we didn’t think we’d see any snow. We were wrong and we learned about several variations that came down on us since last night that caused a few minor problems today.

Last night we looked out the window and it looked like snow was on the cars, but we didn’t see any snow falling. My wife informed me that it had iced over which means the air isn’t cold enough to freeze the waters but the ground is so rain drops hit the ground and splash up breaking apart and then freeze. It made things kind of dry rain if something like that can be said to exist, but it wasn’t unpleasant even though it was 30° out last night. I stood out talking to a friend of my on a phone call for about 10 minutes and while if was cold I didn’t feel like I was freezing.

Apparently overnight the rain stopped and snow fell and there was a couple of inches of it on my car and lots of other cars in the morning. It stopped raining so it was pretty out, but hard to walk since it was still cold and the ice that remained was slippery. This caused us to hold off driving anywhere since our California Honda Civic LX didn’t have tires suited for this type of weather and we didn’t want to risk it.

Then the rain came back. The problem was it was daylight and warmer so we didn’t see any icing over, but instead the warmer rain came down very slowly melting the snow creating slush. It was like a 7-11 slushee machine exploded all over the area only it was fairly dirty if it was on the streets. As the rain melted the snow there were suddenly huge puddles everywhere. As the rain continued through the day it got a lot heavier and appeared close to what the El Niño rains were like in San Francisco. It wasn’t that bad to drive in, but there were still remains of snow and slush from earlier in the day that you had to be a little careful of.

So the last 24 hours have been a bit of a work out, but for me who’s a big kid down deep inside it was a lot of fun. I’m getting used to the colder weather which isn’t that bad I figured out because cold and clear feels a lot warmer than cold and overcast which explains why I used to complain about 50° weather in San Francisco, but 30° with the sun out isn’t so bad.

Here’s a few photos from the past 24 hours:

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Stop And Shop

I always like to visit grocery stores when I’m in a new place because you can learn a lot about people by what they buy and eat. Stop and Shop is the grocery store for people on the East Coast like Safeway is to the Bay Area. Sure there’s also Big Y, but Stop and Shop has more coverage.

For the most part you won’t see too much different than you would in San Francisco other than the price, but there were a few things that stood out to me.

  1. Cannolis: They are everywhere around here and in Stop and Shop you can buy a bunch of prepackaged ones. I’m sure they aren’t the greatest, but you know, if you want a few cannolis after ripping a few bong hits of some newly legal Massachusetts pot then they’re do.
  2. Fried Raviolis: I rather smugly thought I was the only one who ever did this and I find $5 boxes of breaded and fried raviolis here. Again, I can guarantee they aren’t as good as when you make these appetizers yourself, but if you’re lazy and hungry they’d fit the bill.
  3. Marshmallow Fluff: This is a staple of Massachusetts. You can put it on ice cream, or on bread followed by peanut butter to make a fluffernuter sandwich. My Grandmother used to make them as a treat for me which is funny because she wasn’t from New England even though she did have New England sensibilities at times. If you haven’t tried one…try it. You’ll like it.
  4. Local Ice Cream: Friendly’s is a local chain that used to be a burger and chicken place that sold sundaes and milk shakes, now they’re pretty much an ice cream place that selling a few sandwiches. You can find their ice cream and ice cream cakes at the local grocers and Stop and Shop was no different. There’s nothing great about it, but it’s the standard.
  5. Specialty Ice Cream: Since there are several local creameries here and people in these parts take their ice cream seriously you can find pints of ice cream that are of the handmade, artisanal, gourmet variety. Prices tend to be cheaper than in San Francisco, but the ice cream is very good and rich tasting, almost gelato like.
  6. Coffee Syrup: What in God’s name is this? Apparently it’s a coffee flavored syrup that people like to mix with milk to taste like a cold regular coffee or something like that. I still can’t figure it out, but it wasn’t with the ice cream topping so I don’t think you would do that.

Probably the biggest thing about Stop and Shop is its size. The place is huge like a Walmart, but it’s focused on groceries. Not everything like a Walmart. After taking a walk through here I found I’ll have everything available that I need here [even Mexican Coke!]

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Going Up The Country, Pt 2

Yesterday we went north of Hadley to Sunderland to visit Bub’s BBQ for lunch. It was a nice place about 15 minutes away from Northampton and the food was good and cheap with unlimited sides. If I thought Hadley was farm country though, Sunderland and the adjacent Hatfield was even more so.

My Grandparents came from two small towns in the foothills of the Sierras called Jackson and Fiddletown. Sunderland reminded me greatly of those areas. The houses were beautiful and large and in great shape so I can only assume that farming pays off here. I wish I could have taken pictures, but I was the one driving. I’ll get some on another trip over there next time we go.

The farming here is crops and not livestock so the houses are more spread out and the land is pretty flat. I couldn’t find much of anything resembling a downtown here, but I definitely saw lots of side of the road businesses that were aimed at farmers like tractor supply and repair. It was a pretty nice relaxing drive, but what was funny was as we were driving through Hatfield on the way back on I116 the farm land abruptly stopped as you crossed over the Connecticut River and got quite a bit more citified as we came into Deerfield heading back to Northampton. 

Today we’re moving out of our hotel in Holyoke and moving up the Greenfield for the night which is a bit north of Deerfield. Apparently there was a downside to moving at this time of year as spring break starts this week and there’s lots of sporting tournaments going on so lodging is slim here. It was 73° yesterday and nice and warm, but tomorrow the forecast is for a high of 35° and snow in the area. That’s quite a shift for us, but my in-laws say the snow if it does happen should be pretty light. Hopefully I’ll find something nice to say and take pictures of in Greenfield.

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Going Up The Country…

Yesterday we took a trip across the bridge on the Connecticut River to go to Hadley. Hadley is an odd place as the main road which is route 9 has all the shopping, but once you drive off route 9 it’s all farmland. The houses are really nice looking and I only saw one run down place, but that was next to a new place that was probably going to be it’s replacement.

The distance between houses is so great that you’d need to fire a shotgun to get your neighbor’s attention. As we drove down South Maple Street we passed lots of dairy farms offering raw milk. As you can see from the picture there’s a lot of farm land here and what they produce goes to all the cities around and beyond. I thought it was funny seeing all these farms within a 10 minute drive from Northampton since in the Bay Area restaurants and companies brag about how their food is locally sourced and travels no more than one hour. It’s literally minutes in this case.

We had originally thought of buying a house in Hadley because the property tax is really cheap, but the isolation would probably drive me nuts. The streets off route 9 are poorly lit at night and driving in a pitch black atmosphere is something I never had to do as a city kid so I’ll take living in small town Northampton and travel to Hadley when I need some raw milk or farm fresh eggs, but during the day.

The is a bit of an upscale grocery store that serves the Atkins Farm that’s pretty nice and as you’ll notice from the pictures below, not crowded. Prices for an upscale place compared to what you would pay in San Francisco are ridiculously low. Seeing organic asparagus for $2.99/lb vs. the $8.99/lb I would see in SF is a bit of a surprise. Here are some pics from Atkins Farm:

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First Impressions

Northampton and the Pioneer Valley so far has been an interesting place. You don’t have the warmth and even temperatures of San Francisco, but weather wise it’s different, yet not too hard to adapt. I’ve gone out in the mornings and it’s been between 26°-35°, yet it’s sunny so it doesn’t feel cold. On the other hand if you go out at night in those temperatures you aren’t very happy. I’ve been wearing my hoodie and a long sleeve shirt most of the time and I get hot in the afternoons when the temperature gets into the lot 50’s. Tomorrow should be interesting as we’re supposed to get into the 70’s for a couple of days before the highs drop back into the 50’s. Spring is coming quickly and we’re seeing the end of winter here for a couple of weeks.

The people of the area are really nice and friendly. I’ve read about that from mailings I received from Only In Your State which is not a bad website to use if you’re thinking of moving out of California. The people here really go out of their way to help you out if you’ve got a problem. I don’t think I’ve heard a single person swear yet either. The three homeless people I saw looked more cold than anything else and definitely didn’t look like alcoholics or drug addicts…except one guy in downtown Northampton, but he seemed more like Otis, the town drunk than some of scarier people I’ve encountered in San Francisco. People here will offer you directions, explain things to out of towners and pretty much answer any questions you’ve got and all with a smile. It’s kind of creepy after experiencing people who look at you oddly when you talk to them in San Francisco. Probably the least happy person I saw was a bus driver, but I think it was more because she didn’t have time to answer our questions [side note: bus system here is $1.25 and while not as good as regular as Muni it’s definitely not as crowded.] Also a very important thing is that no one here has a Boston accent. Bostonians are like they’re own world. You’ll get a bit of New York accent, but it’s pretty subtle and not much different than the way people talk in San Francisco.

Traffic? Compared to San Francisco it’s non-existent. During rush hour I’d say the traffic is as bad as Sunset Blvd in the mornings. It moves along, but not stop and go. You can drive for maybe 5 minutes before you can hop on I91 or State Route 5/9/10/66 which moves pretty fast. Parking? Pretty easy even in downtown Northampton and you get 20 minutes for a quarter at a parking meter. The downtown parking lot is 50¢/hour and the first hour is free. So far I haven’t seen any street sweeping signs so Northampton must find another way to make its money. Driving on I91 is a joy. I got up to 75mph in a few seconds and didn’t even feel like I was driving fast because the roads are so smooth. My wife didn’t complain about me driving too fast so that means the roads are good. You can get places quickly here because of I91 which makes the housing prices a bit higher, but they’re still ¼ of what they are in San Francisco.

Food? Not too far off from San Francisco. Lots of ethnic food, but sometimes it’s been a bit Americanized in the description. Chinese restaurants are really a mix of Chinese and Japanese food so it’s a little weird to see Oyster Sauce Beef and Chicken Teriyaki on the same menu and all of the Chinese restaurants sell Crab Rangoons that I’ve only seen in a few Hawaiian places in the Bay Area and every YouTube video I’ve seen on Asian food screams, That’s not Chinese!! OK, Mexican food. Several people have laughed at me for moving to Massachusetts saying, wait until you see what they call a burrito in Massachusetts! Well, I can tell you while the Mexican part of the Hispanic population is slim there are lots of Puerto Rican’s to help take up the slack. Most of the people who have said that have visited Boston or it’s ultra-white suburb Wellesley. Yeah, not going to find a decent burrito there, but I’m in Western Massachusetts so it’s different. What they call a burrito here is what we call a Mission Burrito to people outside of California. The only difference is they add…lettuce! It’s unspeakable, but I just told them to hold the lettuce. They’re a bit smaller, but I don’t really need to eat that much food anymore. I ordered the pulled pork burrito which was the way they Americanized Carnitas, but it was definitely Carnitas and if you specifically asked them for say, Al Pastor they knew what you were talking about because they spoke Spanish. 

I’ll stop here and drop some pics of the Yankee Candle Village for you to enjoy. 

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