Happy Mother’s Day!

High School Graduation: Marge Kauschen

Every day is Mother’s Day. That’s what my Mom probably should have said. From the time I was born, looking back on all the pictures she was always there for me. When I was sick, when I was sad, when I was happy. She was always there.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and I lost her four years ago. I honestly think that she reached a point where she realized that I could make it on my own. She taught be to look out for myself, pay the bills get things done that needed to be done. She taught me to cook so that I’d never go hungry. She fought for me so that I would get good teachers and schooling.

I probably could have done more. I think the last thing I did for her was make her a grandma. Granted, I had help in that aspect. I had a lot of help and it wouldn’t have happened without Wife. I’d include a picture of her, but she doesn’t like to be in the limelight. She has that same aspect as my Mom. She never wanted to or tried to replace her and that’s a good thing. Wife is a smart cookie like my Mom and I think I did a good job in conning her into spending the rest of her life with me.

So today if you have a Mom that isn’t with you anymore I want you to think about her and what she gave up to make you who you were today. If you have a Mom that is still with you or you’re married to just take the time to remember that they’re doing an awful lot to keep you and your family on the right track.

Clown Alley

Clown AlleyOnce upon a time before the words artisanal and gourmet were used to describe food there were burger joints. Not fast food places like we’re used to, but places where you could order a burger they way you wanted it and the person behind the counter wouldn’t have a meltdown because they didn’t have a button on the register to push for that.

Clown Alley was one of these places. It was opened up on Columbus Avenue sometime in the 40’s by Enrico Banducci who also opened the Hungry I and the Purple Onion [where Phyllis Diller and others got their careers started]. The place wasn’t anything gorgeous to look at and I think the clowns used in the decor were more to distract you from the fact that you just walked into a corner dump to get a burger.

The burgers where well, burgers. Nothing artisanal or gourmet about them, they where just made from ground beef thrown on a grill and served up with french fries. What set them apart was that they were big. Huge to be more exact. They make quarter pounders look like white castle sliders.

The MenuThis was the type of place that you went to eat what people ate when they were hungry. They didn’t go there for the ambience or organic produce that was put on the burger [is there really such a thing as organic iceberg lettuce and if so why?] I always liked to take friends who had come from outside the US here who wanted to try real American food. The burgers were made by hand and not a machine. They were cooked on a greasy old grill and they never quite tasted the same twice. If you had a great burger today it could be awful tomorrow, but if you were hungry and didn’t have a lot of money, you wouldn’t be hungry for the rest of the day. Today’s equivalent would probably be the burrito.

The 80’s and the beginning of the foodie way of life started to change this. Burgers became déclassé even if they were made with meat from a farm to table place and rolled into patties on the thigh of a virgin. The burger, a symbol of American culture had just become uncool.

It turns out that while Clown Alley has closed it has re-opened under the name Pickles with a few changes to the decor and menu. It’s still not the same as Enrico’s, but at least it’s not cooked and frozen in some other part of the country. While they served burgers just like any fast food place in the US there was something about a quirky place like this that was just different. You’d see guys in suits sitting next to construction workers both connected by some ground up meat on a bun.

Dealing With Old Houses

No this is not my home.Pretty much everyone here is from somewhere else. Especially today. I think I’m one of the few people left over 40 who was born in San Francisco and one of the even fewer who is living in the house he grew up in now. My family inherited the house after my Mom died [well not really, my name was on the house since I was 18]. There’s a difference though when you live in a house that your parents bought in 1954 and have been the only family to live there.

Before my wife and I moved back into the house my Mom was the only one left and didn’t get around much so there were lots of areas that she never looked at. When we moved in we realized that the double paned windows upstairs caused about a 15° difference when you went downstairs where we only had single paned [old single paned] windows. In the winter like now. It gets cold downstairs and nothing short of a space heater will warm the place up even though we have central heating. This is something we’re working on figuring out how to fix at the moment because we can’t afford to replace the downstairs windows.

The shower in the downstairs bathroom leaks to the point that when you take a shower water soaks through the wall and runs out into the basement. This is going to be fixed today. You have to re-caulk old caulking every couple of years because with the old tiles and worn marble floor [which I’m also in the process of refinishing] doesn’t always seal up completely.

Dust, OMG DUST! This is an old house by San Francisco standards which means we have wall to wall carpeting. You can vacuum the floor for a half hour and then go over it with a small hepa filter vac and notice you get more dust out of the carpet. Our dryer downstairs is in the back of the basement so it doesn’t vent outside so you get lint everywhere. It must have been about 1″ of 30 years of lint that I had to work with my hand before being able to vacuum it off the cabinets next to the dryer because my Mother never used the lint trap. Lint gets everywhere and you have to move stuff and get behind it to suck it all out.

Walls, I have no idea what made the marks and stains, but the walls have gotten rather dirty so I’ve been trying a few things to clean the walls which are working somewhat well. The Magic Eraser pad works, but we have to go over the walls a couple of times to get all the spots off. This gives you a good work out if you’re doing it right. Your arms should be tired after you’re finished.

Carpeting in general get dirty and we’ve had carpet cleaning companies come by that have still left the stains after the carpet dries. I actually used some oxy-clean on one particularly dark spot going into the kitchen and now it just shows how much dirt has collected over the years because we have a nice clean bright patch of carpet surrounded by dark beat up carpet. In reality, the carpet is close to 30 years old and should be replaced because there are areas which haven’t been walked on that stand up more than others. When we can afford it we’ll do that.

Bannisters. These are fun because you don’t realize that when people grab onto them the oils and dirt from their hands sticks to them. I tried three days of goo gone and that wasn’t enough so I finally stripped the lacquer off and refinished them and they look brand new.I’ve learned in the past to  start with rough sandpaper and work down to the finest you can to get it smooth and have a good tack cloth ready.

The kitchen. Nope we don’t have granite counter tops we have the old tiles everyone used to have. The tiles have held up quite well, but the grout has worn or gotten stained from coffee spills to the point that I had to re-grout most of the tiles. This isn’t that hard and we had at one point the the mortar in front of the sink wear out so I had to hammer out the old mortar and glue the tiles back in place and then grout when they were set. In some places the grout has worn out to the point that it’s not grout anymore, but  dirt and grease that’s collected that you can gouge out with a screwdriver. If you have one of those hand held steamers that will sanitize the area before you grout and get some more dirt out of the cracks. Eventually we’ve get new countertops when we can have the cabinets refinished. I happen to like the Zodiaq quartz counter tops because they’re easier to deal with and they’re cultured quartz. We’ll definitely need someone to put those in along with a new sink to replace the 1954 porcelain sink that’s been worked over with comet a little too much.

As for furniture, we’ve got such a mixed group of items that you just have to shake your head. We have side tables and a dinner table from the late 1800’s. A chair that was purchased from a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson [i.e. Lewis Carroll] in 1850 which fix well together [if it’s your grandma’s house], but then there’s this horrible faux-asian bamboo printed couch that’s gotten stains from over the years and the springs need replacing, a high back faux Victorian chair which while I love it because it’s comfortable and if I fall asleep in it I’ve got those side thingies so my neck doesn’t get crunched. It’s kind of like a car seat for lazy adults, there’s another chair that I don’t know the time period, but it looks like around the 30’s and a lazy boy recliner that’s electric and I’m willing to sell it to get it out of here.

Other general things that we’ll need to call in outside help for is the dry rot that we’ve developed in the corners of the living room windows. I could sand a lot out, but that won’t fix it. I think we could handle the painting ourselves, but we have a guy down the street who painted the outside of the house who would do the inside better than us. There are also cracks and holes that have developed over the years that I’ve been spackling over and I’ve gotten pretty good at dry wall work. Thank you youtube.com for all the helpful videos.

It’s a lot of work, but I’ve never been one to buy a house and flip it in a few years for a profit, especially now with prices going up or down in six months. I like the place because I grew up here. Now it’s just time for us to make it ours. And that is why you haven’t heard from me in awhile. I’ve been so busy fixing up the house instead of other New Year’s resolutions that people break that I’m doing pretty good.

Halloween in San Francisco

Here’s something you might not of heard of, but if you’re looking for something different to do on Halloween you might want to think of heading over to the Queen Anne Hotel and take their haunted house tour. The tour is $20 and while it occurs throughout the year Halloween is the big night because they pull out all the stops.

The tour led by Jim Fassbinder starts at the hotel where you get to tour some of the haunted rooms of this perfectly restored Victorian hotel. Jim is an awesome host for the tour and he takes you on a walk around houses nearby where he tells you about who’s supposedly haunting the house. Dressed in his Victorian finest he looks like he stepped right out of a Dicken’s novel. Jim is part storyteller, part comedian and part illusionist.

Be prepared though because you will do a lot of walking during the tour and nights can be rather cold in San Francisco so be sure to dress warmly. The tour takes around three hours and the majority is done outside.It’s a real kick to go on the tour and you get a little prize bag at the end of spooky stuff to remind you of the tour.

It is well worth the price and the hotel is really beautiful inside. If I remember correctly they offer coffee and hot cider before the tour which is always an extra bonus for me. If you go make sure to them Jim I sent you.

The Trouble with Pine Needles

I’ve been around a lot of houses in San Francisco and it seems like the Sunset District is the only place where we get a problem with pine needles. It could be because they blow south from Golden Gate Park or it could be the people who got the idea of  stuffing that old Christmas tree in their backyard 50-60 years ago and now it’s taken root and taller than the house.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with trees. I used to spend my days in the summer at my Aunt’s house in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range so seeing big tall pine trees wasn’t unusual. Where it begins to be a problem is when you live in a house with people who though planting pine trees in their backyard was a good idea.

Here is my main complaint. If you take a look at the picture you’ll see something you commonly find in Sunset District houses. It’s a skylight so that when you wash your dishes you can look out the window at a kind of sunny box. Unfortunately, they also tend to collect pine needles that get blown by the strong salt air which of course, land in your skylight. My wife, who is a goddess in my opinion asked me for help yesterday as she climbed out to clean out the pine needles that had started to become rather thick. She is a goddess because her being 5’4″ and me being 6′ she understands that it’s easier for her to get out the tiny window than me. This is unlike my parents who always decided that me being the biggest one in the family was best to squeeze through tight openings.

The little bunch of clumped up wire that you see next to the pipe is a homemade filter that my grandfather made specifically to keep pine needles out of the drain. It works fine when you don’t have a lot of needles, but there have been times when the needles have blocked the drain and we’ve had rainy weather in which we suddenly have six inches of water starting to build up which even with the tar paper the water will eventually leak around and you’ll get rot underneath it.

I think overall my biggest problem is to figure out what to do with this area. My family used to have cacti right outside the window because they didn’t need water and it was hard to get to. It’s really just a useless part of the house that lets a little light into the kitchen, but requires high maintenance. If anyone has an idea or two I’d love to hear them.

Whitecaps: Barbabos

Yes, this isn’t about San Francisco, but remember it’s my wild weekend where I get to talk about anything and today I wanted to talk about Whitecaps in Barbados. I have a couple of close friends who have purchased a three bedroom house there that when they aren’t visiting they rent it out. They needed a website to best display the house so who do they come to…me of course.

I have never visited Barbados, but from the looks of the pictures, I definitely will one day and I will be staying at Whitecaps. I was given a tour via skype of the house [yes, the house has wi-fi] and it is pretty spectacular. I could hear the waves crashing on the beach because you’re literally about 50′ from the beach. Barbados is definitely geared for tourists which if you look at the photos in the gallery you can see that there are many shows that go on for free at the local plaza that’s within walking distance.

The food is very inexpensive there and fresh the fish and Barbados goats are all over the place so chances are good that it was alive a few hours before you purchase it. When you bring it back to the house you simply hand it over to Waple who is your personal chef that will cook all your meals. You also have a personal concierge who will help you arrange your site seeing trips around the island. In the evening you don’t have to work as there are two security guards that will make sure the house is secure. You also have your own maid service so you don’t even need to worry about making your bed every day.

Just to give you the full blown what you get for your money, allow me to cut and paste from their website:

  • Three bedrooms for a total of six guests
  • Three private bathrooms: two with tubs, one with a walk-in shower
  • Wet bar
  • Flat-screen TV with Bose sound system
  • WiFi internet access
  • Your own personal chef
  • Your own maid service
  • Located on Mullins Beach
  • Lovely shaded garden area for entertaining

Whitecaps is right on the beach halfway between Mullins Bay and Gibbs Bay — a mere stone’s throw from the highly regarded Mullins Restaurant and Cocktail Bar on Mullins Beach.

There is a 24-hour convenience store within a five minute walk to the north and a fabulous little gift shop, the Shell Gallery, a fifteen-minute walk to the south.

Further north lies Speightstown, a picturesque old town with a historical museum, an art gallery, a small supermarket, shops, a four-star restaurant (Mango by the Sea), banks with ATMs and a fish market, as well as farm stands offering the freshest tropical fruits and vegetables. It is about five minutes away by bus or taxi. To the south is Holetown, a larger community with high-end boutique shopping, a large supermarket, cafes and gift shops, banks with ATMs and a number of four-star restaurants. It’s ten minutes by bus or taxi.

While there are regular buses to and from Bridgetown, and taxis can be reserved for dinner dates, most guests will rent a car to have full run of the island, including the night life of St. Lawrence Gap and the many historic and scenic points elsewhere.

Note that for what us Americans consider a time to take a vacation is considered the off season and is $345/night. If you get another couple or two to make trip with you it becomes downright affordable. It’s pretty much always in the 80’s dropping to the upper 70’s at night so you won’t have to bring a heavy coat. I suggest lots of tank tops and shorts and maybe an eye patch if you want the total Pirates of the Caribbean vibe.

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This Place It Is A Changin’…

For some reason there’s a cafe on Taraval Street between 27th and 28th that can’t seem to stay in business for more than about three months. It’s not in that bad a location, but the awning and the name every few months with very little changing on the inside. The free wifi even has the same name as went it first opened about 5 years ago.

The name kept changing from Mocha 101 to Green Cafe to now Rolling Out. The names have changed so much that I can’t even remember most of them now. There’s always a few people in there, but not like some of the other cafes that have people lined up and sitting outside. The staff stayed the same for awhile but now I’ve noticed different people at the register. The inside is almost exactly the same as when it open so all this just seems funny to me.

I don’t know if the place changes hands or if the owner is just very into redecorating. The menu has changed a little bit, now focusing on sweeter treats and sandwiches made with homemade bread. At $4.75 a pop that’s not too bad a price considering I’ve seen sandwiches going for $6.50 closer down to me.

I’m not sure what it is in general with Taraval street, but there’s always a high turnover in businesses on the street unless you get farther out towards the beach where little changes. Unless you’re a gas station or 7-11 or El Burrito Express you can’t expect to stay in business very long on Taraval.

I just wonder why that is?


49 Mile Drive: Stop Four, Haas-Lilienthal House

The Haas-Lilienthal House is San Francisco’s finest Victorian house museum, and is open to the public year-round for docent-led tours. In addition, it houses the offices of San Francisco Architectural Heritage and functions as residence and popular event rental site.

Built in 1886 for Bavarian immigrant William Haas and the family, it was occupied by 3 generations of his family until it was donated by them to Heritage. The Haas-Lilienthal House was opened to the public for tours in 1972. It is the only intact private home of the period that is open regularly as a museum, complete with authentic furniture and artifacts.The House beautifully exemplifies upper-middle class life in the Victorian era. Considering its age, the House has never been significantly remodeled or modified and remains one of the very few examples of its era in the neighborhood. Built of redwood & fir, the House withstood both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes with only minor damage.

Designed by Peter Schmidt, it is an exuberant example of Queen Anne style, with its prominent open gables, varied styles of shingles and siding, and turreted corner tower topped by a “witches cap” roof. The original cost of the House was $18,500 [significantly more than the average for the day, which was $700-2000] Because it was the house of a merchant and not the mansion of a millionaire, it is an informative illustration of how early San Franciscans might have lived at the turn of the 20th century.

William Haas was born April 24, 1849, in the village of Reckendorf, Bavaria, to a family of modest means with many children.

In 1865, sixteen-year-old William and an older brother, Abraham, sailed for New York City. He arrived in San Francisco on October 9, 1868, and joined the grocery firm of Leopold Loupe and Kalman Haas. His first recorded address, in Langley’s San Francisco Directory of 1869, was the Nucleus Hotel, on Third and Market.

The Haas-Lilienthal House tours are every Wednesday, Saturday [noon-3pm] and Sunday [11am-3pm]. Tours leave every 20 to 30 minutes and last about 1 hour. All visits to the house must be guided. Reservations are not required. General admission is $8, and admission for seniors and children under twelve is $5.

You can also rent out the house for special occasions. If you are interested in renting the house [you can get it for 8 hours for $2950 January-November, $3400 in December] You can visit the SF Heritage Site for more details.

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The Old Clam House Changes Hands

I didn’t realize this, but the Old Clam House is the oldest restaurant in San Francisco having opened it’s doors in 1861 [the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected President] and has remained in the same family’s hands until just recently. For those people familiar with the East Coast fried clams are second nature. Everytime I get to go back east I always have to get a clam roll, lobster roll and if I happen to be in New York, PIZZA.

But I digress. I remember the Old Clam House from a time when I worked in that part of the city and the companies out there tended to have their Christmas parties there. I looks like a bit of a dive from the outside, but it was very old school on the inside. I mean old school like California gold miner old school. At one of the parties I was at there after my co-workers had gotten a few drinks in me I tried the fried clams. I wasn’t a big seafood person back then and I still to this day can’t bring myself to eat an oyster, raw or cooked, but you could fry up just about anything and I’ll try it.

The clams were excellent. The steak sandwich was a little tough, but do you really go to a place called the “Old Clam House” for steak? I found myself going back to the clams which were cherrystone clams. Now under new ownership a few things have changed.

First off, it was bought by the people who brought you the Stinking Rose in North Beach so I’ll assume that chef Andrea Froncillo of Bobo’s will make the steak much better. They’re adding prime rib to the menu which is always a plus in my book. Lots of crab and other fish in addition to of course the clams they even have a few items that would satisfy the odd vegan who might follow you to the Old Clam House. Prices aren’t to bad which is always good in this economy. Sadly though, I didn’t see fried clams on the menu. I’m hoping they’ll show up again. An interesting side note is that when the Clam House opened it was a southern waterfront restaurant connected to downtown San Francisco by two miles of plank road. That’s kind of interesting when you stare out at about a half mile of land to get you to the bay.

Time to re-visit the “Old Clam.”

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