Thank You, Los Gatos!

August 02, 2007

Frances Flynn Thorsen and Mary Pope-Handy win the Project Blogger Contest at Bloggers Connect on Aug 1, 2007This week I’ve been a little quiet on the blog posting as I’ve had company and spent some time in San Francisco at Blogger’s Connect. You may know that I was involved in a blogging contest, Project Blogger. On Wednesday the tallying of the points was done, and my mentor, Frances Flynn Thorsen, and I won. The neat thing is that $5000 will go to a fabulous charity, CARE (helping to fight poverty and hunger around the globe). Fran and Joeann Fossland have both been championing the work of CARE through the Web Women Giving Circle.

Mary Pope-Handy wins Project Blogger Contest with the mentorship of Frances Flynn Thorsen and blogging about living in Los GatosWhen I was at some of the events, a few of my fellow bloggers (and coaches) told me how lucky I was to be able to blog about our wonderful town, Los Gatos. And they’re right. If I’m enthusiastic about living here, it’s because we really are blessed with living in a fanstastic place, rich in history, art, culture, scenic beauty, smart and interesting people, and on and on.

Since the contest was sponsored by Inman News and Active Rain, I’ve blogged about the last few days a little on the Active Rain forum (though not about the contest, or CARE, just yet). Just before the contest results were announced, I got to meet some of the other apprentices and coaches and have some R & R with them, both in groups small and large. If you’re interested, here are the links to those posts:

Project Blogger apprentices Kevin Tomlinson, Mary Pope-Handy and Tisza Major-Posner have fun in San Francisco I am trying to get some of these done as a “recap” (fun with Tisza, in Los Gatos and Santa Cruz) (picking up Kevin at SFO) (beer event for Bloggers Connect)

So Project Blogger is over, the pressure is off, but Los Gatos continues to be a wonderfully intriguing place to live. Look for many, many more posts about our wonderful corner of Silicon Valley here on “Live in Los Gatos:.

Moving South: Portland, Ashland and back to the Bay Area

July 04, 2007

Relief "Day in the life" in AshlandRoad Trip through the Northwest, Part 3: Portland and Ashland, Oregon
(This is part 2 of a 3 part series on our recent vacation to the northwest, with a comparison of what we saw there with life in Silicon Valley and Los Gatos)

RECAP: My 17 year old son, Brian, 16 year old daughter, Clair, and I had spent one night near Eugene, Oregon, as we trekked north toward Spokane. Then we spent 2 nights with an old Gonzaga friend of mine in Ritzville – a very tiny town about an hour south of Spokane in the middle of rolling wheat fields – and in the middle of that visit we journeyed into Spokane, saw some of my alma mater (Gonzaga University), spent too much time at a car dealership when my vehicle decided to have a battery crisis, and enjoyed some of the gorgeous Riverfront Park area.

Next the three of us made our way to Seattle, where my better half, Jim, caught up with us and where we saw schools, friends, and tourist spots for four wonderful days.

That was week one of a fabulous 10 day excursion to the north, and I discussed these (and how they related to life in Los Gatos) in earlier posts.


Flowers and butterfly - Pacific Northwest, June 2007NEW STUFF: From Seattle we headed south, stopping first in Tacoma to see an old high school friend of mine and her daughter, and then a little further south to Olympia to visit yet another friend. And then two more hours south to Portland, Oregon, where we checked into a hotel – and then headed out to have dinner with yes, another couple of friends and their family. I have to give Brian and Clair credit: they never complained about all these visits crammed into one day and for that I am truly grateful!

The next day, we did the tour at the University of Portland. I had been anxious to see this school since I have two friends with kids who either are about to graduate or just did – and these young men both rave about the school. Raving does get my attention. Additionally, my friends in Portland rave about their city too. As a mom, I was thinking “this is an easy plane ride away” from Silicon Valley. The tour of the U of P was very impressive, even if the weather was not – for me.

My daughter, however, likes the cooler weather, and so for her, it was almost like coming home. She was definitely biased in favor of the school because of the weather. And she was thrilled that it was much smaller than Gonzaga, which is growing at about 1% a year (and many of us alum wish it would just quit growing – it seems to be getting too big). Only negative: the U of P doesn’t offer Art as a major (she is thinking of a double major in Art and English).

So at this point, one of our kids is leaning toward a Seattle school and another toward a Porland one for college.

Waterfall in Ashland, ORAfter the school tour, we drove through some of Portland’s downtown. And we drove out to Reed College too, which is extremely scenic (and just as pricey). What a gorgeous campus, and what great ideals. It’s small and dedicated to great principals in eduation. Very impressive overall.

Portland is a fabulous town. The downtown is clean. The river area is stunning. The neighborhoods we saw were charming beyond all telling.

There’s just one thing, for me, that would again make this a hard place to live: that darned rain. Like Seattle, it’s about 36″ per year (compared to Los Gatos and San Jose’s 15 -20″ per year). Compared to many parts of the US (Atlanta, Houston and others), it’s not bad. Compared to Silicon Valley, it’s a lot of precipitation.

We left Portland too soon (just one night) – I’d like to go back and see more.

Next stop was Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (a year long event). Pulling in just before dinner, we had time to relax, find a good restaurant (no shortage for a town so small) and make it an easy night.

Elizabethan Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in AshlandOur last day of vacation was a relaxing one. Our tickets to see The Tempest were for an 8pm showing and we had the day to poke around the town.

And poke around we did. First we found our way to the information kiosk, parked, and asked a few questions of the kindly volunteers who were staffing the booth. Next we visited a number of shops, and finally wandered over to the area where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is headquartered.

But little did we know that the excitement was about to begin.

Lincon Statue, Lithia Park, Ashland OR June 29, 2007We noticed a badly disproportionate statue of Abraham Lincon near some steps that lead up to the Shakespearean Festival. (The head is too big for the body it got stuck on. See pic to your right.) And some fool had placed a package next to the feet of the statue – clearly it was a bunch of batteries strung together. I was too chicken to check it out up close, but Jim looked and someone had placed on it the words, “This is not a bomb”.

Well, we live in a post 9/11 world, so Jim told someone at that information Kiosk. That person, in turn, called the cops, who in turn, pretty much shut the town down.And eventually the newspeople turned out too.

Jim kept thinking and saying “Maybe I should have just thrown that stupid thing in the trash”.

I’m glad he didn’t – I’d have worried. But still.

We felt bad for the merchants as the streets were suddenly strung off with that yello tape that says “CAUTION” or “CRIME SCENE” or “YOU’LL GET THE PLAGUE IF YOU CROSS” (well ok not the last one). For hours, though, the area got roped off with that yellow tape, and police officers made sure no one crossed the line.

IDowntown Ashland after bomb hoax, June 29 2007 know that Jim’s not a forensic expert, but he looked at the batteries next to the feet of the statue and said, “hey, it looks like batteries”. And after seeing all the shops hurting, and traffic snarled, I think he felt a little remorseful for even turning it in. What a mess it became.

Why is this someone’s idea of a good time?

The next day we read online how many things were disrupted – parties, folks who were going to see one of the shows you name it. Someone undoubtedly thought this battery act was funny, but surely it just hurt a lot of people.

We were not impressed.

That said, Ashland should not be defined by one idiot resident (or visitor). The city itself has a great little downtown, nice scenic beauty (the Rogue Valley is quite beautiful) and you can’t complain about a lack of culture. In addition to the Shakespeare Festival, there is Southern Oregon University and some community colleges too. There are plenty of places to “grow as a person” here.

Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass – they are all part of a metropolitan area known as the Rogue Valley. There are about 130,000 people in the greater “metro” area. Rainfall is not a lot different than in the Los Gatos and San Jose area (we’re at 15 – 20″ per year, the Rogue Valley area is usually under 20″ per year). It appears to be a decent winegrowing climate too. Summers can be dry and hot (not unlike the Santa Clara Valley) and winters cold – colder than in our area as there will be snow in Ashland, Medord, and Grants Pass in winter.

So how does all of this compare to Los Gatos, or to Silicon Valley?

Well, housing is far more affordable. There’s an abundance of scenic beauty (lovely mountains). It’s not overcrowded – but it is growing fast. There are universities, museums, some history, and plenty of cultural things to enjoy. People are generally very friendly. Winetasting and vineyards are present. It seems to be a place – or several places – brimming with potential. It’s probably a good place to invest.

But… winters are colder, the population is not so diverse, there are no truly “big” cities nearby, the ocean is far away (I think I would feel landlocked there).

Stairs in AshlandSo as with Spokane, Portland, and especially Seattle – I think for me Ashland is “a great place to visit”. I could go yearly and not get tired of it. But to live there? I just don’t think it would be my first choice. Too small, too cold in winter, too far from the ocean, too far from a really big city and all that it would have to offer.

In Los Gatos, we do have Shakespeare (albeit not usually this quality) – as does Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and San Francisco. We have hills, we have quaint downtowns.

We don’t really have affordable housing. We don’t have snow in winter (if you’re looking for it).

What Los Gatos does offer, that I find important enough to put up with our high housing costs (and some crowding): diversity, things to do, parks, scenic beauty, proximity to the ocean/beaches. missions, San Francisco, Berkeley, abundances of universities, great neighborhoods, low crime, excellent schools, and so much more.

So I finish this 3 part series where I began. Los Gatos is a fabulous place to live. It’s great to travel and I love the northwest, but it is so good to be home.

It’s great to go, it’s great to come home. I hope to never live anywhere else but Los Gatos.

Now if we can just make it affordable for our kids when they finish college!



Going Coastal: Road trip to Seattle

July 03, 2007

Road Trip Part 2: Go West!
(this is part 2 of a 3 part series on our recent vacation to the northwest, with a comparison of what we saw there with life in Silicon Valley and Los Gatos)

Daisies in downtown SpokaneLos Gatos is home and we love it. Sometimes, when you travel one of the biggest benefits is the renewed appreciation of one’s own home. And that has certainly been true in our recent roadtrip to the beautiful Northwest.

The kids and I enjoyed our time in and around Spokane, Washington. But after a couple of days there, it was time to say goodbye to our friends in Ritzville and drive west to Seattle. Happily, the car cooperated fully from that point on.

The Columia River in eastern Washington, June 23, 2007. Photo by Mary Pope-HandyFrom Spokane it’s about a six hour drive to Seattle (less from our starting point). The ride begins with those eternal wheat fields. The Columbia River, which for many miles denotes the border between Oregon and Washington, is more northerly at this point and must be crossed again to reach Seattle. Here, too, the mighty Columia sits amidst true desert lands – amazingly stark and nearly barren for about as far as the eye can see.

My kids have been through the California and Nevada deserts, but this is a little different to see a huge river but only scrub along its banks. The contrast is stark.

Eventually we saw foothills, and more greenery as we drove west. And then we saw the first of the gorgeous Cascade Mountains and made our way through the Snoqualmie Pass. Amazing to think that so much skiing and all the other winter sports were just one hour from Seattle. The scenery was truly beautiful and what a shift from the arid side of the state just 3 hours prior!

waterThe Cascades looked a lot like the Sierra Nevadas to me – but these are far closer to a major city than our range is to San Francisco or even Sacramento. Being June when we passed through, snow was continuing to melt and many waterfalls dotted the roadside as we made our way to Seattle. The beauty and familiar feeling of this landscape made me realize that perhaps living in Seattle would feel a bit like living in the Bay Area – at least on the ski trips.

The drive went quickly – perhaps because we had driven so many hours to Eugene and then to Spokane that a 5 hour journey didn’t seem like much at that point. And with the scenery changing so much in that time, it was quite interesting.

Andean Band in Seattle, June 23, 2007.In Seattle we met up with an old college friend, who had picked Jim up at the airport and met us downtown for some fun with her family and mine. As the afternoon progressed our group grew with other family members and by the end there were 10 of us enjoying the afternoon together.

Downtown Seattle is a very cool place to vacation. It’s a cool place to just hang out, for that matter. Our teens enjoyed the arcade while the adults got caught up at a nearby coffee shop and did some people-watching. It was a great respite after a long car ride for us (plane ride for Jim). We loved hearing an Andean street band and joking about how many coffee shops we could count.

Free Hugs Guy in Seattle, WA with Mary Pope-Handy,  June 23, 2007. Photo by Jim Handy.Something new to me was The Guy Who Hugs. Yeah, there’s a nice man in the downtown area with a “Free Hugs” sign. I had heard about someone like this somewhere – but wasn’t sure where or who. I asked him if he’s the guy a documentary was done on but he said no. I was glad to enjoy one of his hugs: he was a great hug-giver! I have to say, this is something we don’t have in Los Gatos.

Margaret Yaeger's Pike Place Market Ghost Tour, June 23, 2007One way to learn history is to attend a ghost tour, and there are several in Seattle from which to choose. My friend, Denise, arranged for us to attend the Pike Place Market Ghost Tour with her friend Mercedes Yaeger (who was featured in the newspaper for this very tour the next day!). The one hour walking tour was fabulous and I’d recommend it to anyone spending time in Seattle. (Even for the non-ghost believers in the crowd, it was an interesting tour with cool architectural and historical information.)

Seattle is such a great city, and so beautiful too with an abundance of water and lovely hills, and this is just the tip of the iceburg on our doings there. We enjoyed visits all around the city with family and friends. We saw The Space Needle (see webcam), a cool exhibit called “Experience Music” and a Sci Fi exhibit on the campus of the Space Needle, and so much more.

DigiPenWe did make it to three colleges in our 4 days in Seattle: the University of Washington, Seattle University, and DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond. (Our son is very interested in DigiPen.) I was impressed with all three of them.

When I consider how Seattle is like and dislike our Silicon Valley (and Los Gatos in particular), I have to admit that Seattle has a lot going for it: natural beauty is everywhere, diversity is great, cultural opportunities abound, there are plenty of colleges and universities, and there’s no shortage of high tech. People are west-coast friendly (not as reserved as in some parts of the country), which I like. Home prices, while high for Washington, aren’t bad compared to what we’re used to. Locals only gripe about two things: housing and traffic. Both seemed like less of an issue there than here (but I haven’t lived there, so it’s entirely possible I just don’t appreciate the gridlock commuters in that area experience daily).

Downtown Seattle waterfalls and potted plants make for a scenic area.So I would not mind having my kids choose to go to college in Seattle. I visit there as often as I can since we have so many friends in the area. If I could afford a vacation home, Seattle would be a fun place in which to have it.

There’s just one issue that for me would make life in Seattle difficult: the weather. We were there in late June and it was cold. Ok, maybe “cold” is an exaggeration. But it was cool. It was like Los Gatos in March, it wasn’t like summer at all. I asked one friend from Mill Creek and one from West Seattle if this was normal. Both told me the same thing: “summer doesn’t really get here until July or August”. Well, it is a thousand miles north. I did notice that it was light out until almost 10pm. But where was the summer warmth? It just hadn’t arrived yet. And precipitation? In the San Jose – Los Gatos area, a normal year is about 15 – 20″ of rain per year. Seattle boasts 36″.

My friends in Seattle jokingly tell me to inform people in the Bay Area that it rains in Seattle constantly. They don’t want it any more crowded in their Emerald City (now you know why it’s so green) than it already is. They are used to the rain. In fact, one friend told me that if it doesn’t rain often enough (to clear the air and make everything smell good), it bothers her. While we were there, it rained and we even got a lightening display, to her delight.

For me, Seattle is an “almost”. It’s almost as nice as the Bay Area (and if truth be told, it is prettier than many parts of the Bay Area). It enjoys many of the things we love about home, but with skiing that’s really close and a whole lot of boating and water sports. I could live there, “if only” it didn’t rain so darned much. It remains for me a fantastic place to visit.

But Los Gatos, with the beach to its back and the bay and San Francisco and Berkeley all within an hour or so, is definitely home. Our weather isn’t just good: it’s great. This is “The Valley of Heart’s Delight”. The climate is so favorable that it was once said to be about the best for health anywhere in the world.

What more could you want than to Live in Los Gatos?

At Home in Los Gatos

July 02, 2007

Los Gatos (home) vs Road Trip: Part One, Spokane (this is part 1 of a 3 part series on our recent road trip to the northwest, with reflections about the difference between life in Silicon Valley and San Jose/Los Gatos and points north) Recently my family and I took a 10 day road trip to the Pacific Northwest. As with many vacations, it was great to get away – and it is great to be home. Jim and I love to travel, and so do our kids, but each time we do so, we also return with a renewed appreciation as to why we love to live in Los Gatos. Today I’ll share with you a little about our trip, and also a little about how this reflects back on our experience here in The Cats. Gonzaga University sign, Spokane, WAThe trek north had a few purposes: (1) to show our teenage kids a half-dozen or so colleges and universities (2) to expose them to a part of the US they’ve never seen (they’ve been all over the east coast) (3) to see some folks we’ve missed a long time and (4) just to get away. Itinerary: Spokane, Seattle, Portland, and Ashland. Jim’s working at starting up his own firm (semiconductor market research), and he stayed home the first few days of the journey and worked while the kids and I put about 1400 miles on the car driving to Spokane and then Seattle, where he flew in to join us. It’s a 2 day drive, about a thousand miles, from Los Gatos to Spokane and as we began the journey, I popped on a Willie Nelson CD: “On The Road Again“. The kids groaned…they laughed a little, but mostly they groaned. What was a two day car ride (with a stop near Eugene, OR) going to be like? Desert flower in Eastern Washington. Photo by Mary Pope-HandyDriving to Spokane basically means going to Portland, cutting across the stateline while following the Columbia River through The Dalles, then veering northeasterly through tremendously dry, eastern Washington toward Spokane, which is tucked into the northeastern corner of the state. Eastern Washington is indeed semi-arid and desertlike and in late summer there can be duststorms when the bare earth is kicked up by winds. Those duststorms are as thick as fog but nastier in which to breathe. There are miles and miles of rolling hills of “dry wheat” farms – that is, non-irrigated wheat farms. There are hardly any trees or creeks. Towns are small. The bugs are many. It’s been 25 or so years since I last did the Spokane drive when my brother, sister, and I attended Gonzaga University in Spokane. (And my great-grandparents were married at the parish church next to Gonzaga University, St. Aloysius. And my uncles went to school up there too so there’s a lot of family history connected with the area.) The bugginess and dryness of the area truly made me appreciate how lush is our Santa Clara Valley, and especially the Santa Cruz Mountains with the rich redwood trees and the ocean so close by. Even in our driest years, we are a sub-tropical climate, not a desert one. Seeing and staying with an old friend and his daughter in the tiny town of Ritzville (a small,2000 person place, self-described as a “second class city”) was a lot of fun. They spoiled us rotten and we had a great time visiting there. Looking out from the front porch at the houses and wheat silos, my youngest exclaimed how unreal it was. Truly, this was not a typical Los Gatos view. Spokane Clock Tower, June 22, 2007. Photo by Mary Pope-Handy.My car liked it so well it would not start as planned to make it to the tour at Gonzaga the next morning and had to be towed the hour from Ritzville to Spokane. Happily, the car only needed a battery. Unhappily, I did not have the AAA extended towing plan, so that was one expensive battery! (We missed the tour but I knew the campus fairly well so showed them through myself.) There are many good things to be said about life in the city of Spokane (and attending school there). Spokane is much more lush than the miles of rolling wheat fields to the south, and there’s a large, gorgeous park along the Spokane River where a World’s Fair was held in the 1970s. Riverfront Park features places to walk, cycle, and so on but also includes ice skating in winter, kiddie rides in summer, a delightful merry-go-round (built in 1909), a gondola ride over the Spokane Falls, an Imax Theater, a huge water fountain that kids can stand in and play under, and on and on. Spokane offers some beautiful architecture, both in homes and churches and othe places. Additionally, the downtown has some great shops and is quite nice with indoor bridges linking one tall building with another against the freezing winters and the warm – if late – summers. Skiing is not too far away at Mount Spokane. Coeur d’Alene Idaho is only 30 minutes east (a lovely resort town on a lake) for boating, golfing and more. And here’s the kicker: Spokane is an affordable city. So there are a lot of reasons why someone might want to move to, and stay in, Spokane. When I moved to Spokane in 1977 I experienced a little bit of culture shock.The regional focus is farming, not high tech. I recall vividly listening to the news on my first day in Spokane as a college freshman. The lead story was about wheat futures. I felt like Toto hearing “we’re not in Kansas anymore”. The ocean was far away. The area was not terribly diverse (to be blunt, it seemed that most everyone was of Irish or Italian descent. Where was the rest of humanity?) The weather was an adjustment too. Winter came early and stayed long. But I should have expected that – it’s a thousand miles north of where I grew up! No palm trees in Spokane! Spokane Falls (from Gondola Ride), Spokane WA. Photo by Mary Pope-HandyWe are spoiled living in Silicon Valley and Los Gatos especially. We are used to exceptional beauty (redwood trees, the bays, the beaches, the mountains for starters). We are accustomed to (and appreciate) a lot more cultural diversity than you will find in Spokane. We’ve got more opportunities here for “things to do” outdoors generally since our weather is so favorable most of the time (snow skiing is a little far away, I’ll grant you, though). This is a place where it’s sunny 300 days year. And oh, the high tech that goes on here. . . . But it sure is affordable in Spokane, and more so in its suburbs. Homes there cost 20-20% what they cost here. Spokane is the kind of place where I just won’t look at the homes magazines or ads. I just don’t want to know. And having lived through three very long Spokane winters, I know that no matter how affordable or lovely it is in that fair town, it’s just not home for me. It was a great place for college, though, so I’m glad my kids were able to see and explore at Gonzaga University, in Spokane, and to experience rural Washington first hand. I’d be happy to lend them to Spokane for three or four years. I know they’ll never forget this trip … or a longer stay. It was great to go. And it’s great to be home. Tomorrow: Seattle (and Los Gatos).

Project Blogger Blogroll

Project Blogger 2007 Inman Active RainApril 09, 2007

Project Blogger Apprentice Blogroll:

Michael and Barbara Daly Beachamptons Blog Southampton, NY
Vali Wimberly Denver Fresh Denver, CO
London Whitted Future of Commercial Real Estate Commercial RE – West Coast of US
Madison Hildebrand Inside Bu Malibu, CA
Mary Pope-Handy Live in Los Gatos Los Gatos, CA
Julie Ferenzi Living In Plainfield Plainfield, IL
Ines Hegedus-Garcia Miamism Miami, FL
Kevin Tomlinson Miami Beach Condos Miami, FL
Kelly Kilpatrick Rancho Santa Margarita Lifestyles Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
Jackie Colson-Miller Real Estate Sizzle Tampa, FL
Tisza Major-Posner Route 66 Living Claremont, CA
Terri Lussier The Brick Ranch Dayton, OH

Project Blogger Mentor Blogroll:

Joe Ferrara & Rudy Bachraty, coaching Michael & Barbara Daly:Sellsius Real Estate Blog
Teresa Boardman, coaching Vali Wimberly: St. Paul Real Estate Blog
Patrick Kitano, coaching London Whitted: Transparent Real Estate
Dustin Luther, coaching Madison Hildebrand: Rain City Guide
Frances Flynn Thorsen, coaching Mary Pope-Handy: The RealtyGram Blogger
Jeff Turner, coaching Julie Ferenzi: RealEstate Shows Blog
Paul Chaney, coaching Ines Hegedus-Garcia: Blogging Systems
Ardell DellaLoggia, coaching Kevin Tomlinson: Searching Seattle Blog
Joel Burslem, coaching Kelly Kilpatrick: Future of Real Estate Marketing
Jim Cronin, coaching Jackie Colson-Miller: The Real Estate Tomato
Drew Meyers, coaching Tisza Major-Posner: Personal Insights on Web 2.0, ZillowBlog
Greg Swan, coaching Teri Lussier: Bloodhound Blog

The Project Blogger Contest runs from April 9, 2007 – July 15, 2007 – a long 14 weeks! The winning team will be announced on Wednesday, August 1st at Bloggers Connect in San Francisco. That said, everyone who’s participating is “winning” in that all are learning lots and growing wonderful blogs. There is a fantastic diversity of personalities and markets and clearly several “right ways” to blog for real estate successfully. My hat is off to each apprentice and each mentor. I have learned something from each and every one of you.