Mogul-ish.

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Hold on to your hats and glasses:

 

We’re selling our house. And buying another!

We lived in our home in CA for the 10 worst years of the housing market since the Depression. We knew that everything we did to make that house nicer was throwing money to the wind, since at one point our home was worth half what we paid for it.

Then we moved to Oregon, where our CA dollars walked bigly. We bought the house we thought we always wanted, 3000 square feet, terrific view, enormous master bath, wood floors, and molding on every door, floorboard and window casing. It has all the trendy tics: main floor master, great room configuration, walk-out basement, on almost 1/3 of an acre in the best school district in town.

Whoop, whoop!

Don’t you believe it. The great room is the worst design idea since wood paneling; when the master bath is that big, people hang out there all the time; wood molding gets awfully dusty and wood floors show every single dog hair; and it may be 3000 square feet but the usable space is half that thanks to Harry Potter-sized closets.

About six months after we moved in, I looked at Shea and said “You know this is not my house.” He collapsed on the floor. I stood over him and said “When this thing hits a certain dollar amount, we have to sell it.”

This Fall, it hit that dollar amount. We buried a St. Joe in the front yard, hung a sign and sold it in the two weeks including Christmas and New Year’s and during the 100 year snow storm. Boom. Shea looked at the sale price and said “Hey, it’s like you’ve had a job the last two years!”

God knows, I don’t want to get a job, but with Annie heading off to kinder next year I was feeling guilty about all that stay at home (by myself) mom time. But if I can turn this house thing into the equivalent of a first year teacher’s salary? Brilliant!

I called my financial advisor (aka my brother) and asked him his thoughts on a repeat of 2008. He assures me it was a once in a lifetime event. I trust him.

Then I went looking for a fixer upper.  I LOVE looking at houses! Love it! So much that our realtor says I should become a realtor myself and make money from my obsession. I tell her to shush, so that she can make money from my obsession. We all have kids to feed!

I don’t believe in the jinx but I’m still not going to count my chickens before they hatch. Just know that oh my gosh there could be fixer upper posts in our future!!!

 

 

 

 

Living in the Digital Age

These past few weeks have been filled with nostalgia and dust. Lots of dust. At the age of 93, my Grandma Betty has moved into an assisted living home. Her health is touch and go, her eyesight is bad, and sometimes, she just can’t remember to eat. For us grandkids, this is devastating. Grandma Betty has lived in the same house since the 1950s. And it was last redecorated, I think, in 1979. Translate that into this: for my whole life, nearly, that place has not changed. No new carpet. No different sofa. The lamps? Same spot. The kitchen? Can we call it “vintage chic” or perhaps just waaaayyyyy outdated?

Walking into Grandma Betty’s house is a like walking into a time capsule. It looks the same as it has for my entire life. It smells the same. My handprint that we gave to Grandma and Grandpa when I was two months old is still on the original nail from 1975. So leaving it has shaken us to the core.

For my cousins Dawn and Sarah, and me, going to Grandma’s house was like going to a safe-haven. At Grandma’s house, we played ping-pong with Grandpa Art, we dug in the sand box (remember when we would find the toys we had buried the previous summer?), and we had Coke floats, and fires in the fireplace. We would eat breakfast on the patio, wrapped in Grandma’s fluffy pink robe. We would go for bike rides or walks in the evening. We tried on her clip-on earrings and her amazing shoes. Rummy Cube, Rack-O, Clue, Uno.

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But no matter what we did, even just sitting together reading books, there was always an abundance of love. We were cherished, treasured, indulged. We were the smartest kids, or the funniest. She would say, “Why I never!” through her giggles. We were the most talented. “Where did you ever learn to do that?” And no matter what we did, it was cataloged in pictures.

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The picture albums at Grandma’s house begin in the year 1969. Everywhere she went, her camera went too. There is evidence of our Halloween costumes (in 1980 I was Chewbacca), evidence of our school performances. There are snap shots from evenings spent climbing trees or afternoons painting her white picket fence. And going through these pictures has been a blast. Dawn and I have spend more than a few hours gasping (Do you remember how high my bangs were?), groaning (I can’t believe I wore that!), giggling (We look like a couple of sunburned lobsters!), and remembering (I felt so special when Grams and I went shopping together.).

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In her closets, too, I have found some real treasures… more pictures of Grandma’s brother, Marvin who went down over the Pacific in WWII:

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Pictures of her sister Mazie, who my older daughter is named after:

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Pictures of her first (yes, first) fiancé, Warren:

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And a real gem, a picture of her mother’s mother, dated 1871:

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Finding all of these treasures has made me reflect on my own record keeping. It’s easier than ever, now, to take pictures. And don’t pretend that you’re not just like me and that you don’t whip out your camera for an especially good latte:

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We snap pictures and videos like crazy, but how many of us still get them printed out? I know that I don’t. And right now, I’m a little sad about that.

What about when Mazie and Violet’s children are packing up my house?   Will they sit in front of a computer and look at my iCloud? Will it even exist any more? Will they find their mamas’ baby pictures? See them in funny outfits?

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Will they find pictures of me and my dad, and see his nose or his smile in their own faces? And one more question… Does it really matter?  Do these events, unimportant to everyone but us, have a place in our lives?

My answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Yes, they matter. Maybe not to the world. Maybe not to anyone but me. But they still matter. They provide a sense of belonging. In the pictures I can still feel the emotion of the moment, and I realized that Grandma and Grandpa were there, sharing them with me.  Here’s the literal moment that I caught the final out for a CIF softball title:

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Here’s where I laid my head on my dad’s shoulder on a Saturday:

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Or when I signed my national letter of intent to go to University of Virginia, at 10:55pm, in Austin, Texas, she has written:

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In the older pictures, pictures of my mother as a teenager, I see the hope and sparkle in her eyes and I realize that she was a girl before she was my mom:

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I see Nana, Betty’s mother, standing with pride on the porch of her home that had just been painted, a home that she purchased, maintained, and lived in all on her own until she was 103:

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This is where I am from. This is the very fiber of my being. These are the moments, big and small, that made up my life. And I am grateful to have seen them again.

Free Range Christmas Trees

“Let’s get a tree!” I said.

Shea looked at me warily. “Same place as last year?”

“No! For five bucks we can cut it down ourselves out in the woods. Just think of it, honey! A FREE RANGE Christmas tree!”

Saturday we were out the door by 9:15 am. Saw? Check. Permit? Check. Rope? Check.

Coat for Annie? Not so much. Although we didn’t figure that out until we pulled into the deserted, icy barely plowed campground at Fish Lake.

Twenty miles in was when I decided I would read the Bureau of Land Management rules for cutting down a tree in the wild. It’s pretty simple—you just have to keep the numbers 200 and 12 in your head: 200 feet from the nearest road. 200 feet from a lake. 200 feet from a campground. 200 feet from the river. No more than 12 feet from the nearest tree. No more than 12 feet high. And no more than a 12 inch stump left over.

All good.

But then there was this:

With forecasts for this winter predicting colder temperatures and above average precipitation, it’s as important as ever to prepare for the unexpected when looking for your holiday tree. Bring a handsaw or axe as well as winter clothing and safety equipment. Tire chains and a shovel are recommended, as is extra food, drinking water, blankets, a flashlight, first aid kit and survival gear. Tree cutting and travel may take longer than anticipated, so notify a friend or family member where you’re going, get an early start, and leave the woods well before dark.

We had two of those things. TWO. And this was before I knew that we forgot Annie’s coat.

Huh. But I wasn’t about to turn down the Morman Tabernacle Choir to spread fear and anxiety, so on we drove into the great white wilderness, ill-equipped but optimistic.

We found this:

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Gorgeous. It wasn’t too cold, right at freezing, so Annie wore Kate’s coat, Kate wore mine, I wore Shea’s and Shea sucked it up. We spent 45 minutes “searching” for a tree, which looked a lot like snowballs fights and snow angels and picture taking.

Then we got serious.

We discovered that a lot of free range trees are actually one sided, which works for us in this house because the tree goes against a wall. I liked the white pine trees—very Sundance catalog and since our house has a craftsman vibe, I knew we could make it work. Shea stood next to the tree we picked and stuck his hand up—the tree was probably right at 12 feet tall. We followed the directions with the stump, cut the tree down in two shakes and carried it back to the car.

We headed ten more miles down the road to Lake of the Woods resort, where we had a fabulous lunch at the grill and made reservations to camp in June.

Then we drove the 44 miles home with the tree. That’s it—44 miles. It’s still a small miracle to me that wild Christmas trees can be found that close to home.

This is what it looked like in the driveway.

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“Dang,” I said to Shea. “It looks bigger now.”

“Yeah.”

So I took the big shears and trimmed the tree back at least a foot around the bottom.

“How much room do we have at the bottom?” I asked.

“Sixty inches.”

“How much room at the top”

“Oh, the height is not the problem.”

“Well, let’s bring it in and then I can trim more if I need to.”

So before you see this picture there are a few things you need to understand in terms of perspective.

  1. The black entertainment center is 8 feet tall.
  2. The couch is a 5 full feet away from the wall and four feet away from the TV.

Ok, you ready?

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And clearly there’s not plenty of room at the top.

I laughed until tears ran down my face. Then I texted one of my Oregon natives and told her the tree grew four feet on the drive home. “Do you know how many times that happened to us growing up?!!” she texted back. “They do look smaller in the wild!”

We went out the next day and got a 9 footer from a lot. For comparison’s sake, here’s a side-by-side of the two trees.

On Saturday night I went to a mom’s night out. As I was recounting our successful-ish tree hunting story, one of the moms asked which road we took.

“We were going to take the 234, but we ended up taking the 140”.

The mom next to me snickered and rolled her eyes.

“What?” I poked her arm.

THE 234??? THE 140??? You Californians and your “the”. It’s just 234 and 140.”

I rolled me eyes at her and one of the other moms, a fellow transplant said “Your California is showing”.

In more ways than one, my new friends. In more ways than one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Called to Less

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Last weekend we met the coolest family camping.

The kids met first, as kids will do in a campground. Kate and Ezra were a perfect match, two cuties in glasses laid out on a blanket playing with their dolls. Her younger brother Phoenix, and Annie, just a year apart, took to each other like fish and water. There was a dump truck involved, and lots of giggling. At one point they were just laying on their backs in the sunshine, laughing up into the clouds.

Even the older ones, Micah and Gabriel, found kinship in their reading habits. As I listened to them talk about books, I felt the sweetness of a conversation between a boy and girl just on the edge of being too embarrassed to talk to each other.

Mom and Dad—Amber and Sundance—made the most amazing decision a year ago.

It’s not for everyone. But it confronted Shea and me, in a good reflective way. So I’m going to share it.

They sold their house and bought a trailer.

Sundance has a job that travels for weeks at a time, and Amber and the kids got to missing him. So Amber did a little research on homeschool and talked Sundance into making their lives mobile.

Usually they go where he goes, but Amber wanted to spend the summer among the redwood trees, which is how they ended up in Klamath, camping across the row from us.

All of the questions that may be popping into your head can be answered over at Amber’s blog, www.notsopermanentpillow.com.

I will tell you that when I asked if it was forever, she shrugged and said that was the beauty of it. If they are done, they’ll just go back home. In the meantime, they are together, having adventures and learning how to function as a family in a 28 ft trailer.

That was the part that confronted me. They down-sized their quantity of life to up-size their quality of life.

No big house where everyone has their own room, tons of toys and three TVs. Just one shower, one toilet and one closet.

It made me think What would it take to get my family down to one closet? The answer is a lot. It would take a lot. And that made me sad.

It’s been on my heart for a while now. Our home in Oregon is everything we thought we wanted in a home, brand new and beautiful. Our So Cal money went far in Oregon, but the truth is, we could have chosen something smaller. Something less. That would have allowed us room to travel more, tithe more, share more of what we have.

But when we bought this house last year, we let our egos make the decision. That’s a hard and humbling thing to admit. And now too much of what we have is tied up in the house.

I don’t think it was by chance that Amber and her family were camped across from us at the mouth of the Klamath River.  I think God was saying Look. Listen. See what life can be when you stop trying to keep up. You already know that keeping up is not what I want. But you have to find the courage to let it go.

I’m not packing up my kids and heading off into the sunset, because homeschooling is not my gift. No, no, no.

But Shea and I have some praying and listening to do over the next year.

 

 

 

Oregon Trail, Part 2: The First Six Weeks

The first morning we were here, Shea went outside to get something from the trailer. Since we arrived before the moving truck, and all he had were flip-flops, that’s what he wore.

Icy sidewalk + flip flops = We’re not in California anymore.

That was only the first lesson Oregon taught us. Since then we’ve learned…

…that there’s something to the old wives tale that if you don’t wear a coat, you’ll catch cold.

…to keep the dogs’ water bowls in the house, or they’ll drink out of the toilets—either because they’re too lazy to go out in the cold or the water has frozen over.

…while living on the hill overlooking town will be cool 90% of the time, the other 10% we’ll be in danger of sliding down the hill on the way to school.

Among other things.

But we’ve also been here long enough for the kids to make new friends in the neighborhood, new friends at school and be invited to four birthday parties.

(However, not long enough for this mama to find a gym. Ahem.)

It’s hard for me to explain the way people are friendly here, because California is an awfully friendly place. But when folks in So Cal are friendly, it’s more like an “I’m going to be friendly next to you” vibe. It has solid personal space.

And up here, the friendly reaches out and grabs you, includes you. Kate’s new teacher wrapped her in a great big old bear hug on the first day they went to school. The director of ministries at our new church wrapped me in a great big old bear hug the first time she met me in person. It’s like that.

I am not a hugger. I have big personal space. BIG. Even after four years in New York, I never got used to how people hugged and kissed each other hello. Hugging is a joke between me and Amy because Amy hugs everyone and it took me months to hug her back without feeling awkward.

But I once I realized that hugging could happen in Oregon, I decided we have to be open to our new life.

So I am open to hugging.

In California, it’s common for folks to head bob a stranger or offer a “Hey, what’s up?”. In New York, I had to adjust to the expectation that less words are better and no words are best.  That stuff doesn’t fly here. When people ask how you are, they’re prepared to listen to the answer. There may be follow-up questions. It’s a small town and there’s nowhere that anyone has to be fast. This is part of the slowing down.

Gabriel has the run of the neighborhood with some other boys, including right on up the hill into the trees if he so desires. There’s lots of open land and not a lot of fences. I was scared for poison oak, and then someone told me “Honey, it’s not if he gets poison oak, but when” and I shook it off.

We’ve eaten at all the restaurants we came to love on our trips up here to see my husband’s folks, and discovered some new ones. We’ve been to museums, a working water-powered mill from 1872 and I even went on a Mom’s night out with the first grade moms. You never know what you’re getting into with a group of first grade moms, but I shouldn’t have worried. These are Catholic school moms, after all. Half went home at ten and the other half went upstairs to dance.

It’s quiet now that the holidays have ended. We’re settling into the dark peace of winter. But then, oh my goodness. There will be so many festivals and fairs and markets that it almost stresses me out when I look at the community calendar.

We can’t wait to explore our new home state. The trailer will come out of hiding in the Spring and off we’ll go to the coast and over the Cascades and north to Eugene. Everything is new: new stores, new parks, new museums, new towns. And all of it is beautiful.

My kids are content here, even though they do miss their friends. My husband, who really thrives when he’s helping people, is content in his new job. And I am content. My mama’s heart is quiet and thankful that this prayer was answered.

Some pictures of our new life:

This is the view off our back patio.

This is the view off our back patio.

Here's another one. The sunsets over the mountains look different every day.

Here’s another one. The sunsets over the mountains look different every day.

This is Butte Creek, home of the Butte Creek Mill

Butte Creek, home of the Butte Creek Mill

I took this at a local park.

I took this at a local park.

Dutch Bros is the local drive-through coffee joint. We love them, not the least because of their awesome coffee lids.

Dutch Bros is the local drive-through coffee joint. We love them, not the least because of their awesome coffee lids.

Shorting

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I want to tell you a story about how we tried to do the right thing and were told it wasn’t possible.

We moved into our California home ten years ago this Halloween. For eight of those years, we have been upside down.

For a while, in 2009 and 2010, we were more than $200,000 upside down.

The money we spent on the house—every paint job, every built-in, the house fan—we could have just set it on fire and gotten the same return. But those upgrades were not about making money. They were about making the house a home.

In March, when we knew our move to Oregon was a go, the comps in our area had the house selling at about what we owed. But through the spring and into early summer, the market slumped. When we put it on the market next week, it will be listed $20,000 below what we owe on it.

A short sale, but we did our due diligence.

We would lose $600 a month to rent the home.

If we took out an unsecured personal loan to cover the difference with our secondary lender, they were happy to let us have it at 10.25% over 60 months, approximately $1100 a month.

Armed with market comps, the letter from my husband’s company stating that we were being moved and the net sheet from our realtor, I tried to negotiate.

“David, this is clearly a hardship for us” I told the nice young man representing our secondary lender. “We cannot keep the house. And that personal loan puts our family in an insecure financial position. Can we think outside the box? The home we purchased in Oregon already has equity. Can we bridge the old loan to the new property to keep the interest rate low and the term longer?”

No.

“Ok, can we extend the term of the unsecured loan to lower the payment to something we can handle?”

No.

“Ok. Is there anything else you can think of that we can do to honor this obligation? I am willing to do it several different ways. But you guys have to be willing to let me.”

Ma’am, I’ve been doing this a long time. Just short sell the house. It’s better that way.

Before I hung up, I made sure to request that he document our conversation in the file. Then I called our realtor and told her “We have to short it.”

Since then I’ve been thinking about the morality of this whole thing.

The only way to understand the bottom line is to look at the numbers, so in the interest of blowing your mind, I am going to disclose the actual numbers of our loans. (Keep in mind these are Southern California numbers, so they may look stupidly high to some of you elsewhere. But we bought a lower middle of the road priced home in a less desirable part of So Cal on a teacher’s and an insurance adjustor’s income in 2005.)

We paid $383,000 for the house. We put down 5% so the actual amount we financed was roughly $360,000, in two loans we affectionately call “the big one” and “the little one”.

Over the last ten years, we have paid $218,160 in monthly payments towards the big one, and $56,160 towards the little one.

We still owe $315,000.

If we sell the house at $294,000 and the lenders split the price along the same percentage as the original loan structure, the owner of the big one will get another $235,000 while the owner of the little one will get $58,800.

Bringing the grand totals of money repaid to $453,360 for the big one and $114,960 for the little one.

This will get reported as a default on my otherwise pristine credit and stay there for seven years.

I just put some dirty laundry out there, but I don’t think it’s my dirty laundry, I think it belongs to the banking industry. In the process of our due diligence, we found out that our big loan, while serviced by a national bank, is actually owned by a group of investors.

Why would investors buy loans? Insurance.

It happened to our neighbors. Their loan was purchased by a group of private investors about a year before the ten year adjustable loan was set to adjust. For six months, my friend tried to work something out with the bank to avoid the $700 a month adjustment. HARP was useless since the loan was not backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. The investors refused to deal with her or even reveal who they were. Instead, they forced her into foreclosure, because it profited them to do so. She defaulted and they collected the insurance.

After everything they—the banks, Wall Street, investors, Congress—did to this country and the middle class in the late 2000s, this is still legal.

So what I want to feel, and say, is “Screw ‘em. We should have walked away years ago, when it would have cost them something.”

But I know that would make me as soulless as they are.

Instead, we’ll short the house and they’ll collect the insurance money and report us out as rats to the credit bureaus. We have our ducks in a row for the next seven years, because we knew this was a possibility. I’m not going to wear it on my chest like a scarlet letter because I know I did everything I could in this situation to honor my obligation in a way that protected me and the lenders.

That they did not return the consideration is Someone else’s problem now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We found one! ~ Jen

Our new entryway!

Our new entryway!

I do not believe in the jinx, but Shea does, so I couldn’t update the house-hunting story until escrow closed. And it just did so, woohoo! We have a house!

The house-hunting trip to Oregon in July was grueling.

It was the hottest week of the year, over 100 degrees each day. The sun goes down later up there, so the heat lasted strong into the 7 pm hour. And it was humid, that nasty humid where by all rights it should rain and provide blessed relief for twenty minutes. But it didn’t. Not once.

We usually stay in a two bedroom hotel suite with a kitchen and free breakfast buffet and dinner/slash happy hour. This time we stayed in a lovely, local hotel, in a regular hotel room, and a continental breakfast. All five of us.

The first day we looked at 8 homes, including our top five. My dreams of downsizing crashed into the reality of small square footage. I know my parents’ generation all grew up in 1200 square foot saltboxes, and bully for them, but I just can’t do it. I need to be able to close the bathroom door without straddling the toilet.

The really big and top of our price range homes were a conundrum. Not one of them was turn-key. And not one of them had one of two things that we required: a guest room and/or a shower on the main floor. So you can take your 3700 square foot French Country re-imagined floorplan and stuff it.

One house was so big that I panicked. It was normal on the main floor, but the basement was big enough to create a mother-in-law suite and a two bedroom rental unit. And the place was crammed with stuff. Leading me to wonder if it’s true that we grow into our homes, accumulating things we don’t need just because we can.

Which came first, the hoarder, or the giant house with all the empty space just begging to be filled?

Other homes were poorly located for a family with small kids: the corner of a busy highway, at the top of a driveway so steep I had to climb the steps like a ladder, tucked away on the side of the mountain with barely a neighbor in sight.

By the end of day 1, we were discouraged. None of the homes spoke to us or the kids, even the three with pools.

The next morning, we stopped by a new construction home that was not quite finished. It was lovely, on 1/3 of an acre. The builder toured us through the home, filling in the missing details, while the guy installing the floor showed Gabe and Kate how to use a nail gun. The backyard was huge, with a stream on one side and a view of the valley. This house moved into the #1 spot, which it held for ten full minutes.

Around the corner and up the street was a home I had been watching for months.  Also new construction, at first it had been too expensive and then when the price finally fell into our range, it sold.

Two days before we flew up, it fell out of escrow.

Boom, baby. New construction and two story, but Oregon style—main floor and then daylight basement. Two bedrooms up and two down, which means the kids will be contained to their own floor, complete with a kitchenette and full bath. We all loved it.

The backyard is not landscaped, which I swore I would never do again. I am not looking forward to baby trees and coaxing grass to grow, now that I know Southern Oregon does a fair impression of the Inland Empire in the months of July and August. It’s going to be a long five years waiting for those trees to throw shade.

But we are close to a park, up on the hill where the breeze blows cooler in the summer, and ten minutes from school. It’s not small and short, it’s not old and moldy and it’s not haunted.

Plus, the perfect house is not out there. It doesn’t exist. But there are plenty of houses that are enough.

What makes a house a perfect home is the family who lives in it.

I hope this house is ready for us!

Our view of the valley!

Our view of the valley!