Buying and Selling

When Shea and I bought our current house, it was at the height of the real estate market in So Cal. We did what so many other folks did—we toured the Inland Empire on Saturdays, looking at models of homes still to be built. We entered our names into lotteries and huddled with hundreds of other people at 7 am, waiting to hear our number called. When it was, we had ten minutes to pick a lot with a model on it.

The price was predetermined, as was the layout. No negotiating. We didn’t need a realtor. Once we got the house, the rest was easy.

I’m telling you all this so you understand that I. Didn’t. Know.

I have not just one, but TWO realtors in my life.  A local realtor who is going to do her best to make our short-but-almost-standard-sale in So Cal a success. And a realtor in Oregon who is stalking houses for us to buy. This poor woman. The home market in our price range is hopping, and here we are, 700 miles away and trying to play. Already, three homes have sold out from under us in less than a day.

What can you do when you’re this far away?

I didn’t know sellers would be so infuriatingly patient that even when it is clear to the whole wide world that their house ain’t gonna sell for that amount, they will not entertain a lower offer.

I didn’t know that we would find the perfect five bedroom home and enter into escrow.  Only to have my neighbor, her hand clearly guided by the Blessed Mother, discover on page 3 of Google that the home had previously belonged to a sexual psychopath, with family still living in the area and a clear history of breaking his parole.

We walked, not just for the bad mojo, but for the fear that one day that guy would knock on the door for kicks and giggles, and there would be one of my daughters.

Oh. Hell. No.

(Buyer beware: The listing agent knew. It is not legally required for anyone to disclose that a sex offender used to live in a home. The Megan’s Law websites can only tell where offenders currently live.)

And then this house popped up:


I know. I wanted this house, so badly that I flew to Oregon on a whim to see it. And it was everything it promised to be except for one small problem: sloped ceilings. I guess folks were shorter in the 1940s.

Still, I found a lovely architect who could fix it for us if we were willing to live with it for a few years first. He was on vacation, then we were and when we came back, the house had sold.

That was when we started praying every night for “God to send us our house”.

Just pick a house, you say? It’s not that easy. One morning, over coffee and the morning Zillow report, I found a lovely contender. Great neighborhood, good lot size, enough bedrooms. Then I scrolled through the pictures and saw this:

Amblegreen 1

Do you see that thing on the stairs? It’s not a shadow. It’s an absence of light, like the light has been sucked in or forced away. Now look carefully at the TV in this picture:

amblegreen 2

You see that???

I sent these pictures to Dana and Lesley, who called me a chicken for not wanting to live with a spirit. She’s right. I‘ve done ghost in the house and don’t need to do it again.

I’m sure the owners are wondering why their beautiful home—now priced below market value—is not selling.

I kind of want to tell them.

Today, we fly to Oregon to make a decision. We have a Top 12 list of homes we like. We are going to spend a fast 96 hours dragging the kids from house to house until we find it.

Please pray for us. Because the fatigue is setting in, and the worry about how I will fill my days after we find the right place, and if there is such a thing as Anonymous, because I may need it.

House-hunting: it’s not for the faint of heart.




Oregon Trail*

My chickens watching the creek in Ashland, Oregon

My chickens watching the creek in Ashland, Oregon

So remember this post last Fall?

We were waiting for some for guidance around Shea’s job. Was he supposed to stay in his current position  where he was successful and respected, but missed working with people on a daily basis? Or should he go back to being an agent, where he got to work with people, and give up a promising career in leadership?

On the flight home from Hawaii, he sat next to a couple who used to live a few blocks from us. In the course of their conversation, he shared the uncertainty we had about his job. This couple then went on and on and on about how great their agent had been when they lived in our town, how wonderful and helpful. They had never met him in person but loved him and recommended him to all their friends.

“What was his name?” Shea asked them, thinking he would know the guy.

“Shea” was the answer. At which point Shea introduced himself as their former agent and we thanked God for such a clear answer.

Within a few weeks, a local opportunity for Shea to be an agent again came open. But I have wanted to move out of California for a while now, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the trend in weather. My soul needs rain and the transitions of the seasons, and climate change is robbing Southern California of both.

So we asked God to please send an opportunity for us to move to Oregon, to be nearer to Shea’s parents.

In January, an opportunity came open in Portland. So Shea and I flew up there to check it out. It was lovely, but 250 miles from his parents’ home in Southern Oregon.

On the flight home, I told Shea that I would really rather live in Southern Oregon. We sent up a prayer for something closer to his parents.

A few days later an opportunity opened up 60 miles from where his parents live.

In March, Shea was offered and accepted the position, to start January 1, 2015.

We are moving to Oregon.

For me this entire journey of the last eight months has been a lesson in opening myself completely to God’s plan. In a way that is very unlike me. We sent the prayers up, and waited patiently, and one by one they were answered.

Yes, moving to someplace green and beautiful has been a desire on my heart for years now, and moving specifically to Oregon for over a year. But the way in which it has all fallen into place leaves no doubt that this is part of God’s plan for us.

And knowing that helps me deal with the sadness. Even though I am super excited to go, I am sad to be leaving.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and social media, I’ll still be on the blog and I won’t lose touch with my nearest and dearest. But I am used to seeing mostly everyone I love within a hour’s drive. When we’re in Oregon, it will take much more planning.

Dana has promised to come, as has everyone else. And we will be back all the time, because there is no sandy seashore with pounding waves where we’re moving and my heart will miss that rhythm. Luckily my parents are within ten minutes of retirement, so they will be able to make that Allegiant airlines cheap flight—where they charge you to pick your seat and carry-on a bag—work for them. We are trying to find a house with a guest room so the Hotel Jen and Shea can carry on the hospitality for which we’ve become (sorta) famous.

My husband will be happier as an agent because helping people is what he loves. My kids will roam the woods and streams and see snow happen in real time, and while the summers will still be hot, the heat will end in the Fall.

Unlike here.

I’ll have lots more to report as we get closer to the move. We’re looking for a house, which has been a merry jaunt so far.

Or you know, the opposite of that. But whatever. It’s a grand adventure and we are ready.



* I wanted to name this post “Oregon, Ho!”. But then I just wasn’t sure about that comma. Seemed safer to stay away. 

Quilting~ Jen

My mom sent me to sewing classes in the early 80s. It was during the Stretch and Sew movement, when all earth mothers made tons of t-shirts for their families, striped with contrasting solid color neck and arm bands. I rocked those things in my Dorothy Hamill haircut.

I’m still not sure how I feel about threading a machine, but I did learn that I love to hand sew. I’m pretty good at a straight seam. It’s a very calming and productive way to pass an afternoon.

I have handmade things for my family along the way, most importantly our Christmas stockings, modeled after the ones my mom made for us when I was little.

Last Fall, I got a hankering to make a quilt. I say hankering, because really, what other word is there to describe a desire to make a quilt?

I remember watching my third grandma, Opal, hand stitch hexagons together into quilts. How hard can it be, I thought. And if it is hard, who cares? I’ll be sewing. I had visions of sewing the afternoons away in front of a roaring fire this winter, a new generation of earth mother, proving that all things old are new again.


I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Old Man Winter turned his back on So Cal this year. He has his feet planted firmly in the four corner states, facing East and frowning hard.

We haven’t had a fire in so long that there’s a dove nest in our chimney top.

And sewing hexagons into flowers is not as simple as it looks.

I discovered online that this pattern is called “Grandmother’s Garden”. Then I stopped looking online because there was all this talk about English paper piecing and it made me feel like I was missing something. Important.

Instead, I put my head down and made twenty of these:


Then I found a quilting website and sent the nice lady an email describing what I’d done so far and asking for advice on what to do next. How do I make these twenty flowers into a quilt, I asked.

She emailed back and said this: I wish I lived closer. I have no idea what you are trying to do. Good luck!

I retreated from quilting.

One day I noticed a quilting shop tucked in a corner of our town.

“OK”, I told the lady behind the counter, “I’m going to tell you what I did, but please don’t laugh.”

Not only did she not laugh, but she said “I hand sewed a Grandmother’s Garden! It’s right over here!”

She told me exactly what to do next. Then she told me when I finished that part, to bring it in and she would tell me what to do after that. She told me I could hand sew the whole thing, from start to finish.

Even the quilting?

“Well yes, dear. If you’re sure you want to hand quilt it, you can.”

She fired me up. I got right back to quilting, adding the path to my flowers. It’s kind of mathy in a geometry way, which is not my forte, so no surprise that this happened:


On the plus side, I now understand why my hexagons came with a piece of paper that looks like a honeycomb.

This weekend I completed my first row:


It might take me a year to finish, but I don’t care. It’s feeding my soul to make this quilt, to have busy hands even when I am resting. It’s meditation, prayer, creation. And my heart is asking me why women ever walked away from this small work, because there is peace here. I feel there will be more on that later, when I am done.

In the meantime, I have a quilt to sew!

Dryer Balls

Update: Aaron is getting a dog! The Angel for Aaron page raised $12,000 in seven days. Seven. It wasn’t just money that made that happen, so thanks to everyone who donated, prayed and shared. The dog won’t be in the house for another 12-18 months, but we’ll keep you posted.


Two years ago Shea had enough State Farm points that we could get a new washer and dryer. Because I dream of appliances for years before I purchase, I already knew what I wanted: a Maytag Bravos top loader and dryer. I was going to wash twelve pairs of jeans at once. Watch my dust.

Then, at the last moment, I changed my mind and went with the trendy Whirlpool front loader and steam dryer.

There has not been one day since that I have been happy with this choice. Not. One. As my dad pointed out, there’s a reason they stopped making front loaders in the 70s.

The clothes smell. It’s because the water never fully drains from the drum, which lays on its side. The steam dryer does not help matters, even with the steam off. I have managed to conquer these issues one at a time: I use less detergent than recommended, I use vinegar as my fabric softener, I double spin the clothes and wash smaller loads at a time.

Our electric and gas bills have actually gone up with these newer more fuel efficient machines, because it takes two rounds to wash and dry every load.

So one day I searched “Make the clothes dry faster”, and found DIY Natural, which is a website founded by a husband and wife team looking to make the world a safer, cleaner place. They have an article about the power and magic of homemade dryer balls. You only need three things: 100% wool yarn, a hook and a pair of old or cheap tights.

All you do—and they have a video tutorial in case you need it—is wrap a skein of wool around and around and around until you have a ball somewhere between the size of a tennis ball and a softball. Then you stick it in the pantyhose, wash it in hot, hot, hot water, dry it on the hottest setting and poof! You have a felted dryer ball. Pop four or five of these suckers into your dryer with wet clothes and they dry the clothes faster by bouncing around and creating pockets for the hot air. They also eliminate static. And they aren’t poison, like every single dryer sheet on the market.

Dryer balls ready for felting

Dryer balls ready for felting

True story: Lesley and I were shopping at a craft fair before Christmas. A woman was selling safe cleaning products with a national brand. I was excited to see that she had dryer balls! They were white and the size of tennis balls! They were just like mine!

They were $29.

Cruise Etsy to see similarly priced balls. Yes, the ones with designs felted onto them are adorable and I wish I knew how to do that. But since no one sees my dryer balls and on more than one occasion Lizzie has mistaken a dryer ball for a chew toy, I am ok with my whatever wool was on sale dryer balls.

I gave them for Christmas presents, and people love them. My dad loves them.

So we want to give a set to one of our readers. All you have to do is comment on this post. Each post will get a number and then my kids will pull a number out of a hat.

Another true story, for a laugh before we go: after Christmas, we had a dinner party where I cooked Aunt Debbie’s ham. It made a mess in the pan, and one of our friends was trying to clean it. Finally she said “We need a dryer sheet! You put a dryer sheet in here and heat it up on the stove and this will come right off.”

My other friend leaned over to her and whispered “You aren’t going to find a dryer sheet in this house”.

How well she knows!

Best Use of Cheap Vodka

Six weeks ago, I rolled into Albertson’s before gym class with Annie in tow and bought a $9 plastic gallon of vodka.

The lady at the check-out processed my purchase in silence, but her eyebrows disappeared into her hairline. The girl bagging held the bottle up, shook her head and cut a look at the bagger in the next lane.

It was 8:45 am on a Tuesday. I was wearing sweats, my hair was in a bun and Annie had picked her own clothes, orange striped stretch pants and a puke green shirt that used to belong to Gabe.

I cleared my throat.

I feel like I have to explain why I am buying a gallon of vodka this early in the morning.

I expected them to laugh, but the idle checker in the next lane actually leaned across and said “Yes.”

Well, we make a lot of our household cleaners, to be safer and less toxic. We also have two dogs, so I’ve been looking for a fabric refresher that doesn’t have a ton of chemicals and fragrances, like Febreeze. I found this recipe online for Febooz. All it takes is a spray bottle, two cups of water, a cup of vodka and some drops of essential oil. Safe for all fabrics, carpets, clothes. And for kids and dogs, as long as they’re not drinking it.

They looked at each other. Then they started laughing.

“A few sprays for the couch, a few sprays for mama!”

“And if it doesn’t work, just pop off the top, have a few drinks and you won’t care what the couch smells like!”

The things we go through to bring you safe cleaning products.


All you need is a clean clearly labeled spray bottle, 2 cups of water (the original recipe calls for distilled. I don’t know why, but I used tap and it was fine), 1 cup of vodka and some drops of essential oil. Shake and spray.

Courtesy of

PS: have your husband buy the vodka. No one will bat an eye at a man buying bulk vodka in a plastic bottle. Even if he has all the kids with him and it’s 1 am. But that’s a whole other post.


Favorite Things #1

Dana came up with this idea, inspired by Oprah, and I was instantly on board because who doesn’t want to be like Oprah? She is a force for good in this world!

So here’s my list. You may notice that they all come with links. That’s because we want our Favorite Things list to be a two way street: we share things we think are awesome with our readers AND support our favorite businesses by giving them love on the blog. Dana and I get nothing but the satisfaction of knowing we brought people together, which really makes us happy. Win-Win-Win!

Best coffee ever! Find it at

Best coffee ever! Find it at

Door County
Christmas Coffee

Listen, I am serious about my coffee. SERIOUS. And I will tell you there is not much good coffee in this world. Most coffee is passable. So when I say this is the best coffee ever, I’m not foolin’. Door County’s Christmas blend is everything good about the holidays. We buy it on October 1 and drink it straight through til New Year’s.  I can also vouch for their hazelnut, breakfast blend, harvest blend and French roast. If you like coffee, try the Christmas blend. You won’t be sorry.

Goat Milk Stuff

We’ve had this company listed on the resources page of the website, but they need a special mention. This is a completely family run enterprise out of Pennsylvania. PJ is the mom and with her husband and kids, they raise and milk the goats, make the soap, cut and cure the soap, run a store and a website, plus multiple blogs and podcasts. They’ve been on the Dr. Oz show and here’s why: their soap is pure and healthy, a giant chemical-free step away from store brands. In our family, using this soap has meant saying goodbye to eczema and acne, and we need less lotion in the wintertime. The bars are huge and last a good 4-6 weeks. I recommend the problem skin pack for first timers, especially with skin issues. But my current favorite is the cranberry spice. And oh my goodness, the lotion stick in Pink Sugary is divine.

Old 2 Chic!

Old 2 Chic!

Old 2 Chic

In the category of “Wish I’d Thought of This”, one of our school moms, Erin Mathews, has started a business finding and refinishing wooden frames and furniture from garage sales in Sun City. This is a stroke of brilliance, because Sun City is a retirement community that has existed for over 60 years. You know, back when furniture was made out of wood? She scores these pieces at ridiculous prices and then turns them around with her chic sense of repurposing at wonderful prices. She made these for me to hang between the kid’s rooms for messages and a place to display their work (so I can find the door to my refrigerator again…).

On Facebook at Radio

Six months ago, I made the full time switch in my car to this nationwide Christian station after Kate was becoming a wee bit too enamored of Taylor Swift and Beyonce. Shea and I enjoy music, so I was reluctant at first. I like Church music as much as the next person, but I can’t do heavy organ and choirs all the time. No fear, this is a rock station, with a bit of pop and hip-hop mixed in. Honestly, who knew? No commercials and no politics, completely listener supported and an 800 number for anyone needing prayer. Love, love, love, especially when my kids are belting out this song.

Shabby Shoe Signs

Disclaimer: Karen and Jim Shoemaker, the owners of this company, are my sister’s-in-law…sister-in-law’s… parents. But that means I can personally testify that they are wonderful people with incredible talent. Their signs are wood, handmade, handpainted and cute as can be. Not MDF. Not canvas prints that look like wood. The real thing. They have lots and lots of suggested signs on the website, but she is very willing to try and accommodate any quote. And the family signs are such great keepsakes. Just in time for newlyweds, new parents, and Christmas.

Think Dirty and Skin Deep

Hold on, now. These companies have created apps for your phone that allow you to shoot the bar codes of your favorite cosmetics, lotions and personal care products. Then the app tells you how “dirty” they are—as in cancer-causing, hormone disrupting, reproductive system affecting dirty.

Think Dirty is located in Canada, with 12,000 products in their database and a way to add products that have not been graded for review. They are iPhone only at this point, but assured me that an Android app is coming.

Skin Deep is a product of the Environmental Working Group here in the US. They have 72,000 products and a way to add info for products that have not been graded. They are iPhone and Android compatible.

This is the kind of intelligent consumer information we should have at our fingertips. I already see women shooting barcodes in Target and walking away from stuff that comes up dirty. If enough of us walk away from products, companies will be forced to get cleaner.

And if you think your Loreal, Aveda, Desert Essence and Herbal Essence are clean, think again. or search “Think Dirty” in the iPhone app store. “Skin Deep” in the iPhone app and Google Play stores.

The Truth About the Nutcracker

Kate’s dance company, Dunamix (Temecula, CA) does a Christian interpretation of the classical ballet. This year’s performance is December 21 at 2 and 6 pm at Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore. Another disclaimer: haven’t seen it yet. But based on this year’s recital and the rehearsals I’ve been seeing, it’s going to be one of my favorite things right after Kate and I go see it!

Not in My Village ~ Jen


I really, really believe in the idea that it takes a village to raise a childSuper believe, as Dana would say. I can’t do any of it without help–not raise my kids, tend my marriage or grow my faith. I need help! All the time!

It occurred to me this weekend, as I was reading the hopefully fake story of the Mean Lady in Fargo who was going to hand out shaming letters instead of candy to roly-poly princesses and Pokemons on Halloween, that maybe we need to be more specific in what we mean by village. After all, that lady said in her letter that she was just doing her job as a member of the village.

So here it is: it takes a village, yes. But not Salem village.

In Salem, people parading as good, decent folk used the accusation of witchcraft to punish their neighbors, and make themselves look better. Classic case of deflection: If everyone’s looking at the poor drunk woman in town, no one will notice that I am greedy and mean, even though I sit in the first pew every Sunday and paid for half the church to be built. Nineteen innocent men and women were hanged.

It’s true the devil was afoot in Salem; also that they hung the wrong folks. I wonder what the Mean Lady in Fargo is trying to deflect? Anyone in my village should make me feel better and supported as a mom, not worse and like a failure.

I want Walnut Grove, where Reverend Alden was gentle with his flock and the truth always won. They had their issues there in the Grove, but the issues were always settled with everyone’s dignity intact. Even Nellie’s.

Or how about Avonlea? Anne of Green Gables seemed happy there. Or Concord,  MA, where Little Women learned their life lessons. Yes, these are fictional and idyllic. But admirably fictional and  idyllic.

In my village, I need god-fearing folk who will live and speak what they believe so that my kids are steeped in the love of God. I need to know that on the day I can’t read that freakin’ Dora book one more time, someone else will do it for me. And if a friendly villager knocks on my door before the 4 pm clean-up, they will judge me by the smile on my face and not the toys on the floor. Or at least believe my story about the 4 pm clean-up.

The neighbors who brought our puppy back when we left her outside? The mom who gently let me know there was more to the story than ours sons were telling us? The friend who reads the Dora book one more time? The couple who offer to watch our kids so we can have a date? Those are my Village People. We have God and we have love and we have each other.

And Mean Lady in Fargo needs to remember that. I have a whole entire village. If my kids ever get a fat letter in their trick or treat bag, we’re going to come for you and love you right out of town.

We know the devil when we see him and we’re not having that Here.