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?”


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


“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!

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!