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.










I hate the summers Inland California. Hate is a strong word, I know, but I mean it with every fiber of my being. Sometime in early June, the thermometer hits 97 and it doesn’t dip below that number for the next four months. In other places, summer lasts 75-90 days. Here: 120.

Our summer is like winter in Wisconsin or Maine. The kids cannot go outside for days at a time. We usually have at least one round of over 100 degree temps that lasts for more than 14 days. California homes are not built for this. We have no basements and I was dumb enough to make Shea buy the house without a loft. “Why on earth would we need that open empty space?” I asked him.

Short. Sighted.

Don’t even get me started on the Edison bill. Tier 5? Tier 5 is a common occurrence during July and August. At dusk, when it’s cooled down to 90 and we turn the kids loose in the streets, the moms huddle up and compare bills. We have a house fan, which helps us keep our July and August bills under $400. My neighbors either pay upwards of $600 a month or set the thermostat at 82.

The winters usually calm me down, with a few weeks of frosty, heater required weather in December and January. Not this year. This year it never got cold. Which I think explains why, for the first time since we moved here, we are seeing mosquitos and fleas. And ants. The ants are everywhere, assaulting us from the front door and the garage and up from the slab through the middle of the house and back down the staircase.


It was 89 degrees on Halloween, 85 degrees on Thanksgiving and 80 degrees on Christmas. We got a grand total of 4.9 inches of rain. Our average is 7.6 inches. We haven’t hit the average since 2010.

It’s enough to make me want to throw my shoe at any fool who still insists that climate change is a liberal media myth.

Did I mention that I hate to be hot? More than anything? It’s why we got married at the end of November. It’s why we’re moving to Oregon. I picked the town based on the average high temps in July (89) and December (45). That’s blissful compared to the average temps here in July (100, with some days at the end of the month averaging 103) and December (69).

We’re going up there next week to look for a house. Of course, they’re having a heat wave and the temps are going to be in the 100s all week.


To fend off Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder, I count it down.

From July 1 to October 1 is the 90 days of summer, of which we have 79 left.

School starts in 38 days.

Halloween is in 111 days.

Our projected moving date is in 119 days.

Thanksgiving—which this year falls on our tenth wedding anniversary—is in 138 days.

And attention shoppers, there are only 166 days left until Christmas.

Yeah, I went there.

I’m telling you, it’s the only way to stay sane when it’s 103 at noon.




















Cookie Monster ~ Jen

I was a Campfire girl. We didn’t sell cookies. We sold almond roca and mints. And it wasn’t a very big deal. We walked the neighborhood, called grandma and sold at the local grocery store.

To be fair, I don’t think Girl Scout cookies were a great big thing in the 80s either.

Teresa is a Gold Award Scout. That’s the Girl Scout equivalent of an Eagle Scout. Over the last 15 years, I have bought my fair share of cookies from her. Cookies were always a big thing for her, but I just assumed she was good at selling them, and probably the exception, not the rule.

The last month—our first foray into Girl Scout cookie selling—has disabused me of that notion.

Every single movie parody, stand up routine and Saturday Night Live send up of the Girl Scouts is deserved. Maybe not where the girls are concerned, but I promise you that the adult Girl Scout world is a virtual Jonestown and you better drink the koolaide.

From the Family Guide to Cookies 2014 published by the Girl Scouts:

Why a cookie program?

Did you know that participating in a Cookie Program helps build self-esteem? Learning that you can set a goal, budget for your needs, create a marketing plan and then go and make it happen teaches our girls to believe in themselves better than any “self-help” training.

Doesn’t that sound like a creepy recruiting pitch for selling timeshares in the Caribbean?

When you couple this with the understanding that only $.70 of each $4 box goes back to the troop or scout and that our leaders were required to commit to a certain number of cases before ordering started, that little blurb is pretty impressive spin for what is a massive fundraising campaign for the organization. GSA gets $2.08 per box.

Also in the Family Guide to Cookies:

Girl Scout (2)

If you can’t see it, these are the guidelines on Whistleblowing and Divorces. Third party whistleblowing is not acceptable, along with anonymous whistleblowing. If you are going to call out your five year old neighbor for doing a walk-about after the walk-about sale window has closed, you better be ready to give your full name.

My favorite part of this little publication:

Girl Scout 2 (2)

I’ve tried for three weeks, but cannot begin to imagine a situation where a border treaty seemed like the only, best, last solution.

I’m running a huge risk by writing this. It says very clearly in the Adult Code of Conduct—which both Shea and I had to sign—that willful creation of discord is a violation. Uh-oh.

Because I haven’t even said what I really want to say.

How on earth can an organization which claims to want the best for their scouts, including physical health, sell these things, which are pure crap??? Tons of calories, sugar, palm oil and unpronounceable ingredients.

The Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties are vegan. How can that be when they are covered in chocolate, I wondered. Turns out, chocolate comes from a bean. That’s vegan. The higher the percentage of chocolate, the more pure it is.

And yet my ingredients list clearly states that the Thin Mints and Patties contain less than 2% of cocoa. Animal by-products are not vegan, but chemicals are? Talk about the letter and not the spirit of the law.*

And how about the math of it all?

If a young lady sells 1250 boxes of cookies, she qualifies for a Google Chromebook. She’s earned her troop $875. She’s earned GSA $2575. She’s earned herself $400 in Cookie Dough that she can apply towards Girl Scout trips and costs. The troop and GSA take-away from this child’s efforts is $3050.

A Google Chromebook retails for $199.

Maybe these details are the man behind the curtain when we’re talking about building self-esteem “better than any self-help training”.

Two weeks ago, I got called in to help pick up our cookies because I have a Tahoe. I drove to our local semi-pro baseball stadium where I was directed by a woman wearing a tutu to park in the holding lot. I joined two of our troop leaders in their big cars. At our appointed time, we lined up our cars to drive through the parking lot. At this point I was kind of out of words because we were following behind a U-Haul that someone rented to pick up their cookies. Across the parking lot, I could see toy haulers and horse trailers. I was told not to get out of my car at any time for any reason once I entered the cookie line, where soccer moms and dads wearing tutus were loading boxes of cookies and grooving to Taylor Swift.


When our leader hit the front of the line, the lady with the clipboard laughed. Threw her head back and laughed.

“You’re only getting 67 cases? You don’t need all these cars! You only need one. We can get 230 cases into the back of a mini-van!”

Our troop leader, who I love and who I know will never drink the Koolaide, waved me off with a roll of the eyes and a smile. I knew what she was thinking: Now we’re that troop.

Thank. Goodness.

*I’m not saying that I didn’t eat a whole box of Thin Mints all by myself. I’m just saying it was bad for me.

Meet Taylor K, Photographer Extraordinaire! Special Offer for Full of Graces Readers! ~ Jen

It’s that time of year: family pictures.

Thank goodness we have moved beyond the studio portrait, where everyone looks still and plastic. But it’s hard to find a good candid photographer. Which is why I want to introduce you to ours: Taylor. She is a lovely, energetic and accommodating lady from Long Beach. Fear not, Inland Empire and points South: she came to Temecula to shoot us. She’s fabulously mobile.

We booked a Saturday in October, which is a weather crapshoot out here. The temperatures can swing between 50 degrees and 100 degrees in October. I gambled and went with wintery clothes—jeans and jewel tones. It was a gorgeous day at the farm—blue skies and pretty flowers. But it was 86 degrees.

Grumpy kids, sweaty husband and a dusty farm packed with folks two weeks before Halloween.

No problem! Within three minutes of meeting my kids, Taylor had them under her spell. Even Gabe, who is beginning to think he is too cool to smile. We got it all done in 30 minutes. For an outside shoot, that’s amazing.

And our pictures came three days later, in a zip file that we are free to print and use as we see fit. No hassle with packages, sizing, extra cost, etc.

Check these out…

Staszak10web Staszak31web Staszak06web Staszak34web

But wait, there’s more: Taylor has generously offered a 20% discount to our readers! All you have to do is “Like” our Facebook page and mention Full of Graces when you book! Woohoo!

Wedding pictures? Family pictures? Christmas pictures? Multi-generational pictures? She’s got you. Just mention us and she’ll hook you up.

She can be found at

Fall Canning ~ Jen

In Southern California, one of the harbingers of Fall is the Santa Ana winds.

These winds blow strong and unbelievably dry for days at a time, sometimes cold, but mostly hot, hot, hot.  If you are not from So Cal, you may have heard this term related to some huge, catastrophic brush fire that occurred near Los Angeles. Every Southern Californian knows to scan the horizon often on days that the Santa Anas blow.

But these winds also signal a change in the weather. Summer is over, no matter how warm the temps during the day. The nights are cooler and backyard pools no longer hold the heat. The rest of the nation is digging out their jeans and sweatshirts—and it has snowed in the Rocky Mountains—and we’re still wearing shorts. But it’s Fall for sure when those Santa Ana winds blow. And when they do, I am pulled to my kitchen by thoughts of cinnamon, apples and pumpkins.

The other day, I pulled Dana with me. Over the weekend, my family made a quick jaunt to our local apple tree mecca, Oak Glen and picked 30 lbs of apples. Oak Glen is this special place, like someone carved a piece out of Colonial Massachusetts and plopped it down in the low mountains of San Bernardino.

Braeburns at Riley's Apple Farm in Oak Glen
Braeburns at Riley’s Apple Farm in Oak Glen
Miss Annie picking her first apples!
Miss Annie picking her first apples!
In a few weeks, these trees will be a gorgeous shade of yellow
In a few weeks, these trees will be a gorgeous shade of yellow

Mr. Scarecrow guarding the pumpkin patch

I called Dana and invited her to come over and make apple butter and apple pie filling. She’s never canned before and we both thought this would be a good time for her to see what it’s all about.


We peeled and cored and sliced. Then we did it some more. Sixty apples are a LOT of apples to face down. But we did it.


A natural hazard of cooking with organic apples: stowaways.
A natural hazard of cooking with organic apples: stowaways.

And since we were on such a roll, I roasted a pumpkin and made some pumpkin butter.



Pumpkin Butter
Pumpkin Butter

Six hours of cooking and canning got us six half pints of apple butter, four half pints of pumpkin butter, three half pints of applesauce, three quarts of apple pie filling and enough pumpkin puree to make muffins or bread. Whew!*

All my canning recipes were from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Apple Butter:

4 lbs apples

4 cups sugar (I used 2 for a lower sugar option)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

I also added 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Wash apples; peel, core and quarter. Combine apples and two cups of water in a pot; simmer until apples are soft. Using a food mill or food processor, process apples until they are pureed.

Combine the pureed apples, sugar and spices in pot. Cook on low until mixtures darkens and thickens (usually two hours or more). Stir about every 15 minutes to prevent burning on the bottom.

Apple Sauce:

2 1/2-3 1/2 lbs apples


Sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Wash, peel, core and quarter apples; simmer in pot with just enough water to prevent sticking; mash apples in pot; add sugar and spices (optional); bring applesauce to a boil.

Apples for Baking:

10 to 12 lbs of apples

Ball Fresh Fruit Protector

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Wash, core and peel apples; cut them lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices; treat with Fresh Fruit to prevent darkening (see directions on package).

Meanwhile, combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a large pot, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Drain apples and add to mixture. Simmer for five minutes before water processing.

Roasted Pumpkin

Take a pumpkin, any pumpkin (most recipes suggest sugar pumpkins for baking, but I have used the ones they sell for jack o’ lanterns with no problems). Cut off the stem, then cut the pumpkin in half. Clean the pulp and seeds, set aside. Place the two halves face down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and scrap flesh from inside. Puree in a food processor.

This is exactly what comes out of the can when you buy pumpkin in a store. Proceed to your favorite pumpkin recipe!

Pumpkin Butter (courtesy of

  • 5 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or 1 29 ounce + 1 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or sucanat)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch of sea salt


  1. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot/slow cooker and stir to mix well.
  2. Set on low heat and cover loosely, leaving a little space for the steam to escape so the mixture can reduce and thicken.
  3. Cook for about 6 hours. The pumpkin butter should have cooked down and thickened. If it’s not as thick as you would like it, just take the lid completely off and let it cook for another 30-45 minutes.
  4. Let cool, remove from crock pot and put pumpkin butter into jars or airtight containers.The pumpkin butter will last a week or so in the fridge, but you can also freezer preserve it by storing it freezer safe containers (or jars).

* I am not a canning expert. If you are interested in canning, please visit for products and guides, or for recipes and how-to. Also, turns out it’s not safe to water process pumpkin butter at home, because of the chemistry.