Thursday, July 30, 2009

My sappy secret

Last night just before we turned the lights off to go to sleep after a long day, I turned to Bob and whispered, "Do you miss the house?"

There was a pause. A silence.

Then I quickly answered my own question, "I miss it. I miss the house," I said with a guilty face. A look of I'm sorry, but I do. And I'm sorry for bringing it up.

The house.

It's been four weeks since we turned the keys over to the new owners and drove away. Four weeks. I have been trying not to think about it. Consciously. Subconsciously, all bets are off. Unfortunately I can't control my dreams and I have had some house-longing-missing dreams. In one we rented an apartment across the street with a view of the house so that we could at least look at it. Strange. In another, I was in the house, but I don't remember more than that.

Last night we were talking about kitchens and immediately I was back in our kitchen with the bright colors and natural light and incomparable views. How I loved that kitchen. To me, it was perfect.

I miss it. I do.

...When I wake up in the morning and try to figure out where I can write first thing. Because so far I haven't found the spot. In our house, I had my spot. I had my ritual. My routine.

...When I go to get dressed out of my suitcase and everything is wrinkled and impossible to find.

...When I climb into a bed that's not mine. Every night. I think about our bed. Our room... in our house back in L.A.

Usually when I have those thoughts of aching for something that no longer exists, I do what I do... I counter them with perspective:

Okay, yes. The house was amazing. Our life there was wonderful while it lasted. But it wasn't perfect. And look where it lead us. We're on a better path. We're smarter now. No, this isn't our house, but how fortunate are we that my family is so welcoming?! That we have a place to live right now? That we get to spend quality time with family, that we're so close to one of the greatest city's in the world, that we have a place to live rent-free for two years?! We are fortunate, indeed.

Yes, we have many blessings to count. And I still miss it.

Bob's eyes answer my question. He doesn't need to say anything. But he does.

He says, "I miss it all."

That gets me.

"Are you sad?" I ask.

"Yes," he responds.

"Me too," I say and then sigh. I put my head on his chest and listen as Bob says,
"Tomorrow's a new day. Let's get some sleep. We need rest."

So that's it. The secret is out. We miss the house. We miss our friends and life in L.A. We miss having a place of our own and it makes us sad from time to time. Was it obvious? You're not surprised, are you? That's the funny thing. I was afraid to say it out loud. Afraid that it would make things worse. But as soon as I said it, I let it go. It was no longer this secret sadness that I carried around with me alone. In sharing it with Bob, I discovered that it was already shared. And that it's okay to be sad. It's natural. And as long as it doesn't define us or stop us dead in our tracks, it's perfectly fine to be sad from time to time.

Yes, I miss our former life. And yes, I'm happy to be where I am and am excited about our future. I'm sad and I'm happy. I'm... sappy.

And that's just life, isn't it? A long quest for happiness filled with mixed emotions.

In his 1989 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, The Dalai Lama said:
"No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and is concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature."

The context for that statement was his people. Tibetans. He has lived in exile - away from his homeland - for 50 years. He still stands for the autonomy of his people. For the 'right to determine our own destiny as individuals.'

Just a few days ago in a lecture at the University of Warsaw he said:
"Freedom gives rights. I think you have to realize with rights also there is duty and responsibility..."

We have freedom. What then is our duty and responsibility? I think it's to help others. To recognize our personal freedom as a gift, to appreciate it and share it.

See? This is where I go when I'm feeling sad about something in my life. In this context- against the struggle of people who are not free, who are suffering - my sadness and complaints lose their power over me. I shift my focus from myself out there into the world. As trite as it may sound, "There are people starving in Africa." What am I going to do about it? Well, for starters, I'm going to finish my vegetables.

Now I'm not even thinking about the house anymore. Or my sadness. Or the fact that I don't have the perfect place to write. Or that my clothes are all in a suitcase or that we're broke and living with my family. It sounds pathetic up against something so real. However, it's still okay to be sad. Right? I think so.

This is my feeling about human nature. I think that even when we're happy, part of us is sad. And that's okay. Perhaps we're all just a little bit sappy.

What do you think?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Blame it on Foreclosure

Foreclosure is a four letter word. Not only to people losing their homes to foreclosure, but also to big giant power companies like Commonwealth Edison.

ComEd provides service to approximately 3.8 million customers in Northern Illinois and
according to Crain's Chicago Business, this year for the first time in 56 years, they are losing customers.

Why? What's the explanation? Foreclosure. Yep. At least that's ComEd's theory.

ComEd loses customers for the first time in 56 years.
ComEd CEO Frank Clark said Friday that the number of the utility’s customers has fallen by 17,000 this year. ComEd has 3.8 million customers in its northern Illinois service territory.

“This is the first time we’ve ever seen it,” he said during an analysts’ call for ComEd parent Exelon Corp. “It is an unusual event.”

He said he wasn’t sure what caused the falloff, theorizing that people losing their homes to foreclosure are moving in with friends or family.

I suppose it makes sense. People lose their homes to foreclosure, then move in with family and therefore cancel their ComEd service. Can ComEd blame us? No. Because we were customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. And now we're not. What are their numbers this year? I wonder.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Art in the Time of Foreclosure

LET'S talk about art. Lately I've been encountering some powerful images about the housing crisis that I wanted to share with you.

This piece here is called "Dangling" and is by artist Amy Casey. This one is particularly powerful for me because I so relate. During our 11-month ordeal there were many times I felt suspended in a web, upside down... as though we were being shaken out of our own house. Everything upside down.

Ms. Casey has a whole series of paintings on the same theme. It's definitely worth a visit to her site to take a tour through her work.

In her artist's statement she writes, "I am fascinated by the resilience of life."

I think that is what drew me to her work. The hope that is somehow inherent in the disaster. I too am fascinated by the resilience of life and the human spirit. To me, her work conveys so much.

Ms. Casey was recently honored by the Cleveland Arts Prize for her work on the housing crisis.

-Artist Known for Paintings of Housing Crisis Wins Cleveland Arts Prize - 90.3 WCPN - NPR

-Amy Casey Painting

This morning while browsing Curbed, I came across their "Foreclosure Art" post about the "Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center" show at the Queens Museum of Art. This sounds amazing. I would love to experience this show!

In her story in the NY Times about the exhibit -"Mapping a Birds-Eye View of Foreclosure Misery" - Patricia Cohen writes:

When it came to representing the sprawling nature of the foreclosure crisis in New York City, the artist Damon Rich figured out that the best thing to do was to shrink it down to size.

And so he used the 9,335-square-foot Panorama of the City of New York, the intricate architectural model built for the 1964 World’s Fair, and hundreds of neon-pink triangles to demonstrate just how the city has been marked by economic troubles.

Each plastic triangle represents a block where there have been three or more home foreclosures. Visitors on the balcony walkway that surrounds the Panorama, at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, can see in a single glance precisely where subprime lenders wreaked the most havoc.

Hundreds of these pink stigmata cover Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, East New York and Canarsie in Brooklyn like an invading army. In Queens most markers are camped out in Ozone Park and Cambria Heights, as well as in parts of Jamaica and Corona. As for Manhattan, there are precisely two.

This mapping of the 45-year-old Panorama is part of a larger exhibition about housing, in which politics intersects with art.

“I hope that my work operates on a principle of opening up a set of issues for exploration,” Mr. Rich said.

Titled “Red Lines Crisis Housing Learning Center,” the show includes photographs, models, drawings and sculptural installations — like a large, three-dimensional wooden graph of interest rates over the past 70 years — that offer an explanation of how the private housing market works, beginning with the federal government’s involvement during the Depression.

Quite an ambitious exhibit. If anyone has seen it, will you share your experience with us here? And if you plan to see it, please report back!

The exhibit runs through September 27, 2009

-Queens Museum of Art

-Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center - Facebook Page

-Mapping a Bird's Eye View of Foreclosure Misery - The New York Times

-Foreclosure Art-

LITTOF Readers... if you come across any 'foreclosure art' or have created any yourself, please share with us. I'd love to see more.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Serendipity: a guest post from the owner of the house on the island

Today's guest blogger is our future landlord... the owner of the house on the island. She graciously offered to share her story on how she came to contact us...

in mid-June, as is my habit, I was doing a weekly read of housing-related articles. I'm an economist by profession and way back in 2001 I came to believe that we were entering a housing bubble. Almost as a hobby, since my day job involves analyzing non-U.S. economies, I have been following the soap opera that has been the rise and fall of the housing market and its impact on the American economy.

This week had a touch of irony to it, for despite my belief that the story, especially the falling part, is far from over, we were a few days away from closing on the purchase of a house. We had no intention of buying a house; not right now anyway. We were still more than two years away from settling in one place, and by my reckoning 2011 or 2012 would be pretty fair timing in the market..

I had been keeping on eye on what kinds of properties one could get at what prices in Washington State in a few locations that we were considering. We wanted an old house that we could renovate in a rural location. The San Juan Islands was not one of these locations –too expensive for my frugal instincts. Still one lazy afternoon I pulled up listings there in a fantasy window-shopping kind of way. And stumbled across just the kind of thing we were looking for, well within our price range.

In fact, that price was pretty unbelievable. Why wasn't it long gone? “What's the catch?” I wondered. Next to a garbage dump? Ready to collapse from dry rot? My Mom, bless her, agreed to check it out for us. She reported back-great place, no major issues, and it's a steal. We talked about it seriously, but with two years lag time, I was especially concerned about trying to take care of the property from long distance. I just wasn't ready to buy.

A few weeks later, my husband popped his head into the room. “How much was that place listed for?” he asked. I told him. Nope, he replied, they dropped it 20k. Mom! I e-mailed. They dropped the price—they are making it hard to resist. Stop resisting she told me. You'll regret if you miss this chance.

So. It was the right house, at the right price, in a dream location, at the wrong time. We made an offer another 30k below the new asking price. They accepted.

Now we were a few days before closing and I was doing my weekly housing market news read. I came across a link to “Love in the Time of Foreclosure”. I scrolled back through older posts 'til I hit the first one, and begin to read the whole thing in chronological order. Somewhere about half way through I was hit by the powerful conviction “These guys are our caretakers.”

My usually dominant rational and logical side shook this off. In fact, we had already identified a caretaker. We didn't want to rent the house out until we could live there, but didn't want it empty either. We needed someone to live there, keep it from being overgrown by blackberries, and taking care of all those little things a house needs doing. Our real estate broker knew of just the right person, Mom had discussed it all with them, and things were set. She handed over the keys at the closing. But a couple days later we got an e-mail—sorry can't do it after all.

My thoughts went again to the Walkers. “You can't just contact random people you read about on the Internet,” I told myself.

The next day my husband told me that he had contacted someone with a situations wanted ad in Caretaker Gazette. We have long had a subscription on the theory that we might test drive a few locations by caretaking before actually buying a home and settling in one place. Now though we were on the other side of deal. The person he contacted was very interested. After the usual exchange of info, just when it seemed like we would seal the deal, a family medical situation on the East Coast put the kibosh on that. My husband said he would start to write up our own “Positions Available” for the next edition.

Well, I told myself, maybe I was right. After all, two apparently sure things had fallen through. After a couple of false starts, I bit the bullet and sent them that e-mail. And they were interested. And then I had to explain to my husband what I had done. He took it well. And after some consideration they accepted.

That's my story.

Thank you, future landlord whose name I don't want to reveal to the general public (maybe we should come up with a code name.) I'm so glad you contacted us! Can I just say that after reading this, I'm even more excited about this opportunity. It's all coming together. It does feel, dare I say it, like fate.

Have any readers perused The Caretaker's Gazette yet?

Have any of you ever lived on an island?

Would you? Why or why not?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Sixty Dollar Lobster

“ONE thing that’s always bothered me,” Mom begins...

We’re all a bit tipsy from wine. A lot tipsy. This is our welcome home dinner. We’ve finished appetizers, the main course and dessert. Dad, Silvia, Alexa & Dylan have already left and now it’s just Mom, Tom, Bob and I sipping wine and chatting by candlelight. We’re talking about everything from the hellacious move to the drive cross-country, to our time in Iowa and everything we’ve learned along the way.

“It’s always bothered me and I’ve never said anything,” Mom says then looks at Bob and waits. For permission, I suppose.

“And I’m just going to come out and say it,” she continues. Then pauses again.

“Go ahead,” Bob says with a hint of curiosity.

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. You can say anything to me,” Bob assures her.

Uh oh. Now I’m getting worried. What could she possibly say? You never should have bought the house. That’s my first thought. But we’ve already said that ourselves. So, no. Wouldn’t be that. Then what? What one thing has always bothered her that she hasn’t already said? She looks at Tom, then back to Bob, aims and fires:

“The sixty dollar lobster.”

Bob and I exchange a look. What is she talking about? The sixty dollar lobster? What lobster?

“Last April when we were in Ft. Lauderdale for Stephie’s play we went to dinner on opening night and you ordered a $60 lobster! Never in my life have I seen anyone spend so much money on an entree without batting an eye!”

Ohhhhhhh. The $60 lobster. Actually, I still only vaguely remember. I remember the restaurant. I remember that it was a celebratory dinner. I remember I had pasta.

“It was actually surf & turf. Lobster and steak,” Bob helps.

That’s right. Surf & Turf. Now I remember. I remember thinking, yikes, when he ordered it. I agree with Mom. She’s right, $60 is a lot to spend on an entrĂ©e. But don’t lots of people spend more than that on a bottle of wine? And Bob was making good money at the time. Working extremely hard. If he wanted Surf & Turf on this special occasion, shouldn’t he be able to order it? I think that’s probably about the justification that went through my mind at that dinner.

“Surf & Turf,” Mom continues, “Okay. Right. I just couldn’t believe it. Especially because I always pick the most inexpensive thing on the menu. That lobster," she says, "To me it was a sign.”

I look at Bob, worried that this will upset him. But it doesn’t. He hears it. I'm relieved. And impressed.

Mom says that it occurred as if he were showing off. Bob says he can understand how she would see it that way but that he was just thinking of it as a very special occasion. The opening night of my play. Me, I understand Mom’s thinking because I am her carbon copy and also always select the least expensive item on the menu.

Mom tells Bob that she’s relieved that she could get that off her chest because it’s just always bothered her.

“It really bothered her,” Tom adds.

“It just really did,” says Mom.

That’s when I start laughing.

Everyone looks at me.

“I was just thinking,” I say, “that out of everything it’s the $60 lobster that bothered you. Not the $130,000 house renovation. But the $60 lobster.”

And we all start laughing. At the absurdity of it all. And the relief that we can talk about this without sore feelings.

It’s interesting, actually. The biggest spending problem we had, in my mind, is that we were blind. It certainly wasn’t one $60 lobster (sorry, Surf & Turf) that sent us spiraling out of control. It’s that we were blind to ALL of our spending and never prepared for the worst case scenario. If to Mom the lobster was a sign to us it was a symptom. Perhaps focusing on the lobster was easier than digesting, so to speak, the entirety of our spending. We justified our remodel because we truly believed we’d get a return on every penny we put into the house. But we overextended and didn’t plan for the worst. It is a lot to digest. It’s hard enough for us to digest, let alone our parents.

The relief, I suppose, is that it’s in the past. And that we are acting responsibly, learning and are open and willing to talk about our errors. Too many could’ve, would’ve & should’ves to count.

We recently did short debt counseling class and the strongest points made for people in our situation are:

1. KNOW where you went wrong

2. KNOW how you spend your money

3. DON'T borrow until you’re debt free. Just don’t.

We haven’t used a credit card in about nine months. Maybe more. We don’t plan on borrowing anything until we’re completely out of debt. We are actually very anti-credit in all regards and are looking at how to live the rest of our lives without it. Perhaps that’s an over-correction and possibly temporary. Credit is fine for those who manage it, pay off the balance every month. But our recent track record doesn’t support that we are those kinds of people. So we’re staying away. Like a new non-smoker... we’re steering clear of the smoking section.

And maybe, just maybe it’s okay to have that $60 Surf & Turf if you budget for it and it’s a special occasion splurge. But wouldn’t it taste so much sweeter if you had it for free? Or at a discount? There are ways. I’m bound and determined to live responsibly and well on less.

This $60 lobster conversation made me so grateful for the kind of open & honest communication we have in my family and that Bob is so willing to hear such a difficult communication. It also made me wonder...

What’s MY $60 lobster?

What's yours?

P.S. Thanks, Mom, for your honesty! And thanks, Bob, for being great!

While we're on the subject...
Here are some pretty great websites/blogs that I've recently discovered on the topic of living well on less & being debt-free (in no particular order):

-My Open Wallet – An anonymous New Yorker tells the world how much money she earns, spends, and saves.

-Finally Frugal – The bumpy road to financial independence

-Cents to Get Debt-Free – One family’s quest at getting the cents to get free from any and all debt!

-The Minimalist – Everything about less

-Living Well on Less – Saving money without losing luxury

-Make Love, Not Debt – A relationship finance blog

The Surf & Turf picture is from the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse website

If you enjoyed this post, will you please do us a favor and share it? Tweet it, Facebook it, Stumble it or good old fashioned e-mail it? Thanks!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Big News: A whale of an opportunity

This time last year, Bob was newly unemployed. His first day of unemployment was July 10th. We were scrambling, looking for work and mostly feeling like everything would work itself out. We'd both find fantastic jobs and we'd avoid any sort of financial trouble. Though it was scary, we definitely had an expectation it would all work out. At least I did.

As we know, things didn't quite go that way. And though I look back over the last few years and can pinpoint each and every misstep along the way, I can't say that I'm entirely sorry our lives took the turn they did. Why? Because of everything we've learned.

Everything we’ve experienced in the last two years and certainly the last 11 months has had us dramatically reevaluate our lives and our goals. We’ve found that we certainly can be and are happy with less. That it doesn’t take much. And that we truly experience the sheer joy of being alive in the seemingly darkest moments.

We've grown as individuals and together as partners. We avoided foreclosure and stuck together the entire way.

The question now is:



We’ve said all along that we plan to return to Los Angeles in November. Hopefully. We chose November because we figured it would allow us enough time to save money for a security deposit on an apartment if indeed we were unable to find a rent-free living situation. Not to mention the fact that November = cold in Chicago. Darn cold. Our thought, having been spoiled by the Southern California temps, was to avoid that.

That was our somewhat sketchy plan.

The thing is, something amazing happens when you sell everything and uproot yourself. You are suddenly free. Free to go anywhere.

Which leads me to the big news.

The morning we finally drove away from our house, I received an e-mail from a LITTOF reader that could not have arrived at a more perfect time. We were minutes away from saying goodbye to our house, our home and setting out into the great UNKNOWN when I opened my e-mail and found this:
Forgive this rather long shot e-mail from out of the blue. Would you possibly be interested in a caretaking job?

I came across your blog a few weeks ago, just as we were closing on the purchase of our future home-an old farm house in the San Juan Islands, Washington state. However, we currently live overseas and won’t be moving there until August/September 2011. We are about to place an ad in Caretaker Gazette, to look for someone to live there rent –free for two years and take care of routine maintenance like keeping the lawn mowed and the gutters cleaned. Also to organize and oversee any professional repairs, that we would pay for. The house is unfurnished so you would need some basics.

I understand from your blog that you already have plan to move back to the Midwest with family, but if you are still fairly open about what’s next, perhaps that could be a visit home and then move forward as caretakers. If you are at all interested let me know and I can provide more information and details.

The San Juan Islands? Holy crap.

It really is true. As soon as you let go of one thing another possibility opens up. We had finally let go of this house and not a moment later, this amazing opportunity presented itself. Right away we were excited about it. As you know, we’ve been exploring all kinds of rent-free living situations. From being a lighthouse keeper to working on an organic farm. I recently joined the Caretaker’s Gazette and have been perusing caretaking opportunites around the world. And here this one just fell into our lap! As we drove cross-country we started talking more and more about it. And more seriously.

From Lincoln, Nebraska to Humboldt, Iowa Bob read anything he could find on his iPhone about the island while I drove. We discovered that it has 50% less rain than Seattle and apparently more sunny days than Tucson, Arizona. The more we learned, the more appealing it became. I wrote back and said we were interested in learning more and they replied with pictures. Gorgeous. Quaint. Perfect.

Here's the thing. This place is freaking beautiful.

PHOTO: A lone member of K pod, with Mount Baker in the by Jim Maya from the San Juan Update

Whales everywhere. Mountains. More sunny days than Tucson. Water. Ocean. Nature.

One of my friends, after hearing about this opportunity, exclaimed: “Go live my hippie fantasy!”

She then said, “ I want to sell everything and see what happens!”

I said, “I know! How crazy is this, right?!”

Of course, we had a lot to consider. We discussed the pros and the cons. We got input from friends and family. Mostly what we kept coming back to is that we couldn't not do this. Not only does it make financial sense for us, but it's an amazing, ridiculous opportunity.

I'm so excited to discover what kinds of things will come up for me. I'm sure that I will be challenged in ways I'd never imagined. And that excites me. Also, we get to see whether or not this is the kind of life we want.

Will I be happy living on an island? YES! How do I know this? Because I know I can be happy anywhere in the face of any circumstance. If I can be happy in the face of foreclosure... I can be happy on an island with my love, my best friend and partner. And the Pug, of course.

Will it be a challenge? Yes. The absolute perfect challenge. We will be going from the height of excess and consumption to a vacant farmhouse on an island.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but, before buying the house, I wanted to sell everything and travel the world. It was this grand plan that came to me and I was so passionate about it. If not now, when? was my thinking. We had to see the world now or we never would! Bob got on board after hearing me talk and talk about how wonderful it would be. Then, once Bob was aligned and we began to sell some of our things something happened. I got scared. I got cold feet and talked myself out of my grand plan. What was I thinking?! Sell everything and travel the world?! That’s insane. Who do I think I am? I can’t do this. I’ll lose it. It’s not easy, traveling is hard. It’s work. What about Pablo? How would we manage it? The more I talked myself out of it, the faster that window of possibility closed. Never to be pried open again. I painted that window shut! I opened it, then painted it shut.

Bob was so confused. I talked him into it so much that he’d gotten so excited about it. He was fully committed and then I just couldn't do it. Just like that.

“What happened? This was your idea!”
“I know,” I said shamefully, “but I just can’t. I can’t let go.”

It’s now three years later and we have sold everything and have completely let go. We are uprooted. And I’m not scared. What’s the difference? Well, one thing is that this time we have no choice. We were headed this way by the circumstances conspiring against us, so to speak. Or so we thought. But maybe this is the only way we would have done this. I don’t know. But what I do know is that in the face of this amazing opportunity to live for two years rent-free on one of the most beautiful places in our country, I WILL NOT ALLOW MY FEAR TO PAINT THIS WINDOW SHUT.

This has always been my fantasy: Live remotely in some beautiful location. Living simply and in nature. All of the things we’ve been talking about come into play here. The resources on an island are obviously limited. So guess what that means? We have to drastically alter the way we’ve been living. We cannot be the consumers we’ve been in our previous life.

Bob grew up in a remote farming community. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He knows he can hack this life because this kind of life is in his past. I don’t, because this kind of life has only lived in my fantasies. But I know this: every challenge only enriches my life. We have embraced our financial demise as an OPPORTUNITY to learn, grow and rethink. This is another one of those opportunities.

So, yes. We're doing it. Sometime in October we will be packing the car back up and pointing it Northwest.

A look back at April

While debating whether or not to take the island offer, I was reading back through my journal over the last eleven months and I came across this:


Watching the sunset over Monterey Bay from the deck at Dad’s apartment. It’s so gorgeous and calm. I feel peaceful here. Like I should. I want to live here. I want the ocean again. Outside my window. I want nature. The way it makes me feel... like I’m in this world and it’s in me. As opposed to skimming across the surface like a pancake shaped stone that’s expertly skipped across the water.

I want salt water in my skin and pine trees for hair. That sounds ridiculous. What I want is to just be. To ride my bike every day. Ride to work. Enjoy work. Live happily with nature’s soundtrack. Crashing waves. A one-bedroom apartment is fine with me when the ocean-endless is my front yard. It’s impossible to feel small somehow. We’ll it’s impossible to feel trapped.

Can we live in some tiny space?

We are freaked out about leaving the house. In exactly one month (if this comes together) we’ll be out. One month. That’s so fast. Where will we go? Well… we do have options. We talked about being free spirits. Bob’s job allows him to be anywhere… while I find equivalent work anywhere and continue to write.

We’ve had both family and friends offer spare bedrooms from L.A. to Illinois to Brooklyn. We’ve had friends offer to hold onto our furniture for us while we get back on our feet and figure out where we want to be. We’ve chosen to view this as an opportunity. And the world is opening up to us now. On one hand we are losing our house, on the other we are gaining our freedom. Money doesn’t buy freedom (though money would buy us freedom from our debts.) We’re clear that owing is being owned.

There are no rules for this.

Anything is possible.

-San Juan Island Update - a wonderful resource about the island

-Kayaking with Whale photo - Anacortes Kayak Tours

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

THE ILLUSION OF SECURITY - A guest post from Steph's mom

As promised, a new post from my mom:

STEPH & BOB'S situation has had me think so much about our own situation.

What is it we really want to do with the rest of our lives?
Will I ever be able to retire?

I want adventure and freedom, but now with the economic downturn so many people of retirement age are faced with the fact that they’ll have to work for many more years before they can afford the retirement they’ve dreamed of. Pensions are gone, savings and Sep Ira’s depleted, health insurance is an issue until you reach 65 and Medicare kicks in. How can anyone afford to retire?

I started thinking about my parents and the life they lived in retirement. They moved from Michigan to Florida and bought a modular home in “Barefoot Bay” Florida outside Sebastian. Barefoot Bay is a mobile home community of 5000 people- big enough to have their own post office and zip code. I couldn’t believe my parents had bought a MOBILE HOME! They paid cash for it, never had a mortgage on it, and when they wanted to travel they shut the door and left.

The area is beautiful and provides affordable living in a resort-style community complete with golf courses, swimming pools and an Indian River front fishing pier. Some people refer to Barefoot Bay as Mayberry on the river. My husband, Tom kiddingly says to me “There’s always Barefoot Bay” when I moan about still having to work.

In the hot Florida summers my parents made the drive up Interstate 75 north like so many migrating “Snow Birds” and in their early retirement years they lived aboard their 34 foot 25 year old sailboat in Michigan. So many people have a misconception about boating; it does not have to be expensive. I like to say it takes creativity and imagination more than money.

My parents sold their boat for $20,000 when they became too old to sail her any longer, and each summer they came to our home in Barrington and stayed with us for 3 months. We always had projects for my Dad when they came because he loved to help us around the house. Their visits were enthusiastically anticipated. One of Grandpa’s biggest most unusual projects was at the age of 80 building a skate board ramp for my son Tommy... it was the talk of Lincoln Avenue. They traveled, they played golf, they visited with wonderful friends, they were involved in their church, they volunteered to help others, and they did all of this on their social security income that totaled about $2,000 per month.

I used to tease them about re-using zip-lock bags, and I hysterically laughed when they dried out paper towels on their counter tops. I’m not laughing now!

My Dad never threw anything away, but found a way to fix or re-cycle things. He was the original “Greenie”. My Mom took care of her clothes like newborn chicks, washing them by hand, sewing buttons back on, and being impeccably careful with her things. She still had a sweater I had given her 30 years earlier, and it looked fresh as the day she unwrapped the JL Hudson box it came in. They never complained about not having enough money, time, friends, love, energy or health. They lived in an abundance of riches and did I say they did this on $2,000 a month?

So now my children have lost their home and are re-building their lives. They’ve chosen to get rid of most of their material possessions and start over- free from the constraints of “things”. They’ve learned that life is not about what we acquire, but the experiences we have. So maybe history does repeat and they’ve taken a page out of my parents' book. What is this elusive thing called security after all? Maybe it’s an illusion that handcuffs us to our own familiar routine. If being a Realtor during this crazy economic meltdown hasn’t taught me that security is an illusion, then I’m really a slow learner.


If you enjoyed this post from my mom, good! There will be more. She's a Realtor, you know, with 30+ years in the business. And she spent a year on a boat with her husband Tom which she blogged about here. Check it out. There are some pretty fascinating posts about their year on Cloud Nine (pictured above) doing "The Loop."

I'm so fortunate to have parents who not only taught me that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, but have shown me that in their own lives. The year Mom & Tom spent on the boat was the fulfillment of a long dream. And like Mom says in her post, all it takes is creativity and imagination!

What do you think? Could YOU live on a boat?

Cruising the Waterways - Mom's blog about their adventures on The Great Loop

What's The Great Loop?

America's Great Loop Cruiser's Association

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The enviable state of No Choice

The night we arrived in Barrington, we were greeted with a wonderful dinner and almost my whole family- Mom and Tom (stepdad), Dad and Silvia (stepmom) and Alexa and Dylan (brother and sister - technically 'half' but spiritually whole.)

The fact that my mom, dad, stepmom and stepdad actually get along (and well) is usually a mind-trip for people. But it's a luxury for us. For sure. One big, extended happy family. It wasn't always like that, of course. We all worked hard to get here, to be sure. I guess you could say that my family background was my training for turning something generally considered to be undesirable or a legitimate reason for estrangement in many cases into a much better thing. The ultimate lemons into lemonade.

Anyway, the point is that we had a great dinner and wonderful conversation! One of the points my mom made really struck me.

She said that the beauty of our situation is we have no choice.
"Your situation is enviable because you have no money, no choice."
"We have too many choices," she said. "And when you have too many choices, you end up doing nothing."
Bob referenced the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz

Though I haven't read his book (Bob has) I have watched Barry Schwartz' TED talk and it's really fascinating. It's 19 minutes long but well worth the time. His premise is that our unhappiness is rooted in the abundance of choice.
"The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose." - Barry Schwartz (TED Talk)
It is true that we have fewer options available to us certainly from a financial perspective and we are feeling freer and happier than ever. Perhaps it is because we have fewer options and it's therefore easier to feel happy- the Paradox of Choice. Or perhaps it's because we have finally taken the reins in our lives and are paving a future of our own design vs. being hamsters on an endless wheel.

Either way, there is a beauty to our situation like Mom said. I completely get it. And am so grateful for this unlikely opportunity.

All those times I fantasized about selling everything and just seeing what happens... well, we finally did it. Not on a whim, but because we were forced. We really had no choice. Would we have done it without HAVING to do it? Probably, most likely, almost certainly not. As much as we fantasized about living as vagabonds, we never did it before... when the choice was there.

Have any of you read The Paradox of Choice? What are your thoughts on this?

What is the answer? Barry Schwartz suggests the answer is fewer choices. But is that even possible? In the face of 'too many choices' how do you powerfully choose any one thing? My thought is that you just do. What about you?

Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice - Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied. TED Ideas Worth Spreading

TOMORROW'S post will be a guest post from none other than my MOM on this subject and how it relates to her life.

Our new view:

Friday, July 10, 2009

How we AVOIDED foreclosure

Now that we are miles away from Los Angeles, the house and the thought of foreclosure, I finally have the mental space to connect the dots a bit more than I have regarding HOW we actually sold the house.

Several readers have written to ask how we were able to sell the house and avoid foreclosure and I realized that I’ve been writing more about the EXPERIENCE of everything than the FACTS.

So here it is. The FACTS (and story) of how we AVOIDED the F word:

TERMITES Killed Our First Deal

At the beginning of April, we had two submitted offers on our house. Submitted meaning we had received two offers from two separate parties and submitted them both to Countrywide for approval. This is what happens in a short sale. You then wait for the bank to choose an offer to approve. Or not. We had no idea how long this would take.

On April 27, Countrywide accepted one of the short sale offers on our house. The offer was for $690,000. Remember, our original list price was $875,000 then we lowered it to $799,000 (the price we paid for the house) and then to $749,000 (short sale territory.) Countrywide accepting the offer was a great step forward, but we still had to wait for approval from National City (our second.) We got that on May 5th.

At that point, we had an accepted short sale offer that was contingent, of course, on the property inspection. We were set to close on May 19, 2009.

Prior to the buyer’s inspection we had a termite guy come out to do our own inspection. He quoted us $600 in repairs. But when the buyer did their inspection, the report came back with $9,000 in damage! That’s quite a difference. With this new report in hand, our guy came back and refuted each point. “That’s old damage,” he’d say. “That water mark is old. There’s no leak now. That’s from before.” Each point, refuted.


Why such an enormous discrepancy?

Well, we still don’t know. All we know is that the $9,000 termite report was enough for the buyer to walk. In a normal real estate transaction (i.e. a non-short sale) the seller is the one who covers those costs. And often it’s a point of negotiation. But since this was a short sale, the house was being sold “AS IS” and it was incumbent on the buyer to cover those costs. Not the seller. Not the bank. The buyer. Out of pocket. Prior to close. Most people’s cash is tied up in the down payment and most people don’t have $9,000 lying around for termite repairs.

That’s what happened. They walked. We have our own theories about the report. But it’s all conjecture and I won’t go into that here. The bottom line is that termites killed our first deal.

Which meant?

House back on market.

Foreclosure still pending. Days click away on us.

WHY the words “Bank Approved Short Sale” are so sexy

With the house back on the market and the words “Bank Approved Short Sale” in the MLS listing, we got a frenzy of showings. We did two more open houses and had close to a hundred more people come through the house. It was interesting to see what had changed in 9 months. You could see a shift in attitude. Back in August or September, the words “Short Sale” were a plague on a house. In April, however, they represented opportunity. A DEAL. Add “Bank Approved” and you’ve got a buyer’s wet dream. Especially on a house like ours.

What it meant was this:

They could get a house worth $940,000 (the price we paid for it plus the amount we invested in upgrades) for $690,000 and they wouldn’t have to wonder if the bank would approve that offer. It was already approved. As long as their offer was the strongest, this dream house could be theirs.

WHAT makes a strong offer?

-Highest offer
-Most $ down
-Shortest escrow period (the bank wanted no more than 30 days)
-ZERO contingencies on the buyer’s end

Less than a month after losing our first deal, we had several offers that submitted to the bank and several parties who really wanted our house. The first one came in on May 8th! That was only a few DAYS after losing the first buyer! A few days! We were feeling good. Phew. Relief. Right?

Wrong. Why?

Because of this.

The bank was still trying to foreclose on our house. Why would we do that? The offers were all above the accepted short sale price. If they accepted that one, they’d certainly accept one of these new and better offers, right? AND there’s no way they’d get $700,000 at auction. Nevertheless, the auction date had been set. For June 9, 2009 at 10:30 AM.

But why?
Because things take time. They hadn’t yet approved any of the new offers. And without an APPROVED short sale offer, the foreclosure remains on the books.

HOW we forestalled our foreclosure

A lot of kicking and screaming on my part. Well, basically I drove everyone crazy until it happened. I’ve mentioned this before... that we were working with two agents. Both wonderful. Chris Carlson from Keller Williams Studio City (who sold our condo in two days above list price and sold us the house) and Jody Margolis from his office who was brought in as the short sale expert. Jody’s expertise was in communicating with the banks. She’s the one who told me how to speed things along by getting in communication with someone in the Office of the President at Countrywide. It was because of her that I went on my rampage to get a hold of someone there. And that helped SO MUCH.

Anyway, I was determined to forestall our foreclosure.

Jody assured me that as long as we had a short sale offer, they wouldn’t sell our house at auction. But as long as that date was listed in the public record, I could not breathe.

And on May 21st when ReconTrust posted the Notice of Trustee’s Sale on our garage door, I flipped. As I wrote here.

I didn’t understand why it was still on the books. I was told that it was because they were still reviewing our file. Our negotiator said it was fine and not to worry, but that wasn’t enough for me. I needed that date moved.

On May 28th we received our approval letters on one of the offers and were officially (again) in escrow. The bank had chosen the strongest offer and accepted it. It so happens that it was the first offer put in after the last had fallen through. The buyers had been quite patient. They waited 20 days for that approval. Which seems like a long time. But, in most short sale situations it can be much longer.

We finally got that postponement. On June 5th. Four days before the auction date. They moved it to July 28th at 10:30 AM. I could breathe. That was plenty of time.

May 21 – Notice of Trustee’s Sale (June 9, 2009 at 10:30 AM) posted on our garage door.

May 28 – We entered escrow

June 5 – Four days before the scheduled auction date, we finally received our official postponement. The bank moved the date to July 28, 2009 at 10:30 AM – allowing enough time for us to close on this deal.


We breathed a sigh of relief. Then crossed our fingers that the termites wouldn’t kill this deal too.

By law, we are required to disclose all previous inspections to the buyers. So they were very much aware that there could be an issue with the termite report. And when they did the first report the news was better, but not much. The company they brought in had quoted them $6,000. Still too much. But they weren’t going to walk. We were all determined to work this out. Like I said, they wanted the house.

We brought in a non-biased company that both Realtors agreed on. A company that doesn’t do the repairs themselves. This company quoted $2,500. Much better. And they were able to address everything for that amount. When the buyers finally went ahead with the repairs & fumigation, they were able to get it done for $2,000. Thus, sealing the deal.

I felt like the buyers were extremely generous with us in terms of their patience and understanding. Because of the blog we’ve really been out there. Full disclosure. There’s nothing to hide. They knew our situation. And they were very kind. They gave us a lot of room and did what they could to be logical and workable every step of the way.

And THAT’S how we avoided Foreclosure.

Once we realized we’d never sell our house for enough to get us out of debt, our goal became to simply AVOID FORECLOSURE. Why? Why is short sale better? Well, it’s better for us because it’s less of an impact on our credit. It’s better for the bank because they don’t have to own and manage the property. Also, they usually get more money from a short sale than at auction.

So that was our goal. Avoid Foreclosure. And we did. It got close there for a minute or two. But we did it. Thanks to our Realtors and our persistence. It takes a lot of persistence. If you’re facing foreclosure, fight it. How? Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Ask questions. Call your Governor, your Representative, write letters. Anything you can think of. Just stay in action. And stay committed. That’s our advice.

Would we buy a short sale?

Well, that’s a loaded question.

First of all, we can’t buy ANYTHING right now. But if we could? Let’s just put it this way. IF we were in the market for a house (and that’s a big if,) YES, we would buy a short sale.


Great deals are available through short sales, but not without some hassle along the way. And, that’s probably a huge understatement. If you’re a buyer, just be prepared for it. Some people might not be cut out for the amount of uncertainty inherent in a short sale transaction. In my mind, if you can handle the wait and the uncertainty and many variables, it’s worth it for the deals you could land.

If you’re an agent, please prepare your buyers for the wait and hassle of a short sale. They aren’t neat and tidy. And the rules change from state to state, transaction to transaction.

A couple of months ago I interviewed some friends who recently bought a short sale for the blog. I wanted to convey the buyer’s side of the foreclosure market. They had so many great stories to share and wonderful insight about the process of buying a home in this market. I haven't written that yet, obviously, because I just got so caught up with our own situation. I still plan on writing that article, though. Because I think it’s really entertaining and enlightening and would provide value to LITTOF readers.

How many of you are in the market for a new home? Just curious. I’d love to know. Please, either write us at or post a comment below. Thanks.

Realtors, buyers, sellers... do you have anything else to add, contribute, argue, question? Please do so in the comments. I think this could be really helpful to other people out there in a similar situation.


And stay tuned. There’s a lot more to come. And a BIG announcement soon.
It truly is amazing what opens up when you finally let go...

Tomorrow I am flying to North Carolina with my mom where we will be seeing the premiere of my new short play “Melt” in the 10 By 10 Festival in the Triangle at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. We'll only be there for 2 nights, but we're looking for suggestions on affordable things to do, places to see and stuff to eat. So if you're familiar with the Chapel Hill area, please send me your recommendations!

Until next time...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Irreplaceable Big Boy

Can I get a drum roll please?

ANNOUNCING the winner of the BIG BOY Replacement Contest

after a very brief and TRUNCATED search

the winner is...

...well, the winner is Big Boy. Big Boy has been replaced by Big Boy. That's right. We changed the rules. There was no voting like we promised. 4 contestants? Nope. We chucked that too. (Remember when "to chuck" was a popular verb? I do. Anyway...)

So what's the deal?

Well, it turns out that Big Boy is simply irreplaceable. There's just something about this little plastic piggy bank that we love and simply can't shake.

After selling him at our sale, I sought a replacement as a way to lighten the loss of our mascot. And though I love LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD'S HEAD, she just didn't suffice. Too impractical. I sought out other contestants and never found any that truly called to us. Though, one did come close. It was submitted by our friends Jeanette and Warren. And unfortunately I don't have a picture because it's packed away in a box en route to Illinois. But that little gnome wins runner-up, Warren & Jeanette. So, thank you!

Beyond that, we were stymied. And sort of lost interest in the very contest we created.

Imagine our surprise when we arrived in Barrington to find a small box shipped via Priority Mail containing none other than Big Boy. Not our Big Boy. But a Big Boy nonetheless. It was such a surprise that it brought a tear to my eye. I was so moved by the thoughtfulness of our friends- Brian and Jami- who went on eBay after our Estate Sale to find a proper replacement.

Can you tell the difference?



We loved him.

We set him free.

He came back to us with a new stance, smirk and attitude.

Thanks, Brian & Jami!

-A History of Big Boy - Wikipedia

My mom ate at Elias Brothers Big Boy in Detroit as a kid... which is where I first went to Big Boy and acquired my original Big Boy piggy bank.

This was Mom's favorite Elias Brothers Big Boy meal as a 12-year old:

Slim Jim (TM) sandwich (Lean ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and special sauce, grilled on a Grecian roll.)
-Onion Rings
-Strawberry Pie for dessert

What about you? Do any of you have any Big Boy memories?

Monday, July 6, 2009

An Iowa 4th of July

On July 4, 2009 Bob and I felt freer than we have in a very long time. Our 5th day on the road was also our 5th day out of our house and our 1st day in Iowa.

It finally began to sink in. The house saga is over. And we are free. This is a beginning. And what better place for that to set in, than Iowa with it's wide-open expanses of land? Iowa is more progressive today than California, after all, right? It's not that we're planning on settling here. No. It just feels good to be here.

Ever since Bob and I met, I have been fascinated by the fact that he grew up in such a small town - a farming community in (what seemed to me) the middle of nowhere. He's from Humboldt, Iowa. I really love coming here to visit because it's so hard to get a cell signal in places that you're forced to disconnect and just relax. That's what we're doing.
And today, in order to blog, we had to search out the only public wifi we could find at the Hy-Vee grocery store. So, picture me at a booth in a small town grocery store where the regulars have their own mugs lining the walls and the coffee is only .75 cents for a large.

Our Independence Day began in Lincoln, Nebraska where we got right back on I80 and headed East. Bob, luckily had the brilliant idea to get off of 80 in Omaha and drive through the Missouri Valley taking 30 towards his hometown. It was so pretty. Overcast and cool. Perfect driving weather. It sprinkled a bit. We could see the rain miles away across the open fields. The hills rolled and the countryside was very green. For a while we drove alongside a freight train.

The best part about our drive, though, was when we rolled into Logan, Iowa and I accidentally drove us right down the 4th of July Parade route. It happened before I knew it. There was traffic, which surprised us. It hadn't occurred to us that we were headed right towards a parade until we were in it. Technically, the parade hadn't yet begun. It was about to. And there we were on Main Street with townsfolk lining the road waiting for the real parade to begin. Some waved at us. Picture us with our car packed solid and the bikes on top.

Pablo was sticking his head out the window. Kids pointing at him and calling out: "Doggy!" This is what we saw:

As I'm realizing that I'm on the parade route, I'm trying to figure out how to get off of it when "God Bless America" starts blaring out of these giant speakers. It was so loud I couldn't think. Not to mention, I was laughing so hard it made it hard to drive. Finally, I made a right turn and got out of there. A block away and there was no traffic. That's Iowa.

We continued on towards Bob's hometown of Humboldt and made it with plenty of time for their evening parade and fireworks. The trained geese dressed in clothes were the highlight for me.
The next day brought a giant and wonderful family reunion and two birthday celebrations. Lots of food. Smoked chickens, marshmallow salad, deviled eggs. I was confronted by the fact that we really don't have a plan when asked, "So where you headed?"

"And everything you own's in your car?"

"Yep. Well, pretty much. Except for a small storage locker."

"Been there. Done that."


And that was that. There wasn't much more to say. Like all the food we've eaten the last few days, we're still digesting our experience. (too gross? Sorry.) For now, we're just watching the corn grow. With family.

Tomorrow we continue on to my hometown where we'll begin to form a plan. Our plan to climb our way out of debt. Yes, we sold the house. Yes, we avoided foreclosure. Yes, we still have a Mt. Everest of debt. And we're up for the climb.

This picture was taken moments before we pulled out of our driveway in Los Angeles for the final time. Pablo, packed in with all of our belongings.

Friday, July 3, 2009

American Home

Good evening from Lincoln, Nebraska where the sky is exploding in glorious colors!

They do their fireworks here on the 3rd of July, apparently. We were treated to a show driving along I80 in the rain. (We're resting here for the night before continuing on to Humboldt, Iowa for family, more fireworks and Americana.)

So, I thought I'd do something a little different in this post...

Though I haven’t written much about it here on LITTOF, I am a playwright.

And back in November when the prospect of losing the house started to look very real, I started a new play called American Home.

So much in the news was about people taking drastic measures in the face of foreclosure and I wanted to understand not only what was happening with us, but so many other Americans as well. What was MY worst case scenario, I wondered?

I’ve since completed the play. Well, at least a first draft. And I just wanted to share this one monologue as it attempts to convey the despair we experienced in our darker moments. Now that we’re on the other side, it’s easy to forget how challenging it was. And I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that it is possible to feel utterly powerless and still be able to turn that around. When you’re in it, it feels impossible. When you’re out, it feels like it was never that hard.

I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. And I think that’s what my play ended up being about more than about people losing their homes- though that’s where it began.

Anyhoo… Here’s the monologue that opens the second act of my play American Home:



He addresses the audience.

MIKE: I keep thinking about Tetris. You know that game? You know with the blocks. All different sizes and shapes and you have to position them as they’re falling so that they fit without any empty spaces. You’re supposed to get them to fit perfectly together and when you do, they disappear. But the blocks don’t stop falling. They keep coming. Slow at first.

(Bills fall from the sky. Slow at first.)

And you can manage that pace. You’re doing all right. And you start to feel good about it. Auto-pilot kicks in. Just when you’re getting cocky, they fall faster.

(The bills fall faster.)

And you make your first mistake. Then you adjust. And you’re back on track. Fitting the blocks. Turning them, getting them to fit just right. Your confidence builds. You’re agile. Good reflexes. Keeping up with the game.

And then they fall faster. And it’s not so easy any more. You up your game. Your pace quickens. Muscles tighten. Stomach twists. They fall faster and faster. And the faster they fall, the more flustered you get. Your heart races. Palms sweat.

(MIKE’S heart races. His palms sweat. He looks up
at the bills that continue to fall on him.

The game is faster than you. Without a doubt. Too fast. I can’t keep up. The blocks will pile up. Pile up. Pile up. One on top of the other, filling the screen. No more room. But the blocks keep coming. Failure is imminent.

I knew how to win. You just keep up. Stay calm. But I got too flustered. Made too many mistakes. And now it’s too late. I’m out of room and about to fail. It will all be over soon. And when it is. When I fail. It’s a relief. Because the anticipation of failure is always more painful than the actual failure. It’s inevitable. But with Tetris, there’s always the end. Game over. Where everything just stops.

(The bills stop. All is silent for a beat. MIKE breathes.)

And you can start again if you want. That’s the beauty of it. You press play and you get a new screen. Blank. Room for all those blocks to fit. You can avoid the mistakes you made the last time. Keep your cool a little bit longer. Learn some tricks to make the blocks fit.

Life is like Tetris except the blocks never stop falling…

(The bills continue to bury him alive.)

And there’s no such thing as a blank screen. I keep looking, but for the life of me I can’t fucking find the start button.

Copyright (C) 2009 Stephanie Alison Walker

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Photo by Digihound, LLC

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Houseless not Homeless

A View from the Road: This is a picture of Spotted Wolf Canyon on I70 in Utah about 60 miles West of the Colorado border.

Good morning from Grand Junction, Colorado!

We rolled into town yesterday at about 5 PM (we're on Mountain Time now.)

Ah, there's so much to say. I don't know how to do it in just one post. So maybe I'll write several.

Okay, first of all... I think I will begin with the actual closing day. That was Tuesday. Two days ago. At 3:30 PM as we were driving East on the 210, we got a text from our Realtor that the sale of our house had finally recorded. It was done.

The day began in a frenzy as was expected. I was operating on 3 hours of sleep. But we had to get out of the house, so sleep was secondary. If you saw the last post, you saw the junkyard that was our driveway in the middle of the night. Well, we really didn't want to leave that for the new owners so we called 1-800-Gotjunk to haul it away. It cost us $300 to do that. It's really not fun to pay to get rid of junk, but when you're looking at a matter of hours to get rid of it, you do what you can.

Slowly the money we made on our Estate sale was disappearing. Shipping a few boxes here, a few more there. Paying $300 to have our junk hauled away. Shipping yet more boxes as we realize they won't fit in the car... in total we spent about $1,700 on this move (not including gas money to get us to Illinois.) So that $1,500 from the Making Home Affordable plan would really come in handy right about now. But I've given up on that. All there is now is looking forward.

We finally pulled out of our driveway at about 2:30 PM. I think. I didn't check the clock, I'm just estimating. It was hot. We were sweaty. Gross. Ready to be done. I had this experience of feeling too tired to even be sad. The move had taken so much out of us that we were just ready to get the hell out!

As we drove away it felt sort of anti-climactic. All this work and here we are. Driving away. I thought I'd cry tears of relief. We avoided foreclosure! Success! A celebration, right? Of course we're relieved about that. I actually acknowledged it to Bob as we were battling traffic on the 210. "Hey," I said with the little energy I could muster, "We avoided foreclosure. High five." And I held up my hand and Bob touched it. High five. It was pretty lackluster. There was no whoop of victory. Just an acknowledgement. I guess I had expected to feel anything ranging from euphoria to despair, but more than anything what I felt was peace.

And when the tears snuck up on me as we were passing Fontana, they weren't because we were leaving the house, but our community. We will miss you greatly, L.A. We will miss you more, friends. We love you.

So we are without a house. No longer homeowners. We've lifted the anchor and are setting out into the open sea. Uncharted waters. Making it up as we go. For now.

The interesting thing is this, I feel at home right here. No, not here as in Grand Junction. Here as in my own skin next to Bob. The two of us setting out together like this. We are headed to the town where I grew up. To my family... where we will feel home. If feeling at home is nothing more than a feeling, then you don't really need a piece of land to feel that way. Make sense? Yes, I know the cliche "Home is where the heart lies." I guess this is that.

So you can be houseless but not homeless. We are vagabonds. Wanderers. Transients. Well, I guess the distinction is that we are employed vagabonds, transients and wanderers (and grateful for that distinction!) Anyway, all of this is to say that it feels good. And weird. All at once. We are living what I once thought would be the worst case scenario and we're embracing it. It's not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. It's not bad at all. We're actually excited. Liberated. And how perfect that Saturday is our nation's Independence Day.

I told Bob yesterday that I kind of felt like a kid again. Is this how starting over always feels? I guess we finally found the 'reset' button.


TUESDAY: Departed L.A. and drove as far as Vegas. Saw a drug deal in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Tropicana, quickly pulled out of the parking lot and looked for a, well, less seedy place to stay. Finally found a dog-friendly and decent accommodation at La Quinta Inn for $69 (didn't get much sleep as the people across the hall left their dog alone in the room all night while they went out gambling. Poor dog barked all night.) Highest temp: 111 degrees

WEDNESDAY: Drove north and east to cooler climates through Nevada, Arizona, Utah and stopped just over the border in Grand Junction, Colorado. We found a dog-friendly hotel on Main Street downtown called the Hawthorn Suites. $99 a night. But worth the extra money because we actually slept. Didn't see even one drug deal. And we have working wifi in the room so I can blog and Bob can work. We'll be here until we have to check out. Which is, ah, in only one hour! (no time to edit this post because I still have to shower- yikes!)

Last night we took Pablo for a walk down Main Street and ended up at a little pizza place with outdoor seating for a glass of wine and some grub. The place was appropriately called Pablo's Pizza, and yes, he acted like he owned the joint. While waiting for our pie, we paged through the local paper and came across this fascinating story about a Grand Junction native who spent the entire winter on his raft exploring Lake Powell with his dog Pepper.

There truly are all sorts of ways to live a life. Here's one:

GJ man spends winter rafting, exploring Lake Powell - Grand Junction Free Press

And this is a chalk drawing on the sidewalk across from our hotel. It's a little hard to make out, but it just seemed fitting since we are reinventing the American Dream for ourselves.

So how are you guys? What's up? Have you been following us on Twitter? I've been pretty chatty there from the road.

Oh- does anyone have any good road trip game suggestions?

Next stop: Denver! (It feels great to be back in Colorado after soooooo long! We can breathe. Fresh mountain air.)


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