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


michael said...

I'm SO excited for you guys!!!! Congratulations.

Who was it that said "Leap, and the net will appear"?

Unknown said...


Love the latest blog entry and how in letting go, the universe provided some new and exciting opportunites for you and Bob.

One thing that stuck out for me...when you mentioned what's different this time is that you have no choice....consider that you actually chose it all. You mentioned that your hearts desire had always been to sell everything, travel, have an adventure and then you got scared. However, deep within you, buried underneath all of that fear, that heart's desire was still in you. So perhaps the universe just course corrected and on some level you really did choose...all to fulfill on what your deepest, truest heart's desire. And since you didn't take the steps at first on your own, the universe helped you along a bit.

Just another way of looking at it.



Jessica said...

Sweet, which island? The San Juans are beautiful and amazing!!! We are about 30 minutes from the ferry to the San Juan Islands. Best of luck to you all! What an amazing opportunity.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing opportunity! I'm thrilled and scared for you too. L.A. will have to miss you for a while longer it seems...

Good luck and keep us all posted.


Love in the Time of Foreclosure said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Nina- I see what you mean. I've thought of that, too. But if it was chosen it was all subconscious. I like the idea of the universe 'course correcting' as you put it.

I have to say, and this goes back to the post I did on choice, but it is much easier when all the options in the world aren't available to us, but just this one.

I'm so thrilled to hear from people how beautiful and amazing the San Juans are. I'd love to hear more about that.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Steph and Bob! Wow, that was BIG news, though I thought it might be something else. What an amazing opportunity and how lucky you two are that you can work from anywhere with internet access. Thinking of you and good luck; hope you are enjoying your time in Chicago.

Tami said...

Congratulations!! That's sounds phenomenal! (and a great writing opportunity)

Joy said...

Hello Stephanie: Greetings from San Juan Island! If this is the island the house is on, I think I know which one it is!
You might not realize this now, but you have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Seriously. I'm a retired teacher and picked this place to live around 5 years ago. I researched like crazy and read everything online about the island. San Juan Update is an excellent source of news as well as San Juan Islander. (check out the classifieds. You might be able to get lots of furnishings free or very reasonable) We are renting a home on the westside of the island. Our house faces the water, Canada, and the Olympic Peninsula. The whales were out there yesterday and put on a pretty good show. The islands are very "arty", liberal, and have some of the greatest people on the planet living here. You will love it. I've lived here almost 2 years and never regretted a minute of it. I've been subbing in the local school district and can tell you the kids are also terrific.
Living here is not that expensive. We had lived in Wyoming for 25 years and this place is way cheaper. The ferry can get expensive but we hardly ever leave. What I can't get on the island, I order online. It's a peaceful place, no real crime. You have a dog, right? He'll be right at home here. There's a dog park right outside of town, Friday Harbor, that's a very popular place! There's lots of culture on the island with a beautiful community theatre. There's also a theatre group that has plays outdoors for a donation. We have a sculpture park, lavender farm, museums, a harbor seal that hangs out by the docks (Popeye), and so much more. All the beaches and parks are free so it's just a little gas to get there. You'll never be bored, trust me. And you'll get to live in one of the prettiest places on earth and not have to spend a fortune to do it!
By the way, I have a google blog alert for Friay Harbor and San Juan Island which is how I found this blog.
I'll be checking in on your blog and keeping track of your progress.

Kim Hooper said...

I think this is such an exciting opportunity!! I knew things would kind of fall into place, in their own mysterious way, and this just sounds great!

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie,
Been reading your blog for a while. Thanks for your honesty and transparency in such difficult times. I'm so glad this opportunity has come to you and Bob. I really believe that good things will come when you least expect it.

lauree said...

congratulations and best of luck! I'm a new reader to your blog, after my friend, Callie posted this entry on twitter...will be following your adventure there too!

lately, I've been thinking of purging things from my life, and have in the past to help pay bills, etc. your story is inspiring!

Love in the Time of Foreclosure said...

Joy from San Juan Island,

Hello. Thank you for your comment. We're now even more excited. The more we learn about the islands, the more excited we get! We can't even believe how our lives are about to change.

And hello, Lauree... thanks for reading! So glad Callie pointed you our way.

Thanks everyone,

Holly said...

Hi, Stephanie--

Ah, I love a good "leap and the net will appear" story. Even if taking the leap was your only option, it's so nice to hear how something so unimaginably perfect came your way. Just one of those things that makes life so magical.

I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest a couple of years ago. Very curious about San Juan Island. It sounds like paradise!

Go you!

Claudia said...

Gorgeous post, Stephanie. None of this would be possible without your deep commitment to making life work under any circumstance.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steph- this is Andi Kohler, Marsha's daughter. Great website! I wish you many blessing on your new journey.

Tien La said...

hi, great post thanks!

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