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A view of the B&B from the beach on a glorious Christmas morning.

A view of the B&B from the beach on a glorious Christmas morning. {Click any of these photos for a larger view in better resolution}

I’d like to take the time to talk about our Christmas lodging before I continue on the journey. If you are interested, click here for Day one and here for Day two.

Arno found the SeaQuest Inn Bed & Breakfast online for us, and reserved three nights. The closest town is Yachats, seven miles to the north. There are neighbors, but the location is rural and isolated, which is what we are often looking for in a vacation. It’s less than 3 1/2 hours from Portland whether you travel on I-5 or if you use Highway 18 and head out through McMinnville. Unless you’re like us, and stop at a bazillion neat sights along the way, and stretch it to two days.

Arno does a little whale-watching from the great room

Arno does a little whale-watching from the great room

Waves crash beyond the breakfast table

Waves crash beyond the breakfast table

This B&B is a large, comfortable home on the beach. Our room had a sliding glass door that opened onto a patio and the lawn you see in the photo above. We literally walked to the beach from our room. All rooms have a view of the ocean and the beds are positioned so that guests can watch the waves crash. During our stay I watched this amazing swell that made me think of surfing every single day I was there. Unfortunately, there are too many rocks to plan a future surf vacation.

Personalized door to our room

Personalized door to our room

Arno's little tree that he put up in our room.

Arno’s little tree that he put up in our room.

Hosts Stephanie and Sherwood make the place, however. Yes, it’s beautiful and yes it’s right on the beach and yes it’s a high quality place for a reasonable price. But we did that two years ago in Bend, OR at a different B&B, and it was not the same kind of vacation. This time, when Sherwood and Stephanie greeted us with a cheerful “Welcome Home!” it became obvious they meant for us to feel that way. Listen, I padded up the stairs to breakfast in my socks. That’s how comfortable I was.

Another example: We were too tired to drive into town for dinner our first night. Between our own cooler and suggestions from our hosts, we made a delicious little evening meal for ourselves. Even though we were too late for wine hour, they set out a bottle for us before they left for the evening. Arno and I had the entire great room to ourselves, with Christmas music playing and the lights from the tree. It was cozy and romantic and lovely.

One of the rooms. (not ours; it was too messy)

One of the rooms. (not ours; it was too messy)

The gourmet breakfasts are above and beyond. Often more than one course, and always plenty to eat. The presentations were so beautiful that one morning a fellow guest commented, “It looks so nice I don’t want to eat it.” But of course she did.

We ate our breakfasts in the huge and welcoming great room on the second floor, with stunning ocean views, a giant fireplace (with stockings hung!), couches and chairs and everything else someone could want in there, to include a piano and a Christmas tree. It’s beside an enormous kitchen that is open to the great room, so we could chat with Sherwood and Stephanie while they prepared food.

Cozy book room beside the guest kitchen.

Cozy book room beside the guest kitchen.

Even the guests were part of the appeal this year. I can’t help but compare it to other B&Bs I have visited, where the guests hesitate to open up, or even to show up. You may also know that my nature is to avoid social situations (I know I don’t show it, but I’m a good faker), and being around people is often very stressful for me. But there was something here that made me relax. I looked forward to gathering for breakfast or the evening wine hour. We met the most interesting people with great personal stories. The most exciting story of all was finding out that one of the guests knew about the products Arno’s company builds. It’s a small company, so most people, even local people, have never heard of it. The guest was prior Navy and had served aboard a ship that used the UAVs built in Hood River, Oregon. How cool is that?

Taken during our gorgeous Christmas morning on the beach. After breakfast we headed back out to play in the tidepools.

Taken during our gorgeous Christmas morning on the beach. After breakfast we headed back out to play in the tidepools.

Belgian waffle with walnuts and strawberries and cookie butter.

Belgian waffle with walnuts and strawberries and cookie butter.

Dinner reservations in town were a breeze because the hosts had thought of it ahead of time, suggested reservation times, and made the reservations for us. They graciously called and canceled for us one night too, when our sight-seeing kept us too far away to make it back on time.

We were a little more spoiled than the usual guests, I imagine, because it was the holidays. We were invited to a social gathering with their neighbors on Christmas

Baked egg croissant with fresh tomatoes and feta, salsa, and jams.

Baked egg croissant with fresh tomatoes and feta, salsa, and jams.

Eve evening. Stephanie was excited to have prepared all kinds of seafood hors d’oeuvres. The place was decked out to the max in holiday decorations that really added a feeling of festivity for me, particularly since I didn’t decorate at home this year.

You’ve seen me rave about things in the past, so I’ll try not to apologize for making this blog post more like an advertisement than a vacation story. It was a big part of our trip, so the special attention is warranted. 🙂

Sherwood, me, Arno, Stephanie. They are wearing their Christmas gift aprons. (I'm in my socks!)

Sherwood, me, Arno, Stephanie. They are wearing their Christmas gift aprons. (I’m in my socks!)

Any resemblance?

Any resemblance?

On Thursday I got braces.  I had been wanting braces for the past two years. Added bonus: maybe I’ll slim down over the holidays.

I had braces at age 15, got them off at 16. My teeth had been remarkably crooked then. We’re talking the kind of bad teeth that make a teenager hold her hand in front of her mouth when she smiles. One of my front teeth actually hung out over my lip when my mouth was closed. My small mouth was so crowded that a new incisor began growing in the roof of my mouth. Yep, they were that bad.

But the braces worked; my mouth looked great. My joke for the longest time was, “I’m never getting braces again!” The assumption being, like bungee jumping, once you’ve done it once, you don’t actually have to do it again. You’ve done your time.

My new theory is that my teeth are naturally inclined to be so ferociously crooked, that they simply couldn’t abide by the neat straight rows, and – though it took 25 years – they managed to get all cockeyed once more.

This is the 4th day I’ve had metal in my teeth, and I’ll lay it out there: not a big fan. Dr. Angle’s office staff is fabulous, and this was loads less traumatic than the first time. Braces have made big changes in all these years. Still, there are multiple levels of pain: headache, jawache, pain chewing, pain in the butt. The sharp metal barbs are tearing the inside of my mouth to shreds, and they catch food particles just as well in 2012 as they did in 1986.

In fact, that’s the basis of the dieting plan: too lazy to clean your teeth? Don’t eat!

Just the thought of using the array of tiny plastic clean-your-braces tools brings a defeated sigh to my lips. There’s a one-inch bottle brush on a  two-inch handle, Eez-Thru floss threader, floss, concave toothbrush, long-handled dental mirror, mini toothbrush, travel toothbrush, and a bottle of fluoride rinse. There is a container of soft wax, to pack around the metal barbs once teeth are cleaned, to minimize cheek lacerations.

There is Canadian Whiskey, to numb the pain of the open wounds. (Actually, Dr. Angle’s office didn’t provide that)

Following the routine as instructed is maddening. The flossing alone takes me 15 minutes because I have to take the threading tool, get the floss up underneath the wire, unthread it, then floss that one gap. Then pull the floss out, get the tool again, thread into the next gap, etc. I’ll have to set my alarm earlier just to get to work on time! So imagine that every time you eat, even just a nibble, even just one bite of Wonder Bread (and it’s as though you’re chewing venison jerky), necessitates the routine. You will have to first spit out all the disgusting food-infused wax (that is, the parts you didn’t swallow), then begin the half-hour clean routine. Kinda makes you want to have the whiskey instead, right?

I drove into town the night before last, to pick up my daughter from the nickel arcade. I had been “dieting” all day. The brief, imagined conversation between me and an attentive officer of the law went something like this:

“Ma’am, I smell alcohol. Can you step out of the car?”

“Honest, sir, I haven’t been drinking. Not actually drinking, just sipping. It’s medicinal really, because of my braces. I mean, heck, I’ve been at the bottle all day long, but just teeny tiny sips. I hold it in my mouth till everything’s totally numb. By that time, it’s partially evaporated. There’s barely enough to swallow.”

I couldn’t anticipate it would go very well. Rather, I just prayed to Bacchus that I wouldn’t attract attention.

Yesterday morning I woke starving! Interestingly, Crown Royal does not sate hunger pangs. Any kind of chewing hurts. Biting a banana seemed too much to bear. I made a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, originally placed into my cupboard to be used in some future casserole. Ah, blessed liquid food! I finished the entire can, and – still hungry – made a second and ate that too. (I didn’t chew the little mushroom pieces. They are small enough to swallow whole.)

At the hair stylist, there was a plate of star-shaped chocolate-coated Christmas cookies. My stylist raved about them, “You must have one!” I broke off one star point at a time, set it on my tongue, and waited till it got mushy, then swallowed. Oh, it was very good. It took me 10 minutes to eat one tiny star cookie. That was enough cookies.

Holiday fudge? Peanut brittle? Peppermink bark? Nope. Roast goose? Ham? You cannot tempt me! Salad? Broccoli? Are you kidding me?  I’ll make an exception for baked yams and all their mushy goodness.

Honey, be a dear and top off my glass, will you?

Tara in downtown Iwakuni. The arched sidewalk roofs mimic the arches of the famous Kintai Bridge.

On Sunday my T was still dealing with jet lag and reluctant to get out into the heat again. We made easy plans to go shopping in downtown Iwakuni and then to watch movies (Best of Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and have some mother-daughter bonding time.

Again, we enjoyed finding grocery stores to wander through, in order to cool off. The first one we found was very small and the attendants all female and very sweet. Tara spotted some grapefruit-sized watermelons she wanted to come back for on our return trip. The next grocery store was huge (they are often multi-story in Japan), refreshingly cool and very LOUD! At strategic locations all over the store, mini-stereos played recordings of people shouting advertisements and pleas to buy the product. There were little videos playing as well. Though we seemed to be nearly the only shoppers in the store, there was a cacophony of voices rising around us. What a crazy environment! We had been searching for baking powder for two days, and did not find any here, but we did pick up some powdered sugar. It’s fun to pick up regular ingredients at a Japanese market. Also risky – since I can’t read a dang thing on any of the labels.

Our destination was the 100-yen store, like a dollar store. Miss T had a blast, and we left with heaps of gifts for her friends back home. Next we went to the bakery, where I recoiled at most of it. Bakeries here tend to stuff nearly every piece of bread with some kind of goo filling. Sweet goo or hot dogs baked into most of the breads. Bleh. I  found a roll with no filling, and was happy. Then we stopped in a clothing store where Tara chose a darling miniskirt from the racks. She cracks me up: when no friends are around, she wears skirts. When she’s with her pals? Jeans only.

Fans, fans, and more fans at the 100 yen store.

I bought one of each, but don’t know what they say!

The rest of the week she hung out in the library most of the time. Iwakuni has an awesome library for such a tiny base. I had to work every day, and base security didn’t want her leaving and returning to base without me to accompany her, so she opted for a combination of facebook in the air conditioned room and lounging with books in the air conditioned library.

Do you think Tommy Lee knows he is selling Japanese canned coffee?

Tommy Lee Jones is the face of BOSS brand vending machine coffee

Friday we finally got to shake things up a little. There was an MCCS picnic we attended, and Friday night we went to Sanzoku. It was Tony’s idea, and he brought Andre and Phil, who was visiting from Sasebo. Tara and I rode with Bonnie, her daughter and a friend. For some reason, everyone calls this place the Chicken Shack. Before we left, Tony explained mysteriously that “It’s not a shack at all, and it’s not just about the chicken.” He was absolutely right, but it didn’t give me a sense of what I was in for.

Festive atmosphere of Sanzoku

Glimpses of other people dining, in amongst the trees.

It is a complex of restaurants, apparently all owned by the same company, perhaps serving the same food, with seating scattered up into a small and narrow creek canyon. In addition to places to eat, there are booths with a thousand things for sale, lining paths that link the eating places. It’s all beneath trees, surrounding a lovely creek and a few ponds and waterfalls, so the setting is just wonderful.

Seated shoeless on tatami mats, waiting for our food.

My meal, and Tara’s thumbs-up

Tara’s breaded, deep-fried chicken

Statue in pond, near our table

But at night! We got there just as it was growing dark and the place became magical, with paper lanterns everywhere, even formed into a gigantic pyramid into the sky. Lights strung through trees, music on the air, cicadas whirring, frogs chirping, and people’s voices murmuring and humming and tittering out of sight in the forest.

We chose large

We kicked off our shoes and sat on pillows at traditional low tables, and used Tony’s and Andre’s skills to order. Soon our table was piled with food, and we ate very well. I had the teriyaki chicken on a stick (excellent!), gyoza (dumplings), and the giant musubi (rice ball wrapped in seaweed). The rice ball was in the common triangle shape one finds here, and each corner is stuffed with a different filling: salmon, salted seaweed, and pickled plum. Andre and I ordered beers and the waitress asked “Small or large?” Silly question.

Tara tries drumming while Phil looks on

The atmosphere is just as wonderful for the indoor seating.

Tara, Tony, and Andre browse the wares

After we ate, the girls browsed the shops and bought ice cream. Phil and I went exploring on the trails all the way to the end. We found several little shrines and spirit houses, waterfalls, and unexpected surprises, like a performance stage way at the back, with cardboard cut-out characters on it. I found a row of the most vending machines in one spot I’ve seen to date. (Vending machines are a staple ingredient to life here, to the point where I’ve come to expect to find one within 40 feet of me no matter where I am. I never pack drinks when I travel anymore. Never.)

More seating areas tucked away in the trees.

Waterfall cools this hidden path behind the busier sections.

Me on a stone bridge over the creek that runs through Sanzoku


We finally climbed back into the cars and wound back through the narrow green canyons and tunnels of Yamaguchi Prefecture, and home to Iwakuni.

My daughter. Samurai Warrior.

Melt-in-your-mouth

Tara’s Spring Break was last week, so I took the week off work, and we made plans for a road trip.

Arno suggested going to Moab, Utah, since that is what he and the boys have done multiple times in the past. T and I were game. We went in separate vehicles, since I could do some family visiting along the way. Saturday, March 24, we made it as far as the Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch (TRRR&RR), near Givens Hot Springs, Idaho.

On the way we truly enjoyed ourselves. Tara and I adore road trips. Although she is a teenager, we love each others’ company on a highway. In our effort to avoid a chain restaurant for breakfast, we discovered a fabulous restaurant in The Dalles, called La Petite Provence. After fresh croissants that melted in our mouths, Tara loved her salmon hash and I inhaled the breakfast special du jour. For the remaining 350 miles we listened to the audiobook of Heroes of Olympus, the second series by Rick Riordan after Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It is a fun way for me to brush up on my Greek Gods. This book in particular was also a lesson in comparison of their Roman counterparts.

We popped in CD #1 and began learning Japanese by Pimsleur’sfabulous tools. This is the same company that had me impressing Egyptians after only a half-hearted attempt and probably 10 hours of listening (far less than the whole tutorial I bought). I again bought the inexpensive ($35) “conversational” version. Tara enthusiastically practiced right along with me, and we got through Lesson #1. It was fun to have her correct my pronunciation, based on her gazillion hours of watching English-subtitled Japanese anime.

Tara, Pa & Chelle on the porch at their house

I’ve blogged my Pa’s gorgeous place in the past, so I won’t belabor it. Always a place of peace with two excellent hosts. It was a long overdue visit. I haven’t been to their place on the Snake River in about two years, and Tara hadn’t been there for three. Pa and I have had a couple of explosive fights in the meantime, making our relations even more uncomfortable than they were already growing. Mom’s death made it so we could talk again. Out of character, my Pa finally felt empathy for me and reached out to give some long-hungered-for love and affection. Breaking that ice in December made this visit easy.

Tara and I left Sunday morning to do some visiting around the Treasure Valley. First Gramilda (Gramma + Armilda) and Rex across the river in Nampa, whom I simply could not drive past in good conscience. Gramilda is rightfully grieving the loss of her daughter, and somewhere in there got the idea that I don’t like her anymore. I had to go visit to assure her of my love and devotion, as well as give her some needed love and support too. She’s 85 and looking surprisingly well, since she has struggled with serious health issues the last few years.

Parker was a big fan of Tara right away. Here he has asked her to read him a story. {I had to take the photo with my phone. Sorry about the poor quality!}

It was high time I visit my brother Eli and Addie at their house. I think… is it possible… I haven’t seen Addie since the wedding in 2004. That makes me a dreadful sister in law. {sorry!} Got to see little Parker, who is growing stronger and smarter. What a great nephew I have. My brother built a picture frame to hold historic U.S. Forest Service posters, and made Parker a little book that holds miniaturized versions of all the posters. He flips through the little book and tells us which poster he wants (this time: “Snakes!”), and Dad puts the proper poster at the front. Very clever. Eli had also built a bathroom stool for Parker with a fold-down step that I was very impressed with. Since it was my first time at the house, they gave us a tour, and I got to see all the hard work they put into making their place beautiful. All new floors, paint, fixtures, features… Eli even cut his ownslices of rock for the fireplace hearth. The guy is amazing. Addie is carrying Parker’s future younger brother, and -tired and sick- apologized for not being the ultimate hostess, but I thought she was as wonderful as always. What a dear, dear woman I have for a sister-in-law. She never missed an opportunity to ask about my life, my work, my well-being, and asked Tara all about her life. Addie raved about her son and her husband, and I just couldn’t imagine a sweeter family. I love them so.

Adorableness.

Then I called up my old high-school sweetheart, Jess, who had moved to Boise only days before. We’ve stayed in touch all these years. He was at his mom’s house (who I remember from 25 years ago when we dated – funny, huh?). Stopped at Fred Meyer on the way to buy T some shorts in anticipation of sunny weather. We had a short visit with Jess and I finally got to meet his beautiful boy, Everett, who is not at all like Parker and just as delightful. Our visit was short and Tara and I made our way back into the streets (at this point VERY impressed with myself for having navigated all over the Boise area communities without getting lost).

The peak event of the day was, of course, alligator for dinner. Chelle recently traveled to Georgia to visit family, and arranged for some alligator and turtle to be sent back home to my Pa, who is always ready for a culinary adventure. He thawed it out in honor of our visit. He made a light and savory sauce that complimented the mild white meat perfectly. We also had fried cod and sauteed mushrooms and salad. Absolutely delicious. One never goes hungry at the TRRR&RR.

We crawled gratefully into bed to get some good sleep for our early departure for Moab, Utah on Monday morning.

Ethiopian Supernatural tastes good when you're camping

I used to do a lot of backpacking. In fact, I viewed work solely as a means by which I could spend all available summer days on trails in the mountains somewhere. My good friend M (mentioned recently) is the one that introduced me to backpacking, which is one good thing. She also introduced me to fine food while backpacking, which is entirely different and wonderful.

M used to organize all-female backpacking trips every summer, and invited me along the first time in 2000. We ate linguini with crab, roasted brie in brown sugar with dried apricots and sourdough for dunking, burritos with fresh avocado, salads, fresh fruit… you get the idea. We had wine with every evening meal and the best coffee every morning. It was M’s goal to convince us that there was no reason to sacrifice fine dining just because one was living in a tent at 6000 feet.

She also felt there was no reason to skip fashion up there, as she applied perfect makeup every morning with color-coordinated earrings and sandals by the campfire, but that is a whole other story.

In any case, her lesson stuck, and I do eat very well when camping, and I never miss an excellent cup of coffee on the road. The photo above was taken in the Lost Dutchman State Park during my road trip last month. It reminds me that camping weather is almost upon us and I need to remember to buy some brie.

I just returned from picking up some groceries at Fred Meyer. It was my first grocery shopping trip since Tara left to spend the summer with her dad. As I began filling the cart, I noticed something interesting about the contents.

See if you notice it, too. Scan the photos below and try to identify which group might likely be purchased while Tara lives here, and which was purchased today.

Image A

Image B

Yes! You are correct!

Image B obviously is the group designed to appeal to someone with a minimally creative sense of taste, i.e., my child. Image A is today’s restocking of things I haven’t had to buy for the last 10 months, since I would be the only one eating them.

Now I can’t wait to cook and eat!

On a completely unrelated note, but still interesting, I have not yet put away the jar of capers. I went to set an armload of things on the counter, so I could place them into the cupboards above. The capers popped out of my hands and landed on the counter top and spun around slowly. My first thought was that I had to grab it before it hit the floor, but I still had other jars in my hands. I put it all down and reached for the capers, but by that time the jar had stopped. It came to rest at an angle, precariously balanced on the little glass ridges on the bottom of the jar. How cool is that? And what are the odds? I’m going to leave it like this till Mark gets home, so someone will believe me.

In January we did our taxes and got another shock: Mark owed thousands. In 2007 he had panicked, watching his stocks fall, so he gambled and took everything out of the previous investments, and put it all into banks. Hindsight will tell us all that it was an unfortunate move. Investors will know that when you pull stocks out of one place to buy something else, it’s counted as income. Though Mark never saw a penny of it, the IRS saw that he “earned” about $140 thousand in 2008 by selling stocks. In his despair at seeing banks fail and all his savings evaporate, Mark did not remember to hold anything aside for paying taxes.

Catch up to our story if you like, by reading Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.

24)       We did manage to talk the IRS down from owing $46 thousand to owing $18 thousand, but what’s the difference when we have nothing to pay it with regardless?

25)       I was thankfully spared from owing taxes, because of my incredible loss on selling the Massachusetts home.

26)       Eventually the stay on foreclosures was released. We chewed our fingernails. In April 2009 we received our foreclosure notices.

The paperwork that went into our response was tedious, but we were willing to play their game for a chance at a new agreement. We began hearing stories about how people had their interest rates reduced to 3%, or had the amount financed reduced from $400 to $300 thousand – huge benefits offered to those who were willing to work with their lenders and to pay off their debt somehow. We had hope, and pressed on.

Part of our requirement was that we had to call a credit counseling agency. I called one of the numbers listed in the Wells Fargo paperwork. I talked with a wonderful woman who asked a million questions and gradually began to lose her assurance that she could help us. “There is no way my company could get you better rates than what you have,” she said. “You are managing your finances very well.” Hm. Small amount of good my smugness did for me at that point. But regardless, I had talked with the credit counselor. I had upheld my end. What would Wells Fargo do for us?

27)        We had been asked for budget spreadsheets and copies of taxes and pay stubs on three separate occasions. We had been asked for letters explaining why we wished for a mortgage modification. Finally they responded that we had been approved on a trial basis. Rejoice! They came up with a new, lower monthly rate, and said if we paid that new amount for three months in a row, they would consider installing it permanently. They had reduced our obligation from $1624 a month to $1185. We were thrilled. Now we could afford everything on my salary alone.

We paid $1185 in May, June, and July, and then called Wells Fargo. They had stopped the foreclosure process, and our house would not go up for auction. Whew! But that’s all they could tell us. “Keep paying that same amount,” they always said. “We will contact you as soon as we get to your case. We can’t guarantee it, of course, but the $1185 you have been paying will most likely be your payment from now on.”

Months trickled by. My student loan forbearance with Direct Loan expired, and they requested that I begin paying another $210 a month in addition to the $223 I am already paying in student loans to Sallie Mae. And, in the time since I had last reviewed my account, I saw that the amount I owed in student loans had climbed to over $80 thousand. Why, again, did I go to school? What an idiotic thing it seemed to me. What a fool I was to buy that classist ideal that school is the path to a better life. Well, not from what I have seen. I put that portion of my loan back into forebearance.

28)       When my tax money came in, I paid off a credit card, and paid off Mark’s student loans.

29)        Mark got a job in July, after 13 months of unemployment and no unemployment compensation.

Finally we didn’t have such bitterness when hearing news about unemployment benefits extensions. We had applied for food stamps, medical care, housing assistance, heating assistance, and were turned down for everything because I make too much money.

Finally we didn’t have to listen to all the ignorant comments from people intending to help, saying, “If you haven’t found a job, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough.” Or “Lower your sights and you’ll find work.”  And, “Apply to 10-20 jobs a day. Unemployment is a 40-hour-a-week-job.” And our favorite, “Have you tried looking outside your field?” Thank god there are people who have had an income through all this, and have had no reason to understand what it has been like for suffering families. But still, if you think you’re helping someone by saying those phrases to them, you aren’t, so shut up.

30)        With the new lowered mortgage payment, and second income, you’d think we’d finally be in a comfortable place, but it didn’t work out that way. Suddenly, we had the option to take care of more responsibilities, and all of them cost money.

Milda and me

We scheduled dentist appointments for everyone. We took both of our clunkers to the shop so that they would pass emissions tests and we could renew our tags and drive legally again. Both cats went to the vet. I paid off a loan from my 87-year-old grandmother (I HATE owing money, and especially hate owing people I love). I started getting the mental health therapy that was long overdue. Bought our kid new clothes that she desperately needed. Paid off another credit card. We continued our pared-down lifestyle of no cable, no home phone, very few dinners out, no splurging on little things that catch our eyes. We ate tons of food from our small but unexpectedly productive garden.

31)       The last week of September our final paperwork from Wells Fargo finally came through! But we were confused with what it said. Rather than the $1185 we had been paying, they had finalized our bill at $1536. And even though we had been making payments on time since May, the money had been held in a separate account, and not paid against our debt. Their records showed that we had not paid for months, so 1624 x 7 months = 11,368 + 207,000 still owing = a new financed amount of $218,000 at 4.625% = $1536 a month.

Ok, yes, I concede that 4.625% is a great rate. However, we previously had a great rate of 5.875% that was fixed. Now we had an adjustable rate and the amount financed had jumped drastically! Months of fear, anxiety, and paperwork all amounts to this? A savings of 88 dollars a month? Yes, we defaulted on our mortgage, but we were under the impression that this “Making Home Affordable” plan at Wells Fargo was going to, er, help make our home affordable.

With Mark’s new job we could possibly afford the new payment plan (if we made a few more cuts), but we were furious. We had been abused. I saw it as a breach of contract. Mark called to ask what happened, and was told that the people who first worked up our paperwork had made a mistake by using our net income rather than our gross income, and the $1536 was the absolute best they could do. I called someone else at Wells Fargo, and she said if we don’t like the new terms, don’t sign the new contract and send it back with a letter explaining why we won’t sign it. So we sent it all back.

32)        Then we wrote our congressmen, the CEO of Wells Fargo, President Obama. We’re hoping for a couple of form letters from someone, but so far haven’t received even that.

cc: President Obama

33)    The IRS called and said, “Enough dilly-dallying! You must pay!! $300 a month, and that is our final offer.” So, I guess we must pay.

And here it stands.

November 13, 2009, we have two reasonable incomes and are as broke as can be. How is that possible?

  • Mortgage – 218,325.79
  • Sallie Mae – $57,570.70
  • (Direct Loan Student Loans – $19,487.35) – in forbearance till April 2010
  • IRS – $18,461.60
  • Discover Card – $14,125.37
  • Chase Visa – $4,737.38

That leaves a monthly amount of $289 to take care of: utilities, school clothes, food, phones, home&auto insurance (we have no health insurance), internet access, etc.

You try spending only 289 on every expense for an entire month for a family of three. It is not POSSIBLE. When my forbearance expires, it will drop to $79 per month available to live on. I don’t know what we will do. Wish us luck.

Here’s a quote I caught this morning, and I’m going to take courage in it: “Despair is for people who know beyond any doubt what the future will be. Nobody’s in that position. So despair is not only a kind of sin, theologically, but it’s also a simple mistake.”

Home grown zucchini, beets, and cucumber!

I am very excited to see that it’s about to become full-on harvest time. That was actually a pretty quick process, despite my impatience.

The raspberries seem to be producing much more and for much longer than they did last year. I’d like to believe it’s because I made the family collect compost all winter and then I’ve been dumping it on the raspberries. It’s a forgotten part of the yard in the winter, so I don’t mind making a mess.

Doesn't your mouth water just looking at this?

If there’s a pile of onion skins, apple cores, carrot peelings and coffee grounds and no one sees it… is it still an eyesore?

We’ve already been eating zucchini every day for 10 days now, and so when our neighbor came over talking about how much he liked zucchini, I sent him home with one. And a handful of cucumbers too. We will soon be overrun.

You should see these plants! They are going gangbusters. I think the watermelon is going to take over the whole hill. I keep telling them about gravity, and the foolishness of producing a watermelon on the slope, but for now they don’t listen much. My cherry tomatoes are finally turning red and I’ll be giving those away too.

Last night while I was watering, I actually had the idea to put a sign up on my herbs: Please take some! I am overrun with basil and sage and cilantro.

One of Mark’s friends was teasing him about having the Obama Victory Garden in the front yard, like the first family. Actually, that’s something I don’t mind being teased about…

In the absence of our newest local grass roots what’s happenin’ PDX reporter (Mark, who contributes to PDX Pipeline), I felt the need to fill the photo/news void left in his wake. (Mark is currently in San Francisco visiting friends to distract himself from waiting for someone to call him about a job….)

Cookie

My always-engaging kiddo was student-of-the-week last week, and had a big self-presentation during the last 15 minutes of class time on Friday. She also had the permission to bring a pet. The available parent du jour was moi, so I had the honors of zooming up Cornelius Pass, stopping at the school’s office to pick up her dad’s apartment key,  zooming over there to scoop up the unsuspecting Cookie cat  and plopping her into a cat carrier, and scooting back to school to wait for the exact moment. When it was time, I swept in through the back door of the library and … tah-dah!! Held high the offering of claws scrabbling, hair on end, mewing Cookie for the class’s consumption. Actually, once brought out of the carrier, she was an amazingly mellow and tolerant specimen, and in my daughter’s arms allowed herself to be petted by everyone who wasn’t allergic.

Ginger with pups

My reward for all that was to bring my daughter home with me after dropping off cat and key. Our evening was pretty mellow: had to visit ALL the farm animals, examine Mom’s work in cleaning the chicken nesting boxes and coop, see how much the puppies have grown, roll on the ground with the Schipperkes, and fill the goose pond. Then we washed up thoroughly and made peanut-butter oatmeal cookies with a peanut glaze. One of the Uncles called me “Devil Woman” later, because he could not bring himself to stop eating them. I’m sure he meant it in the nicest  possible way. We watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the usual delight and smattering of giggles, then closed the day with two stories from Anderson’s fairy tales: The Emperor’s New Clothes (1837), and The Flax (1849). The very last line is beautiful: “But the children could neither hear nor understand this, nor should they; for children must not know everything.”

tree hugger

This morning we got moving early and we were at her favourite Portland park so far: Columbia Park, off Lombard. The Uncles told us that there was a pool there, but we had never seen it, so that was our first mission. It was cool, cloudy, and wet this morning, and about as perfect a Portland morning as they get. We walked through the gorgeous trees of the park (only hugging a few), and at length came upon the round pool building, across from a field full of mini-soccer players and their enthusiastic and damp parents.

The pool is open every day, heated, indoor, and the price is reasonable even for unemployed single moms. Yay! We took their booklet to plan for a future swim date, then gave a wide berth to the footballers on our path through the trees and over to the wall ball court. My daughter taught me the ins and outs of the highly specialized and regulated game of wall ball – the way it is played at recess at her school. We weren’t getting much wall ball in until I shouted “No more rules! Let’s just play! I can’t remember all that anyway, I’m old!”

wall ball. You can see the red ball

It was great exercise, and we invented a few more rules for her to take back to school with her next week. Then, as will inevitably happen in a park with trees, she got distracted by the squirrels and we let the ball lay forgotten. Totally forgotten. We were already in the car before she stopped me, “Wait! Did anyone bring the ball?” After we picked up the ball it was an easy trip from Lombard to I-5 to the Alberta Street exit, and we were on to the next stage of our Saturday adventure.

street mural

We parked on 11th – as close as we could get – and were rapidly distracted by the drums from what was probably The Rhinestoners warming up. Since most of the band was not there, we moved on and soon came to Wendy Rover and her daughter, fellow henna aficionados, who answered many questions for us based on their vastly superior experience and knowledge about the topic. We wished them a lovely day and moved on.

Alberta street mural

The Alberta Street Fair is the longest (lengthwise) Portland street faire I’ve attended so far. From 11th to 31st it ranges, and the two of us did not even wander to the far end.  We made it as far as the Main Stage on 20th, but had to turn back and cut our day short in order to be back at The Farm in time for her father to pick her up again.

fuel from Fuel Cafe

Our first order of business was to find some food. People were packed around one establishment – always a sign that good food is on the menu – and we put our names on the list before asking how long the wait. “About 45 minutes,” we were told, and promptly went to look for another place to eat. Right across the street is the Fuel Café – exactly what we were looking for: perfectly Portland, comfortable, a short wait in line, and scrumptious  food. Oops, my daughter’s “basic grilled cheese” included jalapeño jack – look out for that if you’re dining with a 10 year old. She focused on the cheddar side of the sandwich, and I savoured my Southwest Tuna Salad with actual real, live fresh garden lettuce and cilantro, and coffee served in a mug. She had a mango Italian Soda. We were two spoiled girls.

Me at Fuel Cafe

Tummies happy, we continued on, visiting tables and booths, talking with the vendors, appreciating the eclectic fashion sense among Portlanders. Siren song enticed us around a corner into an empty lot where we found the Interactive Kid’s Activity Center with a soundtrack provided by the all-women group Soundspell. Further down the road, we couldn’t help stopping to admire the brilliant murals on Alberta Street buildings as we made our way eastward.

Soundspell

Suddenly we heard a booming circus emcee voice and hastily said goodbye to the vendor in front of us so that we could locate the source. Good call! It was probably the best show of the day, and that’s going out on a limb, considering I missed most of what the faire had to offer. We discovered Kazum! self-described as a circus/acrobatics group. Noah Mickens emceed the enormously appealing acrobatics and dance circus-type show, featuring the enchanting hula hoop professional: Amy Hatfield (recently spotted supporting the March 4th Marching Band at Tour de Fat).

Kazum! emcee

Kazum! is incredible. (I think their T-shirts sported an umlaut.) We were treated with a series of dance- and acrobatics- routines by the men and women in the group. First up were lions and their trainer, followed by hula, acrobatics, dancing, more acrobatics, and more acrobatics. The gorgeous women were tossed into the air by laughing strongmen in tights, and all of them displayed enviable upper-body strength and firm abs all while maintaining choreographed arm movement, no fear of heights, and smiles in unison. (I need to go to the gym…)

Cowa-freakin’-bunga! That was amazing! When the top hat came around, we tipped in not only a coupla bucks, but also a lucky T&A heads-tails coin that will hopefully pass the happiness forward.

twirling Amy Hatfield

At this point we were starting to worry about getting back to The Farm on time, so we turned around. Found a mirror vendor – wow, those creations are astounding. No matter how hard we tried to hurry, we kept being waylaid, but only by the most deserving. Stepped into Chris Ellis’ studio because he was creating on the keyboard. He called to my daughter to sit at the keyboard and set it up to play what he called “Vampire Dance Club.” As she became more comfortable with performing for an audience of strangers-becoming-friends, the tones became delicious despite their creepiness, and the grown-ups introduced each other. Chris Ellis told the background story to my favourite of his photographs on the wall – a lovely woman outside a cemetery in Paris, checking her face in a compact while holding her cigarette out of the way with firm delicacy.

at the Chris Ellis studio

Lee Meier – professional photographer – and his son Nelson Meier introduced themselves and Lee insisted that we consider his studio on First Fridays in Multnomah Village. Lee had phenomenal gear (photographic that is) with which to capture the rollicking Alberta street sights, and assured me his photos of Kazum! would be available online.

Bearing due West, we aimed for the parked car, but saw so many other cars that demanded attention. The Portland Artcar Revival Club wowed us all with the organization of the famous art cars we’ve all seen around town. There were a few of these in Eureka (CA, where I lived pre-Brandeis), but it tickled everyone in sight to walk up close enough to touch these motley mobile artworks like “Trophy Wife” (a car covered in trophies and trophy plaques), and Rev. Bill’s Vacation Bible Camp – featuring Jesus as the King of the Road.

Again, we tried to escape the street, but found Wendy again, and couldn’t resist the pull of a glitter dolphin in henna at its finest. Finally, the two girls moved with me toward the car, only to be stopped again by The Alberta Street Clown House. We watched them crashing bicycles (well, I guess one could call them bicycles. In Portland they morWh into things sometimes unrecognizable.) into each other, and then were enticed to join in a bagel war, where my own youngun’ pelted the nurse with a bagel. Good on ya, mate!

Clownhouse crashes

Finally, finally, we forged against the wind and thickening clouds and spotted the Dragon Wagon (my car – it’s a long story) again. Good old 11th street. We caught I-5 outta there, whipped onto 30 West, and in little more than half an hour were tooling our way out toward Scappoose and The Farm. Gathered enough eggs to fill a carton, watered the cats, ate some peanut butter oatmeal cookies, and my little girl went home with her dad. Whew! Day well spent.

Alberta street mural

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