Tag Archives: California

The Year of the Move, Bonus!

I’ll do a nice long post about fixing the place up later, once work on the house has been done. BUT! I can’t resist sharing some photos of the work that’s already happened. (Click to embiggen.)

We put in a pad of compacted road base and decomposed granite for the horses. The soil here is great, but it turns into sucking, sticky mud when wet, so good footing for them was a must. Once that was put in, my father and I built (half of the) corrals for them. I can NO LONGER FEEL MY ARMS, but the corrals are lovely. Witness:

Pipe corrals standing empty
Without ponies!
Pipe corrals occupied by horses
With ponies!







Also, it rained for my birthday. (For those with a less enthusiastic attitude toward rain, know that I consider this the best possible thing.) This is a bit of my front yard, with my newly-adopted, might-be-apricot tree, in the first rain of the year.

Winter fruit tree in light rain with hills
Be glad you can’t see the miscellaneous rubbish embedded in the driveway there–it would ruin the romance of the moment.

And finally, the first sunset from my new home. (Shut up, I don’t care if it’s maudlin and silly, it’s miiiiine!)

Sunset over a tiny town and trees in darkness
I’m a sap and I don’t care!

The Year of the Move, Pt. 4

So. I’m a little less poor and a little less plump and a little less rested, and I’m alive. I’ve recalibrated my scale of suffering. I’ve officially lost the only home I’ve ever had. More of my belongings are in storage than are with me. I have a dwelling, but not a home. Where the fuck am I going? I’ve been asking that question for a few years now. The answer, in short, is north.

Fly North in the Winter

As I mentioned, we knew when the Overlord took out that million-dollar mortgage that we would not be able to keep the property. Knowing this and despite our total lack of financial resources, we started looking for somewhere to go several years ago. This is how we met one last key player, who I haven’t mentioned yet. She is a real estate agent and we will call her Virgil (to our hell-wandering Dante).

Virgil covers some of the more north-lying sections of the Central California coast. She had a listing back several years ago that my parents wanted to look at, which was how we met her. Virgil went from a one-off realtor to a font of knowledge to a personal friend to a minor miracle worker. To say that I am a fan of Virgil, to say that I am grateful to her, is to vastly understate the ways in which she has saved our lives.

When the Overlord started her own search for property this year, we did not tell her about Virgil. The Overlord had her own agents to guide her. Moreover, she refused to look as far north as Virgil’s territory. Mostly, though, we did not tell the Overlord because Virgil was the one ally we had who was ours alone. The Overlord did not know we had been looking for property for years; she would not have reacted well to us finally deciding that escaping her was the only viable option. We did not know if or how we could get away from the Overlord, but Virgil kept up the search for us.

The Overlord wanted to move to the Santa Ynez Valley, that prestigious wine and ranching area in Central California. Had she lived, she would have eventually been forced to admit that she did not and would never possess the necessary money to buy up there. Not the size and sort of property she needed. Keep in mind that she had partial ownership of almost twenty horses, most of whom would need to be moved with her to a new place. (Don’t get me started on the idea of selling some off. It has been suggested. There are exactly four horses that were both owned at least partly by the Overlord and which could be sold. The rest? Retired due to health issues or mental issues or extreme old age. There are multiple horses older than I am. No, oddly enough, we wouldn’t be selling off the stock, thanks.)

The three of us, though, set our sights farther north. Keep going up the coast. Pass over a grade and drop down into the next valley. Head inland. You are now in San Luis Obispo County. Vineyards are taking over here, too, but there are still areas with horses or cattle instead of grapes. There are still places where you can get ten or twenty acres of land. There are even a few areas where you can get water to go with that land. (If you ever have occasion to buy property in California, a word of warning–the only thing that really matters is water and the one thing you probably cannot have is water.)

We look at property in agricultural valleys and we look at property up a goddamn mountain and we look at property at the bottom of a river bed. (Look, the money we have won’t go far, even up here. We need rather a lot of land for horses. This is not a favorable combination of circumstances. Sometimes, that means looking at some eccentric places.)

We look at one property near a lake nicknamed Dragon’s Breath, which is when I start to think we are on the right track. Ludicrously cheap, it has a big house and land with issues. It is inconveniently remote. It is unfenced. It needs brush clearance and roadwork. It is the loveliest thing I have ever seen. I want it more than I can stand.

We make our first offer before we have one on the Overlord’s place. The sellers refuse. They want someone with a firm date to close escrow. Two weeks later, we go into escrow on the Overlord’s property. We go to make a new offer. We find out someone else has opened escrow on the property we want. Inconsolable, we put in a backup offer, on the off-chance that their deal falls through.

The buyer there suddenly announces he wants the place fenced, even though the deal is for as-is. He asks for an extension to the inspection period. He then disappears into China for a month. We are baffled but hopeful. He misses his inspection period. He ignores the Order to Perform sent by the sellers. We are about six hours away from resorting to black magic to make this guy stay away so we can have the place. (We have no back-up property. We keep looking and not finding.) More time passes. One final notice is sent to the buyer to break off the deal. We are almost there!

He comes back. He asks for another extension. We scoff, wondering what kind of moron would give dude a second extension after this whole spectacle.

The sellers give him a second extension.

Last we hear, the buyer is actually performing, the deal is going ahead, and we are still waiting in the wings as a back-up offer but we are unlikely to get the place. Our desire to use black magic is getting worse but with slightly different goals in mind. I mean, what the actual fuck? We suspect the Universe has it out for us. More than we already thought, that is.

We look farther inland. Way, way farther inland. Like, nearly in another state, inland. We look in all directions, trying to find that one perfect spot that has land and water and places to work and actual electricity and that still doesn’t cost more than we have. It starts to feel like a riddle, like a test from a fairytale: a week when two Mondays come together; a box without hinges, key, or lid; a land fit for humans and animals and affordable for this damned family.

We lower our standards (again) (again-again). We look at land that is too small or too remote. We look at land with no house, with no electricity, with no flat areas. This is how we find it, at last, and it is none of those things.

It is perfectly flat. It is big enough for everyone and everything. It is a short drive into town. It is in an area known for better water supply than the surrounding areas. The land is perfection, a blank slate waiting for us.

It…has tenants who have destroyed the manufactured home on it. Um. Okay. So we have to think hard about this. The house is barely bigger than what we have now (what we have now does not, in fact, qualify as “bigger than a bread box”). The house looks like someone has been chewing on it. The plumbing in the master bathroom leaked and it appears someone decided to drain the accumulated water by slicing into the floor with a chainsaw. Also, it was probably the same person who kicked in all the doors. And some of the walls.

The house needs a little work, is what I’m saying. A little.

But you know what? We know how to look at the big picture. We know how to put years of work into a place to make it a home. Screw it. We want it. We will make it work. Just…um, there is water, right?


We wait through weeks of desperate hand-wringing and impatient waiting. We wait through inspections on the house and find out just how much work it is going to need to be fixed up. (We also find out that we cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, afford to have it replaced. Oh, we might be able to swing a new house. Permits, though, will add tens of thousands in costs and delay us by a few months.) We wait for word Monday, Tuesday, wait for the only Christmas gift any of us want. We don’t hear anything.

Until Friday. Oh, choirs of angels, nothing can compare to the joy and relief. The well is good. The well is fantastic. In winter, in a drought, in a state that wouldn’t know water if you lopped it off the continent and set it adrift in the ocean, we have water.

Ladies, gentlemen, and gender rebels, we have a home.

To Be Continued…

The Year of the Move, Pt. 1

In a post earlier this year, I mentioned that my grandmother had died and that I was having to move. I also mentioned that I might, at a later point, talk about those rather large pieces of news.

This is that later point. I won’t name names. I’ll maintain something approaching plausible deniability. But this, at last, will be the truth. It’s gonna take a while.

(If you don’t feel like reading this [very long, highly parenthetical] series of posts, I’ll give you the tl;dr version: my home got sold out from under me, I had a very hard time of it, I found out who my real family and friends were, and I survived long enough to make a new home. The long version is a lot longer, but possibly more interesting as well. You tell me.)

So grab a seat, have some popcorn, and listen to the shit show that was 2013 for me. The story, like all of mine, has a happy ending, but our heroes, like all of mine, have to bleed first.

Everything You Know is Gone

Here are the important players:

My grandmother, mother’s mother. Let’s call her the Overlord. (Hey, I never said I wouldn’t be editorializing the hell out of this story.)

My aunt and uncle. Let’s call them the Hive Mind.

My mother and father. Let’s call them the Scapegoat and the Whipping Boy.

And me. I’ll refrain from referring to myself with a clever title. (It would be the Paperwork Whisperer, FYI.)

The whole thing starts in January. The timeline looks something like this:

1st: Watch Rose Parade –> 2nd: Overlord: “Oh, bee-tee-dubs, I spent most of a million dollars in five years and won’t be able to pay that big-ass mortgage much longer.” –> 3rd: Prepare to become homeless

I have lived on the same piece of property my whole life. The Scapegoat has lived here forty years; the Whipping Boy, almost thirty-five. We own our house, a manufactured home that is twenty-five years old and held together by glue and wire and the Whipping Boy’s mechanical genius. But we do not own the property. The Overlord does. That, fundamentally, is where everything falls apart.

We do all the work of maintaining the property, save that which requires professionals. (Major tree trimming is not in my repertoire, thanks. Digging ditches to lay down electrical cable, however, is, as it turns out.). We do not have any hired hands. We also do all the work of the family horse business.

I have been working with the horses since, well, always. I grew up video taping show rounds and helping deliver foals and meeting with vets. I have been assisting the Scapegoat full-time since I finished college. I have been directly involved in starting the last nine horses born on the property. Several of them went to the track; one of them won his first race out. A few have been sold. Most came back home to become show horses. (The Scapegoat competes in Hunters and Jumpers. She has been winning championships and medal finals since she was a teenager.) I named most of them. I have been coach and groom and vet technician and videographer and security blanket. This is the work I do when I am not at the keyboard.

I don’t get paid. Neither do the Scapegoat or the Whipping Boy. We don’t pay rent, hurrah, but we do pay utilities. We split with the Overlord the cost of feed and vet bills and training and board at the track and entry fees. We don’t get paid. We break our bones and destroy our joints and spent thousands on medical care because this is hard work and it never, ever stops. The Whipping Boy came out of retirement to work part-time for minimum wage to make ends meet. (They don’t, but we get close.) The Whipping Boy will turn 80 next year. He will still be working.

We work every day. It never, ever stops. We don’t get paid. We are told, well, we live here, don’t we? We are told to look grateful.

Forty years is a long time. Our dead are buried here. We have bled into this dust and bedrock. We gave up having normal careers because there are not enough hours in a day to have one alongside this. We chose to stay here, a place where titles like “Scapegoat” and “Whipping Boy” are fitting ones, because this is home. We have nothing else, but we have this place.

Except we don’t, do we? We don’t own it. Possession is nine tenths of the law and 100% of our problem.

The full story of the Overlord, her relationship with the Scapegoat and the Whipping Boy and the Hive Mind and me, will have to wait for another day. It is not a happy story and I am not ready to tell it. Suffice it to say, having our continued housedness dependent upon the Overlord is a VERY BAD THING indeed. The Overlord spends money. She lies about money. She borrows money. She spends, lies, and borrows some more.

Cue the million-dollar mortgage. Cue a person spending money like she will not live another day. Cue that person staying very much alive. Cue the inevitable and looming specter of bankruptcy.

We, the three of us, knew when she took out that mortgage that we would never be able to keep the property. We could never pay off the mortgage and buy out the Hive Mind’s half. Barring a lottery win, we would one day move. Knowing, though, is no preparation at all for the process of packing up forty years’ worth of belongings and equipment and memories. It is no preparation for being told there are nine months of mortgage payments left, at best, so better pack up quickly before we end up in foreclosure.

We cannot even walk away from the situation because we have almost no money. Never paid, remember? Split all the costs, but get no income, and then try to buy property. Hell, try to buy food. It gets sort of difficult after a while. So. This is us, stuck on a sinking ship. This is us, grinning and bearing it and trying to think of some way to buy a better tomorrow.

Spend a couple months of fruitlessly looking at property in very expensive parts of California. The Overlord considers this a great opportunity to upgrade, thereby utterly missing the main feature of bankrupting oneself: life stops being marvelous fun. She refuses to look outside of the most prestigious ranching areas in the Central Coast. We are talking wine country. We are talking places where movies are filmed and movie stars vacation. She refuses to look at anything less than $800,000. She expects to get almost $3 million for the existing ranch. (No one has made any offers. A few people have looked. She won’t drop the price.)

She takes great care to consider us, of course. She looks at property with converted garages as second residences. Or converted barns. She even offers to buy us a manufactured home to put on a property she likes that doesn’t have a second residence. (We won’t get anything for the value of the house we own and we can’t take it with us.) Look grateful, remember? This is our life. We work and we do not get paid and we go where we are told and we pay what is demanded and we look grateful.

You know that happy ending I mentioned? The one that comes after the heroes bleed? We’re not there yet. We haven’t even gotten to the bleeding. We’ve gotten to March, kids.

To Be Continued…

Slow Travel and the Cult of Productivity

While advances in technology promise we can do more, faster, sometimes slowing down is the only way to get anything done. Plus, the views are better.

Eurostar on CTRL
How much are you seeing? (photo by Dave Bushell, via Wikimedia Commons)

Since the first of the year, there has been some talk about the California High-Speed Railproject. I will admit that I’m not even sure what was said about it. However, in the current political and economic climate, I can assume it was something along the lines of, “blah blah budget blah jobs blabbity funding.” The project promises to cut travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Amid my childlike enthusiasm for the project, however, are some misgivings about our continued obsession with maximized efficiency and productivity.

I know very little about the financial realities of this project and so you should take it with a block of salt when I say, I like this project. I’m a reluctant veteran of public transportation. I commuted by train and bus, in various combinations, for most of my time at college. I also spent six months commuting by car. The big difference is that on public transit, I have the option of reading, working, or napping. All of the above are still frowned upon while driving, though I can attest that not all of my fellow humans seem to observe those restrictions.

The prospect of taking those two to three hours and getting from LA to San Francisco, rather than just from Ventura to Irvine, delights me. I have some very romantic ideas about rail travel, which even two years of regular use could not stamp out of me. If nothing else, the rail system would make Ghirardelli Square and more chocolate than you can shake a wallet at just a day trip away. Who doesn’t like the sound of that? But I suspect there is a less sweet side to this debate and one which I have had to struggle with in my own work.

Projects like this are part of the broad category of “faster is better,” wherein the primary goal of any technology or tool is to let you do a task more easily and faster. This has been the selling point of everything from washing machines to computers. Your regular chores will only take half the time. Insert the picture of someone blissfully relaxing with nary a soiled shirt in sight. The truth has proven to be less lemonade-sipping and hammock-swinging. If that budget projection takes you two hours instead of four, your boss will be only too happy to find something to fill up the free time. “Do more, faster” is all too often applied only to work, with work hours just as long and just as stressful.

What happens, though, when you are your own boss?

The impulse is to be just as demanding, if not more so, and to constantly pursue maximized productivity. I’ve found myself gripped by a kind of manic terror, afraid that I might be wasting my precious time. Afraid that I am not doing as much as I can. But if my goal is to get done all the projects and plans I have in mind, is it true that faster, more intense work is the answer? Is it possible that slower and shorter will give better results?

When I sit down with the intention of spending six hours working, I find I get very little done. I tell myself the story that a long work session will let me really engage with my work, reach a flow state, and finish large sections of projects. What actually happens is that, like a passenger on a train moving too fast to see the passing countryside, I disconnect from the work. I become overwhelmed and even familiar tasks start to loom like Herculean trials. In my zeal to finish everything, right now, I start nothing.

I’ve started breaking my work into smaller chunks. I’ve started to err on the side of small and easy. When in doubt, try to break something into smaller tasks. In planning for the A to Z blog challenge in April, I’ve made myself a list of tasks to be done. For example, one task is to write concept sentences for each post, prior to outlining them. This time, however, I’ve gone further. That task gets broken down into a checklist for each letter. Each one gets ticked off as I write it. I’m no longer looking at sitting down to write concept sentences for 26 posts. I’m looking at just one, the next letter on the list. I know how many I need to do in a day to stay on my personal schedule, but even that stops mattering when I sit down to work. It’s just one sentence. It’s so easy, I do a few without thinking about it. Fifteen minutes later, I can check those letters off my to-do list and move on to something else.

Work becomes painless. Each project might get only ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes of attention at a time. I might come back to it several times in a day or I might move on to other projects I have going at the same time. I’ve slowed down. I’m not looking at an entire project to do today. I don’t have to fill up my whole day with work time, hoping that I will find I’ve gotten something done by the end of the day.

One sentence at a time, one chunk at a time, I can mark my progress and  know that I’ve gotten something done. Slowly. Less efficiently. And also more easily. More happily.

Under three hours to cross the better part of this large state may well be a wonderful thing, when the rail project is completed. I anticipate any number of new efficiency demands to crop up with it. Travel farther for a good job. Arrive to work earlier just because you can. Work on your way there, because you won’t be seeing much out those swiftly-moving windows. Someday, perhaps teleportation will by the commuting technology of choice. Consider, however, that easing off that breakneck pace might be the trick to truly getting something done. Get less done right now and watch your to-do list become your done list. Sometimes slow is the quickest way.