Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Making Hay Instead of Making Loans



I know you’re sick of it, but this is what’s happening:

We have a new date for the closing. At least I think we do. It’s November 30. That’s a week away. Since past experience has shown me that Slow Bob’s bank says they are going to close but then they don’t, I thought I better double-check. And since Ellen, the loan officer at Bob’s bank doesn’t return my phone calls, even though it’s in our contract that his bank should keep me informed and apprised just as if I were a real estate agent brokering the deal, I decided to shoot her an e-mail. I thought why get aggravated when I get her voice mail and she doesn’t call me back? So I e-mailed. I said I just wanted to confirm that the closing is set for Wednesday. She said, “As far as I know it’s scheduled.”

As far as I know?!

Tell me I’m not asking for anything crazy! Tell me I’m not expecting too much! Is it too much to expect the loan officer to know whether it’s on or not? Is it too much to expect her to get up off her ass and find out?! Is it too much to expect the buyer to actually abide by the contract, a contract the loan officer helped him write?!

Not that it’s Bob’s fault. That I know of. Forget Slow Bob. It’s Slow Banks in Virginia. I’ve realized it’s a Virginia bank thing. Because of all the transactions I’ve had buying and selling houses, buying and selling the Keansburg house, buying and selling the Jackson house, Oklahoma, Ferrum, and now this, ten transactions in all, the only time there was a problem with a house closing on time was when a Virginia bank was involved in a mortgage. Ten closings, two involving Virginia mortgages. Eight on time. The two involving Virginia mortgages not.

The last time this happened, bad, but not quite as bad as now, was when we were getting a mortgage to buy the Ferrum house. We had just traveled two days from Oklahoma and pulled up in front of the Ferrum house towing a trailer with dogs, cats, a fish, a kid, the computers, all our valuables and jewelry, with the moving trucks a half day behind us, and were told, standing on the curb thinking we had made it and the worst was over, exhausted, dirty, dehydrated, that the Virginia bank wasn’t ready to close. Two days earlier when we left our old house, the house we could have stayed in longer if we’d known we had no where to live, there was no problem. But now, suddenly, for some reason no one ever explained, they couldn’t do it. Couldn’t close. Sorry. No go. You’ll have to find a motel. I’m sure you can find a motel on such short notice that will allow all those animals. Oh, all the stuff that’s coming tomorrow morning on the moving trucks? Storage. Yeah that’s right. Storage. That’s what they have that for!

Luckily it didn’t come to that and I can actually say one nice thing about the Evils. Since they’d already moved out, they allowed us to move in before the closing. It took the bank two weeks, two weeks until they were finally able to close, and the Evils made our lives a living hell for the favor, but that’s another story. At least we weren’t homeless. The point is, the Virginia bank caused this. For no reason.

And so experience tells me not to count on the bank. Perhaps they get delayed because the loan officer has to make hay—that actually happened with Kip, Buyer Number Two—the loan officer’s voice mail said that’s where he was when no one could reach him all week to find out if Kip was getting the loan. “I’m out making hay. Please leave me a message.” I kid you not. Now it’s hunting season and everyone’s obsessed about that around here—Kurt’s helper didn’t come to work again today because he’s out hunting and the company we sub for said it’s slow, they don’t have any work, it’s hunting season—so maybe that’s the hold-up.

Whatever the reason, we feel like little kids waiting for Christmas. Waiting, waiting, waiting. And then it gets canceled. But they reschedule it! Then we get our hopes up again. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Gotcha! Canceled. But rescheduled. Ah, why don’t they just give us our coal and get it over with?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Night in the Country


It’s Friday night in the country and Kurt and I are back at our computers. We tried to go out. The kid is on a sleepover. Very rare. But there’s nothing to do around here. There aren’t even any lights on in the houses and I wasn’t sure when we passed them if they were abandoned or the people were all asleep. It was only 8:30. Probably half and half. It’s common around here for people to let old farmhouses fall into disrepair and then put a doublewide, or if they have money, build a brick ranch house, a few hundred feet over. It’s also common around here for people to get up when it’s still dark to feed the critters, and so naturally they go to bed early. So it could be either way.

I love the old farmhouses. It breaks my heart when I see brown clapboards with all the paint worn off, buckling porches choked with kudzu and roofs like swayback horses on old farmhouses. Maybe the next time I drive by the roof will have collapsed. It frustrates me that people have given up on these houses. Don’t they know there are people like me who would love them?! How did they get so far behind that giving up and starting fresh made more sense than trying to fix the thing? Maybe one year the heater conked out and the roof started leaking and they thought they could get through one more winter—maybe the livestock market would be better next year. Then the chimney started crumbling and noises on the metal roof as mortar fell and skidded to the gutters raised the hair on the back of the farm wife’s neck. She stopped stirring. She cocked an ear to listen. They couldn’t stay warm. They couldn’t use the bathroom sink because the pipe was broke. (If there was a bathroom sink.) They couldn’t keep up with the paint. They were tired of it. Every spring, scraping, sanding, painting. An old house will kill you.

But still! I would never abandon an old house!

We passed these old houses and the doublewides and neat brick ranch houses, all dark, not long after supper in search of a dive bar we got a tip on. Kelly’s boyfriend, fifteen-years-old, mentioned it in passing. He was over for dinner and was explaining where he lived. I was trying to maintain a look on my face that conveyed both sophistication and friendliness (he comes from a good family—the father is a lawyer). He said, “It’s past this bar. It’s a dump. You wouldn’t want to go there. Rednecks go there.” Kurt’s and my ears perked up. He’s obviously much classier than we are. There was actually a bar around here? And it had rednecks?

All these years we’ve been living here, we haven’t found one good watering hole. Not that we’re big drinkers. But you’d think that in the moonshine capital of the world, in a place where people know how to line dance and play fiddles, we would be able partake in the whole authentic experience in some backwoods honky tonk with knotty pine walls and red-and-white checked floors like you see on TV. Something like Urban Cowboy. But there are none—no honky tonks, saloons, taverns, pubs, inns, or local hangouts of any kind where you can get a beer, a line on some decent moonshine—just so you could say you’ve had it because I hear it’ll rot your insides out if you drink it on a regular basis—and maybe listen to a little bluegrass on a Friday night. At least on this side of the lake. No bars at all. There are forty-seven churches and one Dairy Queen but no bars.

There are a couple of bars on the other side of the lake. They cater to “them ones not from around these parts”—non-locals—who buy McMansions on the water and build docks with boat houses bigger than my real house, but that’s about forty-five minutes around. Plus, they are really not bars, per se. They are really restaurants with bars on the side to accommodate diners waiting for their tables and they seem to go out of their way to shed themselves of any kind of country flavor, which is what we have all come down here for but I suspect the locals are embarrassed by and don’t realize how much we, their only customers, love that stuff. If they did, they’d be making a ton of money. The places would be packed. But, in a misguided attempt to attract us, their d├ęcor is designed to be progressive and modern—industrial pipes and duct work exposed on the ceiling (these “pipes” are sometimes fake—cardboard tubes spray-painted with silver paint), plum-colored walls, shiny black tiles, brick, martini glasses with Z-shaped stems.

There is one real bar on the water but it thinks it’s in the Keys and has bamboo tables, blue drinks and plastic palm trees.
It specializes in ‘80s bands and closes at eleven o’clock—about the time I’m just perking up—even on July 4th. Very similar to the Palace across the boardwalk in Keansburg except you could barely get the people out the door at last call at two a.m. and when they had ‘80s bands, it was 1980.

Therefore Kurt and I were really itching to find a cool, authentic place. They might say around here that we had a hankering for one. This might be our only chance since we’re selling the house. Pretty soon we’ll be in New Jersey where we’ll have plenty of bars to choose from but maybe no authentic redneck place. So we decided to go find this dive bar. We couldn’t ask the boyfriend for directions because it’s bad enough that we don’t pray at dinner and we’re already wrecking Kelly’s reputation (the boy, good natured, said that’s okay, when Kelly apologized that we dug right in like two barbarians—he had said a silent prayer). Obviously a nice boy. Last thing we wanted to do was damage her reputation any further—I’d already embarrassed her when I told him that the woman in the old picture he was looking at on the wall in the kitchen was Aunt Millie and she was a hot number. Why I had to describe her, I don’t know. But that’s what we always say about Aunt Millie when her name comes up. She was a hot number. When he looked at me quizzically, I said, “You know, a floozy. Died of cirrhosis of the liver, something like that. Big drinker. But ooh, she was a hot number in her day. Had a couple of husbands, flaming red hair…” So I couldn’t ask him for precise directions and we had to wing it.

Luckily we have the Big Mama because at least if you’re going to drive all over the hillside with nothing to look at but dark houses and hulking shadows that may be cows or children of the corn, at least you can drive in style. I splurged and put my seat warmer on. This was our night on the town! Kidless, in my cowboy boots (not the riding ones, the dancing ones), and going to a backwoods, country dive bar! I imagined some Outlaws on the jukebox, perhaps a little ZZTop—“Waiting for the Bus,” would be perfect—and some oldies, got to have the oldies—“Make the World Go Away,” George Jones, George Strait, Hank. We’d dance across the dusty floor and shoot pool with boys (that’s what they’re called around here—boys—not guys, not men, even if they are grandfathers) in flannel shirts and John Deere caps, and maybe a cowboy or two. There’d be a couple of bleached blondes with too much make-up on and hairdos back from when I was still watching Three’s Company, and a guy named Eeavard with his head on the bar. I mean, how good is that? A guy named Eeavard?!

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have gotten a look at some of the farmhouses. But all I could see were shadows zooming by. We couldn’t find the bar. We went further. We turned left. We turned right. We said let’s go a few more miles. We considered calling the boyfriend but ruled it out. How desperate were we anyway? What about if we took Business 29? Maybe it was the business highway and not the regular highway? (I don’t know why they do that—it’s so confusing—two highways with the same name.) We’d get excited every time there was light on the horizon—Look! That’s got to be it! But all it ever was were the yellow lights coming from a church basement or the digital sign from out front. No bars anywhere.

So we’re back on our computers on a Friday night. Which I guess is just as well. I hear boys with names like Eeavard can get pretty rowdy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Oz

The rainbow

We didn’t close. You heard that right. Slow Bob got the new job. He started it the other day. But then his bank wanted a letter from the old job saying that they would rehire him if necessary. I know! It’s crazy! It’s unheard of! First they make him quit his job and get a new one and then they demand the old one promise to hire him back if the new one doesn’t like the way his breath smells. Slow Bob has requested a letter to this effect, but so far, the old job hasn’t coughed it up.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not Virginia, but I am dead and this is some alternate Virginia, the Virginia Hell, and I will spend eternity selling this house over and over again but no one will be able to get a mortgage for it. I’ll get this close and then boom! The deal will fall through!

I am being punished for leaving New Jersey in the first place. I feel guilty for leaving my daughter Jamie when she was in college and we went to Oklahoma to begin with. I feel guilty when my mother was sick and she cried for me to come back, I said I couldn’t. I should have at least lied! Everyone always knocks New Jersey, including the ones who live there. I thought it was going to be so great here. I’ve learned there are good things and bad things about every place. But there is no place like home.
Flying monkeys

I need my ruby slippers! Or a bank that really wants to make a loan!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Message


It is one week before closing and Slow Bob hasn’t gotten the mortgage commitment yet. Now it turns out he needs a letter of reference from a prior job before the new job will commit to hiring him and he won’t get the mortgage until the new job commits to hiring him. Which I thought was already done, since we were told he got the transfer and were even told the start date, but turns out is not completely done, like how a cake is not done when you stick a toothpick in and it comes out gooey. It’s almost done. It smells good. But you can’t eat it yet. And, in fact, it might burn. Like say if someone is honking outside and when you go to the door, they yell, “Do you have horses?!”

Also, the title work has not been started yet and though there won’t be any problems because my title is clean, it won’t be finished until Wednesday. Monday’s a holiday. Columbus Day or something. Everybody’s out of work; everyone’s clamoring for work; but people will conjure up any excuse they can to not actually go to work. Like last week the helper couldn’t work because it was opening day of hunting season. Hunting season! Here we’ve been scrambling for work and we don’t know where the next job is coming from (and this is one reason we want to go back to New Jersey—it’s not just because I’m homesick—we think we’ll have a better chance finding work up there, not unlike the husbands did during the Depression when they all went up north to work and sent money home to the wives who rented out rooms and sold eggs while waiting for them—I saw that in a movie one time) and the helper takes off for the opening day of hunting season!

So the lawyers informed me not to expect anything on Monday because it’s Columbus Day. Why didn’t they start the title work sooner? They had the order from Slow Bob’s bank since last week. I know because I called them to find out how things were progressing. I started my title work on the house up north last week and that house is supposed to close after this one. Nothing gets done until I get on the phone and ask if they did the thing yet. What am I going to have to do—wipe everyone’s rear ends next?!

Best case scenario, maybe the title work will be finished Tuesday afternoon, but most likely Wednesday. That really means Thursday. Therefore, what it boils down to is this: I’m not going to know if this deal is really going to happen until Thursday. And we’re supposed to close on Friday!

In the meantime, I couldn’t postpone any longer doing things I’d rather do if I was sure we were closing—things that cost me money and money I won’t get back if this deal doesn’t go through, things that disrupt business and will hurt my business if it turns out we are staying, things that hold people up, lead people on, or could be unavailable to me if I wait till the last minute. Like the horse hauler. If I don’t schedule him now, he might not be able to do it on the day that I need him. It’s a two day job and the guy’s got to stay in Virginia overnight. And the flatbed trailer. If we don’t buy one now, we might not find one at the price we can afford when we’re ready to go and we need one to transport the tractor. And the well, septic, and termite inspection on the house down here. If I wait too long, the results won’t come back in time. But if we do it too soon and Slow Bob doesn’t get the mortgage, we still have to pay for tests we didn’t need and are unable to use for the next buyer because the results are only good for thirty days. The termite inspection and the title work up north too. I had to get that going. I had to order boxes, bubble wrap, a moving truck, homeowner’s insurance, electrical service… I had to talk to the schools. We couldn’t wait any longer. In one week we’re supposed to be ready to hitch up the wagons, literally, on Bob’s bank’s word that everything looks good. What if they’ve got their hands behind their backs and their fingers are crossed?!

I’m freaking out. Today is my mother’s birthday and I was hoping I’d get a message from her. Some words of wisdom. Something to calm me down. I listened for her words when I was picking up manure, but nothing. I was hoping I’d see a butterfly but I didn’t. My only consolation is knowing that I will finally know the answer, one way or another, in one week. If they don’t show up in the lawyer’s office on Friday, then I think it’s safe to assume it’s not going to happen. And if they do… well, I can’t even imagine the relief I’ll feel.

Then I got a text. It was from my daughter Jamie who lives in North Carolina (temporarily) and who I visited yesterday to bring some stuff that wouldn’t fit in my new house but Jamie could use. Plus all her boxes that I’ve been carting around for the last ten years—toys, cards, books with flowers pressed between the pages, old clothes, even a set of rubber car mats with red and black zebra stripes. When she was going through her stuff, she came across this:
I don’t know how it got in there! The date on the back says “1996.” And what were the chances of Jamie finding it today? Tell me that’s not a direct message from my mother! I couldn’t have gotten a better message unless she hand-delivered it herself.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'll Believe It When I See It


Slow Bob got the transfer! But that don’t mean anything. (I’d like to stop right here and tell you that I know my English is not always correct—I should have said, “That doesn’t mean anything,”—but I am writing how I speak, just like I would if we were sitting across the table from each other having a cup of coffee. Not to say I always know what’s correct English. However sometimes I know when it’s not right and I do it anyway.)

So Bob got the transfer. We got more hay yesterday anyway.
Even though everything looks pretty good at this point, I have no faith that it will actually happen. According to Bob’s banker, the only thing we’re waiting for now is the appraisal. Since we keep lowering the price every time we lose a buyer and put it back on the market, the last appraisal is twenty thousand dollars higher than what Bob is paying. And since we never stop working on it (since the last appraisal, we’ve painted ceilings, put pea gravel in the tractor shed, installed a new ceiling light, put ferns on the porch…) the amount of the appraisal shouldn’t be a problem.

The loan officer said, “Just as long as there are good comps, we should be good to go!”

I assured her, “Oh yeah, there are plenty of good comps!”

But there aren’t. I live in a town of about a thousand people. We’re out in the middle of nowhere. And this is a place people don’t move away from. People stay here. What are the chances that, at any given time, there will be a farm exactly like mine for sale?—a four bedroom house with one bathroom and with real horse facilities including a riding arena on ten acres? There’s a house for sale down the block right now. It has two acres, three bathrooms, no horse facilities and it’s on the highway. There’s another one in the other direction that has around the same acres as mine and a similar horse barn. But no house. (Of course serious horse people don’t care about houses. Just give us a barn with water and electric and a place to plug in the coffee pot so we can make a bran mash for the old guy in the winter.) A couple of miles down the road there’s an old dairy farm on sixty acres for sale. None of them are really comparable to mine. What are they going to want? A cookie-cutter house in the middle of a development that’s the same as all the other ones except the kitchen is beige and not blue?

So it’s going to depend on how much of a stickler Bob’s bank is going to be. And that means I had to go and get more hay.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting Ready For Winter


We had to get hay. There was no getting around it. We could be here for a while. Our latest buyer, let’s call him Bob, got turned down for a mortgage because the bank thinks his commute to work is too long. You’ve got that right. The bank is suddenly concerned about a borrower’s quality of life and butts into decision-making like a meddling mother-in-law who gives the baby a pacifier, or takes it away—whatever she deems is right—because the mother of the baby is obviously an idiot.

I warned Bob about the trouble the banks were giving people who tried to get a mortgage to buy this place. Bob told me if he got the house he planned to transfer to one of his company’s branches closer to home after he got settled in. But in the meantime he would commute. Admittedly, it wasn’t close. Almost two hours. Just like what my girlfriend’s husband does who owns a car dealership up in New Jersey and less than what my other girlfriend’s husband does who works in Manhattan. Sometimes you have to travel for good things.

I advised him not to mention his plans to the bank. If he transferred, they’d claim he got a new job and they don’t give mortgages to people with new jobs. I said don’t give them any ammunition. Don’t even mention it. Don’t tell them that I have a really nice riding arena and you could give riding lessons if you wanted to even though you don’t plan to. Don’t even say it. (They rejected my first buyer because of that. Didn’t want her to rely on paying her mortgage by giving riding lessons even though she was a registered nurse and in fact took riding lessons on her days off.) I warned him: don’t say anything.

But who knew they’d have a problem with the commute? It didn’t even occur to me and I don’t know if it occurred to Bob because he was fine with it. Why should it bother anyone else? I have no idea how the bank found out. Are they Mapquesting the distance people go to work in addition to pulling credit reports and looking at tax returns? What’s next? Will they ask for proof that you own a riding lawnmower because push mowers require too much energy? Will they ask for references from people who will vouch that you know your way around a toolbox and can fix a broken window and repair the heater if it conks out? That actually makes sense. You would think maintaining their investment would be more of a concern to them than worrying about how far the borrower has to drive.

Bob hasn’t given up. He’s trying to get the transfer. But I don’t have a lot of confidence. Last year we thought we were closing, so we didn’t cut wood. I’m too cheap to use the electric heat continuously so I got ripped off buying a dump truck full of wood that turned out to be so green it sizzled and spit like driftwood just washed up on the beach and had to be resplit because the pieces were so big and heavy I could only carry one at a time. And you know how strong I am. I don’t want that to happen again even though getting hay is the worst job in the world. I’d rather clean sheaths. I’d rather weed-whack all the monkey weed or the pig weed, whatever that crap is that grows on the bank behind the arena like it’s on steroids. Forget manure. Even though most people would lump manure in with the sheaths and the weed-whacking, I like picking it up because that’s when I do all my thinking. That’s when my mother talks to me.

At any rate, we had to go and get the hay because I have no faith Bob is going to get the transfer and I think we’re going to be stuck here for the winter, possibly forever. Kurt was kicking and screaming. He’s sick of this farm stuff. It doesn’t help that he hasn’t ridden the horses since we moved out of Jersey eight years ago. And that was the whole point. The horses. But all he’s been doing is building barns and building fences and fixing houses and then fixing houses more so we could sell the houses. We thought we were going to kick back in the country. Have a nice, slower-paced life. Sit on the porch with a glass of iced tea and a slice of blackberry pie; maybe mosey down to the barn for a ride once in a while. But he spends more time and energy maintaining things, fixing things and trying to get rid of the things that we fixed than actually partaking in the rocking chairs on the front porch or the triple gates we installed on the riding arena so we could enter and exit on three sides or the manicured trails he keeps in tip-top condition because you never know when someone’s going to want to come and look at the house. He doesn’t even have a horse anymore since Kelly took over Bullet. So he was not happy about the hay.

The thing about hay is you have to get it while it’s available. It’s not like Jersey where you can pick up the phone once a month and say you want some and the hay guy delivers and stacks it on Thursday. Here, you’ve got to go get it yourself. And you’ve got to get it while the going’s good. Because the farmer won’t store it for you. Even if he had a place to store it, he’s not doing it. You want it, you come and get it right now before Wesley Bell comes and gets it because Wesley just picked up a couple of nice Walkers down at the sale and they need some groceries right quick. Hay, in the land of hay, is somehow a commodity that’s in short supply. At least if you want hay without mold or Johnson grass or crushed up cans and Styrofoam cups baled up with it. And it’s almost impossible to get delivered.

We got 95 bales at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning after going out for Kurt’s birthday the night before. We tried to schedule it for later so Kurt could sleep a little on his only day off. I claimed the horses were on a strict schedule regarding their meals and we would come over after they ate their breakfast but the hay lady was having none of it. She had something else to do and wasn’t waiting around for us to buy her hay. She’s one of the few around here who doesn’t go to church so I don’t know what else she had going on that was more important than getting three hundred dollars in a place where people work half a week to bring home that kind of money and where by the looks of her house—blue tarp on the roof, plywood on a window—she could use.

We’re going to need another four hundred to get through the winter. Three hundred if you go by Kurt. Five hundred if you go by me. And we’re going to have to go back before Wesley Bell gets them. I don’t even want to think about the wood.

Monday, August 15, 2011

No One Knows Me


Ginger is gone. She went back to Texas. Ginger is one of my blog buddies. I follow her because she was a transplant like me and because I admired how she was trying to make a living farming. She and her family were kind of like hippies (I don’t know if she’d like that characterization but that’s how I thought of her because of the goat cheese, the books, and PBS) and they really lived off the farm. They milked their own cow, grew vegetables, heated with wood, and Ginger sold cake and bread down at the local farm market made with flour she ground herself. She ground it herself. Very hippie-like.

She didn’t know how to do all of these things at first. I imagine she knew how to bake bread, being a hippie and all. But she had to Google how to slaughter a chicken and castrate a bull. I could never slaughter a chicken myself, even if someone actually showed me and I didn’t have to resort to Google, but I appreciated that she did. Not that she killed an animal. It was her lack of hypocrisy. How she was humane and grateful, thanking the animal and taking good care of it. If you have to kill an animal, at least be humane and grateful. But I couldn’t do it even if my heart was in the right place. I think I could castrate a bull though. I’ve seen horses getting done. Afterwards you take the testicles and throw them up on the barn roof for good luck. I don’t know if Ginger threw the testicles up on the roof.

Everything was going well, as well as can be expected on a farm with goats getting out and weeds coming in and whatnot, and then Ginger’s husband Philip died. He was from New Jersey, like me. He and Ginger met in school and she also lived in Jersey for a time, until they moved here. That’s how we started talking, yakking on e-mails in between the blogging. She lived in Jersey, I lived in Jersey. She lived in Texas. I lived in Oklahoma. That was close! When you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you don’t know anybody, you’ll latch on to any little shred of something you have in common even if the link is as precarious as being from neighboring states.

But after a while, Ginger didn’t reply to e-mails. I don’t think it was me. She was busy with her church friends. (She was a hippie but she was also from Texas.) Besides castrating animals and butchering chickens, church is the other thing people do out in the country. They get religious. I’ve even seen it with my own friends who left New Jersey and moved to the country and all of a sudden they’re thanking Jesus on their Facebook and saying prayers for everyone who has anything whatsoever wrong like their car won’t start or a horse got kicked. I myself turned to it as well, even though I felt like a fraud. Then I quit when the pastor called gay people evil. But that’s a whole other story—how I found religion and lost it just as quick.

I understand why people are drawn to it. When you’re in the country and there is no neighborhood bar or crowd of mothers holding the hands of backpacked kids waiting for the school bus on every corner, when you are in a place that’s so remote (if you can count having Internet and Dish TV and everything a person could want at her fingertips down at the Minute Market as being remote), that you calculate the cost of a tank of gas and the time getting there in deciding whether it’s worth joining the book club or even going shopping, and the only sounds you hear are the birds and your own voice if you test it now and then by clearing your throat or talking to the dog, the only people you see are the mailman and Eldon on his tractor or Pearl when she brings you something—a pie, cucumbers, a flyer for vacation bible school—you need something. Church, out in the country, is the community. All activities come packaged with the church. The spaghetti dinner? It’s down at the church. The kids are going to the water park. It’s sponsored by the church. The bluegrass festival? It’s in the pastor’s field. You need to find a good plumber? Ask Ray about it in church on Sunday.
And so when Philip died, Ginger’s church friends rallied around her. I wanted to go and visit her when I heard. But I wondered if the death of one’s husband was a good time for blog buddies to meet in real life. Plus I knew she didn’t need me. Her freezer was jam-packed with enough meals the church ladies made to last for God knows how long and all the church husbands were stocking her up with wood and fixing her fences. They even helped outfit her kitchen with an industrial oven so that she could bake bread efficiently and make a living without Philip.

When my mother died, a few months later, Pearl brought me over a pie and took me to a flea market to get me out. She even helped me rescue some rusty old motel chairs discarded behind an old barn that I had my eyes on for years, which I later sanded and painted, saving them from the Dumpsters and making them look cute on my porch.
I’m grateful to her for that. But that was it. I don’t go to church so I had no other support system. Almost immediately I wanted to go home. My mother wasn’t there anymore but I was suddenly very homesick for where she’d been, for the people who knew her and would be shocked when they ran into me at the supermarket and I told them she died (she died—it still doesn’t sound real), and for all the things I took for granted that were linked to her, to my family, to me—the ocean, ticking spinning wheels at the boardwalk, taverns with diamond-shaped windows in the doors, stoops, docks, shamrocks, doo-wop, Bruce Springsteen, lobstermen, Italian bakeries, Soprano accents, Elk’s conventions, the tunnel, the garden, handball, skeeball, stickball, Hoboken, the Statue of Liberty, even the New Jersey Turnpike.

I remember when the turnpike was being built. My sister, annoying as always, called it the “turnapipe.” The pavement was brand new, bright and white and surrounded by crow-weeds and cattails like a road in a state park going to the beach. And it did in fact go to the beach; it went down-the-shore, to Keansburg, to the little town where we rented a bungalow in the summer. When we passed the real estate office that was shaped like a ship in Laurence Harbor, we knew we were almost there. And there was my mother, only 24-years-old, driving her 1968 Dodge Charger with the black stripe on the back end, Crystal Blue Persuasion playing on the radio, and three kids in the back seat kicking each other, vying for a window.

There is no one around here for me to tell this to. People smile and nod when I tell them how she loved her cars—a red Mustang, a gold Cadillac, the Charger, a two-toned Grand Prix that looked like it belonged to a pimp, to name a few—and how she was a flaming redhead until she got sick—this was no old lady who got leukemia and died! But no one around here knows her. No one really knows me.

I imagined that Ginger was having it even worse. She lost her husband, her partner on the farm. How would she manage without him? At least I didn’t have to worry about that. How would she castrate the bulls? Did she even know how to use a chainsaw? (For firewood, not the bulls.) Could she drive the tractor? What if the truck doesn’t start? She had it doubly bad. And with kids too.

But she seemed to be doing it. She got the oven. She planted seeds. They even wrote an article about her in the newspaper. They called her “the mighty widow.” Everyone was impressed by Ginger. Because, let’s face it, it would be hard to make a living on a farm with a husband, never mind without one. Yes, she was heartbroken about Philip and blogged about sitting on the deck at night all by herself, looking at the stars, listening to the whippoorwills and thinking about him. But she was getting on.

I was surprised. I thought she was going to go back to Texas as soon as the funeral was over. And jealous. I was not getting on. I suddenly hated it here. I didn’t even ride my horses anymore because all I wanted to do was go home. We put the house up for sale and I dedicated myself to selling it. Dedicated is too mild a word. I’m obsessed. Fixated. All I do is work at keeping up with it, cleaning it, improving it, marketing it.

I wished I could be like Ginger, and still like it here, still get all teary-eyed over the mountain view that is so beautiful it looks fake; I wish I was still tickled when Eldon, in his straw hat and overalls, waves to me when he drives past the house on his tractor, or I see the filly across the road sticking her head through the fence trying to get some clover that is somehow more delectable than the knee-deep grass she’s standing in. Like she’s doing right now, as I type this. But I don’t care about any of it anymore. Since my mother died.

If I went to church, I’d probably feel better because I wouldn’t feel so alone here. I’d have a community. But I’m not going to church for that reason. And so I suffer in silence, posting ad after ad for this house, thinking up creative ways to get it sold, analyzing, scrutinizing, second-guessing myself about why it’s not and what’s going to happen—am I stuck down here?—am I going to get cancer like my mother and die down here all alone?—and not living in the now, not being present and enjoying my life, because all I’m doing is dreaming of home and figuring out ways to get there.

Then, to make matters worse, Ginger up and left. First she started blogging about it. She decided to do it. She was leaving. Going home to Texas. In a way, I felt relieved. I was not crazy wanting to leave such a beautiful place after all. Even though she had all those church friends, that wonderful community who supplied her with wood and fixed her leaks, in the end, she still wanted to go home too. I warned her it was going to take time to sell her farm. I offered to send some of my prospects her way. She didn’t take me up on it. Such confidence! (She had no idea how bad the real estate market is.) Then I read about how she was planning to leave in the summer so she could get the kids settled in before school starts in September. I thought, good luck with that. I figured for sure I would be out of here before she was, but then the next thing I knew, even without selling the farm, she left. Poof. Gone.

And now I’m even more jealous. How come she can leave and I can’t? Well, technically the reason is because I have to sell my house and she didn’t. I don’t know why she didn’t have to sell her house. Maybe she got life insurance money when Philip died. Maybe she just doesn’t care and she simply abandoned it. I don’t know. Doesn’t matter.

What matters is I have to stop white-knuckling it because I can’t force it to happen. I have to find peace and acceptance, like it seemed Ginger had, when she was here, and when she left, so I can live in the now. Because the now is all I have. Stop the obsessive cleaning and fixing. Stop cutting the grass with a toenail scissors like they tell you to do on Designed to Sell. Start riding my horses again. Go back to the clubs. Take a good look at that mountain behind the hay field.

And maybe get a hold of some testicles to throw up on the roof.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What a Kid Will Do


When you live way out in the country, out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s too hot to ride, a kid who’s not allowed to play on the computer every waking minute will find other things to do. Kelly takes walks in the woods and plays with the dog. She catches frogs and turtles. Sometimes bugs. She also takes pictures. Whenever I look for my camera, she’s got it.

Recently, her pictures were featured on the blog Creative Influences. They said some nice things about Kelly’s work.

Here are some pictures she took of Harley. I call it her “Horse Taking a Shower” series.







Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Best Summer and the Worst Summer


On July 4th, I think about two things. I think about when I went up to Jersey to help take care of my mother for a month. She was so sick, I think I knew she wasn’t going to make it. I went outside on her porch for a cigarette. In the beginning of that month, she was coming out there with me and we were smoking together. But on July 4th, she was in the hospital and I was out there alone. I heard my father’s TV inside the house. I heard the fireworks in the distance and I saw a few over the horizon. People celebrating. Life going on. While I was out on the porch smoking and my mother was dying.

Then, it also makes me think of July 4th, 1976, the Bicentennial. It was the day I brought home my first pony. The family was having a barbecue in the backyard. I tied the pony to the chain-link fence on the front lawn, went into the yard and announced, “Guess what followed me home?”

My mother said, “Oh no Debi, not another dog.”

I said, “It’s not a dog. Come see.”

The family swarmed around him. A horse! It’s a horse! I think they let me keep him because of the novelty of it. My father tried to feed him a hamburger. “They’re vegetarians Dad!” I cried. That’s how much my family knew about horses. But my father got to work building a little barn, one of those 10 X 10 Dutch colonial sheds they sell outside the home improvement stores, and my mother would get Cherokee hay, one bale at a time, and transport it home in the trunk of her Dodge Dart.

Cherokee didn’t make it either. He died right before Christmas. But it was the best summer of my life.

So the best summer is intertwined with the worst summer.

Now I realize I had the worst summer, because I had the best summer. It wouldn’t have been so terrible if I had a mother who wouldn’t let me keep that pony. I wouldn’t miss her so much if she hadn’t been that great.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Stuck in Virginia



Every time I get my heart set on a house, something always happens to mess it up. This time we waited until everything looked like it was a done deal with my buyer. Let’s call him Kip. Kip was pre-approved, his buyer was pre-approved, plus his buyer didn’t have a house to sell so we didn’t have to worry about that. Kip’s buyer had already done the inspections on Kip’s house and everything was good there.

I even called the loan officer myself. He said that with Kip’s 20% down, one year’s worth of mortgage payments in escrow (because of relocating and having to start his business over fresh), his good credit and loan-to-debt ratio, there would be no problem. He said Kip was “strong.” The last thing I did was wait for Kip’s buyer to get his mortgage commitment. I covered Kip. I covered Kip’s buyer. Then we went house hunting. We looked at the nuclear reactor house, we looked at the house on the highway, we looked at the house that even I would set a match to.

The Alloway house was funny. The Alloway house was the very first house we were interested in back in the winter when we sold the house the first time but we never went to look at it because it was quite a bit over our price range and the listing agent said the owner wasn’t negotiable. She called it a thorn in her side and said she’d taken dozens of people to see it but he wouldn’t budge a penny. He wanted close to three hundred thousand and our price range was low 200’s so no sense going. But now, lo and behold, it was down to $249,900, plus a new septic tank had been installed. Sometimes things are a blessing in disguise! Our new agent happily took us to see it.

I can’t even go into telling you about it. I’m too upset. By the time I posted the last story about house hunting and was getting ready to tell you about what we got, it’s over. After everything I did to micromanage the deal, all the checking and double-checking I did, after everything I did to make sure everyone was doing their job and no one was leading me on to believe that my buyer could get a mortgage when he couldn’t, the deal fell through.

I found out the day I found out my father passed out on the kitchen floor, woke up vomiting blood, and got himself to the hospital by crawling to the phone and dialing 911. He’s okay now but this is why I have to get home! This is it in a nutshell!

I’m starting to think I’m stuck in Virginia. No matter how well-priced my house is, no matter if I keep selling it over and over again, no bank is going to lend anyone any money to buy it. We gave them all that money to bail them out, and yes, I understand that they’re cautious now and they should be, they shouldn’t have been lending people money for houses they couldn’t afford in the first place. But I keep bringing them buyers who can afford my house and it’s a good house, priced under the appraisal, and if these people can’t get loans, no one’s getting loans. The bank is sitting on all the money and foreclosing on people’s property—they’re like the king—they’re keeping it all! No wonder why the economy is still at a standstill….

The banks aren’t the only bad guys. You’ve also got the henchmen. That’s the lawyers. This is how it all played out: Kip’s buyer learned ten inches of Kip’s backyard was in one of FEMA’s newly designated flood zones and would require flood insurance. Supposedly Kip wasn’t aware of this. Kip’s buyer’s lawyer advised him to ask for more money off the house to “remedy the situation.” I can just picture what he said. “It’s a buyer’s market! You can get another twenty grand off the house for that!” Everyone was happy up until that point, including Kip’s buyer, a first-time home buyer who loved Kip’s house, but was, naturally, afraid to cross his lawyer, and his parents, who were hovering during the entire process like a new mother over a preemie in a crib and were now nodding their heads vigorously because they had such a good lawyer.

Kip said no; he couldn’t afford to give any more money off the house because then he wouldn’t be able to buy mine. I offered to give him another five thousand off the price of my house and the real estate agents offered to take less of a commission to help him make the deal happen. The real estate agents even got the seller of the Alloway house to contribute five grand. Then it was a roller coaster ride. One minute Kip and his buyer came to an agreement, the next minute they didn’t. It was on, it was off, it was on, it was off.

Pretty soon I’m going to be in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer just like my father if this keeps up.

Finally it was on. But then, even though we all kicked in money, Kip still had to lower the price of his house to satisfy his buyer, and now he didn’t have enough money for the 40% down payment the bank wanted. Yeah, if you’re sharp, you caught that. First the bank told us 20%. Now it was forty. I couldn’t believe it. I specifically discussed this with the loan officer myself in the beginning of this process because I didn’t want what happened with my last buyer to happen with this one—the bank leading us all on. But now 20% wasn’t enough. By the time I thought it was safe and bought a house, 20% morphed into 40%. Kip only had 35%. Plus Kip learned that the interest rate on the loan was over 8%, double the going rate.

So the deal is off. And now we are probably going to lose the Alloway house because I was bidding against someone else who wanted it and the reason the seller accepted our offer was because we assured him it was a done deal down here, we were closing, everything had gone through and all we had to do was pack. I suppose there’s a chance the other person who wanted it found another house. Or maybe he won’t be able to get a mortgage the way the banks are holding on to the money. Maybe a miracle will happen and I’ll sell my farm to someone else who actually can close before the Alloway seller finds someone new. I have been getting action. Someone is doing a drive-by right now as I write. I even have someone who came right out and said he wants it but can’t buy it till August when his divorce becomes final.

In the meantime, I can’t even tell you about the Alloway house because I’m so upset.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

House Hunting


We looked at a bunch of houses before we started getting worried. There was the log cabin that had views of the nuclear reactor from the front porch. That wasn’t even the reason we rejected it. Though it was surrounded by beautiful farms with silos and fishing boats in the yards and reminded me of Misty of Chincoteague, and I love log cabins, the town itself was a ghetto. I’m talking gangland ghetto. Let’s put it this way. Even though I come from Jersey City, I was scared when we were in McDonald’s. Kelly would have to go to school with these kids. I bet all the farmers’ kids who were stuck between the ghetto and the bay where their families had crabbed or farmed for generations, were homeschooled, and the farm families were cringing at what grew up around them like weeds on the other side of a fence. I liked the house and the neighborhood so much, for a split second, I not only dismissed the nuclear reactor but I wondered if I could homeschool Kelly. Then I remembered that I don’t even know my times-tables so that was out.

There was the old stone house with the bathroom in the middle of the bedroom with a shower curtain that you pull around the toilet for privacy and all the plaster falling off the ceilings and walls in all the bedrooms upstairs, plus a kitchen that needed to be totally gutted. It had great acreage, even more than I have here, and we might have considered fixing it up if it wasn’t so overpriced.

There was the house on a busy road in a bad part of town that was too small and didn’t have enough acreage even if we didn’t care about living within walking distance of a check cashing place and a dollar store.

There was the house that the sellers refused to let anyone see.

There was the house next to the power lines. (It wouldn’t stop me. I don’t like it but power lines are a good place to ride—you can ride for miles and miles. But Kurt says no on the power lines.)

One possibility was the newer ranch house in pristine condition on twelve beautiful pasture acres that you could move right into. The house wasn’t old, like I wanted, but it was practical. My father would approve. It was a little small but it had a full basement, a den, and a Sub-Zero refrigerator. It had a carport for the dually and a fenced-in backyard for the dog. It was nice. But there’s always a downside to everything in our price range. It was on a busy road. Somewhat of a highway. A country highway. But a highway nonetheless. On the good side, you could have horse shows there. That’s something I was actually looking for—a place that would be conducive to having horse shows. It would help to pay the high New Jersey property taxes. It would even be a good place to build a warehouse for our flooring business. Tractor trailers would be able to access it. But it was also overpriced. They’d have to come down. We filed this away as a back-up house—something we’d buy just to get up there and maybe sell later if we couldn’t stand the road. Maybe it wouldn’t bother us. You never know. It’s not something we wanted to do, buy a back-up house—we’re tired and are sick of moving. But we had to find a house.

There was the house in historic Smithville. Smithville! Smithville is one of the reasons I want to move back to Jersey! Smithville is a little village of shops on cobblestone streets that sell gourmet coffees, homemade pies and chocolate, candles, antiques, pottery, lavender-scented lotions, homemade goat soap, I Love Lucy collectibles, restored Schwinn bicycles, incense, beads, rocks, shells, Violets candy and Bazooka gum, vintage toasters, movie posters, and wind chimes. It’s where I got my magic wand from.

I love Smithville! When we left New Jersey, I thought the whole Virginia was going to be like Smithville. But I haven’t found anything like that here. As soon as we moved back to Jersey, I was going to go to Smithville right away and get some chocolate-covered strawberries and maybe a piece of rose quartz for my rock collection. So I was excited when I realized the next house on the list was actually in Smithville!


The listing said “dry basement,” but this one had the wettest basement of them all. We actually might have considered it just for the location alone, but like most of them, it needed way too much work for what they were asking. Overpriced with a capital O.

We ruled out handyman specials in worse shape than the winery house, houses that needed to be burned down, houses on small acreage,
a house next to a gas station, a house that used to be a truck terminal, foreclosures and short sales (they take too long), and a house that was so far down at the bottom of New Jersey that I might as well stay in Virginia, that’s how long it would take me to run up to the family’s for a cup of coffee or to take my father to a doctor’s appointment.

We were worried.

And then we found the Alloway house.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Second Chance to Get the Winery House



When we lost our buyers because they couldn’t get a mortgage and the seller of the winery house wouldn’t wait for us to find new buyers, I heard my mother’s voice when I was out in the field one morning, picking up manure. That’s when it’s peaceful. That’s when I do all my thinking. She said, “Don’t worry Debi. You’re going to find an even better house.”

Truthfully, I was mad. I didn’t want another house. I hesitated telling Kurt because, even if he didn’t think I was crazy, hearing my mother’s voice, he didn’t want another house either. Plus, I didn’t believe her. No way was I going to find a house that was better than the winery house. Yeah, it needed work but anything in our price range in Jersey was going to need work. This was something that we would never be able to afford otherwise! It was a grand old house, the kind that when you passed it on the street, you thought, “Rich people live there.” There was no way we were going to find anything that could compare.

My father thought we were crazy and insisted it was still going to be there when we found a new buyer. He said, “Nobody’s going to buy that thing!” I said, “Dad! Did you see the architectural details? Did you see the banister? It’s got pocket doors!” He rolled his eyes. Fathers care about things like heating houses without going broke and they worry about roofs, bathrooms that need toilets, and tax bills.

But he was right. Father knows best. The winery house was still available when we sold our house the second time! And my mother was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t her speaking to me after all. Maybe it was just my grief, grief over losing her, grief over losing the house—no wonder I was hearing things! It was my mind’s way of helping me cope. And now it was still for sale!

But we’re not stupid. This time we planned to look it over real good and figure out exactly what it was going to cost to fix, plus we were going to look at as many other properties as we could find so we could compare it. We didn’t have time to do this the first time because we were closing so fast in Virginia, plus a blizzard was happening. Now we’d have time. And we’d be comfortable in good weather. We thought we might even end up offering the seller of the winery house less money than we had in the winter if it needed more work than we had originally estimated. Also, we were coming out with less money this time because we sold our house for less. She had her chance to lock us in but she’d refused to take a house-selling contingency and wait for us. Now she might get less! It was her own fault.

Ironically, the people buying our farm the second time are from New Jersey. We turned them on to a local mortgage broker who knew this was a horse farm and was waiting anxiously to lend somebody some money to buy it. He didn’t care about the agricultural zoning or the “income producing nature of the property”—meaning the buyer could give horseback riding lessons if she wanted to. He gives loans out for small horse farms all over this area regularly. He said our new buyer looked good. We waited until every i was dotted and t was crossed. We waited until our buyer’s buyer got all his inspections done and got his mortgage commitment. We double- and triple-checked everything and as soon as we were sure nothing could go wrong, we got Pearl and Eldon to watch the animals and we went to Jersey to buy a house.

By the time we got there, our real estate agent told us we had to go see the winery house right away. She said if we still wanted it, we had to make an offer immediately. That day. Even though I told the seller of the winery house that we were coming and she said she’d wait for us to look at it again, she took another offer. And if we still wanted it, we had to decide now, before it was through attorney review. Tomorrow attorney review was over.

We were mad. There wouldn’t be any time to look at any other houses. There wouldn’t be time to leisurely dig into what it would take to hook up the sewer pipe to the septic system or to find out even if there was a septic system. Really. When you think about it. Maybe it was a cesspool. Maybe there was an outhouse. Technically, we didn’t know. We’d have to forget trying to get prices for replacement radiators (the radiators had exploded in the winter), and we wouldn’t be able to examine the roofs, the electrical wires that draped across the front yard and were propped up by a stick, or the garage in back which was locked up the last time we were up there. Now we were under pressure again.

The other offer was for $196,000. Our original agreement was for $200,000. Meaning don’t bother to try to get it for less. I didn’t like it. I also didn’t like it that the seller would renege on her deal with the other guy, if there really was another guy, if we offered her a better one. Business is business but they had an agreement. It didn’t seem right. Still, we went right away.

Let me put it this way. If there is another buyer who is giving the seller $196,000, then I’ll smoke my hat. It was a disaster! Being vacant, it did not weather the winter well. There was more peeling paint, the tarps had blown off the roofs of the outbuildings, and the property was so overgrown and neglected that the little clearing I was going to squeeze my horses onto wasn’t big enough for a goat. Now that the snow was gone, we saw trash and debris all over the yard, there was plywood covering mysterious holes in the ground (perhaps the septic tank), and broken glass crunched like corn chips under our feet—obviously the house had been continually vandalized over the years and broken windows was the destruction of choice. It wasn’t the picturesque property I remembered from Christmastime. It looked like a city lot.

In the back was a garbage pit. I know old houses have garbage pits. But this one was about the size of a swimming pool and though I was busting to start digging because I could see old stuff right on top—milk glass, broken blue bottles, china—there was also new stuff in it. Plastic Snapple bottles, brown beer bottles, ribbons of rubber from car tires and other new things not interesting or collectible fanned out from the pit into the yard and spread toward the house like it came with high tide. And it was black. Not from being burned. It looked like oil.

I didn’t know what Kurt was thinking. The real estate agent was with us and you can’t always talk openly plus I knew how much he loved the house and I didn’t want to be a downer but I was thinking no way am I going to buy this thing! I watched his face trying to discern if he was as shocked and disappointed as I was. He didn’t reveal anything. He was looking around, stepping over boards and brush. We went inside. Instead of being freezing and dark like it was in the winter, this time it was about a hundred-and-fifty degrees and dark and smelled like cat piss. In the cellar it was cool. Kurt noticed condensation. He poked the insulation above us. Water trickled down. Everywhere we poked, water came down. We peeled back the insulation. The rafters were drenched. Turns out someone, trying to do a good thing, put in the insulation incorrectly and it trapped all the moisture. It was a mold explosion waiting to happen.

Honestly, I was relieved. There was no better reason to reject the house. I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to persuade Kurt that we shouldn’t buy it. But it wasn’t necessary. He didn’t want it either. We didn’t even have to mull it over. The seller of the winery house wanted an answer now? Then the answer was flat out, unequivocally no. No way.

We felt like a load was lifted. Now we could go house hunting without worrying about the winery house, without wondering what-if, without mooning over the grand old house that got away. Losing our first buyer and causing that deal to fall through, was, it turns out, a blessing in disguise. And maybe my mother was right. Because anything was going to be better than the winery house.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Purple Dining Rooms Look Good To Me

I’m frustrated because I have a bunch of people who’d love to buy this place but they can’t because they have to sell their place first and it’s slow-going. The only one who was not encumbered by having to sell a house couldn’t get a mortgage because of the agricultural zoning and “the income producing nature of the property.” Meaning she could give riding lessons. Oh no, can’t have that. Can’t have someone making a few bucks to help out with the mortgage.

My place is in pristine condition. It has never looked better. Those words came right out of Pearl’s mouth. That’s because we don’t stop working on it. Every time we fix or clean something, we look around for another bug on a windowsill or cobweb to sweep. Short of tearing the whole thing down and starting fresh, there’s nothing more that we can do.

My friend, the real estate agent, suggested that I repaint it in neutral colors. I know. I watch all those shows too. Designed to Sell, The Unsellables, and Get It Sold.

This was on AOL Real Estate this morning:

“It's not that unique features aren't fabulous, it's just that leaving too big a personal imprint--the koi pond filled with rescued sea turtles--can be an impediment in this buyers-rule market. It doesn't matter whether you're a celebrity or Joe Normal trying to sell your tract house: Experts say this is no time for purple dining-room walls and computerized toilet seats.”

I disagree. Unless you don’t know how to decorate.

Here is the living room in my house in Jackson.
Not quite red. More like Snooki self-tanning orange. (I call credit if Sherwin Williams comes out with that color.)

I sold that place in one month for close to the full asking price.

Here is one of the bathrooms in my house in Oklahoma.
In my defense, I didn’t have a lot to work with—unless you’re going modern, there’s not a lot you can do with grey fixtures.

I sold that place in two weeks for the full asking price to a cash buyer with no contingencies, no appraisal, no inspections, nothing, and could have had a bidding war if I didn’t already shake hands with the guy. It was the second highest priced property on the market in the county in a depressed area. Not bad for a FSBO.

Here is my purple dining room they advised against in the above article.
It’s purple. Not plum. Not lavender. True purple. Country Living magazine wanted to do a spread on that place but I sold it before they had a chance to. That one took a little longer. About two months. Granted, I didn’t get near the asking price but I had other issues going on there. It was next door to the Evils’. I couldn’t wait around. But I was happy. I bought it for $195,000 in 2004 and sold it for $365,000 in 2008.

So, no. I’m not painting the office in this house.


I admit it’s not going to appeal to the largest common denominator. (I sold the one with the purple dining room to a witch. No kidding. Serves the Evils right.)

But I think it’s fair to say my red office is not ugly. And if someone thinks it is and they don’t have the smarts to know they can pick up a couple of gallons of off-white for fifty bucks, then they don’t have the smarts to know that this house is a phenomenal deal and they’ll probably drive me crazy nit-picking uneven floor boards and dead bugs on windowsills.

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
—Rolling Stones

Update: Since writing this, I have received two offers on the house.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Practicing to Be a Cool Old Lady



I don’t want anybody to be shocked when they see me when I go back to Jersey. I’ve really aged in the last year. It’s probably from the stress of losing my mother plus I turned fifty and I’m going through menopause. All of a sudden I have wrinkles all over the place and I’ve got this paunch in the middle that I see a lot of middle-aged women get. I’m not too worried about the paunch. I’ve watched all the women in my family get it when they went through menopause and then when they were done with the changes, a few years later, they got skinny again. I ride horses and take care of this whole farm myself so I’m not too worried about it. I’m very active. But the wrinkles. They’re not going away.

What bothers me about it is what other people are going to say. They will whisper, “Oh, what happened to Debi?” And “Debi looks terrible!” I know I look tired. I feel tired. I feel like I’ve been through the mill these last few years. If it wasn’t for what other people are going to think, I really wouldn’t care too much. It’s not like I’m going to let myself go. I’ll have blonde hair on my deathbed. But you can’t control everything.

The problem is, they haven’t seen me for eight years. We all age and I know they have wrinkles too. But they’ve seen each other regularly so I’m sure they don’t notice it in themselves like they’ll notice it in someone who they still think of as being forty-two years old, the age I was when I left. And then I’ll show up and I’ll be fifty. It’s like when someone dies. You always picture them the age they were when you lost them. But I’m coming back. And yeow! It’ll be a shock.

But who cares? I’m going to be a cool old lady. I knew this was going to happen sooner or later so I figured I better find a way to accept it. If I can’t look like a hot number when I’m old, at least I can be fun and make people smile. You know, like a Betty White type. So I’m practicing. One time I took a sip of water and spit it at Kelly. Got her right in the head too. I also race her up the stairs and I beat her because I cheat—the trick is I hold her until I get ahead of her. It helps if the dog’s involved because he grabs her by the ankles.

We talk with English accents. I encourage her to call me “Mum” and we stop whatever we are doing whenever Russell Brand comes on the TV so we can study him and make people chuckle. (They often chuckle in England whereas we Americans tend to laugh or giggle.) Today in Cato’s, Kelly held up a shirt and I exclaimed, “That’s quite lovely!” Kelly said, “I know Mum. It’s splendid, isn’t it?” Kurt told the clerk, “They’re not really British you know.”

I’ve also been practicing in Walmart. It’s so dreary in there—what better place to spread some joy? I always talk to everyone anyway. Now I go out of my way to do it.

I make a point of using the cashier’s name. “Thanks a lot Ruby. You have a great day.” They always look surprised that I read their name tag and used their name. Like it actually took effort. You get easy credit for this one.

I make jokes to strangers in the aisles. “Now if only I could hit the lottery I could buy some meat to go with all these snacks!” (We’re big on snacks in this house; hence the paunch mentioned earlier.)

I always stop and chat with the greeters because they get a bad rap. Like that’s an easy job. I’m fifty and I couldn’t stand on my feet all day long like they do. Most of them are senior citizens and they don’t even let them sit down. Why can’t they say hello from a stool? Why isn’t there a stool on the side so they can at least take a load off when no one comes in?

And I try to be helpful. “I get the store brand salsa,” I told a woman who looked confused, her hand hovering back and forth between the Pace and Chi-Chi’s. “The lime and garlic,” I advised. “It’s delicious and you get a lot more for the money.”

One time I had such a long conversation with a woman on line at the deli counter that I found out she’d lost a child and she was raising her grandchild, the state where she was from, the kind of work her husband did, her middle name and why she was named that, what kind of cold cuts she was buying and the theme for the party she was throwing on Saturday. She was wearing a butterfly pendant on a gold necklace. I didn’t tell her about my mother. You know, and how she loved butterflies. I didn’t have to because I felt so good making that lady feel good, that’s what I was busy doing. When she got her order, she reached out and squeezed my arm. “It was so nice talking to you!”

All day long I felt good. I noticed, when I looked in the rearview mirror driving home, that I was smiling. And there in the corner of my eyes were big crow’s feet. And somehow, they didn’t look so bad.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Signs


All my flowers are blooming. The first one that came up was my mother’s. It’s a tulip. Jamie’s boyfriend Lou’s mother gave it to her when she was first in the hospital. She wasn’t allowed to have any plants or flowers in her room so she gave it to me because she knew I wouldn’t kill it. No one else in my family gardens. I carried it down to Virginia in its pot covered with crinkly pink foil. It was carefully wedged between a suitcase and a cooler filled with pork roll and cannolis from the Italian bakery. I planted it next to my back steps so I could see it all the time. It died right away. I thought that was a bad sign. And I was right. My mother died too.

The following spring I fixed up that little area by the back steps. I put mulch down and made a border out of Kelly’s collection of glass insulators. The colored glass looks really pretty when the sun is shining. I put an old tin watering can there that my neighbor from Jersey gave to me because she knew I liked old things. I put a metal sculpture of a grasshopper there that my mother bought for Kelly’s room when she was a baby. I added a couple of pretty rocks that I found, one with white streaks of quartz in the shape of a cross (I considered selling that one on eBay—“Woman sees Jesus on a stone!”), and another rock shaped just like Jersey. I put a dot on the spot where the winery house would be with black Magic Marker.

Then, when I was in Peebles, they had one of those fake rocks for sale that you hide your house key inside. I would never hide my house key in one of those because everyone knows what they’re for. Might as well hide it under the doormat if you want to be stupid. But I liked it because it had a copper plate in the middle with a picture of a butterfly on it. My mother loved butterflies. So I bought it and I put it right in the middle of the little plot of earth by my steps. Every time I go up and down, I look at it and think about my mother.

Last week I was on my hands and knees weeding when I spotted something green sticking out from underneath the fake rock. I picked it up. It was the tulip! Two springs have gone by since it died and here it was again, nosing up through the mulch, muscling its way from underneath the fake rock that was on top of it.

I took that as a sign. I really don’t know what kind of sign it is. Hope? A sign that my mother lives on even when I thought she was gone? A simple sign of spring? I don’t know. But it’s something good.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Me and Joyce Carol Oates


The last time my mom was at her favorite place, her trailer at Mountain Shadows Lake in Newton, N.J.

Joyce Carol Oates lost her husband unexpectedly when she drove him to the hospital because he had pneumonia and he caught something there. A staph infection or C-diff or something, just like what was always getting my mother sick. A week later he was dead.

I hold up Raven’s Wing and think—she wrote this when she was innocent. When she didn’t know what pain was. I think about when I met her over twenty years ago at a reading she gave in a library in Princeton. I asked a question. I always ask questions even if I’m scared. She was a famous writer! Now I look back and I think about how she and I didn’t know what we were in for. Being scared is nothing compared to losing someone who means the world to you. We could have never imagined our futures back then when our paths crossed and we shook hands, she in a grey wool coat and beret, me in a twenty-nine dollar jacket from Bradlees. She was smaller than I’d imagined. Her hand was cool. I said something nice about her work. I worried that I sounded like a jerk. I worried that I smelled like cigarette smoke. It was an innocent time when all I had to worry about was what a famous writer thought of me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good News and Bad News



View of our neighbor's farm.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, I’ve been getting a bunch of inquiries about the farm. The bad news is, nothing is happening with any of them. I have a couple of people from northern Virginia who have told me they are going to come down to look at the place but they haven’t yet. I have a couple from other states who have said they’re coming, but they haven’t yet either. A few—I don’t know where they’re from—ask me questions and I get excited because I have the right answers.

For example, “How much of the property is fenced?”

Yay! “All of it is fenced and cross-fenced, and a lot of it is board fencing—hard to find around here.”

And, “What are the neighbors like?”

Oh, good one! “The neighbors are gifts from god! They are one reason I don’t want to leave this place. Pearl and Eldon will bring you a pie when you move in, plus they’ll watch your animals whenever you go away. They’re friendly but they won’t bother you. You can’t ask for better neighbors.”

But it doesn’t matter how good the answers are. I never hear from them again.

Then I have one who is local. They did a drive-by and then they e-mailed me. They love the place. Love it! But they have to sell their place first. I have one from up in Maine who begged, “Don’t sell it to anyone else! I want it! But I have to settle some business first.” Whatever that means. Then I have a lady who wasn’t planning to move until she retires in four years but she stumbled upon my place and wants to know if it would be possible to lease it out? As a matter of fact I’ve gotten, four, count them, four people who’ve asked me if they could lease it. Plus Pearl and Eldon will keep an eye on it. Please see the above about our wonderful neighbors.

One of the people who inquired about the farm is now a friend of mine. She is not in the position to buy it, but we got to yakking on e-mail and then we got to yakking on the phone and I now have a new friend in Georgia.

I’ve even gotten another offer on it. The only people who came to see it since my deal fell through offered us the full asking price like the first people. They even admitted they were looking at it before I lowered the price and were prepared to pay that. Shoot. However, and this is a big however, they have to sell their place too. I understand I might have to take a house-selling contingency. I wanted the seller of the winery house to take a house-selling contingency from me. So I understand that. But I know that my house is going to sell. I’m in control—I know I priced it right (in fact, it’s now underpriced, reduced even below the appraisal), and I know how to market it. I have it advertised all over the place: Realtor.com, Land-and-Farm, FSBO, Owners.com, Virginia Equestrian, Virginia Horse Journal, Horse Talk, Horse News, Homes Now, HorseTopia, HorseClicks, Equine.com, Lands-of-America, Craig’s List, Facebook, you name it. I also put flyers everywhere. We even created its own website, www.SmithMountainLakeHorseProperty.com, with tons of pictures and information. This is not the first rodeo I’ve been in. This is the fifth place I’m selling by-owner. If there is anyone out there who needs a little horse farm in this price range and who is actually capable of buying it, I’m going to sell it.

But how do I know my buyer is going to do a good job selling his house if I take a contingency? I have no control over what they do to get their place sold. What if they don’t put their all into it like we do? What if they have a real estate agent who just collects listings, sits back and does nothing, hoping it’ll sell itself and if it doesn’t, well, no skin off his nose? So we called the agent to see if we could get a feeling for how things were going to go.

“Well,” he yawned. “It’s in the MLS and we run ads in the newspaper and we’re going to have an open house.”

Big whoop.

Next we took a ride and looked at their place ourselves. It’s a nice new ranch house but it’s on a main road plus the property is wooded and hilly. Which is exactly the reason they liked ours. You have to walk way down to get to their barn and they’d love to have a real riding arena. On top of that, they were next door to a trailer with a blue tarp, torn and shredded, dangling from the roof and flapping every time the wind blew. There were dogs on chains around the trees in the front yard and stainless steel bowls, dented and upside down, were scattered about. My heart sank. I was hoping this was going to be it and we could take their offer. We looked at the comps just to be sure but I don’t have any confidence they’re going to sell that place for a long time. They’re going to have to drop their price about fifty grand, maybe more. I had to tell them to come back when they’re under a solid contract.

So I’ve got all these bites but nothing’s happening. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. Eventually I’m going to sell it and then all of a sudden they’re all going to come out of the woodwork, suddenly they’ll all be ready and they will be heartbroken that they missed it. This always happens when I’m selling my places. Only this time, due to the market we’re in, it’s just taking a little longer. I want to tell them hurry up, hurry up, you’re not going to find anything better than this in this price range… But of course I can’t. They’ll think I’m desperate. They won’t believe me.

In the meantime, I am officially out of contract on the winery house. The seller finally signed the release forms and they are sending my earnest money back. This is good news and bad news too. It’s bad because the house is freed up now and even though giving me a house-selling contingency wouldn’t have stopped her from selling it to someone else (if someone made an offer, she would have asked us if we were ready to perform and if we still couldn’t close, she could have taken the new offer), it might have prevented other people from looking at it when they found out it was under contract.

But it’s also good because we could renegotiate when we do find a buyer for this place and who knows, maybe get the winery house cheaper. I’ve learned some things about it—taxes are even higher than I was told, homeowner’s insurance is going to be practically impossible to get… Also, it’s possible we might find something that’s even better. Trying to look on the bright side. Because I am heartbroken I might miss it just like all the people who inquired about my place are going to be if they miss mine.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Big Guns



I got out the big guns. I’m not talking about my real gun. I hate that thing. I want to get rid of it. I have no idea what it is—a shotgun, a rifle… I keep getting the two of them mixed up. I keep having to say, “Kurt, what do we have again?” when I want to tell someone about it. The only reason I got the stupid thing was because of the Evils. The cops couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do anything, so after I got hit with the hammer, I went down to Walmart and got the gun. I filled out some paperwork. It took fifteen minutes. The next thing you knew I was wheeling it out to my car in a shopping cart next to the macaroni-and-cheese, and some kind of ammunition—buckshot, bullets, I don’t know—was in the seat up front where babies usually sit.

One of the church ladies sent her husband over to show me how to shoot it. It nearly knocked me off my feet even though I lift fifty pound bags of grain on a regular basis and push wheelbarrows full of manure, dirt, rocks, you name it, every morning. But it’s been almost five years now and the Evils are long out of the picture and the gun has been sitting in the closet making me nervous… under the bed making me nervous… in the attic making me nervous... One time I put it in the extra refrigerator out in the garage but that made me nervous too because what if we get a thief who’s hungry? Plus I had no place to store the beer and hot dog rolls when summer came. Then I read about some guy who was moving to New Jersey and he got arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike because he was transporting his gun in a locked suitcase underneath boxes of china, dish towels and the toaster oven in the trunk of his car. So I’d like to get rid of it.

Anyway, I’m not talking about the real gun. I’m talking about something even more powerful. It’s so powerful that I almost told the seller of the winery house about it when she called to see if I had sold the farm yet. It appears that someone else is interested in the winery house and they want to make an offer but it’s also contingent upon them selling their property and I think she wanted to make sure that I was still interested before she told them no. Yes I’m still interested! We’ve asked for a house-selling contingency but they never responded! I assured her that my farm should sell quickly. I told her I have people coming from other states to see it. I told her to go look at my website so she could see for herself that my farm is beautiful and it’s priced right and it should sell in a timely manner. I told her that I just put it on Realtor.com. Then I almost told her about the statue.

It’s a St. Joseph statue, about three inches high, cream-colored plastic, and would look good next to Mary in the manger if you were missing Joseph. It could even fill in for one of the Wise Men if you were in a pinch. But he’s really for burying in the yard like a dog buries a bone. Or a pirate buries treasure. They say that if you’re trying to sell a house and you bury St. Joseph in the front yard, it’ll sell fast. You would think that the only thing selling is the St. Joseph statues themselves. They are all over eBay and for sale on websites with names like Good Fortune For You. But they work. I can vouch for that! This is the third St. Joseph I’m burying. It worked when I was selling the Oklahoma house and that was a tough house to sell because it was the second highest priced property for sale in the county in an area that was very depressed. It sold for the full asking price in two weeks to a cash buyer with no contingencies—no mortgage, no appraisal, no inspection, nothing. And then we practically had a bidding war but we were already in contract. People were coming out of the woodwork begging me to buy that place!

It worked for the Ferrum house with the Evils next door. No one thought I was going to get out of there alive. But that house sold in two months. It took a little longer. That’s because I had to do it very quietly—I couldn’t let the Evils know. I didn’t even put a for-sale sign on the lawn because if they got wind that I was selling, they would have done something to sabotage the sale. Both of those sales, like this one, were for-sale-by-owner. For-sale-by-owners aren’t easy when conditions are good. They’re almost impossible when conditions are bad. In this case, it’s the economy.

So I ordered another St. Joseph. You’re supposed to dig it up and take it with you when you sell the house but it’s so windy out in Oklahoma, any tell-tale marks in the yard where I had buried it were blown away and after digging the fifth hole with a kitchen spoon because everything was packed already and finding nothing but worms and a bottle cap, I gave up and left him there. Ferrum, I was so happy to get out of there I’m lucky I didn’t leave Kurt, never mind the statue. I wonder how many St. Joseph statues excavators will find in the future? I can just picture happy homeowners on their hands and knees, digging in the garden and finding St. Joseph. “What’s this Honey?” They stand up with a hand on a hip and blow the dirt off. Squinting, they hold it up. “It appears to be a religious artifact of some sort,” one of them speculates.

The thing came with a little plastic bag and directions. You’re supposed to bury him inside the bag, upside down, facing the street. It seems kind of mean putting him in the dirt head first, but that’s what it says to do. You have your choice of prayers. I said both of them. I figured if one is good, two is better. The horses hung their heads over the fence watching me. Effie went by in her old turquoise pickup truck. She tapped the horn. She probably thought I was planting spring bulbs.

When I was finished, I decided to do some weeding. You never know when someone will want to look at the place so you have to keep it up. You have to be ready. I weeded the flower beds. I weeded the vegetable garden. Then I got some mulch.

Later, when I went in the house there was a call on the machine from someone asking about the farm. It doesn’t mean anything. But you never know.