Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Benny at School

This is Benny and his friend Sienna. I have no idea what he's wearing on his head.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Hamster Wheel

By all measurements, this year is a tougher one financially for Americans: the dollar is weaker, gas prices are higher, and home prices nationally fell 14.4 percent in March from a year earlier. We're all running on hamster wheels these days, legs churning madly and getting nowhere fast.

My little family is actually in better shape from a year ago, if only because our financial situation in 2007 was so dire to begin with. We're not out of the woods, but the trees have opened enough to allow a little sunshine through and the occasional sniff of fresh air. We actually took a little weekend trip this Memorial Day, something we hadn't done since moving to San Francisco.

One big reason for my sudden euphoria: Our new apartment. The last two weeks have been a crazy jumble of phone calls, open houses, credit checks and application forms. We came very close to leasing a beautiful place in the outer Sunset; two bedrooms, plus dining room and breakfast nook. Fabulous condition. $250 cheaper a month than our current place. But the commute to Benny's school would have been just as long, if more pleasant. We would've needed a car, with all its attendant expenses. Tempting, but we passed.

Instead, we chose a small place two blocks from Benny's school. $500 less a month in rent. No car needed. CIty Car Share cars nearby. Benny can ride his tricycle or his wagon to school. My 90-minute morning commute will be cut in half. So while I'll probably have to store our pots in the oven and my books in the garage, I can live with the sacrifices.

Friday, May 02, 2008

May Days of 2007

Spring is anniversary time around our house -- Ron and I were married April 29. But May marks another, newer anniversary, for it was in May 2007 that Ron left Michigan to work in San Francisco.

May was also the month when our realtor showed our house for eight days in a row, sometimes multiple showings in one day, and received no offers. We had priced the house at the amount we owed, prepared to take a bath on realtor fees and STILL couldn't move the thing.

So it was in May that Ron and I faced the prospect of paying both mortgage and rent for an undefined period, and that's when our move back to San Francisco ceased to be a fun adventure and became a perilous gamble. When Ron boarded that plane last May, we were gambling that I would generate enough income to pay the mortgage, that huge budget-busting house repairs would not crop up, that we would sell the house before the July property tax bill arrived.

Looking back, I'm breathless that we had the nerve. Two things gave us hope: My brother had agreed to rent the house from us and my work prospects at the San Francisco newspaper were good. Both panned out beautifully: Andy went crazy over the house and ended up buying it; and I'm still working at the Business Times.

So we're facing May 2008 from a slightly better position, with nothing more worrisome on the horizon than Benny entering kindergarten next year (which is actually a big concern, given the crazy S.F. process, and worth a blog post of its own). These days, instead of emptying out a storage space and keeping a house Swiffer-perfect, I'm planning a family trip to San Diego and working on a fiction project. I wish I could have seen a glimpse of the future last May, when I was arguing with basement contractors and setting up a garage sale.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I'm back!

I must apologize for the accidental hiatus. Things spun a little out of control, beginning in February. My giant real estate project grew crazier and crazier, and I was spending every spare minute negotiating with our mortgage lender about the sale of our house. In March we flew to Michigan for a few days and SOLD THE HOUSE. Yes, we are no longer homeowners. In fact, since we sold the house three days before the end of March that meant NO mortgage payment for March. Oh, happy day.

I'm still a little dazed by our suddenly reduced exposure to the mortgage crisis. My brother bought the house from us and he seems happy. Now I can listen to NPR Marketplace again without silently sobbing.

I'm working four days a week these days, which is fine with me. Actually I was supposed to go to a four-day week in March, but I had to keep working Fridays because of these crazy projects.

Ron went to Baltimore last week and collected a SABEW award for this story. Next month we're all driving down to San Diego for a week-long biotech conference. (Ron will be at the conference. Benny and I are heading to the zoo.)

Now that we've sold the house (sold the house, sold the house, sold the house ...), I'm trying to figure out how to get 10 boxes of books, three bookshelves and a rack of hanging clothes to California. My latest scenario is taking a week off, flying to Michigan and then driving a little U-Haul van back to SF by myself. It actually sounds like fun, so I'm thinking about it. After all, I had a friend who drove from North Carolina to Montana with just her cat.

Benny is doing well. He was a very good boy while Ron was away, and I'll kind of miss the one-on-one time, which included backing 5 dozen cookies and playing marathon stints of Chutes and Ladders. (C&L moves along more quickly than CandyLand, which can cause brain freezes and excessive drooling after too many games).

Speaking of Benny, his picture above was taken during a school field trip to a Marin County ranch. They were traveling in cars, and I had a Bad Mother moment that morning when I dropped off his carseat. It looked completely inadequate compared to the gigantic space-shuttle couches that other parents brought for their 4-year-olds. Sigh.