Saturday, February 28, 2009

Working on Genealogy Records Today

I've been growing more and more disappointed with myself on the genealogy front. I totally immersed myself into family research last fall and I gathered (borrowed) all these family records and then when I started school again in September, I just dropped the project flat. Partly because of school, and partly because the computer hooked to the scanner died and my Mac isn't set up to use the scanner yet.

So, now I have two large stacks of records/pictures from family and they're just sitting there. Today, therefore, I am planning to start sifting through the pile. If necessary, I will make copies of the items I've borrowed and return the originals. I've got to get through this project and not have to deal with it while we're packing boxes. Also, my membership to Ancestry.com runs out in April, so I need to finish by then. =)

I did actually accomplish a lot last Fall. I found the marriage record and a photo for my great-great-grandfather Henry Samuel Darknell who came to America from Wiltshire in the 1850s and I believe I found the census records that show he was born to Samuel Darknell and Rachel Case (along with several other sons). Unfortunately, Samuel (Rachel's husband) died fairly young and his children ultimately ended up dispersing throughout the globe which makes it hard to track all the connections. Unfortunately, the good census records only go back to 1837, so finding proof earlier than that is difficult. But I have made some great progress with the excellent records available through Ancestry.com and other sources.

I'd really like to visit Wiltshire in Mere County in England and meet the Darknell family there and see if they have any better records than I've been able to acquire from internet sources. But it may be a while.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thrift as a Lifestyle

While I am sorry for so many's people pain, I have to admit I actually appreciate that living beneath your means is finally coming into fashion. It's wonderful to see articles in so many popular venues about how to make do with less and make the most of what you have. Even today, Yahoo has an article on how you should "Put Savings (and Yourself) First With a Budget." Articles like these were in noticeably short supply even just a year ago.

It wasn't that long ago, in the early stages of this housing crash, when you would read articles lamenting the plight of people who were, by their reduced circumstances, forced to make do with cutting their own kids hair, or, gasp, preparing their own meals at home! Oh my gosh, those poor people! (said with a tone of contempt) How ever did they survive?

We learned long ago, the value of thrift. In our late-20s, we were lucky (and wise) enough to read "Your Money or Your Life" and the "Tightwad Gazette," among others. Though some of the ideas in these books weren't for us, the fundamentals were there and we were able to adopt many good ideas.

Though Jeff and I have had our times where we spent more than we should have on something (like our house in Forest Grove), we have ALWAYS lived beneath our means. While I will admit the means of a high tech worker isn't exactly commensurate with a high school teacher or a steel worker, we always lived on less than we made, even when we were both full-time students. Some years were better than others.

When times got tough, we cut back our spending, we didn't pull out the credit cards or the home equity loan. And when the job got uncertain, we put every last dollar we could spare into paying off our mortgage. We rarely eat out, even now. We occasionally eat out with friends, but that's more of a social visit. And, my hair hasn't been cut by a paid hairstylist in years. And, when I can muster the courage, I cut Jeff's hair. I have many times in the past.

It's really hard right now to feel sorry for folks who "gambled" that the value of their home would rise faster than their pay-option mortgage. Tell me again, why are we helping these people? How, exactly, does it help everybody else? Wouldn't it be better to get them out from under their onerous debts and settled into a sustainable situation? Okay, maybe they don't get to live in that McMansion and have to settle for something more meager, but those prices were like monopoly money. Not real, after all.

I wish the government would just let foreclosures run their course. If you have to, help the people get settled into something that's sustainable given their resources. It's just wrong to help the ones who stretched and gambled at the expense of those who were realistic and saved!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Basically Yesterday Again

Today was much as yesterday was. I spent 3 or 4 hours doing stained glass and then managed to talk myself into sewing a binding down on the other of the boy's quilts.

I've been working the clear glass around the black rabbit and it's a challenge. This was maybe too ambitious a project for our first stained glass. =)

I probably spent an hour working the clear glass around the rabbit's foot. At least its rounded and do-able. I wanted to help Jeff with his turtle, but we've gotten stuck at the "beak." The pattern calls for a pointed cut, but that's not possible with our current technology. We may have to rework the pattern to make it something we can do with our current tools.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Slow Progress on Stained Glass

Well, I managed to make some more progress on our stained glass. I'm pretty picky about getting the glass to fit precisely, so the going is pretty slow. Today I mostly fine-tuned pieces that were already cut out to make sure they fit together properly, coppered them, and, for the first time, I tried my hand at soldering. Decided it was time to solder because Jeff works during the day and by the time he gets home the sunroom is dark and so we can go days between sessions of stained glass because he cannot get to the project during the daytime.

It's actually difficult, but I'm going to stop for the day. That table really is too low and I don't want to overdo again and strain my back. Oh, and I drew my first blood on this project! It's actually surprising that it's taken this long, we are working with cut glass after all. It was a clean cut on my fingertip and not really a big deal.

This afternoon I'm hoping to make some progress on one of the boy's quilts. After having a thoroughly unproductive weekend this weekend (we watched all three seasons of Arrested Development), I've decided I need to have hand projects like this queued up so when I pass 30+ hours watching TV (well, really a computer) I can be making forward progress on a project. I've got the binding cut out and pieced for one of the twins' quilts and I need to cut down the edges of the quilt and then sew the binding down on the edge. I finish the backside of the binding by hand. I've never been happy when I've totally sewn it down by machine; it's too sloppy on the back.

BTW, for those interested, the first season of Arrested Development was the only season worth watching (wish we had known that). The first season was very funny, but the same jokes lost their luster through the second and third season. Small wonder it was cancelled. You can find it at Hulu.

6PM Update: I actually managed to have a pretty good afternoon. Got a bit more stained glass done, plus I also managed to machine sew the binding on one of the twins' quilts. I'm goofing off reading the ever more pessimistic economic news tonight. It took a long time, but it looks like house prices are finally crashing throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Santa Clara County. Too late to help us though, because it happened after we lost our stock portfolio. =)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Feeling Better About Renting

Okay, if it hadn't been for the stock market crash as well, we'd be feeling pretty good right now. Not really sure which will fall more in the long run, the housing or stock market. At least we don't have to pay property tax on a shockingly-over-priced-property for the next 20 years. Here are some of the properties in California we considered pretty seriously in our house hunting down here.

THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY

OMG, this house in Santa Clara, on Cooper Drive, was the biggest dump! It had a number of DIY projects started but never finished, one of which was a bathroom that was all torn up. The house was a sty; the seller didn't even manage to do the last month's of dishes before showing the house. You couldn't see the hardwood floors to see if they were in good condition because they had a several foot high pile of crap covering them; there were trails to walk around the house. And the room above the garage? You could walk into it about a foot. The rest of the room was full of junk. You couldn't even get to the bathroom up there. But it seemed a bloody bargain at $699,000! They, of course, had very many offers and bid the price up to $771K. Now? Underwater. It currently shows as being "worth" $706K in zillow and lost $29,500 in the last 30 days.




This house in West San Jose, on Country Lane, was the closest we came to actually buying a house in California (short of my Mom's house). It was the most beautiful street and had a full canopy of mature trees. The house was actually a nice, solid rancher with reasonably attractive remodels and we could have just replaced the kitchen counters and lived with it. But, then we realized when they added the upstairs they hadn't bothered to tie it into the HVAC system so it had no heating or cooling, other than wall heaters. We had a contractor out to find out how much to "fix" it; his guesstimate was something like $50K. They were asking $945,000 and our realtor told us we could offer no more than $900K. Yet, the seller's realtor told us not to bother to make an offer if we didn't offer within 1% of their asking price, so we didn't. They actually managed to sell this one for $930K; there must have been some creative, cash-back scheme in this one given the assessments of the other houses in the neighborhood. Anyway, now? Underwater. Zillow shows as being valued at $866K, down a stunning $52,500 in the last month.

This house in Cupertino, on Phar Lap Drive, was astonishingly a fixer being offered for $1.188M and they got their listing price. With repairs, it was a livable house in a nice, treed neighborhood and we had a long discussion after looking at this one about just how crazy it would be to spend over $1M on a fixer! While it's not quite underwater, it's getting there; having lost $36,500 in the last month, according to Zillow.


We offered my Mom market value for her house, on Myrtlewood Drive. We don't really know what market value was at the time, probably somewhere around $950K-$1M. She didn't take our offer. Now? Given the near-teardown condition, I feel justified in taking the low end of the Zillow value. Zillow gives the low end as $833,700, and the house lost something like $46,500 in the last month.







This was one of the last properties we seriously considered in our search down here, on Robin Court, in Sunnyvale. It was a run-down 1960s rancher with very dated decor. It probably at one time had some nice looking oak cabinetry, but someone had slathered every piece of wood and trim in the place with white paint. But the house had a very pretty 10,000 square foot lot and the house was set way back from the street and you didn't really see your neighbors. The house would have needed a lot of work. I just loved it and desperately wanted this one. They were offering it for $1.089M, but they got something like 17 offers! It ended up selling for $1.18M, an amazing $90,000 over their asking price. For a fixer with a pretty lot! We didn't even make an offer, we had no chance given the interest in this property. The value since selling shot up to about $1.3M, now it's back to the selling price and on its way down fast, falling just under $50K in the last month.

There were quite a few others we considered, but I cannot really remember their addresses. We looked for quite a few months and were astonished at what the prices were for these dumpy, old houses. Now, we are feeling mollified we didn't drink the kool-aid. Though the near 50% loss in our savings in the stock market doesn't feel so good either. =)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Linking In on Linkedin

It's time to get serious about our future; the time keeps on passing and I am not sure what our plan is in a couple of months. Short of spending my time packing, I still don't know whether we're moving into an RV, an apartment, or a house. Sigh.

So, today I'm spending a few hours trying to get LinkedIn. Hopefully my SCA network up in Oregon will assist in finding a job or an internship. I do see jobs on craigslist, but without a contact, I understand I won't even be called. My alternate plan, if we move up there and I don't have a job, will be to complete my Paralegal Certificate that I've about half-finished here in Cupertino. I always enjoyed being a legal secretary way back when I did it, and I look forward to extending the responsibilities I had back then.

We still have no firm decision on the trip. We want to go, but we haven't really come up with a good compromise plan that we're both satisfied with. Jeff suggested we travel during the summer and use our SCA gear. While that's probably a great idea, the thought of actually camping all summer is a little intimidating to me. Okay, while it's not exactly roughing it, we would still be setting up, taking down and dealing with dirt and bugs. Not exactly the plan I had in mind when I agreed to the trip last fall.

I continue to peruse the Portland MLS and have a few options I plan to check out when I visit next, assuming they're still on the market. I have probably set the criteria too high, because I'm really not finding a lot of good options, despite thousands of houses for sale. While I have about 40 houses charted out on a spreadsheet, most of them are either too expensive for their condition or they are in less than ideal locations. I know of 3 I'm likely to see right away when I get there. Other than that, we are waiting for sellers to recognize the world economy has changed. I found a report yesterday which notes Portland has record-high inventory of houses for sale right now; that should work in our favor.

I received a list of sold house listings from my Laurelhurst realtor for East Portland and it was very instructive. There were some really stunning markdowns on the listings that actually closed last month. There was one house we looked at last June that would have been tempting but for the $450K price tag; it actually ended up selling for $319K. It never occurred to me to make an offer so far off their asking price, but I guess that's what you do in this market. The realtor also told me that a lot of sales continue to fail due to inability to get financing.

I guess we just keep working towards finishing projects and packing and keep watching the market. Maybe something good will come up and we can pounce on it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jeff's "Big Night" Timpano Party


It took two nights of preparation, but Jeff finally had his "Big Night." Jeff got together with our friend Scott and they made Timpano, inspired by the movie, Big Night. (If you haven't seen it, it's worth the time to watch.)

On Friday night Jeff and Scott made the Ragu sauce and meatballs. Today, they finished cutting up the rest of the ingredients, making and rolling out the crust and assembling the Timpano. What follows are the pictures of the assembly process.

The dinner was great, BTW. In additional to Scott, we had Scott's wife Pattie, and two of Jeff's high school friends along with their dates who joined us (Chris, Jennie, Sarahann and Daniel). Sorry you all missed it. We'll have to do this again once we get back up to Oregon.

I would post the recipes, but someone else already did it.

















Saturday, February 14, 2009

Change of Direction, Again

Many of our friends who have followed our activities since we moved from Oregon in April 2006 will now be used to us changing the plan. Well, due to the calamitous drop in our mutual funds we are not going to be able to afford to go off for a year-long vacation. We still hope to do some sort of extended traveling over the next few years, but we don't have enough dollars now to spend on an RV rig and the trip and then have enough afterwards to buy a house. Like many, we wish things had gone differently.

The sad thing is, we saw this drop coming and pulled a bunch into cash, just not enough. We thought the economy would get bad, but we were really off the mark in what kinds of assets would fall. We thought we had invested well for the coming tough economy; we didn't, nearly everything has crashed far more than we expected. Oh well.

Anyway, I guess our big adventure is now the big decision of where to settle; I guess we need to change the name of this blog. We are, of course, first looking in Oregon. We are looking at Portland, Salem, Corvallis and Eugene, for starters. We're trying to decide whether we try and find a house and then look for a job, or whether we do the opposite.

I spent yesterday looking at the houses in all four cities and found little to tempt me to buy the house first. Unfortunately, our Forest Grove "castle" has made me very picky about what houses I'm willing to buy. And there is precious little on the market right now that makes me want to run up and take a look. It's hard to decide what to do. Of the many houses supposedly "move in ready" I often don't like their cabinetry or flooring or other expensive finish. And if we buy a fixer, then we run the risk of turning it into another "money pit" like we did with Forest Grove and we overbuild the neighborhood. And we don't have anything like those resources this time around. (Gotta love tech bubbles during remodels.)

What we'd really like to do is build a house. We'd like to build a house that is VERY energy efficient and is built with some sort of alternate building technique like rammed earth or strawbale. But if we build from scratch, then we're going to pay a premium and likely go way over our budget. And land is still very expensive; the drop in demand hasn't quite registered in land prices as far as we can tell. Though, maybe prices were much higher a couple of years ago. Anyway, we'd like to build, but probably cannot afford it, not without running through all our non-retirement savings. And we cannot afford to build a house like that until we know where we'll be working because we run the risk that we'll find the job in another city too far to commute to and then we'll have to sell at a loss.

So, our current plan is to poke around the housing market in Oregon and see if any used house tempts us to just buy it. If not, then when Jeff leaves in April or so, we're going to rent some sort of temporary housing (maybe furnished corporate housing or hotel room), and stay in the different cities for a time while we look for employment. We can see if anything pops up for either of us job wise. It will be easier to interview for positions (and more likely that we'll get called for an interview) when we're in the same state. Once one of us finds a job, then we can rethink the building plan.

If Jeff manages to land a part-time teaching position at either Oregon State University or University of Oregon, then we'll probably both go back to school for some additional education. Bad economies are the perfect time to upgrade your education, in particular if you get subsidized tuition. =)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More Work on our Projects

I've had a pretty productive day today, despite the time I've spent goofing off in Facebook and reading blogs. I did housework for a while and then I worked on our heraldic stained glass for about an hour and got some more of it coppered. My plan is to work on this project about an hour a day until it's done, that way my back hopefully won't feel strained from the time spent stooped over the too-low table.

Also, I managed to get the binding for my small dragon quilt cut out and machine sewn on. I used the purple fabric because purple is my favorite. Now, I just need to spend a couple of hours tonight hand-sewing the backside to finish it. It feels good to get a project done!

Depressing Financial Discoveries

I have had growing unease about the expense of our grand year-long trip and so this morning I revisited all of our cash, investment and retirement accounts and tallied what we have left after the last devastating six months. And it was bad...real bad.

We sold our house in Forest Grove in April 2006 and walked away with our home equity. At the time it seemed smart to put about half of it in cash (state bond funds and treasuries) and the rest in the stock market. That was clearly a mistake, looking back. I guess we should have known better since we realized we were in a bubble. But there was really no "safe" place to put it and we expected to buy a house by now. I wasn't about to pull it all out of the banks and stick it in our mattress.

Anyway, we have basically lost the money we took away from the Forest Grove house, when you take in to consideration all of our losses, including all the retirement accounts. Oh well. Looks like we'll be working for a lot more years than we had hoped. And with safe savings accounts paying 0%, there's not much chance what we have left of our savings will grow anytime soon. I guess all our years of responsible financial behavior was a mistake. We should have been spending it all, and then some, then the government would be bailing us out right now, so we could keep our McMansion from foreclosure, instead of screwing us over.

Maybe we need to rethink this trip plan.... Luckily, we did stick a fair amount of money in cash, but if we go and blow it on this extravagant vacation then we won't have much of anything left for a house when we're done. And there's no guarantee that we'll be able to find jobs either. (Oregon's job market is crumbling along with the rest of the economy.)

So, now we're debating about what to do, again. Believe or not, we are as tired as all of you of our constantly changing plan. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quilt Pictures

Got my quilts machine quilted this week. Still have to cut down the edges and put on the binding, but I should be able to get these done before we go on our trip. I'm very pleased about that. 

I don't much like the backing on the boys quilts, but I just decided I WASN'T going to buy more fabric. I already had way too many transportation prints, so I just pieced the pieces I hadn't used. They were quilted with a little car stitch; very cute.









































Veronica's quilt is quilted with little fish; don't like this stitch as well because it is actually too dense. I probably should have picked something else. Oh well, it still looks quite nice.



























And, finally, my little Dragon quilt. Had it quilted with stars because the fabric has lots of little stars on the background.