Yes We Bought a Gang Headquarters

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In Chicago, not Portland.  It was our first home.  We lived in Chicago and wanted a brownstone but couldn’t afford much.  There was a 3 story gutted brownstone on the North side of Chicago being sold by the Contractor who owned it.  It was on the edge of the good stuff.  You could almost see the good stuff from our street.  We just knew someday the good stuff would get to us.  Ben, the Contractor, could tell immediately he was dealing with naivete and went in for the kill.  We got up to the third story on a ladder, but there was a floor.  We walked over to the window and the glorious view of the abandoned tire factory and parking lot across the street.  “Wow, some view” Tom said dryly.  “Think of it this way” commented Ben.  “It lets in a lot of light.”  We were sold.   When we moved in, only the first floor was partially completed and we locked the front door with a 2×4.  Only after we moved in did we find out we had bought the local gang headquarters.  The first night brought trouble.  And we had plenty afterwards.  We ended up getting a big mean dog.  Today that place is worth multi millions.

If only I had pictures!  But they are all pasted in a scrapbook in a box in storage.  Just imagine a young couple standing in front of their newly acquired gutted 3 story brownstone and facing the abandoned tire factory.  The couple is standing at their front door outside.  The door is lavender with big swaths of graffiti on it.  You’re starting to get the picture.

Tom and I share a dubious quality.  We make fast, on the spot, decisions.  Mostly gut decisions without thinking (Tom contends that his decisions are not without thinking – he just thinks quickly).  Is this what attracted us to each other in the first place?  We’re attracted to unconventional places which takes me to the house we bought in Larkspur CA.

We moved to CA when Tom was transferred with IBM.  It was fast and we quickly bought a townhouse.  We wanted something different and went looking.  A house in Larkspur had been on the market for quite awhile.  We went to look.  On a Sunday afternoon at 3:00 our realtor knocked on the door.  No answer.  We went in.  The reason no one answered?  No one was out of bed.  The hallway was painted black.  The living room was huge with 20′ ceilings.  Beams painted black with blue Christmas tree lights strung around them.  Very dark as the floor to ceiling curtains across one wall were closed.  Curtains that made you want to wash your hands when you touched them.  Opened, they revealed 3 sets of sliders out to a big veranda.  Meanwhile the realtor was knocking on a door and got a response from within.  She opened the door.  A guy in a bathrobe was sitting on the bed.  The room reeked of patchouli oil.  The ceiling was mirrored and the paneling on one side of the room, kicked in.  The bathroom was black with dirty dishes in the sink and shower.  We backed out.  Went down the hall and knocked on another closed door.  The dog inside growled menacingly.  We backed away.  The kitchen had orange shag carpet and red cherry walls.  Appliances from the 1930’s and a stuffed iguana inside the refrigerator.  Meanwhile our two young kids age 5 and 8 were running around outside excited by all they saw.  Tom and I went through one of the sliding glass doors outside to the veranda.  From it we saw a reflecting pool (no water), a Chinese Tea House and a gazebo.  old Brantwood

tea house reflecting pool street view of brantwood Top picture is before paint and remodel.  Bottom pictures are with new paint, etc.

We looked down at it all, looked at each other and both shouted YES!

I thought you should know this background because we bought a house here in Portland.  The first house we saw.  It took us less than an hour to say yes!  Actually the house is in Milwaukie, that suburb I said I wouldn’t live in, in a development that I said we’d never live in.  No trees because it’s brand new.  Trees were on my must have list.  Brand new.  We’ve never had that before.  The house itself is everything we wanted that does not exist already built.  The string continues, gut decisions and fast decisions!

home sweet home This is us!

We move in February.  realtor Diane Happy Realtor!


Realtor Advises Get A Grip

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After the demise of Tom’s rent a couch and get rich quick scheme, (which can be read about in my last blog), we decided it’s time to buy a house.  Downtown was a good experience while it lasted but we are ready for the suburbs.

We hired a realtor (Diane) and met with her at her office on a Monday.

“So, tell me what you’re looking for?”  asked Diane.

I jumped right in.  “We don’t want to live in a development and I don’t want to live in the suburb of Milwaukie.”  “What’s wrong with Milwaukie?” asked Diane.  “Well, it’s not very original to name the suburb the same as the city where Tom’s sisters live.  The mail will get all mixed up and it would be weird.”  Tom just rolled his eyes.

“We would like to avoid Multnomah County which has the highest taxes in OR.” Tom said.  “But we’re open to most of the other suburbs.  We don’t want to limit ourselves, as we know the market is tight.”

“What kind of a house would you like?” Diane pressed.

Once again I jumped right in.  “We want a single level house, or at least the master on the main floor, open kitchen to the great room, a gas fireplace, garage, privacy, trees and a nice neighborhood.”

Diane stared at us and said “You know that doesn’t exist, right?  Would you be willing to do some work if the house wasn’t perfect?”

ugly house

You know those thought bubbles that cartoonists put above heads when the person is thinking?  Here is Tom’s thought bubble:

Been there, done that.  Remembering the first house we bought in Chicago, a 3 story gutted brownstone on the edge of the good stuff, but definitely not in the good stuff.  It turned out to be (before we moved in), a Puerto Rican gang headquarters.  Oh the memories.

Stevie’s thought bubble:

Our house in Larkspur, CA which was an old estate.  When we bought it, it was rented to 12 rock musicians and trashed.  25 years of hard work and labor.  Front_Tea_House_Helo_477a[1] Yes, beautiful but time to move on

“Sure, but not a lot.  Not a major update.”  Tom said.  “Are you thinking 70’s tract home?” I asked Diane.  “Yes, that’s what I’m thinking.”


Depression!  “What are you willing to spend?”  asked Diane.  “We’re thinking  under $500,000.”  said Tom.

Diane couldn’t contain herself any longer.  She burst out laughing,  “Get a grip!”  We had clearly rattled her.  She quickly recovered.  “No problem, we will find you the perfect house!”   Diane’s thought bubble:



Turning a Castoff Couch into $$$$

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I have a guest blogger today.  My husband Tom would like to add his voice.  I want to apologize ahead of time if anyone is offended.  Actually, if anyone is offended, he will look at it as Mission Accomplished!  Here goes:

Hip Overlook in heart of Cultural District – $48/day or $3/hour

our building

We live downtown in the building pictured at right above and have been in the midst of a homeless population boom.  Our politicians are helpless. Looking out the window of our apartment one early morning at the parking lot across the street, what did I see but an orange plaid couch in one of the parking spaces and I seized my opportunity.  I rushed down and put my credit card in to reserve that very spot.

pay to park

Remembering that we have a friend whose son rented a tent in the back yard of someone’s house in Colorado, I quickly listed it on Airbnb.  I was ready to not only help the homeless by giving them a couch to sleep on, but also cash in.

The response was immediate.  I had my first renter by 7AM.  When it began raining he moved on but another renter took his place.  I began to picture my bank account growing.  The second renter used his Oregon Trail EBT card at an ATM to pay for his 6 hours.  I knew then that I was in the system even if only peripherally so I registered my business with the city of Portland which was easy.  I was on a roll!  I had a steady stream of renters with terms ranging from 1 to 6 hours.  In my first 24 hours I generated $66!  At a cost of $10.50 for the full day, my first day’s profit was $55.50.  If I could do that over the course of the year allowing for some bad weather days, I could net over $18,000!  From a free couch and a bit of of my time.  Since I can see the parking lot from my apartment window, I’m truly working from home.

bum on couch

By day two word had spread and I had 4 guests on the couch and 1 standing by waiting for a space!  What demand!  Some quick math:  if I rented 10 parking spaces and was able to generate the same occupancy, I could generate $180,000/year.  I had visions of becoming a bum landlord.  My mother will be….proud?

4 bums on couch

That’s when my difficulties began.  The guy standing by didn’t want to pay in advance, fearing it would begin raining.  Also the 4 on the couch were getting belligerent as it did start to rain and I had to give them a discounted price.  I had already been running up and down between our apartment and the parking lot to collect from each tenant which was becoming a pain.  Now I had to watch constantly to make sure that Mr. Standby/Cheapskate didn’t find his way onto the couch without paying.

Homeless encampment

But then this vision appeared and I began to worry about managing my tenants in addition to collecting from them.  I spent a fitful night trying to solve my management and collection issues without success.

That morning we were awakened at 5:30 AM by a lot of noise coming from the parking lot. I knew it probably had to do with my couch so ran down to check.  Yikes!  A construction worker from the new building going up across the street decided to park in my spot.  And to do so, he backed into the couch with my tenant sleeping on it.  His truck pushed the couch back up over the curb and upside down on the tenant who was underneath.  The construction worker was quite smug about his accomplishment.  My tenant was very upset though when it began to rain I pointed out that he was now sheltered from the rain in hopes that he wouldn’t ask for a refund.  But worse!  He threatened to sue!  That was it for me.  I offered the couch to the tenant to settle his claim.  He accepted.   My attempt to help solve the homeless challenge was finished.

Let my guest blogger know how you liked his post with your comments.  Maybe it’s time to move?

Grocery Store Reunion

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My high school reunion (insert big number here) took place recently in Blue Earth, MN.  Yes, at the local grocery store.  We had a large turnout, 54 of the 98 in our graduating class plus several spouses and a few teachers took part in the festivities.  There is a room at the back of the store that they rent out for just these occasions and they cater it too!   But there are some big advantages to this.

Jubas Grocery Juba’s grocery, Main St. Blue Earth, MN

During the cocktail hour before dinner I heard a classmate yell:  “Hey Ross, we need more beer, I think it’s on aisle 3.”  “While you’re there, get some decent white wine.”  “We could use some chips too!”  I think they’re on aisle 2.”  Then, as we sat down to dinner, our MC, who happened to be one of my best friends, Eldon Spencer, who lived next door to me growing up, started rushing his speech.  Why?  The only thing that made sense was he saw the candy dishes on the tables and panicked, thinking that was our only dessert.  When he finished he rushed into the grocery store looking for desserts.  “No jello molds!”  someone shouted.  Stevie and Eldon

So you see, having the reunion at the grocery store wasn’t all bad.

Probably the best thing that happened to me however was a long conversation with a woman I was scared of in HS.  Back in those days, she and the two friends she hung out with were intimidating.  They would stare at us (the town girls).  Now I think they were just staring at our poodle skirts, thinking how stupid we looked.  Come to think of it, I never saw any of them in a poodle skirt.  Sandy, (that was her name),wouldn’t be caught dead in a poodle skirt.  No Sirree.  We must have looked like complete idiots.  If Sandy happens to read this I’m sure she would agree.  The night of the reunion I had a most wonderful conversation with Sandy and was reluctantly dragged away by another long lost classmate.

Even if your reunion isn’t in a grocery store, you should go.  You never know what old friend will show up and what new friends you’ll make.  And it’s a heck of a lot of fun. reunion


Your most memorable reunion??  I’d love to know!

The Little Blue Thingy

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All the stars were aligned for the first extended vacation of our lives.    Get out of Portland during the hottest summer ever?  Head to the cooling fog of the San Francisco Bay Area?  Sign me up. Tom quitting his Mini of Portland Shuttle driving?  He tried, but they wouldn’t let him quit and gave him a leave instead.   Sure,  part of it was helping out with the 2 1/2 year old twins.  How hard could that be?  There were two of us and two of them.  We had a house sitting gig for the entire 6 weeks, and didn’t have to stay with our daughter and son in law where one of three things would have happened:

  1. A murder
  2. A suicide
  3. No one  talking to anyone after a week

But, could all be undone by a little blue thingy and Direct TV?

Direct TV  had been turned off.  The owner of the house (who we didn’t know), was nice enough to turn it back on for us, but she was not subscribed to any of the sports channels. How could this be?  The British Open was on, the SF Giants were playing and we couldn’t get them.  Marinwood house View from the house.

I called Direct TV:  “Hello, I am inquiring about getting ESPN and the Bay Area Sports channel.”

Direct TV:  “May I have your phone #?”  I gave it to them.  “Who am I speaking to today?”  “This is Amy Brown.”  Name changed to protect the innocent.  “What can I do for you today Amy?”   “Well, as I have mentioned before, I am out of town and had my service suspended.  My house sitters are apparently sports fanatics.  Can I add  ESPN and the Bay Area Sports Channel for a month?”  “Why Amy, that is no problem, we would be happy to add that for you.”  “Thank you!  what is the new charge?”   So we got the British Open and the Giants but not the Tour de France. direct tv

The first weekend after we arrived we had a delightful dinner with our daughter and son-in-law.  Unfortunately, it was overshadowed when Tom had to go to the ER for evaluation.  When they said “incarcerated hernia” I, ever optimistic, told Tom that there was no chance he would be leaving the hospital that night as he would be having emergency surgery.  Tom asked,  “What’s the recovery time?”  “4 to 6 weeks.”  His reaction: “No problem.  I can still go on my golf trip.”

When the ER doctor came in with the results of the ultrasound, instead of prepping Tom for surgery he began to push hard, then harder on the bulge above Tom’s belly button.  Hard enough that Tom’s face was an 8 on the 10 point pain scale.  Suddenly it popped back into place.  With that the doctor handed him a note referring him to a surgeon while saying “It will happen again until you get it fixed.” ER

Three days later we saw the surgeon.  He examined Tom and told him it’s a tiny hernia, probably won’t come out again and he actually has the same type that he incurred surfing.  Also world class athletes, especially female sprinters are prone to this type of hernia.  Tom heard that he had a world class athlete’s injury then asked “But I was eating dinner”.  The surgeon said the muscle tear happened earlier.  He advised him, should it recur, to just push it back into place and if you can’t, he turned to me and said “Put on a high heel and stand on it.”  I heard:  “don’t be a wuss, quit whining, go back to bocce ball.” But I liked the high heel part.

The second trip to the ER?  I’m sure you are all dying to know.  He was watching the twins while I met a friend for lunch.  When I got back, his leg was swollen to elephant status.  Apparently, leaving him alone with the twins sent him right to the ER.  Luckily another minor injury.

A few days before our vacation was over, Tom was in the kitchen when I heard:  “Oh no, she’s really not going to like this.”  “She’s not going to like what?” I yelled.  “The blue thing is missing.”  “What blue thing?”   I came into the kitchen where he had a drawer open and in it was a giant container of plastic wrap that was missing the blue thingy.   The blue thingy happens to be the cutter. This was the biggest box of  plastic wrap I have ever seen.  It should last a lifetime.  But it’s nearly useless without the blue cutter.

We went to dinner that night with old friends Laura and Jim.  I told them about the blue cutter.  Laura was very concerned:  “Oh, that is just awful, how are you ever going to explain the missing cutter?”  Jim chimed in:  “You’ll never get another house sitting job, ever.  That’s the kind of thing that will make her crazy the first time she opens the drawer to get some plastic wrap.”  By now the other diners could hear the conversation coming from our table and were listening in.  They all nodded in agreement with Jim.  We were the center of attention and the tension in the room was palpable.  They all knew our house sitting career was over before it started, they were all pulling for us.diner

By now you are all thinking this was an easy problem to solve.  Just go to Costco and get another box of wrap.  However we were now taking care of the twins full time as it was the break between the summer and fall sessions of preschool.  I wasn’t comfortable leaving Tom alone with the twins given that the last time I left him alone, he ended up in the ER.  So Costco was out of the question.

Meanwhile in the restaurant we were desperately trying to come up with a solution when Jim exclaimed:  “I think I have an extra box of Costco plastic wrap in my garage.  Somehow I forgot I had one and bought another one.  You can have the blue thingy!”  You could hear the silent cheering from the other diners.  Our house sitting career might have life yet.     blue thingy

However, we still had the Direct TV subscription to deal with.

I had to cancel the Direct TV sports package and suspend the service once more.  I would let Amy know we’d signed up for it and leave her a check.  Then, because she was gone, I’d save her the hassle of suspending her service again. But Direct TV wanted to know when to reinstate service.  I had no idea but they insisted I give a date. I wasn’t sure when Amy was coming back so I picked November 1.

I sent Amy a text.  That night at a BBQ I got a long text back from her telling me not to suspend service as you’re only allowed to do it a couple times a year before you’re penalized.  She has already told them to keep the service going as she’s coming back Sept. 23.  Uh oh!

I spent a sleepless night worrying about Direct TV.  The next day I called Direct TV again.  Direct TV:  “To whom am I speaking?”  “This is Amy Brown.  Did I suspend my service yesterday?  I meant only to cancel the sports package.”  Direct TV:  “Yes, the service is suspended and the sports package is also canceled.”  “Oh, I am so sorry, can you turn my service back on, I don’t know what I was thinking.”  Direct TV:  “Ok, you want the TV turned back on but the sports still cancelled.”  “Yes, thank you so much!”  Now I was really proud of myself and all seemed well.

Until I got this text from Amy.  “Hi Stevie, I talked to Direct TV and found out that you can suspend service more than twice a year without being penalized.  So I have suspended my service until I get home on the 23rd.  You don’t have to do anything.”    I looked at the text, walked to the TV, turned it on.  Yes it’s on.  I had called after she did.  I am done talking to Direct TV.  They must think Amy Brown is a nut job.

Do you think she will forgive us or is our short-lived house sitting career over?  Tell me what you think!

Finding My Chakra

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The air permeates it,  Portland pulsates with it.  Everyone is either looking for or releasing their Chakra.   Walking down the streets, there are shops that invite you to come in for help in finding it, or fixing it.   In my quest to fit into my new State of Oregon, I figured I’d better find mine.  But wait.  In order to find it you have to know what it is, and I didn’t have a clue.

Portland is the place Al Gore famously came to find or release his.  If Algore came here to find his, it must be pretty important .  If Portland is where he came, then Portland must be the center of the Chakra Universe.

When you google Chakra, a million things come up, once again pointing out it’s importance.  Turns out there are seven centers of spiritual power in the human body and if any one of them is out of whack, you’re in trouble.  Wikipedia says Chakra is an energy point or node in the subtle body.  If that isn’t confusing enough, blocked Chakra is bad for your health.  I needed to find mine!

Where to look?multnomah falls

2015-03-27 11.02.14 Nature seemed to be the most likely.  But I didn’t feel  different after the fact.  Astoria beer I might have felt differently after several of these, but I don’t think that’s what’s known as Chakra.  I did run into someone who looked like he was very in tune with his:  toga guy


I know you can hire somebody to find or release yours like Mr. Gore did, but I wanted to find mine all on my own.  Waaay more of a challenge.

Then it happened.  Where did this miracle happen?  Not in nature, not in the Chakra shops of Portland, but at a sporting event, a Timbers Soccer game!  Timbers Army We got Corporate tickets and Tom talked me into going.  Remember my dissing of soccer in my last blog? ( What I said was:  soccer, really?)   It was a crazy sold out fun atmosphere.  The mountain and trees are the Timbers Army with their placards (think of a college football game with a lot of beer drinking, screaming at the refs, etc), but still able to hold up their cards in unison.  Timbers goal This is an actual Timbers fan with a tree in the stadium.  He has a chainsaw and saws off a section of tree after a goal.  When the chainsaw started, it hit me.  This was it.  Total Chakra!