Tuesday, March 26, 2013

923. How I Met the Hottest Guy in the Universe

I am taking a real estate class.  Not sure what I am going to do with the license, but I figure I would like to have the general knowledge.  Anyway, I got this random thing in the mail about a real estate investing seminar (No! Money! Down!), not sure how they got my address, but actually come to think of it, it was addressed to The Husband.  So, the point is, I called the number and the next thing you know, I was registered for a Saturday morning seminar on Unlocking Real Estate’s Potential for Your Positive Cash Flow for Life!* 

The seminar was free, although the time conflicted with my regular real estate class (giving me an acute case of mental anguish that the professor might notice that I was not there sitting in the front row asking a million questions—the class would be … eerily quiet without me).  Anyway, what cinched it for me (and I should have probably told you in the first place) is that the real reason I was going to ditch my class to go to the real estate seminar was: 

(photo removed due to excessive sweat on keyboard)
Yep.  Scott McGillivray.  You know him from HGTV’s show Income Property.  Just the name of the show makes you think that he must own lots of property and that he must somehow make an income from doing this.  Not sure how the details work, that part is fuzzy.  But I would get to see Scott Live! And!  In!  Person! and possibly ask him a question or three. 
The people running the seminar must’ve really wanted to make sure I attended, as indicated by their two confirmation phone calls the day before plus a text advising me that the venue had changed from Hotel XYZ to Hotel ABC, which was actually closer to my house.  Then the girl on the phone hastily added that there was a chance (“A slim chance, I don’t want to alarm you or anything”) that Scott would not be there live-and-in-person after all, he might be there via Skype. 

Skype?  I was supposed to give up my entire morning, drive 5 minutes away to a nice hotel with a free catered breakfast, and pay no money for the wisp of a chance that the real Scott would be there but more likely just a video version?!  I was supposed to miss my actual, true, state-certified class for this? 
You betcha. 

I got there early, because that is what we trained Virgos do.  I asked the usher (who turned out later to be one of the speakers) if I could sit in the front row, but due to the overwhelming response and people who apparently cut in front of me in the parking lot so they could run into the room ahead of me, I was forced to sit way back in the second row. 
I looked at my watch:  8:35.  At 9:06, some random guy (the usher, I thought) took to the stage and started babbling on about real estate and about Scott and if he was going to really be there or not. 

Turns out, he was.  Next thing you know, Scott himself entered the room in all his chiseled handsomeness and movie-star good-looks splendor.  He was wearing a navy linen jacket even though it had snowed the night before, and his hair looked like something out of a shampoo commercial.  Expensive shampoo.  Then he took to the stage, and after the type of applause normally reserved for kings and presidents, the audience went silent.  Scott began to talk in a friendly way, as if he was your next-door neighbor and you just invited him over for a beer. 
He told the story of how he got into real estate back when he was a broke, 21-year-old college student.  He (illegally) used his student loan money as a down payment on a house that he and a bunch of roommates were going to live in.  He made enough from the roommates to pay the mortgage, and his portion was free.  He bought another house the next year, and the following year, 10 more.  He ended up living in the basement of one of these multi-unit homes for 7 years so he could make his dreams come true.  In the meantime, he kept pulling money out of houses and using it to buy the next house and the next.  He told us to always maintain positive cash flow, never buy anything where you do not make money from the first day.  His investment strategy, he told us, was to “Buy and hold.”    

When his speech was over, and he started to leave the giant auditorium, I bolted down the back aisle, out the door, and back into the door where I had last seen him.  There he was, chatting with some lady.  I needed her to disappear so I could ask him all my important questions. 
Finally, after what seemed like 20 minutes but was probably only one minute, she left. 

“Scott?  Excuse me,” I whispered, “I have a quick question for you.” 
He had given three pieces of crucial real estate advice during his speech.  He had said to buy these types of properties for the best long-term investment potential: 

*Student housing
*Vacation or corporate rentals

So, my profound question was: 

“Scott, should I only invest locally?  Or is it okay to invest long-distance?” 
I did not have the heart to tell him in that exact specific moment that my personal investment budget was approximately $100, and that was only after I got my tax refund back.  Or I might owe $100 in taxes.  I can’t quite remember what my accountant said. 

“MOV,” he said, slyly looking at my nametag, “When I first started, say the first seven or eight years, I just did local.  Then I branched out.” 
I nodded enthusiastically, making a mental note that in seven or eight years I might even have $125 back from my tax refund to invest. 

“Okay, great,” I said.  “How much should I put down on these properties in the beginning?” 
I was hoping he would say “$100” or perhaps “$125,” but he surprised me by saying,

“Twenty percent.” 
Now, my math is not that good, but I know that 20% of a half million dollar vacation home is going to be slightly more than $100.  Bummer.  But it was totally worth it to have Scott standing that close to me.  I could smell his hair products. 

He smiled at me and, as if reading my mind, said, “PMI.”
At first, I thought he was telling me the name of his hair styling products, but then I realized he meant “Private Mortgage Insurance” or “Property Management Investments” or something non-hair related. 

“You don’t want to hafta pay PMI,” he continued in that sexy Canadian accent, “so make sure you always put 20% down.” 
“Of course,” I replied.  In the next moment, a moment that can only be described as “short-sighted” or perhaps “stupid,” it popped into my head that Scott had zero idea of my zero bank balance.  I was wearing a really nice silk blouse and fake pearl earrings, so for all he knew, I might have 50 bazillion dollars in the bank.  Here was my chance to lie and impress him:  

“My husband and I usually just pay cash for all our investments.” 

“Oh … wow,” he said, obviously impressed at my previous investing savvy and know-how.  I did not need this silly seminar for beginners.  I could be teaching this seminar!    
I didn’t feel the need to clarify to Scott that our cash investments consisted entirely of 289 complete Lego sets built by two elementary-aged boys.    

He shook my hand and politely explained that he had to go now.  I was not used to people leaving after I approached them—remember, I used to be a flight attendant.  If I would accost some poor unsuspecting celebrity passenger after he used the lavatory so that I could get his autograph or ask him about his next movie, he could not exactly jump out the door at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. 
“Thanks!” I squeaked as Scott rushed past me. 

Right then, I got a text from my accountant:  “You owe taxes, plz write ck TODAY.”  
I guess my real estate investment career might have to wait another week to get started. 

*Not the exact name of the seminar, but I am too lazy right now or go find the flyer.  Just go back and stare at the nice photo of Scott and then you will forget all about not knowing the exact name. 
Link to Scott's website:  click

Friday, March 22, 2013

921. Anti-Bucket List

Since my mom died of cancer a few months ago, I have been thinking a lot about life and death.  I wonder if she accomplished everything she wanted to.  She flew to Paris and climbed the Eiffel Tower.  She went on a much-anticipated cruise to Mexico.  She went parasailing in Hawaii.       

But what things did she not get to do?  What items were left unfinished on her list?    
I started contemplating my own personal bucket list of items to do before I die.  As much as I would like to be the type of person who says “Photograph cheetahs in their natural habitat in Africa” or the slightly less attainable “Bake the perfect soufflĂ©,” I am learning there are actually more things I would rather not do—the anti-bucket list, if you will. 

MOV’s List of Things to NOT Do (Even Though It Would Impress Lots of People):
*Run a marathon
*Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
*Eat a bug (intentionally)
*Hike the Appalachian Trail
*Ski a triple black diamond slope
*Skydive (people are supposed to stay in planes, not out of them)
*Swim with sharks
*Bungee jump
*Wrestle an alligator
*Rock climb

So, as you can see, I am actually the most boring person in the world. 
My list has more, ahem, achievable goals on it.  Things like: 

*Remember how to spell “recommend” or “vacuum” without having to use spellcheck or auto-correct
*Put gas in the car before the orange “Empty” light blinks on
*Remember to switch the laundry to the dryer on the same day it was originally washed (or at bare minimum the same week)
*Use my high school Spanish for something more exciting than ordering tacos
*Find the perfect couch (oops, I mean affordable perfect couch)
*Finish the stack of half-read books I have, or if not, then donate them to the Goodwill
*Buy new printer ink before I need it at 11 pm on a Sunday
*Teach my children not to punch each other (who am I kidding—I said achievable goals)
*Take my Target coupons with me instead of leaving them on the kitchen counter
You might not run into me on that flight to Brazil to climb Sugarloaf, but I am confident that I will one day remember to put the Target coupons in my purse.  It’s all a matter of priorities.      


Thursday, March 14, 2013

917. That Time I Was Recognized

The other day I was at Trader Joe’s looking at grapes.  Well, I mean, I wasn’t exactly looking at grapes like you look at shoes, shoes can cost $90, whereas grapes are practically free.  I picked up the clear box of grapes, flipped it upside down, and examined them, trying to ascertain that the ones on the bottom were not all brown and squished.  I hate it when I spend $2.99 on grapes, and then it turns out several of them are bad.  This of course could all be prevented if I just slow down, take my time, and look carefully at the grapes in advance, before they even—

“Excuse me?  Aren’t you—”
Startled, I turned toward the voice, and I almost dropped the grapes.  Then I was embarrassed about obsessing over the grapes so I tossed them cavalierly into my cart, inadvertently bruising all the grapes in the bottom of the box. 

“Do I know you?” I asked this 30-something women in khakis and a green blouse.   
“No, no, we have never met, but I do know of you.”  She smiled sincerely.  “I’m Brenda.  Brenda Jones.” 

How did Brenda, Brenda Jones, know of me?  Had the PTA put out some sort of notice (“MOV joined the PTA, paid her dues, but never came to any meetings”)?  Or perhaps Brenda’s kids knew my kids?  Or maybe Brenda was friends with my former boss at the high-end kitchen store? 
“I’ve read your book.” 

I started hyperventilating in the grape aisle, and quickly wished I was in the liquid grape aisle, as in wine. 

“Oh,” I said intelligently.  “Ummm.  Oh.” 
“You were funny!” she offered enthusiastically.  “I ended up buying a few extra copies for my friends, it was a great book.” 

I did not know how to react to this.  On one level, obviously I should have said, “Wow, thank you!  That is so nice!  What was your favorite part of the book?  And how old are your kids?”  But instead, I could feel my brain cells bubbling then fizzing out, like three-day-old champagne that is not even good to make a sauce with. 
“Book,” I heard myself squeak.  “Yep.” 

Brenda, Brenda Jones, stared at me.  I could tell she wanted to help me.  “Have you always been a writer?” she asked kindly. 
“No.  No.  I used to work.”  I forced a smile, and I could feel my eyes not smiling, so I knew the smile looked fake even though I was desperately trying to be real and happy and authentic.  “I used to work … somewhere."  I could not for the life of me remember where.  

Brenda looked at her watch.  She looked at my grapes.  She finally looked me in the eyes and asked, “You worked at the high-end kitchen store?”            
“YES!” I squealed, as if instead of her knowing this tidbit from reading my book she was actually psychic.  “That’s right!” 

My cell phone chose this moment to ring, and I was simultaneously cursing it and rejoicing.  I knew it was incredibly rude of me to cut off Brenda and our stimulating conversation, but somehow my poor beleaguered brain was having a tough time, so a phone call proved a good way to end things. 
“Excuse me, Brenda,” I said politely, “I have been waiting for this call.” 

I answered the phone and it was some sort of automated survey, which I thought was illegal on cell phones.  At first, I was going to pretend it was The Husband, but then I decided to pretend it was my publisher. 
“Hello, Amazon!” I said to no one.  “Good, good, and how are you?” 

Brenda gave a polite little wave in my direction and then drifted away. 
For the first time, I really listened to what the automated survey was saying.  “Do you suffer from social anxiety on occasion?” 

“No,” I replied.  “Never.” 
P.S. Buy my book!  Here is the link on Amazon.  Go check it out!  And I promise if I run into you at Trader Joe’s, I will behave better than I did with Brenda.   

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

916. The Day I Joined Facebook (hint: today)

After much pressure from the co-author of my new book, Epic Mom (available on Amazon, thanks for asking), I finally gave in and joined Facebook.  Let me start off by saying I have no idea what I am doing.  Giving me a Facebook account is equivalent to giving an 8-year-old the keys to your car and saying, “And please try to drive the speed limit.”
Yeah, baby, I crashed and burned on the freeway of Facebook. 

First, I could not for the life of me figure out how to load my profile picture.  And normally I am pretty good with that stuff.  I ended up having to email my co-author and beg her to put the photo up, which she did because she felt sorry for me (or so I would stop pestering her every five minutes). 
Next, Facebook courteously informed me that I already had 27 people who wanted to be my friend.  I was really surprised, seeing as how most of these people lived in Peru.  But Peru seems like a country I would want to visit (you never know), so I clicked “Yes” on all their requests. 

After that, Facebook realized that I was actually a Facebook Pro and not the mere novice that FB had first assumed.  Facebook kicked it into high gear and said, “Would you like to be friends with everyone you have ever met in your entire life?” 
Ack!  No, no, no-no-no-no-no-no.  I started hyperventilating.  That would be really bad. 

Facebook laughed and said, “Kidding!  How about we start easy and just be friends with everyone in your personal email address book?” 
Now that didn’t seem so scary.  I didn’t want to be rude to Facebook, seeing as how we were in this new relationship and all (speaking of which, why did FB say I got married today when I was trying to say that my status was "Married"?  I was not trying to say that there was a wedding today, just that I was already married!  Suddenly, many Peruvians were sending me “Likes” and sweet little congratulations messages).  I decided that if someone as knowledgeable and informed as FB was wanted to suggest that I be friends with everyone in my virtual address book, well, then that must be a good idea. 

I forgot that my dentist was on my email list. 
And my chiropractor’s secretary. 

American Express. 
The lady I bought handmade Christmas ornaments from at that craft fair three years ago. 

My plumber. 
The vice-principal of my sons’ preschool from five years ago. 

A priest from a church that we don’t even go to. 
Apparently, my email list is pretty darn social. 

So yes, I crashed my new Facebook car. 
Someone please take away my keys. 

P.S. If you want to “friend” me on Facebook, then my name over there is MOV Harrison.  Oh, and I am 23 years old (Facebook didn’t ask for my driver’s license).

NEWS UPDATE:  Facebook just sent me a nasty email saying that I must stop sending Friend requests to people I don't know or I will be blocked!  Ha!  Facebook is pretty fickle, eh? 

Monday, March 11, 2013

915. The Day I Moved Into Target (Part II)

Please read Part I if you have not done so already.  Part II will make more sense then. 

“Do you need me to call Security?” offered Richard protectively.  “Is this man bothering you?” 

This man was my husband, and he was bothering me by following me to Target when I was trying to escape him and the kids. 
“Richard, it’s okay,” I replied.  “I know him.”   

Richard hovered around anyway, eavesdropping and pretending to dust something.  Instead of being annoyed, I was oddly comforted.     
“MOV, I can see why you like this place,” said The Husband.  “It’s much cleaner than our house.” 

How could I be insulted when that is exactly why I liked Target, too? 
“Sweetie, whaddya say you take the boys to look at the Lego displays, and then I will meet you back home in a few weeks?” 

“Weeks?!  Did you say weeks, MOV?” 
He knew I wasn’t kidding around.  Target was my happy place, the place that made my heart rhythm smooth out somewhere between stroke victim and coma.  I normally wanted to come here for a few hours, but I could hardly see the harm a slight upgrade in time might cause.  In fact, after I returned home from some serious “Me” time, I might be able to tolerate my family for up to a whole year.

“Mom, we miss you!  No one is at home to boss us around when you’re not there,” said Short. 
Tall, always thinking, whispered to his brother, “Maybe that is a good thing?”

They looked at each other, then were overcome by a cascade of giggles, building on each other like bubbles, expanding and popping. 
“We’re free!  We’re free!” cried the older one. 

“We’re trees!  We’re trees!” copied the younger one, making me realize I really need to get his hearing checked.
A small crowd of Target employees was gathering to see what the commotion was near the furniture aisle.  You’d think they had never had any customers move in before. 

“You are all ruining this for me,” I hissed through clenched teeth, “go home and I will come back eventually!” 
The Husband leaned into to give me a quick kiss, but I turned away.  Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out what I thought might be a love note. 

It wasn’t.  It was something better. 
“Here, MOV,” he said as he handed me a coupon for $2 off Häagen Daz ice-cream.  “You might need this.” 

And just like that, I fell back in love with him. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

914. The Day I Moved Into Target

The Husband and I had been arguing, and the kids were driving me crazy.  In some ways, it was inevitable that I would seek solace elsewhere. 

I didn’t pack a suitcase, because the place I was going would provide everything I needed:  pajamas, mascara, chocolate, and free psychological advice.  That’s right:  I moved into Target. 
When I showed up, the pretty manager met me at the door, her lipstick-red polo shirt wrinkled, but her regulation khaki pants mysteriously crisp after a long day of tagging merchandise. 

“I’m Terry,” she said, extending her hand for me to shake, “and we’d like to welcome you to your new home.”  She did a Vanna White sweeping gesture with her toned arms to indicate who she meant by “we.”  “We” apparently was everyone who worked in the store, because they all stood behind her lined up like they might perform a Broadway dance number at any moment.  What would be appropriate here?  Rent?  Phantom?  Les Miz? 
Frazzled, I did a respectful “Queen of England” wave to the group, and to my astonishment, they broke into applause.  I felt myself blush. 

“So, Team,” announced Terry pivoting to address the employees instead of me, “let’s do everything we can to make Ms. MOV comfortable, shall we?”
“Sure!”  “Yes!”  “You got it!” I heard them yell.  I hadn’t felt this good about myself since I was in kindergarten and the tooth fairy accidentally left me two new dollar bills that were stuck together instead of only one. 

“I’m Richard,” said a gray-haired gentleman who probably used to be a lawyer but just worked here for fun in his retirement.  “I can show you around.” 
I followed Richard obediently, like a puppy fresh out of training school.  I didn’t have the nerve to tell Richard that I did not need anyone to “show me around” as I could draw a floorplan of Target in my sleep (complete with the correct locations of Fast Foto, Pharmacy, and the Dollar Section). 

“Here are any toiletries you might need, MOV.  Can I call you MOV?”  He handed me a new tube of toothpaste and an electric toothbrush.  I nodded and smiled at him, then silently questioned the quality of my breath—why was the toothpaste aisle the very first place he was taking me on our tour? 
“Here is the cookie aisle, Terry mentioned you might want to see that,” he chuckled, not in a mean way, but more of conspiratorial manner.  “Help yourself to anything you want.” 

I grabbed two bags of Mint Milanos to be polite. 
Next he brought me to the furniture aisle. 

“MOV, why don’t you tell me what you like here, and I can get a few guys to help us set up a living room and bedroom arrangement for you?” 
I didn’t really like any of Target’s furniture.  It all looked cheap.  I was afraid if I sat on it, it might fall apart. 

“Don’t worry, dear, our furniture will not fall apart,” Richard whispered, as if reading my mind.  “It is much sturdier than it looks.” 
Within 10 minutes, the employees that Richard had contacted on his concealed headset rearranged the entire northeast quadrant of the store to make a lovely room for me.  I reached in my purse to get my smart phone to take a few pictures, but then I remembered that I had not recharged it in over 48 hours and the battery had gone dead.  Someone on Richard’s team appeared at my side with a Nikon D-3X super-shot professional camera with wide-angle lens. 

“This might do the trick,” he said, while removing the lens cap with a flourish.  “Would you like to pose over there next to your new end table?” 
Before I could say yes or no, Richard handed me a hairbrush.  He was starting to get on my nerves.  He was either incredibly helpful, or like your mom when you were in junior high and you thought you looked great but she wouldn’t let you out the door until she fixed your hair. 

“Richard, I’m fine,” I squeaked, but he set the hairbrush on the coffee table anyway. 
“MOV, darling, let me get you some coordinating throw pillows!” volunteered Richard enthusiastically, as I began to reassess if he had been a lawyer or perhaps an interior decorator in his pre-Target career.  “We’ll find something to match those beautiful sapphire blue eyes of yours!” 

Sapphire blue eyes?  Richard was instantly back on my good list. 
Right as I started to snuggle into my new faux leather chair with a cozy acrylic throw blanket and the latest issue of US Weekly with the “Bachelor” on the cover, I caught a glimpse of The Husband and our two sons walking toward me from behind a towering display of laundry detergent.

“Sweetie, what are you doing here?” I asked, flabbergasted that they had found me so fast.  “You know I am not coming home.” 
He sat down in a chair next to me and plucked the magazine out of my palms. 

“That’s okay, MOV,” he replied cheerfully while flipping to a page with Princess Kate on a tropical beach, “we’ve decided we’re all moving in with you.” 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

911. House

It was the sixth house we’d seen on that particular Saturday (this was after a year of looking).  Definitely not a love-at-first-sight, hafta-have-it, sort of thing.  In fact, I distinctly remember informing The Husband that “I would never buy a house where you can see the refrigerator from the front door,” and then I mumbled something or other about “bad feng shui” and “feeling hungry all the time.”  Of course we wrote a full-price offer on the spot.    

The market was drunk on its own inflated sense of fabulousness, we found ourselves in a multiple-bid situation; no one cared if you could see the refrigerator from the front door of this 1913 Craftsman.

The inspection came back with some sobering news:  a crumbling foundation. 

Apparently, a crumbling foundation held together by chewing gum and a prayer is not a deal-breaker for me and The Husband.  Nor is knob and tube wiring.  Nor is ancient plumbing, complete with renegade roots.  Our Realtor told us that the seller would pay $17,000 for the repairs out of escrow funds before we took possession. 
We nodded like we knew what that meant. 
Four weeks later, we got our keys.  And then the real work began.

We spent two years listening to our beleaguered house tell us what it needed:  refinished hardwood floors, new stained glass built-in cabinets dividing the dining room and living room,
refurbished antique light fixtures, new air-conditioning, a re-enameled and rebuilt blue 1950s O'Keefe and Merritt stove,
new exterior paint, new landscaping and a freshly-painted deck,
and finally, a gutted-down-to-the-studs bathroom restored to a 1930’s Art Deco style (the previous owners had “modernized” it in the late 1970s with Harvest Gold carpeting and a plastic tub insert).  I chose a cast iron tub for a replacement, along with retro jade-colored wall tile, shiny black octagon floor tile, a white pedestal sink, and nickel fixtures.  The bathroom looked like Greta Garbo could get ready in there, or at least take a nice long bubble bath.    
With every improvement, with every patch of bad plaster repaired, I pictured the house giving me a hug, cheering, “Yes, this is what I needed!  How did you know?” 

And then we did the unthinkable: 
We moved.

Some nights I dream of that house, our first, and I convince myself that it will send me a postcard detailing its latest adventures:  “Picked lemons off that tree in the backyard this morning—you would have loved it!” or “Saw another great California sunset from the back deck—wish you were here!” But mostly I am glad that I could do my job, my temporary job of restoring the beauty the house held, the quiet beauty lurking beneath the surface.  In 100 years, I hope someone buys my house, the one I’m in now, and says, “Don’t worry, I’m here now.  I’ll save you.” 
And she will.