Dana Johnston
Direct: 206 992 7554
Fax: 206 283 5650

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Last-Chance Tax Credit Crunch; and the French Disconnection   

October 2009

Last Chance!


First-time buyers are making one last push to get contracts in place before the $8,000 federal tax credit expires this November 30th.
The current policy allows first-time homebuyers (or buyers who have not owned a property in the last three years) to take a federal income tax credit of up to $8,000 if the taxpayer purchases a home before the November 30, 2009 deadline.

This program has been a popular one, but the expiration date on it is drawing near. There are several proposals before congress to extend the benefit into 2010, but so far nothing has been approved.

So if  you know any first-time buyers who are out looking at houses, tell them to look quickly! There are only about two weeks left to get into contract on a property before it is too late. Moving into your first place certainly has its fair share of "surprise" costs. (You know, things like window treatments, hot water heaters or that new TV ? because after all the old TV doesn't really fit in the new space ? at least that is why my husband told me.) And $8,000 really can help out with those unexpected costs.

For full details on the program, go to:http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=213309,00.html

Parlez vous Francais?

Huh? I'm pretty sure I don't.

When we enrolled my son Gryffin in his new pre-school, a big selling point for me was the French teacher. Not only is she cute and friendly, but she has this great authentic French accent.  Or at least I think it is authentic. How would I know?

My husband, Josh and I have zero international travel experience. He's never even been to Canada.

But the idea of our little Gryffin speaking French certainly sounded impressive. Well, I was impressed with the idea anyway. The reality of it is a little more problematic than I had anticipated.

I grill Gryffin daily about his preschool experience. I'm horribly pragmatic and frankly want to know if I'm getting my money's worth. What could they possibly be doing for 3 hours a day that is so amazing as to justify this monthly charge?

But regardless of cost,  I'm stuck with preschool because all my attempts to teach him anything have been wildly unsuccessful. We tried to do "dot to dot" pictures together the other day and I got frustrated when he connected the dots with these crazy squiggly lines.

He finished up at dot number 19 and then asked me what it was a picture of. I was stumped. Looked like a bunch of loops to me. I draw straight lines. So I have decided that he needs a teacher who won't choke the creativity right out of him. (In other words, anyone but myself.)

But just because my personality is death to creativity doesn't mean that I don't want to know what all those fun, right-brained people at school are teaching him, right?

But my son is 4 going on 14 and gives me a lot of non-answers regarding school activities like "Oh, I don't remember," "Not much," and other unsatisfying phrases drawn straight out of the teenage handbook. Now, I know they must be doing something because my house is littered with evidence of their craftiness. Art projects and alphabet worksheets are spread all over every flat surface in my home.

So I probe for answers by asking specific questions, "What did you do in music class?"

"Oh, we sang songs," he says.  I'm skeptical. Gryffin has no interest in music and has never willingly sung anything except Happy  Birthday.

"Really? Did you sing along too?" I ask. "Sure," he says. OK, so I suspend my disbelief and move on.

"Did you learn any French words today?"

"Oh yes," he says and then rattles off a bunch of incomprehensible gibberish.

Or maybe not.

My three years of high school Spanish are not helping me out. The only French I encounter on a regular basis is the instructions on the back of my shampoo bottles. And he is not saying "lather, rinse, repeat."

"What does that mean?" I ask him.

"Oh, that is from a song we sing in French class."

Really? More singing? Can that be possible?

I call on Josh for help. He is useless. He can name all the parts of a car in Spanish, and knows every French word that is associated with Formulae One racing... which is a short, unhelpful list.

We are hopelessly ignorant.

The next week I ask the French teacher (with that fabulous accent I so admired) for some help. She says, "Oh sure. I'll  make you up a list of vocabulary words so you know what we are working on each week."

Perfect! I think, I love lists!

Josh calls me a few days later with the good news. "I have the list" he says.

I ask why he sounds so sad.

"The bad news is that I can't read it."

I tell him I'll look at it when I get home. Aren't all Romance languages supposed to be similar? How hard can it be?

She has helpfully typed out this week's French song and reported that they are working on counting and how the kids love to count in French.


Gryffin can't be bothered to count in English. When I ask him how many there are of something, he always has the same response. He eyeballs the group, throws his hands in the air and announces, "seven!" Sometimes he is right, but not very often.

I ask him to count for me in French. I get lost after three because apparently that is the sum total of my French numbers. He could be right, or not. I have no idea. We have a big family debate over how to say 'four' in French.

No one agrees except Trista, but she will agree with anyone who gives her a cookie.

I give up on numbers and move on to the song. The first word is repeated four times and I can't even guess how to pronounce it. Apparently French is as bad as English. Lots of silent letters and combinations of letters that don't sound like they are spelled.

Great. I ask my husband to ask the French Lady for a phonetic weekly list.

"No way," he says (for obvious reasons).

Now Gryffin is like a predator who senses weakness. He has figured out that he can give me any kind of "French" answer and I have to go along with it. He loves that for once I can't argue with him.

He is really enjoying having the upper hand. And maybe I should just stay out of it. Let him learn a foreign language in a free-form, organic way rather than how I learned Spanish (memorizing lists of vocabulary words).

And if I ask  him to say, "have a nice day" in French and he gives me a (I suspect) completely imaginary answer, I guess I just have to look at that as a verbal squiggly line connecting his French dots.  


eNews: The $99K House? And Heat Refugees

August 2009

The $99K House

The mission: design a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house that can be built for less than $99,000. The Winner: A concept house designed by the partnership of two Seattle architecture firms, Hybrid and ORA.

At first glance, it is a not-too exciting 2-story box. But it has some really great eco-friendly features to keep the house cool without air conditioning. It also makes use o freclaimed water and the interior floorplan can easily be changed to allow for 2 to 4 bedrooms with movable walls made of wheatboard.

What I really think is exciting is that they actually built one on Jewel Street in Houston. As far as I can tell, they came in on budget, but the lot was donated and the house was built with the use of volunteer labor. As the goal of this project was neighborhood revitalization, I think that seems a reasonable compromise.

So could I buy a $20,000 vacant lot in Bellingham and build myself a retirement home for $99K? Maybe ... if I could just find that volunteer labor.

Heat Refugees: What happens when a

Seattleite starts to hate the sun

Monday July 27th: It's 90 degrees in my house at 7:30 pm. My family is hiding out in our 1940s unfinished basement trying to escape the heat. There's not much to do down here and the ambiance is definitely lacking. The concrete floors are blessedly cool, but that is the only redeeming feature.

We are sitting on folding chairs and watching the old TV. The cable channels are pretty limited so we have settled on Start Trek: The Next Generation. Gryffin likes all the aliens. Trista isn't interested in anything that is not a dog or a cartoon so she is "exploring" the basement and getting into everything we have stored down here that she's not supposed to touch. Right now she's trying to stick her fingers into the furnace and has discovered the manual on/off switches. Great. I swear if she turns on the heat I will explode from irritation, so I keep dragging her away from the furnace and she keeps going back to it.

We are trapped in the basement as it is an island of relative cool surrounded by a really hot house and even hotter outdoors.

Tuesday July 28th Noon: I'm hiding out in the air conditioned office even though there really isn't much to do. Every time I have to go back outside I feel like the sun is scorching the top of my head.

But I'm starting to feel guilty as I know I should be heading home to help Josh with the sweaty kids. So I stop at the (air conditioned) gym for a run on the treadmill and go home early. For once I'm excited to be stuck in traffic on the way home because the climate control in my car is so nice. I wonder if we could all just sleep in my car tonight?

Tuesday July 28th 6pm: Apparently it is too hot to eat and Trista proves it by puking back up her dinner in the driveway. I put her (fully clothed) into the bathtub to cool her off and clean her up. Maybe it would have been more efficient to just hose her off outside? An hour later she heats back up and I get a repeat performance from her all over the dining room. Joy. We retreat to the basement again.

Wednesday July 29th 8 am: It's over 80 degrees already and we keep moving the 4 fans around the house to try for a better effect, but I'm afraid we are just redistributing the same hot air that is everywhere.

We officially horrify all the neighbors when Josh ties 2 grass beach mats together and hangs them outside our big living room picture window to try and keep the sun from beating directly down on the glass. I'm pretty sure this process involves duct tape and Christmas light hangers but I can't be sure.

I look longingly out the dining room window. The sun is shining and as a northwesterner, I feel obligated to be outside enjoying it. I'm conflicted and cranky. Sunshine is good, not bad, right?

Wednesday July 29th 1pm: My open house in Ballard is over and I'm driving home. As I head east I'm watching the temperature gauge in my car rise. By the time I get home it has gone from 88 to 95. I consider packing up the kids and taking them to the mall for a few hours, but it will still be just as hot when we get home so that doesn't really help.

I'm sleep deprived and fed up with this blasted sunshine.

Wednesday July 29th 3:30 pm: We are all packed up and headed toward the mountains. I have the air conditioning in the car cranked down to 65 degrees. The Best Western in Leavenworth thankfully had a vacancy for the next few days so I threw everyone's swim suits into a bag, grabbed the computer and we fled the city.

Air conditioned room, outdoor pool, WiFi and free breakfast, what could be better?

I watch with sick fascination as the thermometer hits 105 degrees as we drive through Monroe.

Wednesday July 29th 9pm: We are all passed out in the super-cool paradise that is our hotel room. Not even the novelty of watching TV from bed or the knowledge that there is a pool right outside our window can keep Gryffin awake.

We spend the next three days at the pool with all the other heat refugees from western Washington and meet some really nice people.

I did not miss my basement a bit. 

Economic recovery; and Volunteering ... not for Whimps

July 2009


"Recovery" in sight?

Forbes thinks so

In a June 2009 Forbes article, the Seattle/Bellevue area was named as one of the top 10 cities in the US poised for a quick economic recovery. Admittedly, they did refer to our high-tech economy as "battered" but are predicting growth after the third quarter of 2009.

For the complete article go to:http://www.forbes.com/2009/06/09/recession-economy-cities-business-beltway-recovery-cities.html

Food Drive: Surprisingly, not for wimps

Every spring Windermere puts together its own company-wide version of "Dirty Jobs". At least that's how I think of it.  The Powers That Be insist that it is actually Community Service Day. Each office pools its people together for a local project with the idea that the sum of the efforts of all eight thousand agents will be greater than the individual parts.

It's a good theory, and while I would give the 43 agents in our office an "A" for effort, I have to admit that the quality of our labor isn't much to brag about.  When it comes to real-world practical applications our talent pool is pretty shallow. Carpenters, electricians and plumbers we are not.

That leaves us with 43 laborers each year who have more enthusiasm than skill. If it is a job that leaves you dirty and tired at the end of the day, then it's probably a project that we tackled for Community Service Day. Over the last 13 years, I've painted, weeded, pruned, dug holes, washed windows, hauled trash, cleaned and more. Rain or shine, if it's not glamorous, we've done it.

But this year we decided to do something  different. Considering the state of our local economy (treading water and gasping for breath) we thought to focus more on basic necessities for people and less on the blackberry bushes that might be overtaking the local playground.

So we launched our first food drive to benefit the Queen Anne Helpline. I admit now that I was feeling just the slightest bit guilty about the project concept. Because after all, it didn't sound to me as if there would be any blood, sweat, tears or dirt involved. And it just wouldn't be Community Service Day without dirt, blisters and band-aids.

The plan was simple. Everyone drops off a flyer and plastic bag at the houses in their assigned blocks on Tuesday and then we pair up to pick up donations on Friday morning. Easy. I spent 6 years hauling cases of Girl Scout Cookies door to door (in the dead of winter, up hill both ways, wearing a dress) to convince people to spend $1.75 (in 1980s dollars) on a box of Thin Mint Cookies. This is the type of thing that my mother liked to call a "character-building experience." In comparison, my assigned four square blocks looked like a cake walk.

After all, my fellow volunteer Kamie reportedly delivered all her flyers in 45 minutes.

No problem.

Was I worried that it was 5 pm on Tuesday and I hadn't even started? Not at all.  In fact, as I walked out the door to deliver I contemplated not trading my strappy black sandals with the wedge heel for running shoes.

Thank goodness practicality prevailed over fashion.

Four houses, 312 stairs and three breathtaking views into my route I started to feel just the slightest bit targeted by whoever assigned the routes. Was it a coincidence that every single house on my map had an unholy combination of stairs, gates and switchbacks to the front door? Had I made a low offer on one of the route-assigner's listings or offended them in some other fashion? I must have.

Two blocks later (and only one side of them at that) I was covered in sweat and wheezing. I'd had great hopes of chatting with people as I dropped off my bags and telling them all about our great project this year. There was no extra air in my lungs for chitchat. And the plastic bags! All determined to slip from my grasp and fly across the street. And after years of cleaning up trash I wasn't about to start littering the neighborhood with plastic. So I tied each bag firmly to the front door knob.

I then started to feel guilty about  all this mental whining and complaining I was doing about the stairs and the slippery (and now sweaty) bags. I'm pretty sure there is a Rule somewhere that says you can't complain about a volunteer project designed to feed people.  I was developing a whole new level of respect for the Queen Anne mailman. No wonder he has such great legs.

When all was said and done, my 1 mile route took me one and a half hours to complete. Nowhere near Kamie's miraculous 45 minutes.  I didn't get bit or chased by any dogs, cats or kids and I met some really nice people.  I skipped my usual 3 mile run that day and made a note on my December calendar to get the Queen Anne mailman a nice year-end gift.  His efforts had  gone completely unnoticed by me for the past 13 years.

I'm happy to say that the food drive turned out to be a huge success. I had optimistically cleaned out my trunk the morning of Community Service Day and was thrilled to just fill it right back up with donations. People really are thoughtful. Or maybe they  just felt sorry for the sweaty, wheezing woman tying plastic bags to their front door. Whatever works.

eNews: To Appeal or Not Appeal? and the Ikea Couch Quest
                                                                                                                                     June 2009

King County Property Assessments:
To Appeal or Not to Appeal?

Ever wondered how to get the  County tax-assessed value of your property changed?

Each year King County mails out a helpful little postcard to property owners that summarizes the property tax assessment of your parcel. It doesn't actually say how much your yearly taxes are, just states the tax-assessed value of your home.

King County mails these out in the Spring and Summer and it might be a good idea to read yours this year before you recycle it. The tax assessment is supposed to be based on the fair market value of your property. That means what the assessor thinks your house could actually sell for. Keep in mind that the assessor has not been inside your home. So if the value shown is less than what you think your property is worth, it is probably a good idea to just file the card and be happy with the current amount of property taxes you pay.

But what do you do if the value on this card seems hopelessly higher than what your house is worth? Sadly, the County will not actually buy the house from you for that amount. So you appeal. It actually isn't that hard to do, and it is free. I've appealed twice now.  And theoretically, a lower tax assessed value should translate into lower taxes?so there is your motivator.

King County has all the forms and directions you need online.  Just go to http://www.kingcounty.gov/property/PropertyTaxAppeals.aspx . But don't delay too long. The deadline is July 1st.

IKEA Couch Quest

I recently found myself in need of an extra couch.
Not for myself of course (I don't have time for things like sitting on couches) but for a vacant house I was putting on the market that needed some attractive furniture. Budget-conscious as I am, I immediately started scouring Craig's List for hidden treasure.
It must have been a slow week for Craig as there was nothing but crap. Flowers, prints, chintz, plaid, day-glo orange ? pretty much every type of ugly you can imagine. Of course, this could have had something to do with The Budget (under $700). But honestly shouldn't you be able to buy a nice used loveseat for under $700?
After wasting a half day communicating with the owners of overpriced "Treasure" I gave in to the inevitable. I filled up my gas tank and made the great trek south to IKEA. I could always sell the loveseat on Craigslist after the property sells, right? I had seen the competition and I figured mine would go quick when I was ready to sell.

I called in the car on the way down to make sure this wouldn't be a wasted trip. "How late are you open?" 9pm.

"Do you deliver?" Yes.

Perfect. I was all set. I had my printouts from the web site and I knew exactly what I wanted. I figured if I hit the front door by 8pm I would have plenty of time to shop before closing. No problem.
Ten steps into the front door and I remembered why I don't shop at IKEA. The store is a maze that a linear-thinking person like myself cannot navigate. I showed my printout of the lovely Karlstad loveseat to the greeter by the front door.
"Well," he says "the furniture is scattered throughout this front section, but is concentrated back toward textiles. If you get to lighting you've gone too far."
I zigzagged my way through the living room vignettes and bumped into the couch department. It was really just luck. It takes me way too long to pick out a loveseat and chair and (after much angst) choose a fabric color. Even worse, I finally notice that I have to write down the  model, isle and bin numbers and actually locate them in some kind of warehouse section.

I've got 20 minutes until closing.  How do you fit a couch in a bin?

As I scurry toward checkout I'm simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the entire store. On one hand, I hate being in the shopping cattle shute that forces you through every section of IKEA before departure. But on the other hand, I'm so impressed by the marketing genius that I'm surrounded by that even though I know better, I keep piling up  things in my shopping bag that were not on my list. Everything is so cute and priced so reasonably that I feel like I "need" just about everything that I walk by from the Hulda Vilse area rug to the Unni bedspread.

By the time I get to isle 54, bin 162 I've got 3 shopping bags full of impulse purchases, 10 minutes until closing and I can't hold anything else. My cute modern loveseat is in a flat box. Does this mean I have to put it together? Yes. Is it too late to call back on a Craigslist Treasure and pay $700 for already-assembled plaid? Also yes. The photographer is scheduled for the next day.

I've now got two pallet carts that don't seem to want  to steer straight and two people helping me toward checkout (I think the employees figured out that they weren't going to leave on time unless I got some assistance). By the time the checker pries the Visa from  my clutches that plaid couch is looking better all the time. Good thing I managed to resist that Gunghult patio furniture.
I'm relieved to report that the next day I managed to assemble (and then re-assemble after I found the directions and realized what all those extra parts were for) the loveseat and squeeze on the fabric cover with 15 minutes to spare before the photographer arrived.

Also happy to report that the townhouse sold with three offers. Was it my adorable Sivik Light Blue Karlstad loveseat? Probably not. After all the blood, sweat and tears that went into assembling it am I going to re-sell it as a  Craigslist Treasure after closing? Absolutely not.

I've got 20 minutes until closing.  I wonder how big these bins are if they hold couches?

As I scurry toward checkout I'm simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the entire store. On one hand, I hate being in the shopping cattle chute that forces you through every section of IKEA before departure. But on the other hand, I'm so impressed by the marketing genius that I'm surrounded by that even though I know better, I keep piling up  things in my shopping bag that were not on my list. Everything is so cute and priced so reasonably that I feel like I "need" just about everything that I walk by; from the Hulda Vilse area rug to the Unni bedspread.
By the time I get to isle 54, bin 162 I've got 3 shopping bags full of impulse purchases, 10 minutes until closing and I can't hold anything else.

I should not have been surprised to discover that my cute modern loveseat is in a flat box. Does this mean I have to put it together? Yes. Is it too late to call back on a Craigslist Treasure and pay $700 for already-assembled plaid? Also yes. The photographer was scheduled for the next day.
I've now got two pallet carts that don't seem to want  to steer straight and two people helping me toward checkout (I think the employees figured out that they weren't going to leave on time unless I got some assistance). By the time the checker pries the Visa from  my clutches that plaid couch is looking better all the time. Good thing I managed to resist that Gunghult patio furniture.
I'm relieved to report that the next day I managed to assemble (and then re-assemble after I found the directions and realized what all those extra parts were for) the loveseat and squeeze on the fabric cover with 15 minutes to spare before the photographer arrived. Well, I did have a little help too.
I'm also happy to report that the property sold with three offers. Was it my adorable Sivik Light Blue Karlstad loveseat? Probably not. After all the blood, sweat and tears that went into assembling my Karlstad loveseat am I going to re-sell it as a  Craigslist Treasure after closing? Absolutely not.

eNews: Zippy new credit score names and Improving your Global Karma    

                                                                                                March 2009

FICO '08
The New Credit Score System

Your credit score is changing and it has a snappy new name, the FICO '08. Whether the new criteria helps or hurts you remains to be seen. Your score will rise or fall depending on these key changes

You can no longer improve your credit by becoming an "authorized user" on someone else's account. (This was typically done by adding someone with a low score to a high-score account)

Debts of $100 or less sent to collections will matter less.

There will be increased emphasis on your total credit history. A single delinquent account won't have much impact if everything else is current.  

Less available credit will lower your score.

The new scoring system favors people with a variety of credit types (mortgages, car loans, credit cards, student loans, etc.)

Closing accounts will lower your score, but you will no longer be penalized for having a moderate number of credit score inquiries.

The new system was put in place in February and,  just to keep things interesting, finding out your credit score will be harder than ever.  Experian has decided that it will still sell your credit score to lenders, but will not make the number available to consumers.

For even more credit judgment, there are now scores tailored to specific types of loans with even more zippy names like: FICO Risk Score, Classic Auto 08, and Classic Bankcard 08.

   What happens when an over-achieving, perfectionist, type-A  personality tries to slow down and improve Global Karma
My new goal for the month is to spend more time appreciating nature.

Usually my objectives are more tangible, but I read a short essay recently that theorized the world would be a better place if we all took a minute to stop and notice the miracle of nature. She specifically mentioned blooming daffodils, and I think her point was a little more complicated than I am making it sound, but you get the idea. I liked the concept of everyone taking a global moment to appreciate the planet, so I thought I would give it a try. After all, it is spring and it shouldn't be too tough to find some flowers to admire.

I spend so much of my day rushing around from one appointment to the next that I frequently look through the scenery rather than at it. But even as preoccupied as I am, I can't help but notice when the cherry trees bloom.

There are a few streets on Queen Anne that have a canopy of cherry trees and when they bloom it is like driving through a cloud of fluffy petals. But in previous years, my husband has sucked the joy right out of the cherry blossoms by pointing out to me that the acidic flower petals are bad for the paint on my car. I would come home with flower petals stuck in all the nooks and crannies of the trunk and windshield wipers. Cue up husbandly lecture No. 287 "tree sap and cherry blossoms are bad for the clear-coat on the car."

Yes, yes, yes. Fine, I get it. Stop parking under cherry trees. But does that mean I have to avoid flowering trees altogether? Maybe not. After all, it is my duty as a citizen of the planet to appreciate mother nature's acidic cherry blossoms. Maybe I'll just wash my car myself so I don't have to listen to lecture No. 287 again.

Or maybe I could just find some other trees to appreciate? At my open house last Sunday, I admired the twists and turns of the pine tree blocking the view of downtown. I admit that my first thought was something more along the lines of "Gee, I sure wish I could get rid of that tree." But I stopped that train of thought before I got too far along in plotting the demise of view-blocking red pines in the name of increased property values.

I decided that I needed to try harder.

A few days later on my way home from work I stopped to take a run around Green Lake. The whole lake is a park, so there was bound to be something to admire there and no pesky car paint to worry about either. And perfect multi-tasking too. Nature appreciation and workout all in one 30-minute period. After all, I usually spend most of my visual efforts during my run avoiding duck poop, not looking at flowers. I nearly missed a spectacular sunset last month after passing what must have been at least 20 different groups of people who were stopped on the path and pointing upward. I finally started jogging backward to see what on earth was going on. Ah yes, post-card perfect sunset. Check.

So I laced on my new running shoes (hot pink colored with Full Length Nike Air ... sure to put maximum spring in my step) and prepared myself for a new perspective. After a slow start (most of the blooming seems to take place on the south and east sides of the lake... I'm thinking that car exhaust from Aurora isn't so good for the plants) I actually ended up with some pretty impressive numbers.

17 groups of daffodils in 2 different varieties
2,000 tiny daisies (at first I thought they were litter, but was happily wrong about that)
2 blooming cherry trees
1 skateboarder being pulled on his longboard by two Siberian Huskies (yes, he passed me)
3 sun worshipers napping on blankets
1 aqua-man sighting (actually I saw him twice as we were going opposite directions) complete with nifty color-coordinated outfit and matching headband.
Zero Duck poop (Not that I noticed anyway, it is probably stuck to the bottom of my new Nikes.)

27 minutes, 3 seconds total time elapsed.

I realize that timing my run to beat my personal best was most likely counter-productive to the whole point of the undertaking. And cataloging flower sightings is probably not adding to the Karmic goodwill of the planet in quite the same way as appreciating them does. But I'm trying. It's good to have a goal, right?

Spring Ahead eNews 
                                                      March 2009

Seattle Number One Rankings

Here are a few happy reminders that our local economy has a lot going for it.

Seattle was the top office market in the country for 2008 -Marcus & Millichap, October 2008

Seattle continues to have the most LEED certified buildings in the nation - US Green Building Council, April 2008

Seattle is the most secure large metro area in the U.S. in which to live - Farmer's Insurance, 2008

Seattle leads the nations in Technology job creation - Trade in the Cyberstates 2008

Seattle scored as the No. 1 city for summer vacation. - Travel + Leisure Magazine, October 2008

Seattle is a leader in global health.  7,600 people work in 55 life science companies in Seattle and more companies are following the lead of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation by moving to Seattle - Global Health Stats - 2008

The Port of Seattle was No. 1 in the Alaska cruise market in 2008, surpassing Vancouver, B.C. in total number of cruise passengers for the first time
- Port of Seattle, Nov 2008.

  Snowmobile Envy

I don't travel much these days. I'm pretty sure I have not ventured more than 15 miles from downtown Seattle in the last two years. (Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.) So when a client asked me to help them find a vacation home in Washington, I have to admit that I was pretty excited to have a good excuse to go somewhere.

Anywhere really, I'm not particular.

On our most recent outing, the plan was to meet at a cute little log cabin by Lake Kachess in Easton. I was excited. I cannot even pronounce Kachess so it made it all the more exotic (especially compared to some of the other less-romantic sounding choices in the area like Swamp Creek and Rattlesnake Lake.)

The weather was absolutely perfect. The sky was electric blue, the snow was a crisp white and it all contrasted nicely with the evergreen trees. I-90 was clear and dry and the speed limit was a shocking 70 miles per hour. I actually got to use sixth gear. I had almost forgotten it was there. I got carried away and dug my sunglasses out of the glove box, opened up the sunroof and turned on my heated seats. With classic Rolling Stones playing too loud on the stereo (and much cheaper gas prices) I was ready to drive all the way to Montana.

Turns out you don't have to go as far as Montana to enter a whole new world.

When I exit the freeway and splash my 

Snowmobile Envy

 way through mud and ice, navigating potholes and rutted dirt roads, I start to notice that there is not an actual car in sight. I'm dwarfed by SUVs and trucks. Everyone is looking down at me through my open sunroof.


The first agent we met that day pulled into the driveway in a Ford F-450. She was a cute little thing and I wondered how she could see over the steering wheel. She's chatting with my clients about how nice the neighbors are (she lives down the road) but I'm distracted trying to figure out how she gets clients in that monster truck. The top of my head seems to be level with the hood. Now I've left my high heels at home as a concession to the snow but still, it's a big truck.

I'm pulled away from my distraction when she mentions that she goes hiking every morning. Hiking? Who has time to hike every morning? But if you think about it, that's kind of like me walking down the street for a coffee in the morning. In Seattle I'm surrounded by Starbucks, in Easton you're surrounded by the forest. Makes sense.

She asks if we have seen the garage yet. I'm thinking, "How could you miss it?" We have been  in the log home and it is ridiculously charming with big A-frame windows that show off aview of the mountains, the staircase is made of big slabs of timber and there are cute carved woodenbears hanging all over the house. But the sweet little sunroom has a wall of windows overlooking the garage.

The garage is the polar opposite of the house. It's a beige metal building the size of an airplane hangar and has carports on either side for (what else?) his and her motorhomes.

I'm trying to figure out how to politely say no to the agent because I can tell my client is already trying to decide if he could get away with demolishing (or relocating?) the eyesore. With five acres of land to work with why does this giant metal building need to be 20 feet from the house?

But she insists that we must go inside the metal monster and starts waxing poetic about the virtues of the garage: insulated, heated, powered and it has its own backup generator. She looks dreamy but I don't get it until I step inside.

It's twice the size of my whole house and toys are everywhere; outdoor toys that is. Four snowmobiles, two ATVs, a tractor, a trailer and a few other vehicles I can't identify. They even have their own snowplow.

Five houses later, I realize that adorable cabins go hand-in-hand with ugly garages. Everyone has one and they are all full of outdoor equipment. I'm starting to wonder why I don't have a snowmobile. I've never even ridden one before, but by 4:30 I'm really feeling a hole in my life where a snowmobile should be.

I mean, what does it say about a community that the garages are larger than the houses? And it's not to store a fleet of cars, it's to house the fleet of fun machines. Seems to me that indicates a group of people who spend more time outside than in, and playing is priority number one. What's not to like about that?

By the time I'm driving back over the pass with the mountains a dark silhouette against the sky and the first star (or satellite) twinkling softly in the distance, I'm ready to trade in my 4-door sedan for a pickup truck with a snowmobile in the back.

But I am from Seattle, so by the time I spot the downtown skyline I'm already feeling guilty about my increased carbon footprint resulting from my proposed fleet of snowmobiles (because really, don't the kids each need their own too?) And it doesn't snow all the time so really in the summer you would need those cute little ATVs. This is allsounding like a lot of combustion engines to me now. Can the ozone layer handle my new lifestyle?

I'm having doubts about my relocation to the land of giant garages, and my husband struck a final blow to my grandiose plans with his immediate reaction, "Snowmobiles? They're way too noisy," he says.

Now my husband loves engines more than most people, so if he's not on board with my scheme, then I guess we are just staying put. But I still really should get out more.

  Winter's End e News             
                                                          February 2009 

Easy Green Energy Tips

Here are a few simple things you can do to save energy for the remainder of the winter and the rest of the year too.

Adjust your thermostat (and pull on another sweater)
Lowering the temperature in your home by just one degree in the winter can save you three percent on your heating bill.

Embrace the cold cycle
Washing your clothes in cold water not only preserves their color and shape - it also cuts your energy use by 50%. Dissolve powdered detergent with a blast of hot water, then switch to cold water for the rest of the cycle.

Pull the plug
Did you know your cell phone charger uses energy when its plugged in, even if you're not using it? Your microwave, printer and DVD player require constant energy, too. I know it sounds unreasonable to go around unplugging everything each night, but you could try plugging several appliances into a power strip that can be easily turned on and off.

Air dry
Skip the heated dry cycle on your dishwasher. Instead, open the door and allow your dishes to air dry. Just tell guests that the water spots are earth-friendly. 


The Master Negotiator

(That would Not be me)

Gryffin (age 3) is the master negotiator in our house. I'm considering equipping him with a tape measure and cell phone and setting him loose on all my tough contracts.

He has a round-about way of approaching what he wants that should earn him a Machiavelli Jr prize.

At 2 am I hear the (not so quiet) cry from across the hall, "Bombee" (his nose is hopelessly clogged with snot from his most recent cold) and I know from experience that he won't quiet down until I respond.

"Bombee, I deed somefing." He says as I walk into his room. And even though I know that I shouldn't encourage him, I ask anyway, "what do you need?" I'm really hoping it's not going to be his usual request to discuss the nature of power tools, vacuum cleaners and furnaces. It's tough for me to hold up my half of that conversation.

"Wellll," there is a long pause and I don't know it yet, but this is where he is Setting Up The Mark. "I deed by weebote condroll."

I'm tempted to ask why, but frankly I'm relieved it is something that I can actually do.

Last week he urgently called me into his room at 1 am to tell me that "sometimes spiders chase people." I was stumped by that one because frankly I couldn't have agreed more. But my husband has told me (repeatedly) that I'm not allowed to agree with him.

Did I see that this request for a "retired" remote control was a lead-in to his real agenda? No. The kid is 10 steps ahead of me.

I hand him a defunct VCR remote that is sitting on his bookshelf. He thanks me sweetly (I should have been suspicious) and I'm feeling pretty confident that I might get to go back to sleep.

Gryffin then kicks back on his pillows and points the remote at the wall opposite his crib. "This is for my TV." He says pushing several buttons with his thumb.

I know it's late and my feet are frozen but I can't keep myself from stating the obvious, "you don't have a TV in here."

"My imaginary TV mommy."

Oh, well that's OK then, he can watch all the pretend TV he wants. "Great, have fun then."

I'm half way to the door  when he says, "There's a problem with this TV Mommy. It doesn't play the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Little Einsteins."

I'm thinking this is a pretty worthless imaginary TV if it doesn't play his favorite shows, but I manage to keep that comment to myself. "Wow, that's too bad. Good night!" and I head for the door again.

"Only the TV in Mommy and Daddy's room plays Mickey Mouse and Little Einsteins," He says slyly.

There's no TV in our room either, but now I get it. This is all about him having a cold and not wanting to sleep by himself. But the kid is a terrible pillow hog and kicks all night long so I'm not giving in.

"Well, the pretend TV in our room is Daddy's TV," I tell him "And all it plays is Seahawks home games and Formula One Racing." And with that that I say good night and shut the door behind me. 

Hah! I may be perpetually sleep deprived, but I can still keep up with a 3 ½ year old.I figure I have about six more months before he can outsmart me.



  e New Year News
                                                                                     January 2009
2008-2009 Cost vs. Value Report

Each year Remodeling magazine puts out a report that clearly shows what kind of returnyou can expect from home improvement projects. I thought you might be interested in the highlights.

Seattle market:

Kitchen upgrade ($22,476 cost) 100.5% cost recouped

Upscale bath remodel ($57,433 cost) 84.7% cost recouped

Midrange Basement remodel ($69,477 cost) 92.5% cost recouped

Conversion from attic-to-bedroom ($54,984 cost) 89.7% cost recouped

Pacific Northwest Regional winners:

Wood Window replacement ($20,303 cost) 94.2% cost recouped

Fiber cement siding replacement ($13,697 cost) 96.2 % cost recouped

Wood Deck addition ($13,125 cost) 97.1% cost recouped

Second Story addition ($173,708 cost) 80.7% cost recouped

Bathroom addition ($45,840 cost) 76.2% cost recouped

For the complete article, go to Realtor Magazine


The Anti-Martha Stewart

(That would be me)

I freely admit that I have no domestic skills. I don't own tablecloths, fancy napkins, centerpieces or china for entertaining. If you come to my house for dinner expect pizza and a nice salad served on a paper plate.

I must have forgotten all this when I said, "Christmas Eve dinner at our house? Sounds great! And yes, let's do a turkey!"

I honestly think the snow storm was the final nail in my entertainment coffin. At 6:30 pm on Dec. 23rd my husband sends me a text at work informing me that since I have stranded him at home by taking our only 4-wheel drive vehicle that I will have to do the holiday grocery shopping. He then sends a very detailed list of items. And despite the fact that I usually only stop at the store to get emergency items like milk or diapers, I think "no problem!"

At 6:54 pm I'm standing in the produce department trying to figure out what a turnip looks like. Ten minutes later I'm trying to figure out why tomatoes are $6. And red bell peppers? $3.99 each. Who knew that vegetables were so expensive? I briefly consider skipping some of the veggies on the list, but it is so detailed (and in fact explains what sort of color and consistency that each is supposed to have) that I'm afraid to leave anything out.

I abandon the produce department in search of cheese. Josh has 6 different kinds of cheese on the list and I can't find or pronounce any of them. I have resolved to stop looking at prices. I figure if a small bunch of tomatoes is $6 then the cheese will probably be $60. Did you know that there is a separate display area for fancy cheese? I had no idea.

After a ridiculous amount of wasted time at the grocery store I head home to help put the kids to bed and wrap toys until midnight.

The next morning I hit the ground running. I'm determined to at least get the house cleaned up before our guests arrive. I realize I have no idea what time that is going to be and there is a virtual blizzard of snow outside already. My cleaning efforts are thwarted (as usual) by my son Gryffin who is taking toys out of his room faster than I can put them away. I briefly consider pinning a towel to the baby's diaper so she can help clean the floor as she crawls around, but decided that I didn't need to give the grandparents a reason to criticize.

Everyone arrives early.

I'm still trying to get my Christmas cards in the mail.

Panic is not far off when I realize we are out of paper towels and all we have is small green cocktail napkins. Do I even have enough real plates? And I'm pretty sure I only have eight adult-sized forks.

And at 2:09 pm the power goes out.

My first thought is "Awesome! Now no one can see the dust on the baseboards or the spaghetti on the wall in the dining room that I forgot to scrub off!"

Everyone else is concerned about The Turkey and jumps into high gear. For me, all the pressure is off. If everything turns out horribly I can blame it on the power outage. Perfect. I am now the picture of relaxation.

Every man in the house leaps into action. Within minutes The Turkey is transferred to its new home in the barbeque, flashlights appear, and the men are all discussing the best way to make mashed potatoes ? on the barbeque or the camp stove?

Four hours later we sit down to eat by lantern-light (naturally I have no candles in the house). And no sooner had we made a Christmas toast and the lights come back on. Crap. Now everyone can see that spaghetti on the wall. Oh well, I'll just pass it off as a new smear of cranberry sauce.

Hope you enjoyed your holidays as much as I did!


e Holiday News

December 2008

                                   First-Time Homebuyer Class
I'm going to be teaching a first-time buyer class January 17, 2009. So if you would like to learn more about  home ownership and down-payment assistance programs then just e mail me to sign up!

                            Fun Stuff To Do Over the Holidays:

Holiday Breakfast & Santa Photos at the
Woodland Park Zoo                                                              12/6 & 12/13

Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the Bathhouse 
Theatre                                                                                    12/11-24

Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis                                          12/14

Handel's Messiah?at Benaroya Hall                                   12/18-21

A Christmas Carol at the Act Theatre                                  Ends 12/27

Nutcracker-Pacific NW Ballet                                               Ends12/30

Winterfestat Seattle Center                                                  Ends 12/31

Gingerbread Village at Sheratorn                                       Ends 1/4

Bellevue Botanical Garden d'Lights                                    Ends 1/3

Greenlake Pathway of Lights                                              12/13 dusk-8:30pm




Kid Kegger Party President

(That would be me)

My son Gryffin recently turned three and so are his friends. This means birthday parties, and I have been elected President of the small boy party committee.

I tried to convince my husband that he would be perfect for thejob, but he wasn't buying into any of my persuasive arguments. Every party is different and he hates unpredictability. Some allow gifts and some don't. Number of children attending varies from 3-30 and all seem to advertise "kid friendly food". But I've figured out that means everything from Kraft cheese sticks to crab cakes.

One common theme is the weekend timing. Everyone wants to look at houses on the weekend, so that means I schedule appointments around these parties. We now have it worked out to a science. I call my husband on my way home to pick up Gryffin so he can get the ball rolling. I drive up and Josh has Gryffin cleaned up, dressed and sitting in the driveway in his car seat holding a wrapped gift. My husband is nowhere in sight. That way I can't say, "Are you sure you don't want to come?" and force his attendance at the last minute.

What Josh doesn't know is that these parties are actually pretty fun. One pool party this summer suffered from typical Seattle weather and we all ended up in the hot tub. You just haven't lived until you've spent an hour partying in the hot tub with a bunch of toddlers. I admit conversation is limited. I got an unexpected workout at "pump it up" in Lynnwood when I heroically climbed the ladder to go down the huge inflatable slide with Gryffin no less than 50 times. I am now fully prepared for an airline emergency landing.

Best of all was the Friday night birthday party. I should have guessed from the cocktail hour of the party that it was going to be different.

There were no less than 100 people crammed into the house and back yard. They even set up propane heaters and bar tables outside so we wouldn't get too cold. There was international cuisine, appetizers, wine, cocktails and a full-sized keg. Apparently this child is 3 going on 30. The kids ran in wild packs through the house and yard. I was informed by a 4 year old girl with pink lipgloss (and a very smart coordinating purse) that she was e mailing Santa her wish list.

It was 9:30 pm before I could drag Gryffin away from the Birthday Kegger and the party was just getting into full swing. 

In the car I coached Gryffin about what to tell Daddy when we got home. "Just tell him you had a good time and leave it at that." He was agreeable; too tired and enthralled with his Super-Ball Party Favor to argue. If Josh figures out there is the possibility of unlimited cold beer available at these events I'm going to be impeached from my position as president of the small boy party committee.