311, 2015

Triple Graveyard Party in Transylvania

One of many graves decorated for Day of The Dead. Targu Mures, Romania

One of many graves decorated for Day of The Dead. Targu Mures, Romania

Like I said yesterday, Halloween isn’t a huge deal in Transylvania. Day of the Dead is what it’s all about. It’s a day to remember the dead, honor them and in some ways, hang out with them . . . give ’em a little love.

On Halloween, the day before the official Day of the Dead, our host Carolyn took us to visit Ed, her dear departed husband. His grave sits high on a hill overlooking their little village and house, just like he had wanted in life. We three were loaded down each with a large basket and a big rock. Two of us hauled giant baskets of cut flowers and the other basket carried our lunch. The mission: afternoon party in the graveyard with Ed.

To get to Ed’s grave we tromped through thorns, weeds and a three hundred year old churchyard. We passed by one horse, five cows and an entire flock of sheep. Up, up and up we went through fields littered with gnawed bones strewn here and there. That’s when I saw two dogs. Multiple people have warned me about wild dogs in Transylvania and even Carolyn said that you can’t trust the shepherd’s dogs: they’re trained to kill. Great. My knees went to jelly.

Digging in the dirt . . .

Digging in the dirt . . .

Carolyn had us each collect a big rock from the village road to add to the outline of Ed’s grave, but I’m thinking now the rock must’ve been double duty in case we needed to kill a mean old sheepdog. I was scared but Carolyn just kept walking slowly up toward the graveyard, saying, “Nice doggie.” What else could I do but follow? I mean, running away would just make their chasing instinct kick in. I kept my big rock hoisted high in the air just in case. I’m happy to report that none of us are dead or got bitten.

Matt and I each took a pair of shears and cut all the weeds from around Ed’s grave, tossing them down the side of the hill. Carolyn got to work with a trowel and dug out the middle, getting all the grass and roots out, digging down a few inches til we just had a plot of plain dirt. We added our dog-bashing rocks and re-aligned all the other big rocks from past graveyard parties back into a border for the grave. I draped my scarf on Ed’s grave as a little flag of color. We thought he’d like that.

Carolyn told us about the day he died and how in Transylvania they didn’t have to embalm him. They just dressed him right away before he got stiff and later put him in a pine box and buried him. I found a couple of worms and old snail shells as I worked the dirt above him and thought, “Wow, this is really the life cycle at work.” Those worms and snails could have been eating Ed at one time for all I know. I honestly tried not to think about it too hard though.

But up there on that hill, digging in the dirt six feet above a non-embalmed body in a pine box . . . in the wind, leaves falling, autumn chill in the air, the sheep bleating below – I felt a sense of peace I’ve never felt in a graveyard before. And a profound connection with the Earth and the cycle of life and death. We talked about how in America, we view the dead body as simply a shell – not our loved one – how we just dump it in the graveyard and forget about them. The visceral feeling of tending a grave with my gloved hands in dirt connected me to my own dead loved ones and how I’m a part in the cycle too.

We ate our lunch right there in grass next to Ed’s grave. Carolyn told us about Ed, what he liked, how he was, his favorite things, his life. It was nice. We kept saying things like, “Hey Ed, how are ya?” and just sort of talking to him. I suggested a design for the flowers. Then after lunch we got to work, poking the flowers down in the turned up dirt. Doesn’t Ed’s grave look nice?

The next day at dusk, on the actual Day of The Dead, we headed to two cemeteries in town with a hundred tea lite candles. The atmosphere on the streets was social, like a big town festival – people everywhere with flowers, holding paper cones of roasted chestnuts, piping hot right out of rusty burn barrel grills. Since we’d decorated Ed’s grave the day before, we wanted to give some love to darkened graves that didn’t have any families to leave flowers or candles. The whole entire graveyard was full of flickering lights of candles near and far, thousands of candles. It was more than beautiful. Families gathered with all ages from babies and toddlers to the elderly and everyone in between. The mood wasn’t quite somber, and not quite happy. Just content. Death is a part of life here.

Community altar for Day of The Dead

Community altar for Day of The Dead

And there we were, looking to light up the dark spots of forgotten graves with four candles each. I don’t know why four candles, that’s just the way it is. We brushed leaves off of cold cement slabs, lovingly said the dead ones’ names aloud, said, “We’re thinking of you,” lit four candles and moved on. I had loved ones on my mind. So at the second graveyard, at a big display, I lit candles for K2 and Khan, two friends who’ve left this world too early. And I lit candles for both sets of grandparents. With one set of grandparents, I was thinking specifically of my grandma Phyllis who raised me. She wasn’t my dad’s birth mother, but she loved him and all of us very much. I didn’t intend to forget my dad’s birth mother, grandma Roberta, but she never entered my mind. Not even a little bit. But I loved her too.

I slept well that night, but that morning, grandma Roberta appeared in my dreams quite clearly, just her face looking right at me. And then I woke up. She wasn’t upset that I’d forgotten her. No bad energy or juju. Just her poking her head into my world for a minute to say, “Here I am. Don’t forget about me.”

211, 2015

Transylvania For Halloween Or Bust! (With a Lederhosen Wig)

Day Of The Dead Lederhosen Beer Lady Matt and I made a big deal about making it to . . . bwah-hah-ha . . . Transylvania for Halloween. Guess what? They don’t even celebrate it much here. Vampires? Eh . . . Romanians know the real history of Vlad Tepes and yeah, he impaled a bunch of people in his quests to protect the country from the Turks, whatevs. And from that, Bram Stoker created a fictional character — NEXT!

Back in Hamburg, the week after Octoberfest at a random hostel, we encountered a bunch of dudes dressed in Made-In-China, cheesy Lederhosen gear who farted in an elevator and exited right before we hopped on. How rude! But the next morning, as though the mysterious Lederhosen bunny/fairy had left a present for me, I found a Lederhosen wig in the lobby of the hostel. Perfect and obviously discarded, but purposely left out for someone to take it on its next adventure. Who am I to deny adventure to an abandoned Lederhosen wig? My mission: carry that wig in my tiny pack to Transylvania, where it would have some more debaucherous fun and get passed on to the next person.

Turns out, Romania is sorta new to the whole Halloween thing. They have their own cool traditions I’ll tell you about tomorrow. One can find all the mass-produced, cheap quality made-in-China kid costumes and witch hats, only – refreshingly and thankfully – in much lesser quantity. We found some face paint, busted out the wig and voila! I am the Lederhosen Day of The Dead Beer Lady.

We heard there was going to be a Guinness book world record pumpkin carving extravaganza at a castle just outside of town, so we went with our host and her friends to check it out. We as Americans expected hundreds of people, with acres of candle-lit pumpkins in front of a quaint and massive turreted fortress. Instead, in what was described to me as typical Romanian big-talk-low-delivery-fashion, we encountered a dark yard with a tiny old building with about a hundred half-ass carved pumpkins. Zero people in sight, except for a private wedding party happening upstairs. No one to even sell us a beer in the lobby. About six pumpkins even lit up. We saw one employee, who turned and ducked around a corner to avoid us.

So we went to our host’s friends’ home, drank Palenka (Hungarian home-made brandy) and red wine and had a truly informative, eye-opening discussion about living through the Soviet era in Romania that I’m very grateful for. And then we put the Lederhosen wig on our new friends. Of course!

Afterwards we searched for quite awhile for a bar that actually celebrates Halloween. We eventually found a place not so full of smoke. The bartender wore some face paint, the bar maid sported a bat headband and the customers didn’t give us total death-stares. Good enough for us. We sat by ourselves, in full Day of The Dead makeup plus me wearing my precious Lederhosen wig, feeling really over-dressed and out of place. It took awhile – several beers for Matt, a double espresso and a beer for me. But then the DJ played Uptown Funk and I couldn’t stay off the dance floor.

Soon we were dancing with five or six different groups of people and I had a great idea . . . all the people take turns wearing the Lederhosen wig! I plopped it on a macho guy, then his girlfriend. Soon it made the rounds throughout the bar, everyone smiling and laughing and pulling out their phones to take pictures of themselves wearing the wig. Success! I even got it on the DJ.

Now, I’ve happily carried this wig for almost a month across three countries, but I’m only carrying a 10 kilo backpack and always looking to the load lighter. There’s no way I’m carrying this wig beyond Halloween night. I gave it away several times, but every time the patrons would get up to leave, they’d return it to me. Finally, I put on my coat, made eye contact with a girl who’d enthusiastically worn the wig earlier. I handed it to her. “Do you speak English?” I said. Got it on the DJ!


“Will you give this wig a good home?”

She grabbed me in a bear hug, thanked me and now the Lederhosen wig has a new home in Targu Mures, Romania. My Halloween work here is done.

3010, 2015

Gettin’ Weird In Transylvania

Sighisora, Transylvania

Sighisora, Transylvania

But, unfortunately, not like you might think.

Wednesday was our first day in Transylvania, full moon rising and a thick fog rolling in. So far, so good, right? We get settled in our little hostel room and hear a big commotion outside. On the front porch steps, a lady at our hostel is freaking out on two policeman. We walk outside to see what’s going on and she turns to us, to replay her drama in full, wild-eyed, crazy lady form.

“A boy followed me up here. I set my bag down when I got to the kitchen and he just picked it up and stole it!!”

Now, I know I should feel sorry for her, because, yes . . . a thief stole her stuff. But, she left her bag unattended? Even for a second? That’s seriously negligent on her part, especially if she noticed that someone was following her. I didn’t feel sorry for her. At all.

“I just want my Iphone and passport back! I don’t even care about the $2000 Euros!” she keeps screaming at the top of her lungs. Two thousand Euros and she left her bag unattended? Are you kidding me? I don’t even believe her anymore. The policemen both looked like they’d stopped listening a long time ago.

We needed to get to an ATM and get some cash for the week, so we walked down the quaint cobblestone streets of Sighisora, Vlad Dracul’s birthplace, taking it all in. It’s a super cool, incredibly intact midievil village. Suddenly, people are yelling and screaming and an obvious tourist chases a young man, catches him and drags him back up the street. There’s an elderly woman flat on her back on the aforementioned quaint cobblestones, not moving. Someone yells, “Call the police!”

Well, I just happen to know where there are two policemen – they’re back at my hostel. So we run to get them. They’ve already gotten away from the crazy lady, though. At this point, we are just hungry and super confused. Is this town safe? Is the thief down the street the same one as the crazy lady’s bag snatcher? Crazy lady is mumbling, “That gate must never be unlocked ever again!” She follows us down the street, presumably to see if the detained thief is the same perp as the one who took her bag.

Matt and the card-eating ATM, the next morning.

Matt and the card-eating ATM, the next morning.

The elderly woman is still laying on the street, her hand bloody. The police arrive, the same two from before. We figured we weren’t helping by hanging around gawking so we went to find an ATM.

And then the Bank of Transylvania’s ATM ate Matt’s debit card. All of this happened in the span of one hour. But you know what? Everything is cool. We didn’t get mugged. We didn’t do anything silly like, oh, leave our Iphones and 2000 Euro laying around for a gypsy child to steal. We can make do without the card, although not having it is just sort of a pain in the ass. We tried to get our bank to fax a letter to the Bank of Transylvania to release the card to us, but no one wanted to accept written liability. So we had the bank cut up our debit card.

Crazy lady started yelling at the hostel owner at 8:00 AM the next morning, just like I predicted she would, which was kind of entertaining. Crazy lady got escorted out by the police, screaming, “No one will ever stay here again!! All of your stuff will get stolen from here! You’ll see! It will happen to you too!” The hostel owner, a sweet lady with a thick Romanian accent kept shrugging her shoulders and saying, “She’s crazy. Depressed or something.”

Hey remember a couple of posts ago how I was complaining that nothing interesting was happening? Transylvania delivers, y’all.

2910, 2015

A Snooze-baru Is Born

Our plan was to give up the bungalow and jump into the great unknown of traveling the world for about six months with a loose plan, starting with a three month summer loop around the United States. One problem with traveling with a partner or spouse is that you’ve got to come to some sort of agreement on everything. Every damn thing. And Matt and I were having a hard time agreeing on anything, including our mode of transportation across America.

First I wanted a little RV or perhaps a teardrop trailer. I thought either could be a nice option. Matt didn’t want to have to research or purchase anything that expensive and then have to deal with selling it later. But when I asked my mechanic if our Subaru could tow a teardrop trailer, he simply said, “You don’t need a teardrop. Pull out the backseat. Same thing.”

Backseat removed - what have I done???!

Backseat removed – what have I done???!

Sure, we could have pitched a tent everywhere we camped, but I didn’t want to. I really, really needed to feel like I had a self-contained home base. Plus we would be visiting friends and family. I know they all love us dearly, but when you show up jobless and homeless to someone’s house, no matter how much they love you, I promise you in the back of their mind, they are nervously thinking, at least a little bit, “Oh shit, how long are these hippies gonna stay?”

So, after too many semi-heated discussions, we decided to live in our Subaru for the summer. But Matt didn’t want to pull out the backseat. Sure, the backseat folds down and doesn’t take up too much room, but every little inch counts and besides, I had big ideas! Like having a contractor build a little platform where the backseat used to be. I could just see it: a platform with trapdoors that opened up from both sides where we could stash clothes and stuff. Nevermind that I had no clue how to build it. And since I lost the RV/teardrop trailer dream, I wanted the platform. Matt just simply said, “No way.” No amount of reasoning was going to change his mind.

Platform build-out

Platform build-out

My girlfriend Joanna came over to visit. I showed her our car, told her about my plans for it and expressed my frustration about the spousal disagreement over the removal of the backseat. And Joanna took all my frustrations away with a flick of her wrist and three completely calm-inducing nonchalant words that I love her for.

“Do it anyway.”

Brilliant! My friend Joanna is brilliant! And so I did it. Without a word the next morning, I drove to the mechanic when Matt was working, had the backseat removed and didn’t feel bad about it. Yes, Matt was mad. Really mad. We argued for a couple of days about it, whenever we had the time. IMG_2936

Part of our problem was that we didn’t have much time to get our car ready for our journey. I researched Subaru forums like mad for plans and ideas, but came up seriously short on both. If you aren’t handy (like me) and in a time crunch for your build out, I recommend that you have a solid lead on a contractor before you do drastic things like have your mechanic unbolt the backseat of your car. (I couldn’t even do that by myself.)

Look at those beautiful open platform doors!

Look at those beautiful open platform doors!

I got a little panicky when I couldn’t find a contractor, handyman, cabinet maker, a woodworker or even anyone who does work on watercraft anywhere in the entire Los Angeles area who wanted to have anything to do with this project. People laughed, said they were booked or just grunted and hung up on me. What saved our asses is my good friend Andrew who is a contractor and an avid outdoorsman who was really on board with the Snoozebaru plan. And who just happened to be available within 48 hours. Our timing was that tight! And plans? What plans? Thankfully I took the car to his house, we went to the hardware store and somehow he just made it happen.

Platform with smiling husband and bed on top. It worked!!

Platform with smiling husband and bed on top. It worked!!

Because Andrew is brilliant and talented, just like my friend Joanna. Without them, Snooze-baru simply would not exist. It all worked out. Look at those trapdoors! And look at that smile on my husband’s face. And I learned to sometimes say “Fuck it,” and do it anyway.

2810, 2015

Living The Dream Is Hard Sometimes

So – Truth?

Everyone who hears about the trip Matt and I are on says, “You guys are LIVING THE DREAM!” Yeah, I guess so. But this trip has been challenging. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for us . . . we’ve basically been on vacation for the last five months. Of course we have good days. We have some great days . . . but we have a lot of just okay days.

And having okay days is . . . well – it’s okay, as in – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having just a plain ole okay day where nothing amazing happens. I suppose I’m accustomed to meeting fascinating people and having a bunch of random, crazy adventures. But a lot of days, those fascinating people and random, crazy adventures just don’t find us. Which is kind of weird because I feel like usually they do.

And then I wonder where all the adventure went. Are we moving too quickly through our trip? Just skimming the surface? I crave for some-thing to happen against the background of all that unique and beautiful European architecture, ya know, but sometimes the only thing happening against that background is me, fighting all the old battles within myself. Wondering where the hell we are going to live when this is all over. Missing my cat, missing my home, wondering how I’m going to make a living doing this writing thing. Trying to be a better wife, friend and person and often falling way short.

Sometimes, as we hit another European city and I see another mall with all the same god-damned stores (H & M, f’reals) that are exactly like every version of the same god-damned stores in every other city in the world, I think, “What the fuck am I doing out here?” That ennui really hits when we see Hard Rock Cafe – and they are in every touristy part of every big city. I know, stay away from the touristy parts of town. And a lot of times we do.

So, I guess this IS a travel blog, but I don’t want to give touristy reviews on all the regular shit out here in the world, all the same old crap that has been blogged about ad nauseum. I’m just lady who is trying to get her shit together, keep her depression at bay and do something different than hit every single tourist attraction out there. Because an exclusive traveling life of visiting historic monuments, sitting around eating rich meals and then having too many drinks in yet another bar gets old real fast. I like having life missions and I crave finding more of them.

When I was in Iceland, I saw a motivational poster on the wall of a sweet little hostel by the Keflavik airport. It said, “Happiness isn’t having everything you want. Happiness is wanting everything you have.” I really hold those words close to my heart right now. I thought this trip would shake me up, make me blissfully happy. In some moments, it does. Many times, just like regular life though, it’s work. This little adjustment fills me with contentment in between the blissful and magical moments.

Cuz, let’s face it: if every single moment was magical, synchronous, blissful or amazing, that too would get boring and the magic ‘receptors’ would get blown out.

I want everything I have right now, except for this damn sinus infection I’ve been fighting for almost two weeks. I’m over that.

We are about to start slowing down, staying in places longer. Love more. Help more. Heal more. Reveal more. Learn more. Shine more. So here’s me, a very lucky lady, wanting everything I’ve got, but often craving just a little bit more of the good stuff, ready to sprinkle a little more magic all around.

What about you? What do you crave more of? What’s your mission? What do you do on your okay days? Tell us in the comments below.

2510, 2015

The Aggravating Singaporean Tissue Issue

Sure, sure . . . Singapore is that weird place where they hang tourists at the airport on Friday afternoons for any kind of drug possession, but are completely OK with a red light district. Most people know about that already. But I want to discuss something which you may not be aware of . . . something of utmost importance for the Western man with ample facial hair – The great Singaporean Tissue Issue, aka the Annoying Napkin Problem . . . Specifically, the complete absence of them. That’s right, unless you’re at a fancy place with cloth napkins, which is very rare, restaurants just don’t have paper napkins at all. And what makes this even weirder is that Singapore is really serious about cleanliness – gum is illegal, ya’ll, as is spitting. (God help you if you have to hock a loogie.)

Singapore is this Stepford-esque, incredibly clean, no-tacky-gum-marks-on-the-sidewalks place of a black hole where all normal paper napkins just cease to exist. I’m talking like the kind of durable brands we’ve all heard of before – Bounty and Brawny. You are expected to carry your own napkins. But you can’t find them in stores. You are expected to purchase ‘napkins’ from horribly disfigured and/or disabled people in the subway stations who are sadly missing limbs and eyes and who often have trouble counting change.

But these unfortunate maimed and elderly are not selling napkins. They’re hawking those little packs of plastic wrapped soft tissues that you send kindergartners to school with so they can blow their tender little noses. And yes, you are expected to buy them – as in – you’re almost committing a criminal, abusive and unsympathetic act if you were to attempt to purchase them yourself in stores. It’s so ingrained in the Singaporean culture that disabled people sell these wares that there’s a current crackdown on able-bodied foreigners selling them. I think it’s weird for such a rich country to have an entire cultural phenomenon where it’s perfectly normal and considered an honorable and charitable act for their countrymen to buy bogus, over-priced “napkins” from disabled citizens in the subway.

I don’t have a huge problem with wiping my smooth hairless face with these silky little kid tissues, but I travel with a man with a giant beard. In his words, these tissues are ‘simply chintzy little fake napkins made for non-hairy girlie mouths.’ And let’s face it, most Asian men just don’t have the genes to grow facial hair, so this culture has zero concern or insight as to the plight of the heavily bearded male visitor.

When my husband pats his hairy face with one of these velvety cotton snot-rags, they just completely and utterly disintegrate into a flurry of teeny white flecks that get hopelessly stuck into the shag on his face. So – beware bearded hipsters – definitely leave the weed at home and bring some real damn napkins. Or perhaps invest in some stylish monogrammed handkerchiefs.

1910, 2015

Negotiating A Rent Controlled Buyout

You or someone you know is going through the exquisite pain of negotiating a rent-controlled buyout? I’ve been through it. Here are a few suggestions.

But first . . . a few disclaimers.

I am not a lawyer. I’m just a super detail-oriented chick whose been through this myself. Also – I don’t know any specifics about your town. All I know is how it all went down for me in Los Angeles. Your city or state might have different rules, or no rules at all. For example, a friend was recently given the boot in Redondo Beach – where there is no rent control. Be 100% sure of the rules in your situation.

There are a whole bunch of people who know more than me, so start here with these helpful links:

*This is a good starting point for negotiation.

*Here is some good analysis on how to figure out how much your place might be worth in a buyout.

* Next, make it your full-time job to find out as much as possible about the laws in your city or state. When I started researching my own buyout, luckily I had the luxury of time. I read a lot online, I made a LOT of phone calls. I reached out to community housing groups and others who’d successfully been through buyouts.

* While you’re at it, also make it your full-time job to research the hell out of your landlord. How many times have they done this in the past? What’s their business plan for your place? Does he/she have an online bio you can read over with a fine-tooth comb and glean any info from? For instance – I took screen shots of my landlord’s website of his architectural plans for our property. I also took screen shots of his actual AirBnB business where he’d converted other places similar to mine. And in his bio, it was clear that he was negotiation savvy. If you suspect your landlord is buying you out to convert your affordable unit into an AirBnb, then you’ve got another great negotiation point, since an action like that might be illegal. Again, you’d have to check your local laws. I even asked for one complimentary week in the refurbished unit after the unit has been made into a short-term AirBnb rental. That let him know that I knew what his plans were. I ended up not getting it, but it felt really great to ask for it.

* Next, run the numbers. This can be scary for some people, so they don’t want to do it, but it’s VERY important. You’re definitely going to be moving to a place that costs a LOT more than that affordable unit you have now. Find out about how much a comparable unit in your neighborhood would be. How much more is that than your current rent? Add about 18 months’ worth of the difference in old rent vs new rent to your budget. Next, rack your brain and think of any costs you can associate with moving. I mean everything, including cost to board your pets while you move. Add in your original deposit plus interest for the years it’s been held. (In Los Angeles you are entitled to the interest.) You don’t want to have to haggle about the deposit after all this negotiation, so add it in now.

Add in movers, moving supplies, cost of new things you’ll need in the new place, lawyers fees and do not forget TAXES (you will have to pay state and federal taxes, so add it in as a line item expense) . . . add in any damn thing you can think of. Then add a contingency fee of 10%. Then add a 20% negotiation pad to your bottom line number. In the end, your number should be high, way higher than what you’d ever expect to get. This is part of the ‘dance.’ But then again, you don’t want that number to be so ridiculously high that negotiations fold. Keep it on the high end of real.

* Find other people who’ve been through a successful rent control buyout negotiation in your market. Pick their brain. Preferably friends – as these negotiations can involve large sums of money. For instance, I’m not going to freely publish how much my own buyout was . . . but if a friend asked, I’d gladly tell them. Use your friends’/contacts buyout numbers as a guide for your own sweet spot for what you’ll take.

* Keep a file folder handy that includes all your budgets, research, contacts, scrawled notes, screen shots and don’t forget your lease – very important!

* You do have a copy of your lease, right? Some people don’t or worse yet, were not offered one. Get it asap. And know the terms of it inside and out. Because once you start this negotiation dance, you MUST ‘keep your nose clean’ as my lawyer told me. For instance, if there is a nuisance clause in your lease, you better not have any crazy parties any time soon.

* Oh, yeah: get a lawyer. Do your homework and hire the right person. You aren’t going to hire a personal injury lawyer for a rent control buyout. And you probably don’t want to arbitrarily hire Joe Schmoe or a vague friend of a friend. Honestly, lawyers for lease buyouts are sort of difficult to come by.

* You have two lawyer strategies. You can hire a lawyer to do all the negotiation for you and they will get a percentage fee for doing so. My neighbors found a lawyer who was involved in a positive outcome for the tenants of a famous Venice case – a good choice for them. But not for me, because . . .

I was fairly confident I could successfully negotiate for what I wanted. So I went with strategy #2 and hired an hourly lawyer because I just needed a trained legal professional to look over the contract and make sure there were no loopholes in the landlord’s favor. I made about a dozen phone calls before I found the right lawyer and asked a lot of questions. Ultimately, I picked someone who called me back right away and who I had a great phone rapport with. I was very up front with him and told him exactly what I needed him to do and what my concerns were. I also pointed out that I was happy to pay his rate but that I was counting on him to work expeditiously. I was not disappointed. In an effort to work more quickly, he even asked me to get a word document of my contract. Do this if you can. It will save your lawyer hours of silly document editing time. Pro-tip: there were cheap lawyers in the phone book who say they ‘specialize’ in tenant rights. I did NOT pick one of those guys. You’re gonna have to pay well for good legal help.

* Weigh your options. Do you really want to move? You may not have to. In my case, I felt like the offer would never come again. I also didn’t want to dig my heels in and fight the LONG fight that was sure to come. I just didn’t have enough energy for that. But maybe you do. In many instances, when a buyout offer comes, you can peacefully decline. But be prepared for a lot of push-back. Things may not get fixed in your apartment, which could be a giant pain for you to deal with or worst case scenario – resulting in an issue which could be damaging to your health. (ie, leaky, moldy roof, etc)

* Call any friends you have who are good at negotiation. I called a friend who has an MBA, because I know she took classes in negotiation. She taught me to always know your BATNA. BATNA is an acronym: Best Alternative To The Negotiated Agreement. Knowing your BATNA lets you know how far you can push.

* Be civil. I know, it’s hard. That jerk of a landlord wants you to move! The nerve! You can get mad. In fact, I think you probably should get mad. But always, be nice. Be firm. But be civil. This is a dance. You want to get what you want.

* Brevity. Your landlord probably offered you a sum. Of course you want to counter-offer*, and counter offer in a ridiculously high but not absurdly high range. Keep it brief. Just say something along the lines of “The number that makes me comfortable to leave my home of X number of years is X.” Do not give a lot of exposition to justify yourself. Do NOT give your budgets to your landlord. Those are for your use only. Do mention the number includes your deposit plus interest, though. *Note: make absolutely sure that you really do have rent control before you start the real, numbers-based negotiation.

* Keep bouncing numbers back and forth until you get into that range of what you wanted for a buyout. And obviously, this is most likely not going to be your high number that included the negotiation pad. That’s what the negotiation pad is for, so you can make your initial offer ridiculously high and then dance down to the range you really want. That’s the goal.

And one last thing, something that a friend helped me understand. Sometimes, these numbers sound like big numbers to us renters, but to a landlord who stands to make a LOT, a ridiculous lot of money by kicking you out, these numbers are not high to them. Your landlord may cry that they ‘don’t have the money’ but these numbers don’t really mean a lot to them. They may even be able to write it off on their taxes. They probably have a line item in their budget for your buyout.

GOOD LUCK with your buyout. It could be a little bit of a silver lining.

Is there anything I forgot? Please post your own advice in the comments below.

1210, 2015

Giving Up The Bungalow

On June 1st of this year, after fourteen amazing years, I gave up my precious Venice bungalow. One of the only places ever in my life that has felt truly like home. It was the place where I re-invented myself after divorcing my first husband and following my dream to move from Tennessee to Los Angeles. It was my little piece of heaven. It was my heart, it was how I identified with the world. I was special. I was a Venetian; a roller skating, bike-riding free spirit who lived in a magic little bungalow six blocks from the ocean.

I didn’t want to leave. But I knew the day was coming where I would have to. And in some ways, I was looking forward to that day.

The historic hundred year old bungalow sat inside a lush garden with close neighbors – seven other little bungalows facing inward. The neighbors were practically family. The place was affordable. It wasn’t perfect. The windows leaked sometimes. The termites were eating the place from around us. In the last months, I had to hand vac the termite dust out of my silverware drawer every morning. It was small, which was fine when I was single. When I got re-married, space increasingly became an issue and Matt and I had to re-evaluate whether we wanted to move or stay just about once every sixty days. Staying always outweighed leaving. With the hyper-gentrification of the area, there was no way we’d be able to afford something else in Venice that was as nice as what we had.

Also, we had rent control. In LA, a landlord can’t just kick a person out of their home, re-model the place and rent it out for bigger bucks. If the landlord really wants to make the current renters leave, they must buy them out of their lease – pay them to leave.

Over the years I’d lived there, the property sold twice. The second buyer was a foreign real estate developer who purchased the property for a whopping $2.4 million. The neighbors and I did the math and got really, really nervous. We all knew this guy was about to dismantle our lives and turn our little piece of heaven into a high-end rental dream for any sucker willing to shell out ridiculous bucks. But we also knew we had the ace of rent control in our pocket.

That was 2012. Matt and I are avid travelers and had been planning a round the world trip. We wanted to plan our trip around leaving the bungalow, so in the meantime we just kept working and saving. The new landlord kept making everyone’s lives miserable – cutting down all of our plants, telling us we couldn’t have bicycles on the property and not fixing leaky faucets. He never said it, but we all knew: if we were miserable and left of our own accord, he wouldn’t have to pay. We neighbors decided to dig in for the long haul.

I lived three more years in that special place, waiting for the hammer to drop. And then one day, I just thought, “Fuck it, I’m tired of feeling like any day I might have to leave.” And I stopped worrying. Wouldn’t you know it – about a month later our landlord emailed us with those magic words, “Would you consider moving if we gave you a cash payment?”

Why, hell yes, we would. But we didn’t tell him that.

So, yes, I took a cash payment to leave. We negotiated hard and got exactly what we wanted. We already had a well-stocked travel fund. We put our stuff in storage and hit the open road. The cat is on vacation with friends. We have no clue where in the world – literally – where we’re going to live when we’re done. It could be anywhere. Maybe your town.

Giving up that bungalow was hard. But it had been coming for a long, long time. We’d been needing to stretch our wings in new ways for years. Sometimes I wonder why we waited three years for a buyout, why we didn’t just go on with our lives, why we put our round the world trip on a three-year hold. But then again, what am I talking about? While we waited, we just kept on living the SoCal dream – friends, beach, bikes and sun. Plus, in the end, we scored about a year’s salary. And now I’m following a new dream: traveling the world with the love of my life.

Want to invite us to visit your town? We’re open . . . leave us a comment below. :)

910, 2015

Labskaused In Hamburg


Today I decided to try what I found described on the internet (Oh, the interwebs!) as a “Hamburg specialty not to be missed, but that was sort of . . . well . . . strange.” I’m IN!

And I was doing a pretty good job of choking it down until Matt said, “It’s kinda like getting hot-karled except nastier because it involves that disgusting McDonald’s pink slime stuff.” Matt has had food poisoning for the last day or so and I think he was just jealous that he couldn’t eat and wanted to ruin my culinary experience.

So this dish is described as ‘sailor food.’ I knew it involved salted herring, beets and fried eggs sitting on a base of something that had been described both in tourist print and by a tour guide simply as ‘a mystery.’ And true to all the rumors, my herring, eggs and beets were sitting on a big steaming pile of something that looked dyed in beet juice but smelled ever so slightly meat-like. After the McDonald’s pink slime comments, I couldn’t go on.

I fear the pickled herring is still in my teeth. I ordered a big beer to wash any errant pieces down my throat but I think there’s something still stuck there. (Salted herring tastes like a shipyard by the way.)

Normally I cannot throw food away; this I happily crumpled my napkin into.

When she came to collect the plate, the waitress said in broken German, “Well?”

“Well, I’d eat that again before curry wurst,” I sorta kinda lied. I actually wouldn’t ever eat either one again.

“I’d rather have de udder,” she said.

And then I remembered how when I ordered it she suddenly stiffened up her back, which gave away the true feelings behind her solidly stoic face. She obviously hated the stuff.

Matt, with stomach bug, threw up his curry wurst yesterday and his pink slime words echoing in my head make my stomach roil for hours and cause paranoia to set in. I worry a little bit that whatever bug he’s got I might have too and that it just hasn’t hit yet. I hope I hope I hope I don’t puke up laubskaus – maybe curry wurst would be better to puke up.

Always a sign when a cook tries to dress a dish up with a smiley face.

In the end, we asked the waitress what was in that mound of mystery stuff. I heard ‘beef’ and Matt heard ‘corn’ so we had to ask again. For the record it’s corned beef, (we were BOTH right!) mashed potatoes, I found a pea in there too and yes, it’s stained with beet juice.

Why couldn’t they just leave the beet juice out? And why do they have to mix all that stuff together and then, inexplicably, fry it? Better yet, next time, I’ll just take a plate of corned beef and potatoes.

810, 2015

Hopping Back On The Merry Go Round


It’s been a long time, friends. I’m hopping back on this merry go round of blogging. Here’s what’s going on, short version:

Matt and I gave up our Venice bungalow on June first of this year. We’ve been on the road ever since. We put our stuff in storage. Frank the cat is on vacation in Alabama. We have no jobs right now. I am forever done with motion picture accounting. I have to be or it really will kill me. I have the first draft finished of a first novel.

We have no clue where we are going to live when we finish traveling. We have no clue when we will finish traveling. We are going with the flow. We are open. We are trusting our hearts. We are trusting that the path will reveal itself. I hope you follow our adventures as we figure this thing out.