milestone 2: home ownership

This is part two of my re-capping of the last year or so.

2016 was all-around a year of horrors. It is known. Somewhere in the middle of it, Husband and I found out that the apartment we were renting in New Westminster was being sold. This was the second time that had happened to us in less than two years.

This is hardly the worst story anyone who is a renter in the Greater Vancouver area had, but it’s probably about par for the course. In a nutshell, the housing situation in Vancouver has always been terrible for everyone for anyone below upper middle class.*

But in the last few years, housing prices have been swooping upwards at an alarming rate, just like those line graphs of how fucked we are by climate change. And, inversely, rental vacancies have plummeted, just like those line graphs of how likely we are to survive climate change.

Husband and I had been diligently saving for our down-payment for a few years now and, while this was a little ahead of our planned schedule, we thought that rather than just rent another place only to get reno-evicted in a few months, we might as well look to buy.

Our plan had been to first buy a condo in New West, similar to what we’d been renting. We love New West and it really feels like home. We like the small-scale urban feel, as well as the sense of community we have from all our familiar haunts.

The plan was to eventually upgrade to a townhouse somewhere in several years, maybe five. You know, when we were ready to hit the suburbs. But with the way prices were going, we realized that if we didn’t buy a townhouse now, we were likely never going to be able to afford one.

So we started looking at townhouses in Surrey, south of the river and another ‘sphere of influence’ removed from Vancouver. Thus goes the pattern of suburban drift. The four years we spent in New West, we watched it gentrify. We were even at the forefront of that. We are not blameless. It just feels like it all happened overnight.

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Cat shown for scale.

Trying to buy anything was a nightmare. Each place would go on the market, have one open house, and then start taking offers even as early as that night. And forget the listing price. So many offers were coming in, you needed to go sometimes as high as $60,000 or $70,000 higher than listing on your initial offer. There was no negotiating. No saying maybe we should get an inspection first? 

For us, with our typical mortgage and financing, we were competing against cash offers. Mostly boomers who just sold their detached house for over a million (God knows how little they paid for it in the 1980s or 1990s.) and were now looking to downsize. It was a shitty time to be a first-time home-buyer.

But, hey: we are the lucky ones. 

I know this. I keep telling myself this. We are insanely lucky. But so it goes: you always look up but never down. You see those even luckier people who bought a few years ago or who have their parents bankrolling them but never those who will likely be renting the rest of their lives or who will be waiting for a government sea change in order to even have a roof over their heads.

The place we ended up snagging is a bit out of the way and a bit of a fixer-upper. But it’s ours. So now it’s time to learn some DIY.


*If you live in the Greater Vancouver area and have had nothing but blue skies in your housing situation (and if you have actually *gasp* MADE money in the last little housing bubble), then fuck you. I don’t wanna hear it. The rest of us are livid.

milestone 1: blood of my blood

Since I’ve been out for a while, I thought I’d recap a few things that have happened in this last year or so of radio silence.

This is the biggest one.*

I have another nephew! He is my third nephew, the second one named Benjamin, and the first borne by my only sister.

He is an adorable mound of cuddliness. His likes include almost all foods, his doting grandparents, and the family dog.

His dislikes include the Art Knapp train and taking long walks on the beach. This last one I’m assuming. He’s new to this strutting thing and is thus a little wobbly. He can barely handle carpet. I’m sure sand would be right out.

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Sorry, Art Knapp. He just wasn’t that into it. The rest of us bad a blast though.

Anyway, I love all my nephews to bits and if anyone in this world was marked for “Kooky Aunt” status, then hoo boy was it ever me.


*If I don’t say that, somehow it will scar him for life. Don’t ask me how, but the poor kiddo’s got a lot of future grief coming his way from the direction of Auntie Ashleigh. I’m going to throw him this bone.

Capture

Hence, I’ve fallen somewhat off the radar. But, like cold sores, I’m always back.

Stay tuned…

the hiatus and moving on

It seems like every time I return to regular posting after something of a hiatus, I have nothing but complaints about what kept me in hiatus.

And I feel like I’ve come out of one of the most stressful times of my life. There are two kinds of stress I experience: time-related stress, where a million things need to be done ohmygodlikerightnow; and, the deeper, more existential stress… the stress that keeps you up at night and never really goes away, only morphs and mutates as you age.

Earlier this year, it was the former. For the second time in less than a year, we had a landlord tell us they were selling the place. It’s definitely not as bad as getting reno-evicted, but it still kinda sucks. The uncertainty is what plagues you. Will you have to move? Should you move preemptively? Where the hell will you move to?

Now, we’d been saving up for a down-payment for a while, but in a real estate market like Vancouver’s, the downpayment milestone is a milestone that always lies on the horizon. You reach your goal but suddenly whoops! Sorry, you ain’t getting a studio apartment in Chilliwack with that!

But maybe we were close enough that we could manage it.

And, oh my god, am I glad we tried. We started looking at townhouses in Surrey.

We love New West and called it home, but, damn. Those townhouses were well over half a million to begin with. For a townhouse. Not even in Vancouver proper. Good luck with a detached home anywhere.

We were just priced out. Simple as. We could have gone for a condo and that was Option #2. We had just heard way too many horror stories about new and old condos alike.

In the month or so that we were looking, prices on townhouses kept going up and up and up. The average price rose by almost $100K in the short time we were looking!

And looking was hell. Multiple cash offers were coming in after one open house. Offers were going for $50K over asking.

So we did end up getting a townhouse in Surrey. It definitely quite suburban and several concessions were made, but, hey, we’re homeowners. And that’s an incredible privilege.

And we got to paint the walls bright colours, which was nice after so many years of white rental walls.

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And there is a farm market a two minute walk away. And a huge park with nature trails.

So it’s been nice.

But the instant that time-suck stress ended, the existential one set in. Life was suddenly entirely different. I miss New West a lot. I don’t really have a routine yet. I’m coping by moping. It’s a time-tested strategy of mine that has never worked.

I’m like a frigging plant that’s been repotted and is a total wuss about it.

Anyway, I feel like I say this biannually, but I’m trying to get around to posting more often, and perhaps about far less navel-gazing crap. That’s the thesis statement.

 

the optimism continues

Today I was given the much-needed reminder that, even though some of the shine has come off the Trudeau Liberals, they are still an infinite improvement over the horrors that came before.

I started working in the Social Planning section of the City a few months ago, and since then, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing non-profits and service providers who do incredible work in Surrey.

I was reminded today how much their jobs have improved tremendously since November 4. Even though we’ve all been much busier, it’s been a “good” busy… more funding, more initiatives, thus more work… from a government that actually seems to care about people.

Even the little things, like giving non-profits a break on their mortgage rate, means a lot for organizations that operate on a shoe-string. It’s a huge turn from a Harper government who told a colleague that affordable housing “wasn’t their mandate.” Ugh.

Anyway, with the state of the rest of the world right now, I am feeling incredibly lucky.

the granny square approach

Momentum, like Mr. Darcy’s good opinion, once lost is lost forever.

Or so it seems.

Something like a particularly nasty cold that lasts a week (especially when it is followed by Husband spending the whole next week sick with said cold) can wreak havoc on my momentum.

Like coming back from vacation, or from an illness, or from a mental rabbit hole of writing on one project, returning to the status quo is difficult. You feel like the Campbellian hero, returning to find the world the same but himself drastically different.

Only  your arc was a helluva lot more pathetic than the hero’s. You find yourself wondering just how the hell you did this day-in, day-out, once upon a time. What was I? Superhuman?

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Losing your momentum is like losing a little bit of yourself. What is all this yarn and how the hell will I ever make it anything?

I kept telling myself there has to be some technique for dealing with this… something I could fall back on when I find yourself in this situation… some easy trick to convince myself it’s all not as difficult as I thought.

I realized when crocheting once, that the idea of holding in my hands the tiny fragment of what will be a finished product is too overwhelming. How can I have this brief string of stitches and imagine it an entire blanket?

It’s so much easier to just… not  do it. I accepted the lack of momentum and gave up.

But obviously, if I kept doing this, I’d never accomplish anything.

So I tried this. I wasn’t going to make an entire blanket, I was going to make one granny square. That was easy. It just took an hour.

And then, when that was done, I made another.

Before I knew it, I had a bag of granny squares. I had a whole fucking blanket!

And, funnily enough, I didn’t even want a blanket anymore. I made pillows instead.

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My point is that everything can be broken down into manageable chunks. Don’t worry about writing that novel; write that chapter. Hell, write that one scene. Or even just two hundred words. Just focus on that.

Just that. And don’t worry about anything else until it’s time.

Before you know it, you’ll have a pillow that’s as sexy as hell.

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Or two. 

Aw, yeah.

upon the difficulties of getting your sh*t together

It’s been a very upside down sort of world I’ve been living in, for good and bad. Which is how it goes, I suppose, when you’re trying to get your shit together, as they so figuratively say.

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What is it about being an adult that means having your shit together? What does that even mean? There’s no textbook definition, obviously, but everyone just seems to know what it means. It requires no analysis or deep thought. It just is. It is your shit. All together. At last.

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When you’ve never had your shit together and this shit has just been all over the place, like all over the place… I’m talking shit in every closet, shit stuffed under the mattress, shit flung at the walls by proverbial monkeys… everywhere. 

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How can you possibly get it all together? This isn’t some easy cleaning, where you just Windex and shove things into drawers. Because the drawers are already full of shit and Windex + shit = messier shit.

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It’s like spring cleaning. You’ve got to haul that shit out, polish it off, throw some away, and then put it all back neatly.

That’s where I’m at. Things are going to be better – my shit will be together – but in the meantime, it’s getting a helluva lot shittier.

Interview with Ashleigh Rajala

Another shameless plug. This time an interview with Quarter Castle Publishing. Behold, my majesty!

I have to admit that I love talking about my writing process.

It forces a level of self-reflexivity that I think is healthy, as well as provides a valuable time to reflect on the effectiveness of my process.

Also, I am vain.

(Also also… that picture of me had a plate of pierogis artfully cropped out.)

Quarter Castle Publishing

Author InterviewAshleigh Rajala of New Westminster, British Columbia, is the author of Working Title, the winning submission in Quarter Castle Publishing’s first short story writing contest.

Recently Quarter Castle Publishing interviewed Ashleigh.

QCP: When did you decide to become a writer?

Ashleigh: I remember a moment as a book-obsessed child where I realized that someone created those books and that I too could do that. The first story I wrote was about a dinosaur, and my mum sewed a cover onto it and everything. Sadly, this opus has been lost to history. So I never really decided, it was just something I have always done.

QCP: Do you write every day? If not, how many days do you dedicate to writing?

Ashleigh: I write every day. Sometimes life gets in the way, but that’s okay. But I try to never let myself stop if I’m feeling blocked or less than…

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Introducing Ashleigh Rajala

#shamelessplug

Quarter Castle Publishing

Ashleigh Rajala of New Westminster, British Columbia, is the author of Working Title, the winning submission in Quarter Castle Publishing’s first short story writing contest.

Here’s a sample from the short story.

We fade in as the sun sets. In Hollywood, they call this “Magic Hour”. It’s brief but timeless in that way so few things are. The first we will see of Nick is a thirty-five-year-old man: some wrinkles but ultimately boyish. The production company ensnared a former portrayer of superhero sidekicks and sex-obsessed teens. “Nick” is the actor’s chance for emotional redemption, career resurgence, even an awards show run, perhaps. So Nick is now tall, dark, bankable and far-more handsome than he should be.

But in this world of magic hours he is awkward and pitiable. We know this because his suit is wrinkled and mismatched. He is wearing it only because it would not fit in…

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