Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Memento Mori for Theo

Today's sunrise

The sun came up blazing near Mt. Rainier this morning, jack frost shimmered on the neighbor’s lawn, and in our house the smell of death lingers on blankets, clothes, and bodies, as our cat Theo labors to breathe on this, the last day of his life. 

Beauty and loss have been especially twinned in my mind and heart this Fall as the days grew ever shorter, the brief glory of fiery leaves punctuating the leaden sky before their descent to the compost pile, as I received news of the precarious health of those I love.

Theo in our Christmas tree 2014

And yet I know others who carry burdens and sorrows more dire and devastating with an acceptance and strength that towers like a grand mountain over my tiny hill of hope. For though I am a believer now (and for the past 30 years), I was a worrier first, and that deeply grooved record can begin spinning before I’m even aware of it: how will I know when Theo's time has come? How will our wild Bengal Malika get along without her Theo? How will any of us get along without our affable affectionate Theo?

Malika and her Theo before our move to Washington December 2011

Theo and Malika enjoying the view from our Bainbridge Island home Spring 2012
Malika and Theo enjoying the second floor deck at our Gig Harbor home Summer 2015

Last night, I wasn’t sure if he would be with us this morning. After the vet sent him home with some fluids under the skin so that our family had time at home to say goodbye, we set him in his heated cat bed in my lap, underneath a blanket, and he was so still, his breathing so shallow I had to put my finger in front of his nose to feel a faint whiffle of breath. Part of me wanted him to slip from this world while we all slept, sparing us the heartache of the injection that lies ahead of us late this afternoon. Another part of me is grateful for the hard gift of companioning him into death, whether he his aware of our presence or not.

I remember visiting my grandfather in skilled nursing less than two weeks before he died. It was my first encounter with death, and I took my cue from maudlin Hallmark movies, holding his hand, looking deeply into his eyes, and saying, “I love you Grandpa,” my big declaration that would somehow bring him peace. His response, “I know. And I love you, too.”

Of course he knew. We were not estranged. We’d had 35 years of history. I spent holidays and a week at my grandparents’ each summer as a child, and held my grandfather’s large warm hand while he prayed over our meals. He was present at my wedding, the baptism of my children, Thanksgivings and Easters, driving 500 miles two or three times a year to visit my growing family in a VW Vanagon that always broke down. A stroke and immanent death would not erase a lifetime of love demonstrated and uttered so thoroughly that it had lodged in our bones.

Today I held Theo against my chest while the late morning sun streamed in the living room. He raised his weak head to the rays, began to purr and nuzzle my face—his trademark move set aside these past weeks. Then, worn out from the effort, he inched away and I returned him to his own bed. He shifts uncomfortably, and I offer blankets and a heater, small succor as dehydration, kidney disease, and infection slow his heart and temperature, and usher him from my life. Today he suffers. Tomorrow he will be memory. And, oh, how I will remember him.

Cat pile on my husband Winter 2012

I first saw Theo in 2004 in a photo on Project Purr’s website. Our dog and I were mourning the loss of our cat Roscoe, looking for another companion. He was named “Angel” at the time and stared at the camera with his one eye open wide. I knew he was meant to be mine and went to visit his foster home, a small room above a garage secluded from humans and other pets. He was about one-year-old (an estimate our current vet feels is 3-4 years short, given his health crisis), and feral, one of 20 found on a ranch near Santa Cruz, California. A veterinarian who worked with the rescue removed his eye, damaged beyond repair by respiratory disease, and replaced it with a ball (an unusual reconstruction in a cat) before sewing the lid shut. The impression is a permanent cheerful wink.

My family and I picked up Angel and returned home only to find a message from the rescue on our answering machine, saying they’d decided against giving him to us since we lived in Boulder Creek—home to coyotes. In earlier years, we’d had two cats go missing, assumably snatched by coyotes, and my husband erected two acres of deer fencing that kept out all predators except rattlesnakes. I guess Project Purr didn’t have the heart to say no to the four of us when we showed up eager for our new family member, having left our house before they called.

We promptly renamed our adoptee Theo—after my father whose middle name is Theodore, and who lost one eye in his successful battle against sinus cancer. Then we began household desensitization—showing Theo that running taps, flushing toilets, dishwashers, television, and human laps posed no dangers. We succeeded on all those fronts, though we never could convince him about the vacuum.

The rescue told us Theo had hip dysplasia, and that combined with the loss of an eye, would relegate him to a quiet sedentary life. The first time he slipped out our backdoor, into our fully fenced yard, he climbed high into an oak tree, and never looked back. Soon he was taking full advantage of the cat door, slipping out to walk the top of our deck rails, 14 feet off the ground, and successfully capturing blue-bellied lizards while they basked on sunny rocks.
Enjoying the fenced at yard on Bainbridge Island
Once, unbeknownst to us, Theo caught a garter snake that slipped into a heater vent and lodged in our ductwork. I will never forget the horrendous odor that greeted me when I switched on the heat, nor my husband’s attempts to locate the source, nor the sight and smell of the maggot infested carcass he finally located. We closed the cat door after that, becoming door monitors who refused to let Theo or our other cats in until they released their prey.

For nearly 12 years, Theo lived the life any two-eyed cat would envy. And his “eye-niqueness” led our youngest daughter to adopt her own one-eyed cat and its sibling five years ago. The “grand-kittens” are frequent visitors at our home, and when two friendly one-eyed cats greet visitors at the door, our guests often do double-takes. Last year, a repairman said, “What’s with the one-eyed cats?”
I muttered something about them both being rescues, while I ushered him to the water heater. My explanation was inadequate, as it always is when we talk about love and how it alone has the power to save us, no matter our fate.
Farewell furry friend

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Accidental Agent

 “You should go to real estate school,” our realtor Jennie told me late last spring as she drove my husband Kevin and me around Gig Harbor looking for our latest live-in fixer upper. And a few months later, after I unpacked most of our boxes in the home we bought from a bank and was looking for something to keep me occupied while Kevin and his crew finished building a home for a client, I clicked on a few web-links, charged my credit card, and began my studies.

I signed up for real estate class without my usual careful research, without investigating the ramifications at all. I enrolled thinking that when I was finished, I’d get my license and then, armed with a lockbox key, I’d be able to scope out houses without having to bother our realtor. I would save her time, and us a little money, and I’d no longer be trespassing when I walked around the yards of vacant for-sale homes peering in windows.

Simple, easy, wrong.

Two-thirds of the way through my coursework when the topic turned to broker regulations, I realized that if I got my license, I’d be in a continual loop of continuing education. But that was nothing compared to the commitment Jennie had made to me: My license would only be good if I was affiliated with a firm—hers—and for the first two years all my activity was required to be closely supervised and approved by the firm’s designated broker—her again.

I passed my licensing exam, got fingerprinted, and went to Jennie’s office to sign an independent contractor agreement. I paid fees to join the Multiple Listing service and obtain my lockbox key, and signed up for classes on navigating databases and real estate forms. And then, I took some time to contemplate my answer to the question Jennie asked the day I joined her small cadre at Infinity Real Estate: “Now that you have your license, what would you like to do with it?”

The obvious answer was simple: Save on costs for YellowRibbon Homes (the company I founded with my husband). If I were the broker that negotiated the sale on homes we bought to renovate, part of the commission would come to me. And, if I listed our completed homes for sale, there’d be no need to pay me commission. But that hardly seemed worth all the time, energy, and money I had and would need to put into being a licensed real estate broker.

And then, while I multi-tasked folding laundry and sorting paperwork with the TV on, ideas formed as I watched HGTV shows like The Property Brothers and Fixer Upper, where the business partners—two brothers; husband and wife—are licensed realtors and licensed general contractors who combine their skills to help clients find and renovate homes to meet their needs.

Why not become “The Property Couple” and use our interests and skills for an identified client, rather than always renovating homes on spec and hoping to find a buyer? I enjoy hunting down properties, researching records, and exploring possibilities. Kevin has a wealth of knowledge and skills to turn ideas into reality, and we have quite a bit of real estate involvement as both buyers and sellers.

I made a mental list of our real estate history: 

-Purchased a vacant single family home with conventional financing, extensively remodeled, and sold that house after 10 years. 

-Bought land with cash, took out a construction loan, installed a manufactured home on a site-built first floor/foundation with all the necessary infrastructure—water, electricity, septic—converted to a conventional loan when finished. Refinanced that home several times before selling. 

-Purchased 2 condos for family members. One was a short sale. Rented out one of the condos for several years before selling. 

-Assumed title and mortgage payments on a family member’s home for a number of years, went off title when the member was eligible to finance with a reverse mortgage. 

-Purchased a manufactured home on site-built foundation from a family member’s special needs trust, making private mortgage payments, rented out that property for a number of years before selling. 

-Purchased a vacant fixer upper for cash. Renovated and sold that house. 

-Purchased a project house with a hard money loan, converted to self-financing. Sold the renovated project house. 

-Rented a home for a year that required a number of repairs, many at our own expense, and became familiar with tenants rights. 

-Made offers on 2 homes that weren’t accepted. 

-Cash purchase of a bank-owned fixer-upper without “marketable title” (the garage was built over the property line) and proceeded with a boundary line adjustment to fix that issue. Renovation to begin in 2016.

-Current purchase contract on an occupied short sale property that also has boundary issues.

Additionally, the church I served in California had several rental cabins, and we dealt with landlord responsibilities of improvements, repairs, evictions, etc. And finally, I have been searching real estate and community data websites nearly nonstop since mid-2011.  

When I framed my experience this way, it helped me view my decision to become a realtor not as a whim, but as a natural progression of my skills and interests. And it helped me to see that although I’m newly licensed and have a lot to learn, I have a good amount of first-hand knowledge (and of some unusual issues) to draw on.

Though I wandered into a real estate career as an accidental agent, I’m now an intentional agent looking to make my vision a reality, aiding others in the important decision of where to live. The best way to find clients is word of mouth, and I’d appreciate your help. Please keep me in mind if anyone you know is looking to buy, sell, or renovate a home in the Kitsap Peninsula area of Washington—that’s the west side of Puget Sound. My email is

The Property Couple