From Homeowner to Not

Yesterday, we sold our house for a million dollars. So why do I feel so poor all of a sudden?

The series of events that ultimately resulted in us joining the millions of Americans priced out of owning property seemed to happen with breathtaking speed. But I suppose that it’s really a cautionary tale about how quickly how a lot of apparent equity in a house suddenly, well, isn’t.

The story really begins with the realization several years ago that we weren’t making a particularly good living running our graphic design and photography studio. The large, lucrative projects that were our stock in trade during the ‘90s and early ‘00s had vanished from the landscape, and the field was being populated by young programming types that were more coders than designers, and companies were increasingly inclined to bring their creative projects in-house. We had a fairly large nest egg, which was eroding at a rapid rate. At that time, the market was not favorable to selling the house, and both our children were still living with us, so we decided to wait on selling the house.

This past spring, it felt like the planets were beginning to align towards time to sell. One of our sons had already moved out, and the market was coming back. Daily, the media was full of stories about houses with multiple offers selling for more than the asking price. We met with our realtor and set a price a fair amount north of $1 million. Quickly, I set about painting stair railings, replacing window screens, doing some landscaping and getting the place ready to put on the market. One month later, we held our first open house.

We thought “well, we should be able to buy a place for around $550,000 and put down half as a down payment, and lower our mortgage by a lot.” So we went and looked at open houses. That amount didn’t buy much in San Rafael, but in Novato and particularly Petaluma, it went a lot farther, and we began to get in touch with what we wanted in a new home.

Many weeks, and open houses, came and went. Each Sunday, we’d drive to Trader Joe’s, stock up on fresh flowers, and put stuff away in preparation for the day’s open house, then pack up the dog and head north towards other open houses. And each week, we’d find that only three or four people had come to our open house, and none was interested enough to make an offer. We came to the conclusion that we had priced it too high and agreed to lower the price by nearly $100,000. Meanwhile, the $550,000 houses we had been looking at became $450,000 houses and we were spending more time in Petaluma. More weeks went by. Again, we reduced the price, and in the process, what we could afford. Discussions with mortgage consultants revealed that we hadn’t made enough money to qualify for much of a mortgage, and a new strategy was born: We would pay all cash for a manufactured home.

We really liked this mobile home community in San Rafael that featured a lagoon in the center, and in particular, one home that sat in a prime spot on the lagoon with a palm tree in the front yard and an endearingly weatherbeaten white picket fence. It was suffering from deferred maintenance, but seemed within our reach. We kept our eye on it, knowing that it wasn’t being held open due to challenges relating to its elderly owner. Then two things happened…we received an offer on our house, and we found out that an offer was being made on the manufactured home we wanted, and we would have to act quickly and decisively if we wanted to buy it, meaning we needed a pretty strong offer to assure us of getting the house, so we put in an offer for just over asking price.

The offer on our house (the only one we had received in four months of being on the market) was disappointingly low, and we countered back and forth until arriving at a figure that left us with just enough to buy the manufactured house and renovate it…if it didn’t need tons and tons of work. Meanwhile, our buyers had ordered several inspections and were awaiting the results of them. Once they came in, they indicated our house needed a lot of work itself, and the buyers reduced their offer for our house by $75,000.

Our realtor insisted we accept the offer anyway, as there was no assurance that we would find another buyer very quickly, if at all, so after some thought and painful discussions, we realized that we were substantially short of having the money to purchase anything larger than a Tuff-Shed. We became renters after 33 years of being homeowners, and soon found a house in Bel Marin Keys that we could afford.

It’s okay. We will have some money in the bank, we can pay off our credit cards and doctor bills, and have plenty left over for stuff like buying a kayak. And in this next part of our journey, we will learn how to live within our means.

The Vanilla Extract

The Vanilla Extract, my Bay Area ’60s band (I’m at upper right) performed for The Cedars in Marin County, California.

On May 25, The Vanilla Extract performed for another audience of developmentally disabled adults at The Cedars’ facility in Ross, California, for Bread & Roses. We look forward to these shows, as the audience is unfailingly enthusiastic and generates tremendous amounts of energy and appreciation. Following is a write-up of our show by Bread & Roses’ Lucia Whitney:

Vanilla Extract came on like a bombshell with an opening of “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy Hang On” and the room sprang to life with dancers.  The room was small for this many people wanting their space to gyrate, swing arms, sway and jump and feel their rhythm with elegant movements. The entire audience got up to dance and enjoy except two who were in wheelchairs, however they participated closely with their friends and danced in their chairs with the same gusto.

Each of the band members has their own special talent. Anne on guitar did great renditions of “Get Together” and ”Woodstock”. Dan on bass, was fantastic on “Time Is On My Side”. The lead singer, Joe Paulino is almost difficult to describe because he does everything you can imagine with a song. Each word of the lyrics has a movement and Joe’s whole body and facial expressions interprets each song. His body and face dramatize the lyrics while the fast paced movements draw you in. Each song is a performance and for one hour Joe danced and belted out the songs.

Vanilla Extract was a fantastic match for The Cedars as the people who live here abound with energy. The band gave them that and more in spades. They rocked wildly, loudly, titillating and, vibrating the room with fantastic numbers.

Bread & Roses is a wonderful organization who brings music to audiences who normally don’t have access to it. You can visit their website at www.breadandroses.org and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bread.roses.1

Check out The Vanilla Extract at www.thevanillaextract.com and www.facebook.com/TVEbass


I was recently interviewed by Tim Murphy on Renegade Dad (his health blog for fathers) about my journey back to health after a brain tumor nearly ten years ago. The half-hour interview can be found here. http://ow.ly/9TxIr


(The following story was written by Debbie Matson of Bread and Roses after a performance for The Cedars Textile Arts Center in San Rafael for developmentally disabled adults.)

Every so often a show comes along that is really something special, and this was one of those. There was a rock n’ roll dance party going on at The Cedars Textile Arts Center yesterday, and I am honored to have been the host for this show. It might just be my favorite show in the 11 years I have been a host at Bread & Roses.

Vanilla Extract is an excellent band that played groovy 60’s music and was so happy to be performing. The place was rocking with crowd favorites such as Secret Agent Man, Gloria, Time is on My Side, Sunshine of Your Love, and Jumping Jack Flash, among others. The entire band was enthusiastic and energetic, but Joe the singer really put on quite a show. He shared the mic with members of the audience many times, and slid down on his knees to belt out some powerful Rolling Stones lyrics.

There were so many highlights I witnessed throughout the sing-along, hand-clapping performance. There were beautiful couples slow dancing and excited to introduce me to their boyfriend or girlfriend, and to tell me how much they loved each other. There were the people that were so excited to be right up front feeding off the energy from the band. There was a lovely woman just to the right of the band that rocked back and forth the entire time, and who knew the words to each and every song that was played. Her smile was infectious.

Almost everyone wanted to shake my hand, know my name, and introduce themselves, and tell me a little bit about them. There was lots of hugging and an enormous feeling of love and joy in the room. Mid-way through the performance, I was asked to dance with a woman in the crowd, and I happily jumped into the middle of the dance scene. Before I knew it, I was handed off to numerous people who wanted to spin me and hold my hands. And there were countless high 5’s with me, with the band and with each other.  A staff member told me that there were folks dancing that never usually get up out of their chairs. That is some powerful energy!

At that end of the show, there was a small rush to the band to get autographs. A few people even asked me for mine! The reciprocal joy was felt by everyone in that room.

Please visit Bread and Roses’ Facebook page at:


If a picture is worth a thousand words, it stands to reason that several pictures can be worth considerably more than that. Using multiple images in a single element, whether a Flash banner, static banner or layered composite image, can quickly tell a more detailed story than can be done with a single image.

ACSI Images and Flash Banner

(top) A set of images relating to cyber security were incorporated into a Flash banner for ACSI. (above) A freeze-frame of the Flash movie as it appears on their website.

We created a Flash banner for ACSI, a startup cyber security company, through a series of images that rotate in and out of a three-panel matrix, one dissolving into the next, with copy points appearing as text that also appear and disappear, allowing each images to be visible in its entirety at some point during the looping, 90-second presentation. We chose images that speak to various parts of their story, such as typical users, collaborative teams, connectivity, servers, abstract images and a couple of dark images that suggest hacking, that collectively describe the world of cyber security.


Static banner for A Perfect Practice

A simpler and more immediate way to tell a story with multiple images is with a static banner, in which several images are “stitched together” in a horizontal format. For A Perfect Practice, a company who provides turnkey CPA practices and support, we created a static banner for the home page of their website. They wanted to communicate that 1) they were a Bay Area company, 2) that they catered to a specific market (the use of the 1120 form, rather than the more common 1040, was included at their request) 3) they provide the most current information and tools, and 4) they supply personal consultation and support. Each image represents one of these points, and the combination makes those points in far less time than it takes to absorb the description you’ve just read.

Cover of brochure for Acacia Films

Composite image used on cover of brochure for Acacia Films

A layered, composite image can make a striking and powerful statement by engaging the viewer long enough to decipher the components of the image, while the image itself can be very intriguing, with an aura of mystery. For Acacia Films, an ecotouring film company, we combined images of the natural world (the K2 peak in the Himalayas) wildlife (the dolphins) and exotic cultures (the Maasai tribesmen) into a single compelling image in which each component is easily discerned. We used this image in a triangular brochure that unfolded into panels that deconstructed the image into the dolphins and Maasai, and finally into the single image of the dolphins, so that when the brochure is folded back into the triangle, the images overlay in order as the image “builds” itself.

The goal of combining images into a single element is to achieve a synergy in which the end result is more effective than the sum of its parts, and a few well-chosen images, artfully combined, can do just that.

Not that long ago, branding was a concept that applied only to large companies and mass-produced products. But as the tools for marketing and promoting products and services have migrated into the social networking sphere and become easy and inexpensive for anyone to employ, branding is evolving into something that is being engaged in by nearly everyone, whether they are aware of it or not.

I just read a very timely book called “The Brand Within,” by Daymond John, the force behind the FUBU clothing line, which pointedly describes this phenomenon: “From the day you’re born, you’re branding yourself as some thing or other. You can’t help yourself. Might not even realize what you’re doing, even as you’re doing it. Until the day you die, you’ll advertise your character, your integrity, your passion, your faith, your background…all on the back of every choice you’ll ever make as a consumer of goods and services and ideas, from the clothes you choose to wear to the person you choose to marry to the house or apartment you choose to occupy…Every move you make will establish or re-establish your position, and shape and re-shape how the world looks back at you.”

My partner and I are realizing that whenever we take a photograph or execute a design or illustration for someone, we are helping them establish or reinforce their brand. And a brand no longer needs to spring forth from a logo or corporate identity program…every profile photo, Twitter post and blog comment one makes tells the world something about the person sharing it. In our design and photography work, part of our job is to get to know our clients well enough to be able to translate their personal and/or professional style into work that is a reflection of their philosophy and values. And as we have clarified our mission as a company that helps our clients brand themselves in various ways, we’ve created a new tagline for ourselves: “Capturing your style, defining your brand.”

At last, the shoemaker’s children have shoes.

At the Sonoma Jazz Festival, John Fogerty performed a bracing set of songs with energy and enthusiasm, making it hard to believe that most of them were more than 40 years old. Drawing mostly from his memorable hits with Creedence Clearwater Revival in the late ‘60s and tossing in a few covers that were even older, Fogerty’s playing and singing seemed to make time stand still. If anything, he has improved with age.

Fogerty delighted a crowd of adoring Boomers under the festival tent with a steady stream of fondly-remembered classics, attired in his trademark working-class flannel shirt and jeans, and looking only a bit older than the CCR frontman who penned some of rock’s most enduring classics. Playing a steady stream of different, shiny guitars that bounced the stage lighting around the tent, he opened with a late CCR gem, “Hey Tonight,” and followed that with a string of hits including “Green River,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Born on the Bayou” and “Lodi” with a compact version of “Suzie Q,” the 8-minute song which introduced his sound to radio audiences thrown in for good measure. His band featured two other guitarists, two keyboard players and a phenomenal drummer, whose propulsive drive powered the songs, while organ parts fleshed out their simple but solid arrangements.

He was in fine form throughout, soloing with the economy and taste that has always marked his guitar work, yet never settling for a simple reprise of the recorded version. His sturdy, roots-inflected style draws from a deep country tradition, and as if to underscore that point, trotted out a version of “Cotton Fields” that sounded right at home alongside his Creedence classics. A couple of train songs…”Midnight Special” and “Big Train from Memphis”…continued his excursion into his country roots, taking a detour into Louisiana with a convincing cover of Rockin’ Sydney’s “My Toot Toot” featuring zydeco accordion. The juxtaposition of traditional and country songs deftly illustrated the straight line that can be drawn from “Cotton Fields” through country music to “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.”

Mixing in a few songs from his post-Creedence solo work (such as a heartfelt “Don’t You Wish It Was True”) and more well-chosen covers (Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” brought the crowd to its feet and displayed Fogerty’s still-supple voice, and he led the band through a spirited “Good Golly Miss Molly”) Fogerty stuck pretty close to the country-tinged CCR template, decorating the songs with expert guitar licks that always seemed to stop short of self-indulgence. On the more country-flavored songs, his tone and skill suggested that if his solo career hadn’t worked out, he could have made a good living in Nashville. At only one point in the show did he venture outside his trademark rock and roots sound, and that was for a brief guitar solo introduction to “Keep On Chooglin’” where his impressive, fretboard-tapping, jazzy interlude demonstrated that he had the chops to do almost anything he wanted to. But he knew what the crowd had come for, and was happy to deliver it.

As the show built towards its climax, Fogerty staked out his solo turf with “Centerfield,” which featured a guitar shaped like a fat baseball bat, and “Old Man Down the Road” before a blistering reading of his protest anthem “Fortunate Son” which closed the set. He quickly returned for an encore (there is no way he would have left without performing “Proud Mary”) and kicked off “Bad Moon Rising” which brought the entire crowd to its feet before the inevitable finale that sent home everyone with a warm, satisfied glow. Although most of the songs were decades old, and the audience’s nostalgia for them undeniable, their timeless quality and the immediacy of Fogerty’s performance made the songs sound as though they could have been recorded last week.

Openers the Tedeschi/Trucks band turned in a funky set of blues-oriented songs with a mighty 11-piece band that laid down powerful grooves for Trucks’ finely-etched slide guitar work and Susan Tedeschi’s soulful vocals, which summoned equal parts Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt. The band leaders’ intuitive interplay underscored their status as a happily married couple, and they expertly guided the band through a well-received set.