Holiday Letters Bring Ho Ho Ho’s

Image by digitalart, courtesy of

Image by digitalart, courtesy of

I love getting mail during the holiday season. It’s great. Instead of people asking me for money, I get chocolate catalogs, cards that wish me Season’s Greetings, and the reassurance that my college friends are still alive.

While I appreciate the heartfelt sentiments, and the updated pictures of the kids/pets/intestines/etc., there’s nothing more satisfying than opening up a mass-produced holiday letter that is so bad it is actually worth saving. You know the ones that gush with sincere emotions, and use the word “blessings” multiple times. They never let you forget that the writers have a bigger house than you, children with bigger brains and better jump shots than yours, better jobs than yours, and are much, much closer to sainthood than you can ever even dream of aspiring to–never mind the whole “I’m Jewish” thing.

I like to gather with friends to read these brag rags aloud and make fun of the writers. Add a little brandy to the eggnog, and I can feel the holiday spirit wash over me.

Here are some tips to get your holiday missive added to the playbill:

The more pompous the letter the better. “Jenna, our preschooler, is so brilliant she speaks 12 languages and just got an early admission acceptance to Harvard,” “Our his and hers XK Jaguar convertibles look like Barbie cars next to our ridiculously huge house,” and “My sixth wife, Tawny, is an aerobics instructor, brain surgeon, and mechanic who cooks gourmet meals for the homeless in her spare time.”

Even though Fox News totally invented the “war on Christmas,” this may be enough for me to take up arms.

Think of all the stamps you’ll save if your holiday letter can do double duty as Junior’s college application. “It’s no surprise that Ludwig (the football team’s top benchwarmer, mediocre concert pianist, class president, C+ student and all around great guy) was accepted at Stanford, given daddy bought a science lab (can you say, ‘future President of the United States’?).” Can you say future invader of North Korea?

If you can have someone other than yourself write the letter–like your dog or your cat–that’s even better. All those woofs, barks and meows get me extra catty after the third eggnog. If you think those are clever, think of what epistolary holiday gems might come from the “mind” of your pet TV remote control or garbage disposal.

Holiday letters in the form of poems are another party favorite. Especially the ones that are ostensibly written by your three-month old genius, and contain such gems as, “I heard you’ve been naughty, so here’s the scoop… Santa’s running short on coal this year, so you get Baby Poop.” That’s an envelope they’ll be rushing to open.

Even if you don’t have a baby genius/budding Wordsworth at home, having your kids write the annual holiday letter can be lots of fun. Their grammar may not be perfect, but their candor can be quite charming. Just ask our friends who had their house remodeled last year and then let their daughter tell the world what mom really thought of the contractor. I’m sure the backed up plumbing was just a coincidence …

Originally appeared in theĀ Santa Barbara Daily Sound

An Interview with Scott and Sheri Martin

When Scott and Sheri Martin looked to buy their first home, using Coastal Housing Partnership (CHP) made the difference between being able to buy “something” and buying a house they really wanted, without compromising.

Both Scott and Sheri grew up in Santa Barbara — attending San Marcos High School, Santa Barbara City College, and UCSB — all the while watching real estate prices skyrocket over the years.

“Even for two professionals that were making good salaries in Santa Barbara, it’s still a daunting task to get into a home,” said Scott, a Strategic Business Consultant.

They pondered their options for a couple of years before Sheri, a first grade teacher at Adams School, went on the CHP website ( to research mortgage lenders.

One of their first calls was to Christine Errea, at Chase Home Finance, a CHP discount provider that offers back 100% of the processing fee, credit report fee and 1/8% of the interest rate on first mortgages.

“The people on the network are fantastic,” said Scott, giving high praise to both Errea and real estate agent Kristiann Wightman, who owns Presidio Properties, another Homebuyers Assistance Program Participating Organization, which offers buyers back 40% of the broker commission.

With the combined discounts from Chase and Presidio, the Martins were able to purchase a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Solvang, which includes an unobstructed view of the entire valley from their backyard.

“We were able to find the place we really wanted to get into, and it was made possible. That’s the thing that CHP really did for us,” said Scott. “We didn’t have to make compromises and that’s what we were honestly, very concerned about for a long time.”

In addition to singing the praises of CHP to their colleagues, the Martins also want to let employers know what a great benefit CHP membership is.

Citing the common complaint of high employee turnover in Santa Barbara County, Scott said, “… If it helps them maintain their employee base and deepen their bench, it’s not just good for the homebuyer, it’s good for the employer too.”

Originally published in the Coastal Housing Partnership Newsletter

An Interview with Jonathan and Kathy Abad

The third time may be the charm for most people, but Jonathan and Kathy Abad had to go through eight unclosed escrows on different houses in order to finally buy their home in Goleta last year with the help of Coastal Housing Partnership (CHP).

Unlike many first-time homebuyers, the Abads had some real estate experience when they came to CHP for assistance, having purchased, upgraded and sold several mobile homes in the area while building up equity to buy a house of their own.

Since 1987, we would move just about every two years to maximize our profits, explained Kathy, who works for Hispanic Business Inc. Once they felt they had built up enough capital, they looked at homes for about a year and a half before finally purchasing their home.

“We basically wanted the biggest amount of property for our buck,” said Kathy. Plus, as parents of two young children, they wanted at least three bedrooms, plus a den to use as a home office.

“We saved a good 12 grand (working with CHP),” said Jonathan. The Abads worked with realtor Kristiann Wightman, (who owns Presidio Properties, a Homebuyers Assistance Program Participating Organization, which offers buyers back 40% of the broker commission) and though they didn’t get a mortgage loan through CHP, they got a discounted loan from a friend who matched the price of CHP’s discount.

In addition to the cost savings from CHP, the Abads were impressed with the educational services offered.

“If we would have known about them five years earlier, it would have really helped us out to learn faster than we would have on our own,” said Jonathan, who works for the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara. “They are there to really answer your questions and you’re not learning from a specific realtor that has a vested interest …you are getting a lot of point of views from people at these kind of workshops.”

He added, “I wish I knew about this six, seven years ago when we started doing this. It would have saved us so much work.”

Originally published in the Coastal Housing Partnership Newsletter

The thrill is (not quite) gone

hiram-walker-peppermint-schnapps-usa-10094612tI thought my daredevil days were over last week when I looked up at the beautiful snow-covered mountain and didn’t think about skiing or snowboarding down it, but rather looked longingly at the bar and thought, “What a gorgeous spot for me to hang out and have a hot toddy.”

Not that I’ve ever been the queen of all things daring and dangerous, but this year skiing just looked more painful than fun. It was finally time for risky business and I to part ways. We’d had a good run, but now it was time to slow down and enjoy the cocktails. Sure I’d miss that feeling when my heart starts racing faster at the top of a hill, and my hands get a little sweaty and my cheeks a little flushed, but I could live without it. And I’d feel really stupid if I broke my leg skiing.

Goofing around by a warm fireplace looked a lot more fun than goofy-footing it down the side of a mountain. If that means I’m getting old, I can deal with that. Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of heights or cold, both of which seem important for skiing. I’m kind of glad I don’t have to pretend to enjoy myself through the terror just to earn my spiked hot chocolate anymore. I can skip the chair lift and go straight to the bar, and I’m OK with that.

Not everyone I know is willing to age so gracefully. At his 40th birthday party, a friend announced he had taken up surfing, even though he can barely swim. Another 40ish pal spent the week at a dude ranch, finally getting back on the horse after a few disastrous childhood attempts.

Getting in touch with your inner daredevil isn’t just an aging male phenomenon, either. One of my girlfriends recently went hang gliding for the first time–with her 8 and 10-year-old sons. Talk about taking your life in your hands. What do you do when they start fighting over the songs the birds are singing, or insist that you draw a line down the middle of the sky to keep them equidistantly apart?

Despite the warning signs, and the threat of public mockery in my column, on Thanksgiving my husband decided to take up snowboarding.

Keep in mind that this is the man who has to pop Aleve and Zantac to survive a round of golf. And now he thinks taking up a sport where the only way to stop free-styling down a hill is to free-fall in the snow is a good idea? My brother-in-law, who’s got to be almost 50 by now, also joined Zak on the slopes that day. You’d think he’d be old enough to know better.

Suffice to say that when we counted our Thanksgiving blessings, all night drug stores, extra strength painkillers, and Jacuzzi’s were high on the list. Zak and Brian checked off the “snowboarding” box on their life experiences list, and cursed the idiots who wrote the list.

I still get the need for new challenges, but I don’t really understand the desire to seek out new aches and pains. They seem to find me all by themselves without any invitation at all. But I hated to think that my aching back had completely won out over my daredevil ways. Surely there must be something I could do to prove to myself that I still had it.

A few days later we were off to watch UCSB take on Northwestern in the NCAA soccer playoffs. My father will probably ground me for writing this, but I’ll risk it. Rather than face the Wildcats unarmed in the cold November air, my sister and I snuck a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps in my purse to help fight them off. Sorry Dad, but it was really cold!

My heart started racing faster when the campus security guard asked if he could check my purse on the way in. My hands got a little sweaty and my cheeks a little flushed. So I did what any self-respecting, outlaw mom would do. I pretended I couldn’t hear him and kept on walking.

Maybe the thrill isn’t gone after all.

Originally published in theĀ Santa Barbara Daily Sound.