Book Review: Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad

everybody has everything book coverYou know how there are so many, SO MANY, novels out there that make you cry and think about terrible things and yet you can’t put them down because the writing is so beautiful or the story is so amazing or, conversely, the writing is so awful that you can’t believe someone published this crap and you have to see how the monkeys and their typewriters conclude such a derivative and stereotypical volume of drivel? It is so bad that I find myself gravitating towards non-fiction and memoir even though I love novels so much, which actually is worse when you think about it because memoirs that make me cry and think about terrible things are supposedly true, whereas with a novel I can at least reassure myself that “this is not real.”

Well, Everybody Has Everything is, at least, one of the first set. No, the events are not real, because it is a novel, but the subject matter is My Worst Nightmare, and it’s a book that I shouldn’t have accepted for review especially in the wake of personal loss, but something drew me to it and I loved the writing and story and in the end it made me get off my ass and hire an estate planning attorney to finish the job that I started and never could bring myself to complete.

In Everybody Has Everything, a childless couple struggling with infertility is charged with the care of 2-year-old Finn, whose parents were in a car accident – the father was killed and the mother is in a coma. The couple’s markedly different reactions to instant parenthood pull them apart. Ultimately it is a story about this couple and how they grow during this experience, and what it means to care for someone, to caretake, and to sacrifice for things larger than yourself, but it was Finn’s story, and his mother’s, that stabbed me right in the heart and made me unable to sleep at night.

I sobbed and sobbed when I read this book. Dammit. I knew I would. If I let the thin veneer of denial about my mortality crack in any way, I am an absolute mess. You’ve seen it here before when I have lost loved ones, but the thought of my children suffering such a loss is very hard to confront. The idea of them being left in this world without me or Stewart or both of us is paralyzing to me.

Of course I am getting a little weepy when I write this, which is why I have put this review off for so long. Finally, after realizing that there will never be a moment when I will be in the mood to confront this blog post, I just made myself do it.

That was how our estate planning went down, too. A while ago I started that project on my own, creating a trust document with Suze Orman’s website, filling out a deed transfer for our house with the help of Adrienne’s generous sister, and even getting that notarized. But she was so adamant about stressing to me that any tiny mistake in that deed transfer would render it null and void, that I sat on it for a year. Finally, after Stewart and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and I had read Everybody Has Everything, I knew that I couldn’t go on will-and-trustless any longer.

We have life insurance, and I know that my family would wage the probate wars and help our children get what they need, but I saw how Lisa’s family, especially her father, had to deal with lawyers and bank accounts and probate and all that because she didn’t have a will. Besides the financial hit you get when your estate has to be processed through the courts, imagine the emotional anguish. I would not want to have to deal with that or have anyone in my family go through it.

It is expensive to hire a lawyer but we did it. (NB: He is not costing us $5,000 like the one in this post quoted.) Two months ago we sat in a small conference room with him and his secretary and I held myself together as long as I could but when it came time for me to stress my biggest concern – who would take the children if Stewart and I are both incapacitated or killed at the same time? – I cried. I couldn’t help it. My worst fear, out on the table. The lawyer and secretary see this all the time of course. They see the nightmares come true. They didn’t bat an eyelash, and they addressed my concern.

I’m pretty specific in my nightmare fantasies, so I want to make sure that in the event of this horrible thing, my boys do not get whisked off by cops or social services to a foster parent while the paperwork is being processed. I thought there would have to be some fancy court-approved document to make this happen, but the answer is all you have to do, at least in California, is keep a letter with your estate documents authorizing a temporary guardian to care for the children until the new guardians can get to them.

I know this is turning into a dramatic blog post instead of a book review, but I knew that would happen, which is another reason it took me so long to write this. The book is very good and the writing is poetic. Onstad’s character descriptions are delivered through the points of view of the husband and wife guardians, alternately, and their observations of each other make you care for them and understand why they care for each other.

James watched her: her foot popping ever so slightly out of the arch of those black shoes that looked like ballet slippers. He didn’t think about her beauty, but her lightness, the sense of upward motion in her body at all times, the ever-present possibility that she might bend her knees, push off, and float up and away from him.

The characters are memorable, especially Ana, who struggles with the concept of motherhood and responsibility. She has a choice and yet no choice. Just like all of us.

Everybody Has Everything
by Katrina Onstad
Paperback, $14.00, Kindle, $9.99 on Amazon

I’m a Happy California Homeowner in The Bubble

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Agoura Hills, CA. Sometimes it looks like a fairy tale.

When I married my husband, he already owned his own house, so I assumed ownership too but it never felt quite real. After going through the whole process of selling that house and buying our new one (with the help of our awesome REALTOR® who walked us through everything and cared for my emotions, too!), I became a bonafide happy California homeowner. Happy because we love our new town and our house, quirks and all.

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The listing photo. It still looks almost exactly the same.

Four years ago Stewart and I moved our family from the San Fernando Valley to “The Bubble,” as Agoura Hills and some of the surrounding towns are called. This area still has a small-town feeling even though it’s on the edge of Los Angeles. There’s one public high school, one middle school, and 4 elementary schools. We know the people who work at the grocery store. We run into our friends at church, at sports games, at one of the many beautiful parks, and at restaurants.

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Pedalers Fork in nearby Calabasas, CA

And getting from one side of town to the other? Never more than 10 minutes.

I don’t think we would have ended up in this town if it wasn’t for our REALTOR®, Myrna Tollett. We thought we couldn’t afford a house in Agoura Hills, but she encouraged us to look and she found homes that were in our price range. Plus, we got our favorite house of the ones we saw, even though at first it went to a different buyer. Myrna was so on top of things that when the first buyer pulled out, she jumped right back on the case and secured the deal for us.

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Flag football at the foot of Ladyface Mountain.

There are other ways to sell and buy a house, but the only one we ever considered was working with a REALTOR®. A good friend of mine is also a REALTOR®, and his favorite part of the job is connecting people with the home of their dreams. What starts with one California REALTOR® benefits all of California. That’s the underlying sentiment of the California Association of REALTORS® (CAR) integrated consumer ad campaign called ‘Ripple.’ One home purchase (and we were part of TWO) stimulates the economy by $60K. One job is generated for every two home sales. So not only were we improving the lives of our family, but we were also helping all of California! Go us!

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We are so happy here. For both my husband and me, it reminds us of the smaller communities we grew up in. It’s quick and easy to make our weekly trips to the Agoura Hills Library, one of our favorite places in town.

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The beautiful Craftsman style Agoura Hills library and community center.

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He is pretending to read at Westlake Village library, which is also close by.

While the kids are in school and Stewart is at work, I work from home with such a beautiful view of the mountains that I am tempted to “play hooky” at least once a week and go hiking on one of the countless trails that take me up to beautiful views of the Conejo Valley or the Pacific Ocean.

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Top O’Topanga (Topanga Canyon, CA)

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Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks, CA.

When it gets really hot, which it does often, we suit up and walk around the corner to the country club, where we are summer members so we can use the pool. Or we pack up the car and head to the beach in Malibu, which is just a 20 minute drive. Plus, the city runs a shuttle bus for $2 per person, so when the kids are in their teens they can go with their friends without relying on rides from Mom or Dad.

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I’m fairly informed about events and programs in the city as a blogger – soon after we moved I started Agoura Hills Mom because I noticed that the URL wasn’t taken. And then I figured I’d better get some content up there. And then I enjoyed it so much that kept going!

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Our town’s own Lake Lindero, a view on my daily walk.

But now that both of our kids are going to the local public elementary school, I’m more informed as a parent, too. Still there are so many new things the people of this great little city provide and produce for us to take part in that there’s always something new to discover and new friends to make.

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Residents await the Reyes Adobe Days parade during Agoura Hills’ annual festival.

We love staying close to home, but we can still be part of the big city adventures that the Los Angeles area has in store for us. As long as we budget enough time for traffic.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Flashback Friday: June 2002

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On this Flashback Friday, I celebrate my Mom. In this picture she is turning the wind-up handle on my engine so I can make it through an epic wedding day. She just came to visit last week and we had the best time. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Eyebrows! (Or, look! I made a .gif!)

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I just couldn’t resist.