Baker

Love, Loss & Baking

October 05, 2023

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Each morning, 200 pastries make their way into the glass cases at the Wilder Bakeshop & Espresso in Chama, New Mexico. Breads, pies, cookies, croissants, cakes, quiches and more, crafted by hand – Jazzmyn Cramer’s hands, specifically. Each delicious treat is the culmination of a lifelong journey, at times terribly tragic and other times beautifully uplifting.

In this episode of Home. Made., Stephanie Foo talks to Jazzmyn about how the Wilder Bakeshop came to be her home after she left everything she knew for an adventure in the high desert – and how, shortly thereafter, her world was turned upside down.

Baking had always been a safe space for Jazzmyn. She was put into the foster care system when she was 2; she has only a vague memory of her mom crying, her case worker telling her to say goodbye, and that was it. She was adopted by another family, who she described as “rigid.”

At first, she just didn’t feel like she fit in. She was creative and curious in a household that championed order and rules above all else. Her adoptive parents’ true nature revealed itself over time; by the time she was 7 she was beaten and abused several times a day.

“At any given time of day, didn’t matter what I was doing, I was on alert to be literally physically pulled away from what I was doing and beat, or hit, or slammed to the ground and then told what a garbage person I was,” Jazzmyn said. “I felt like home is not permanent and love isn’t unconditional.”

Despite her treatment, Jazzmyn spent 2 hours every Saturday baking a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for her family. The moments of peace and calm she remembers from her childhood centered around those times. When she was baking, she was happy and, for the most part, she was safe.

Baking was a point of pride for Jazzmyn, she baked for her friends and family, her classmates, teachers – it was how she showed love. Her grandma recognized her skill in the kitchen and praised her for it. When her grandma made a point to tell Jazzmyn’s mother, she was apathetic at best. When Jazzmyn talked about wanting to open a bakery, her mother wasn’t encouraging. But, there was still hope in every batch of cookies that this could be more than just a hobby one day.

Jazzmyn grew up, moved out and was working in coffee shops and bakeries in Seattle, where she met Chris Phillips. They bumped into each other at an art gallery, and he asked if he could tag along with Jazzmyn and her friends for the night. That was how Chris operated – he was open to where life would take him and always ready for an adventure. At the time, he was a musician living in his van on and off. Jazzmyn called Chris her tumbleweed – and they fell for each other fast. Despite his nomadic lifestyle, Chris brought a sense of security for Jazzmyn. For the first time in her life, she felt like she was home. They began to build a life together.

Chris owned a plot of land just outside Chama. He had spent some time living there in a yurt, but he and Jazzmyn often talked about building their dream home there. It would have a recording studio for him, a craft room for her, and, of course, a big, beautiful kitchen for baking. When the time came to finally make the move, it wasn’t quite what Jazzmyn expected. Chris was used to living off grid with few amenities; she was not. They arrived at his plot late one night in early May – in the middle of a snowstorm. Not the start she was hoping for. But with Chris, she knew they’d figure it out.

The snow melted a day and a half later and it was time to start building. But a friend of Chris’ stopped by and asked if they wanted to kick off their new adventure with a rafting trip. Why not? Jazzmyn, Chris and two friends set off. It should have been the first of many adventures in their new home; instead, everything changed in an instant. Chris took a running jump into the river, headfirst. He crushed six vertebrae and severed his spinal cord. He died on the riverbank in Jazzmyn’s arms.

The three friends paddled back to civilization with Chris’ body and the next couple of weeks were a blur. Chris’ family and friends came down for the funeral. One of their friends from the rafting trip helped her salvage building supplies to set up a makeshift tent to live in for the time being. Then he left, too. She was alone, in the desert, in what could hardly be called a home.

So, she did what she knew best: she baked. Another friend from the rafting trip allowed Jazzmyn to use his kitchen and she threw herself back in to her lifelong passion. She mostly kept to herself, still reeling from the tragedy on the river. Living alone in the desert was nerve-wracking, but she pressed on. Moving back to Seattle wasn’t an option – this was her home now.

One day she noticed a small building for sale when driving through Chama. It looked like the perfect place for a bakery. Chris left her a small 401(k), she sold his Subaru and cashed in her savings. She scraped together just enough savings to buy the building and the Wilder Bakeshop was born, only about 6 months after Chris died.

She set a cot up in the back to catch sleep when she could, working 20-hour days to make the bakery happen. She kept an eye out for deals on equipment and perfected the pastries that would soon fill the glass cases at the front of the shop. She was so unsure if the bakery would even open on time that she didn’t advertise, she really didn’t tell anyone. So, when opening day finally came, she filled the pastry cases, flipped on the lights and opened the doors. And then … she waited.

Hear Jazzmyn’s full story in this episode of Home. Made.

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Episode Transcript

Stephanie: Five years ago Jazzmyn Cramer was broke. She took what little money she had and poured it into starting a bakery. 

Jazzmyn: I painted a sign directly on the side of the building that just said Wilder Bake Shop in big black block letters on the white building.

Stephanie: Jazzmyn bought the building. Renovated it. Purchased equipment. All the things. And by opening day, she only had $156 dollars in her bank account. 

Jazzmyn: Yeah, so I did not advertise that I was opening a bakery at all anywhere. Didn't really talk about it much in town because I had such a small budget. I was so scared that I was gonna get so close and then not have enough money to actually get open. The town is Chama. It’s a small community in northern New Mexico. Jazzmyn hardly knew anyone there. But she knew she wanted to bake for them. Baking had always made her feel safe and whole, and she hadn’t felt that way in a long time. Not since an unimaginable tragedy turned her life upside down the year before. Opening this bakery was part of her recovery - a new beginning. Would it work in a town of 900 people? She didn’t know. But this is where she lived now. This bakery - was home. So she made sure everything was perfect that first day. Tray upon tray of danishes, sticky buns, cinnamon twists, cherry tarts and croissants - all freshly baked and ready to be eaten… 

Jazzmyn: I just flung the door open at six with my pastry case full of pastries… and I waited and I was so anxious and so nervous. The bakery was open for business. But no customers were waiting to get inside.

Stephanie: This is Home. Made. An original podcast by Rocket Mortgage about the meaning of homes, and what we can learn about ourselves in them. I’m Stephanie Foo. In this episode: love, loss… and baking. Jazzmyn and Chris Phillips fell for each other while living in Seattle. She was working at bakeries and coffee shops. Chris was a musician, living in his van off and on. She called him her tumbleweed - that was her nickname for him and his untamed lifestyle. They often talked about moving to the desert. Chris owned land right on the border of Colorado and New Mexico. A piece of property a short drive outside of Chama. It’s high desert country, with red rocks and hot springs and snowy mountains. They planned to save up, leave Seattle, and start a new life. They spent hours talking about how they would design the home they would build on his land. There would be a recording studio for him. And a craft room for her. 

Jazzmyn: And really the main feature of this home that we had designed was around the kitchen. Like I wanted to have this huge kitchen island where the cooktop and the oven and a sink were in there so that you can cook while you're still a part of everything that's going on. A kitchen at the center made complete sense. Jazzmyn loves to bake, and has dreamed of owning her own bakery since she was very young. At least she could start with a dream kitchen. Moving day came. They packed up the U-Haul and left the city behind. A couple of days of driving, and they arrived at Chris’ property. An empty field off a country road. No running water, no power. A stack of building supplies had been delivered. But there was literally nowhere to sleep. Oh. And it was May 3rd… and snowing… hard. 

Jazzmyn: So we were trying to set up our tent like in the middle of the night. Um, in this field, in the, the headlights that are getting caked with snow. I'd never been in that heavy of snow ever, let alone in May. Not dressed for snow with no home. It was less than ideal.

Stephanie: So it's very, also, it’s like a self-reliant place where you had to be very reliant on each other. On him.

Jazzmyn: Yeah. And I knew zero people out there. He knew some people cuz he'd lived out there, he'd lived out there on that property through a winter in a yurt  and was like, it's doable and it's okay. And I was like, okay. 

Stephanie: Jazzmyn trusted Chris. He was her “person”, and that trust hadn’t come easy. 

Jazzmyn: Yeah, I think Chris, just as a single person, was the first time that I had felt a sense of family, of like what home maybe felt like, um, where I could be imperfect and still be allowed to be there. 

Stephanie: Yeah. Unconditional love.

Jazzmyn: Yeah.

Stephanie: Jazzmyn says, before Chris, she never experienced unconditional love. It was foreign to her. She went into foster care when she was 2. She has this memory of when they took her away from her mother. All of her clothes and stuffed animals fit into two grocery bags.  

Jazzmyn: I just remember, like, sitting in the backseat of this car just like, say goodbye to your mom. Okay. Um, for how long? 

Stephanie: She doesn’t remember anyone answering her. She just remembers a woman in a gray drab suit. The strange car. And her mom crying. And then she was gone. Jazzmyn describes the family that adopted her as rigid - they were all about order and rules. But, Jazzmyn’s creative. She asks a lot of questions. She says she never felt like she fit in. And then the abuse started. 

Jazzmyn: And it was kind of intermittent in the beginning. Um, and then it just became, I think by the time that I was seven, it was like multiple times per day. I never, like, almost at any given time of day, didn't matter what I was doing. I was on alert to be literally physically pulled away from what I was doing and beat or hit or slammed to the ground, things like that. And then told what a garbage person I am. Um, I felt like home isn't permanent and love is not unconditional. 

Stephanie: But if there were moments of peace in her childhood, they usually centered around baking. Every week, Jazzmyn baked chocolate chip cookies for the family. She’d make big batches to pack in school lunches and for her brothers to take to sports practice. Nothing fancy. But it made her feel good. 

Jazzmyn: I felt like it was just this wonderful, beautiful grown up thing. It was one of the only areas where I felt trust from my mom And I loved it too, cuz it was just a couple of hours on a Saturday where I was doing this thing. 

Stephanie: Her adoptive mother didn’t like to bake. And when Jazzmyn would tell her she’d like to own a bakery someday, her mom never really said anything; she wasn’t encouraging. But Jazzmyn’s grandmother was different. 

Jazzmyn: My grandma was so calm. 

Stephanie: One day, they were making snickerdoodles together. Jazzmyn was maybe 7 years old, and she told her grandmother she thought the dough was too wet and sticky. It needed more flour. 

Jazzmyn: And I remember my grandma being really proud, um, or just expressing that pride and telling my mom, like, she made a point to tell my mom, oh, Jazzmyn just like has this baking savvy. Like she, you know, we almost, we almost messed up a batch of cookies and Jazzmyn could feel it and knew how to adjust it and didn't they turn out so beautiful? And I remember hoping that because I had my grandma's approval that like my mom as her daughter would be so proud of me, and she just kind of was like, yeah.

Stephanie: Baking was a north star for Jazzmyn, even without her mother’s support or affirmation. She was good at it. She’d bake for her friends in the school orchestra. She’d bake cakes to thank people  for giving her rides home, or to celebrate birthdays. Baking made her feel useful, valued. Worthy of love. And it was also how she showed her love to others - like her boyfriend Chris, when she first met him.

Jazzmyn: I think despite being a tumbleweed and being the van guy, he was still really excited to be like, oh, this, this girl's making me something like that I want.

Stephanie: They met on an art walk in Seattle. Jazzmyn was with a couple friends in a gallery and as she was leaving, her backpack bumped against him. 

Jazzmyn: I was like, Hey, sorry. I like turned around and touched his shoulder and said sorry. Um, and he's like, Hey, it looks like you're about to leave. Um, can I come with you? And I was like, sure. He was really cute. Um, Yeah, it was, it was that easy. 

Stephanie: Their love was easy. They played music together - Chris on guitar, Jazzmyn on violin. They went backpacking and paddleboarding. He taught her how to ski at Mt. Rainier. Their lives intertwined and grew together. 

Jazzmyn: I think Chris was a really nice place for me to kind of start healing and start learning how to start learning how to trust. 

Stephanie: She still felt nervous about making small mistakes around him. Like forgetting to take out the trash. But her imperfections didn’t bother him – he loved her for who she was, fully. 

Jazzmyn: And he just always had a lot of grace for it. And also he was just a very soft place for me to kind of start to fall apart for the first time and then feel like that was okay. And then kinda be put back together. 

Stephanie: With Chris in her life, Jazzmyn felt ready to do something wonderful and crazy - take a risk, go lead a big life full of the freedom she’d never allowed herself before. But, standing there, on Chris’ empty lot in New Mexico, in the middle of a blizzard, in the middle of the night… she definitely had second thoughts about the whole thing. 

Jazzmyn: It was less than ideal and I wasn't, I was probably not as gracious as I could have been. And at the same time it was like, I quit my job and I moved out here with you. And yes, we've been together for a while and I love you, but this is foolish and unstable.

Stephanie: Funny things about Spring in northern New Mexico. It can mean a blizzard one day, and then 90 degrees and sunny the next. All the snow melted a day and half later. Jazzmyn and Chris needed to start building. But before they could get to it, a friend of Chris stopped by. Everyone called him Derphy. And Derphy was keen to welcome the newcomers to the neighborhood. And he’s an avid river rafting guy, so he invited Chris and Jazzmyn to come float part of the Chama River. Chris and Jazzmyn had never been rafting, but it sounded perfect. They left the building supplies where they were, and tossed their belongings in a storage unit. Another friend of Derphy’s -- his name was Eric -- joined them. And the four of them headed off on an adventure that changed everything. Both Eric and Derphy had lots of rafting experience, and Derphy made sure everyone understood the risks.

Jazzmyn: He gave us this big safety talk at the beginning, um, before we pushed off. You know, don't ever, like, if you're going sideways, never stick a paddle down river, you're gonna, you're gonna flip, you're gonna jam that into a rock. And he's like, you never jump into the river. Don't do that.

Stephanie: The weather was perfect - warm and sunny. They floated in three boats, filled with all kinds of supplies and gourmet food that Jazzmyn was excited to cook each night. 

Jazzmyn: Chris and I had brought our instruments, so we played music after dinner by the river. It was just very adventury fun. 

Stephanie: By the third afternoon they had floated down to a spot where the river curved in a gentle bend around a bluff - a perfect spot to make camp. Derphy stayed with the rafts while Chris and Eric unloaded. There was a calm eddy in the river and Jazzmyn plopped down to cool off.

Jazzmyn:  Chris had come down and like, he was making sure I had plenty of sunscreen on my shoulders and, throwing me half an orange, you know, taking pictures and whatnot. And so he was sitting on the cooler sampling all of the cheese that we'd picked. And then like we were throwing grapes in each other's mouth. And Chris was like, "how's the water?" And I was like, "oh, it's so nice. It's the perfect temperature. It's so shallow right there." And then he, was like, "yeah, I think I'll take a dip before we like load everything up for dinner." And we were gonna have like steak and asparagus and had like a whole charcuterie board planned. We were eating rich on this trip. And then we walked down to, the water and check in with Derphy.  And Chris was like, "oh yeah, the water looks so good. I'm going in." And he like stripped naked. And Derphy was like, "dude, we can see, your junk!", like "put it away!" And uh, and he was joking, like he was just, whatever. And I was like, "Chris!" And I was like, don't be a nag. Just like let him do whatever he is doing. If he wants to go in there, he can go in there, it's fine. Um, and I turned away laughing. And in that amount of time he had taken three running steps off the end of the raft and dove into the river head first.

Stephanie: Oh.

Jazzmyn: Yeah. And like, I guess I heard it cuz I remember hearing it or maybe I'm manufacturing this memory just because that's. I remember the rhythm of it. Derphy was sitting on his raft and yelled to me, and I just, I saw Chris's body floating in the water, like head down, like arms out, to like, mid back to the top of his head, and his arms were just completely out and relaxed. And I just thought he was joking. I thought he was just floating in the river cuz he was hot. 

And we yelled and he didn't turn or stroke or anything and it was, he was so still. And so Derphy was like, “I don't think he's joking. I think he's hurt.” He slipped off the end of his raft. He waded out and we were able to slide his body up and onto the bench.

And he was just so heavy and so limp and I put my elbow, between his shoulder blades and my hand, behind the base of his neck. And that's when I started to see the blood on the bench. And I'm just yelling at him hoping he would wake up. And I don't know if I made this up. Um, everyone tells me it's impossible, but I swear he looked at me and um, and he mouthed, I think, "I can't breathe." I was trying to remember CPR while this person that is my person is maybe dying in my arms. 

He coughed up a lot of water, but I also had one more moment where I was still just like staring into Chris's eyes and it was just this look of like, it was like he realized what was happening. I don't know if this was like a physical thing I saw or some kind of spiritual thing that I'm not sure I believe in, but it was like he realized and it was just like this, like the heaviest exhale you could imagine without a physical exhalation. 

And he was. It was like, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. And I love you so much and I'm so sorry to leave you here. So I don't know if my mind made that up to protect me, or if it's a real thing. But I feel like I have the closure that I need because of that. 

When Chris dove into the water he crushed 6 vertebrae and severed his spinal cord. He died there on the banks of the Chama River, in Jazzmyn’s arms. 

She and Derphy and Eric got his body into a raft and paddled out to civilization as quickly as they could. It was a blur after that. Chris’s family came to Albuquerque for a week. An old friend from his childhood came from Alaska. 

After the memorial, everyone left. And Jazzmyn -- still in shock -- found herself standing in the middle of a patch of land, with no electricity, no running water, no cell reception. And no home. 

With Derphy’s help, they scavenged some of the building supplies that were still on the lot. They built a makeshift yurt - about twelve feet wide. And then Derphy left too. He had to travel for work. Jazzmyn found herself completely alone.

Jazzmyn: It was scary at first. I'm in a field, I'm living kind of in a tent with no door as a young woman who's unfamiliar with the area, you know, it's like I just have very few ways to fend for myself if I needed to. 

Stephanie: Jazzmyn spent two months on the property, largely by herself. She couldn’t really be around people, and avoided going into town when she could.

Jazzmyn: I spent a lot of time on the property just trying to regulate everything, like my nervous system and my mind and my emotions and my, my concept of reality. And it felt very surreal and it felt very, like I was in some kind of video game, like  choose your own adventure, sort of. But nothing felt real.

Stephanie: She thought about going back to Seattle, and ruled it out. For one thing, she was low on cash. And none of her friends there were in any position to put her up, even if she asked. But there was something else, too.

Jazzmyn: The other part of it was I felt like I needed to stay. I felt like I needed to try to see it through a little bit or see what was, see what was there, see what was next. Why was I here? There has to be some something that can come out of this.

Stephanie: As she had done so often in her life, Jazzmyn turned to baking as a source of safety and purpose. Eric - the fourth person on the rafting trip, let her use his kitchen whenever she needed to. Her life didn’t feel real. But the act of baking something, like an apple pie, did.

Jazzmyn: Everything felt like it could be imaginary and tasting the ginger and tasting the different apples and tasting the combination together and feeling like breaking the cold butter into the flour and just being present there to know when to stop working the dough and to know when I had the right balance and to know I had the right amount of orange zest or just feeling, the sting of the citrus on my hands. It was very grounding to just feel everything and smell everything and feeling, like, the urge to just be in the kitchen. Like that was very real.​

Stephanie: That need to bake revived her dream of owning a bakery. Chris had a small 401K that was left to her. She sold his old Subaru. Cashed out her savings. Postponed plans of building any kind of a home for herself. It was all about finding a place to bake. And one day, driving through Chama, she spotted an old building.

Jazzmyn: And it said, for sale by owner. And so I put an offer in and then closed a month later. That was six months after Chris died. 

Stephanie: And then the bootstrapping really began. Jazzmyn set up a cot and slept in the back of the bakery. She hunted down good deals on used equipment. She painted and tiled the space. She spent hours testing recipes and deciding how many different kinds of pastries she’d offer, crunching the numbers on how she was going to afford it all… She was working 20 hours a day, grabbing sleep here and there. A couple people helped when they could, but she had kept the idea mostly to herself. And finally, six months later, it was opening day. Jazzmyn was a pile of nerves. She opened the shop… and then… nothing. The minutes ticked by. 12 minutes, to be exact, but who was counting… 

Jazzmyn: And, um, this man named Andy came in and he was like a, he was like the perfect first customer too. He was a, like a hippie rock climber probably in his early fifties. And he was so excited. He was like, Hey, how's it going? I was like, oh my gosh, you're my first customer. And he was like, yeah, it's early man. And I was like, no, I mean, like ever , like you're my very first customer. And he was so excited to like be the very first customer. Andy was stoked, and also maybe stoned. He bought a box of pastries. 

Jazzmyn: This woman came in like a few minutes after him and he is like, this place just opened! You are the second customer! Can I buy your pastries? And so like bought her box of pastries and there was like a, yeah, it was really, it was really sweet. 

Stephanie: Within a few hours, word had spread. A line formed out the door.

Jazzmyn: And I, yeah. And I sold out on the first day, and that was it.


Stephanie: Jazzmyn returned that love by baking delicious things for each and every customer that came through her doors. She made sure her regulars got their traditional donuts, danishes and cinnamon rolls. 

Jazzmyn: It was really at the beginning everyone called everything a donut or a danish. 

Stephanie: But slowly she let her creativity loose, and expanded their palates to try things like lavender cake or goat cheese and fig croissants… 

Jazzmyn: And so like, little by little, I think we built trust. Where like, I'm never gonna serve you something that doesn't taste good. Like you're not familiar with it, but like, if you hate it, I'm not gonna charge you for it. Like, try it, you know?  And then people would try it like, oh, so good. And so yeah, it's been fun to play, um, to play with that and to see kind of growth in what people have an appetite for now. 

Stephanie: Wilder Bakery was a hit. The town had embraced her, and ate up everything she could serve. But with time, the reality of keeping a business going day in and day out sank in. Jazzmyn’s a perfectionist and she continued pushing herself really hard. She got up at 3AM to bake every day, and worked until 11 every night just to keep up. If her croissants didn’t look perfect, she’d throw them out and start again. 

She drove her 1984 Volkswagen convertible more than four hours round trip to the nearest city to restock - piling the little car high with hundreds of pounds of sugar and flour and butter.

The community could see her hustling and struggling, and people started offering to help. Did she need a place to stay - instead of sleeping out back? Did she need anything picked up from town to save her the long drive?

Jazmyn had been stubbornly self-sufficient for so long. But now… she began to see that she had to start letting people in, and start building real friendships. For a long time, she had kept her story a secret. 

Jazzmyn: Yeah. I really didn't want it to be, I didn't wanna be a pity bakery. I didn't wanna, like, I always wanna stand on my own two feet. I didn't really talk about this openly for a long time. 

Stephanie: But now, she couldn’t keep up the facade anymore. She needed to share how she was feeling. 

Jazzmyn: And I ended up just telling the truth in a really vulnerable way. And people were so much more accepting and positive and forgiving and understanding. And a lot of people have said things like, that makes me feel like I'm less alone with my struggles.

Stephanie: How has this community made you feel like you're at home?

Jazzmyn: Actually kind of going back into like the unconditional love thing. I don't know if love is the right word, but that concept of like, I always have this, like, it has to be like perfection in order to like be accepted and to, to have a place. And so I have been so imperfect in this, I feel like in so many ways I've been dysfunctional as a business owner…

Stephanie: Like for example, she worked so hard and got so sick that she had to close the bakery for two weeks last year.

Jazzmnyn: I hate it. People hate showing up and not getting what they wanted. 

Stephanie: She was afraid that people would be angry at her for being unreliable. But…

Jazzmyn: After I closed, I mean, a lot of people sent messages that basically said, just take care of yourself and we'll still be here. Like, we're glad you're here.

Stephanie: Jazzmyn never built a home on Chris’s land. His parents come down once in a while, though, and they all camp together on it. Her home is the Wilder Bake Shop. She’s invested all of her time, her energy, and her money into this business. So much so that, for now at least, it’s also where she lives. 

Jazzmyn:  I live, I still live in the back of the bakery. I don't really have a home in a traditional way. Um, but I have a space that's where I can rest and store my things.

Stephanie: It’s been five years since she opened and it’s become a fixture in town. People gather there to see old friends, hold book clubs and business meetings. Her regulars give her hugs when they come in. 

Stephanie: If Chris saw you in Wilder Bakery right now, what do you think he would say?

Jazzmyn: He'd probably say this thing that he used to say quite a bit when I'd feel insecure. He's like, “you are that girl.” Look at it like, “look how cute it is. Look how many people come in. Look how many people hug you during the day when they come get their pastries.” Like, “look, you are that girl.” You're doing the thing that you wanna do.

I think he would just be like, enjoy it.

Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Home. Made. by Rocket Mortgage. This episode was written by Ashley Ahearn. Our story editor is Rob Rosenthal. My name is Stephanie Foo. You can reach us at rocketmortgage.com/homemade, or find a link in the show notes to this episode.

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