Monthly Archives: November 2012

4:00 a.m. Thanksgiving Day

There are rare occasions when I find myself wide awake in the wee hours of the night, but the reason does not originate from the stress in my life. I’m not awake because I can’t sleep. I’m awake, instead, because I have slept and quite soundly. Such was the case this morning.

I’ve already been up and made coffee, silenced my alarm before it could sound, wandered around the house checking in on each of my four sleeping children. The cats, nocturnal, vaporous beings that they are, slink past me, around me, as I move through the house, like water around boulders in some ethereal stream.

This morning I’m waxing reflective about the journey my little family has been on for the last 12 years. I ponder the heartbreaks, the tragedies, the disappointments, the obstacles, the defeats. Read the rest of this entry

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Breaking Dawn, Part 2, Sexy Vampires Go to War

Since the last Breaking Dawn movie, my daughters and I have anticipated this last installment of the Twilight movies. It’s the movie when Bella gets her super vampire powers. The final book was the best, and based on what we saw of the trailers, we were sure the movie would not disappoint.

I woke up that morning with a serious backache. This is nothing strange. I believe my mattress is the culprit. It might be time to replace the thing. I got ready and headed of to work, but instead of feeling better with motion and activity, I felt worse. Read the rest of this entry

Freedom!

This is not a political post. While I am deeply committed to this country I live in, and am deeply grateful for those who’ve fought and sacrificed for the freedoms I now enjoy, this is not about that kind of freedom. The freedom I am speaking of is of a different sort. It’s the freedom that comes with being able to choose; to chart a course, set out on it and make it happen. I think fewer people experience this freedom than we might think. Read the rest of this entry

Buying a Car Online

I love shopping online. Recently, I lost the battery charger pack for my digital camera. Thanks to Amazon.com, I was able to replace this item for about $12. I picked it out, placed my order, hit the “purchase” button and waited. I didn’t even have to get dressed. Less than a week later, I had my new battery charger. Quick. Convenient. Painless.

There are, however, certain things I really don’t like buying online. Shoes and clothing, for one, since I’m at a place in life where things just don’t fit automatically. I also like to try them on, see the colors, feel the fabric, check out the garments closely before parting with my hard-earned Moolah.

Buying a car is another item I really don’t like shopping for online. A car is something you inspect closely before you purchase. You kick the tires, you look under the hood, you drive the thing, then you buy. It just isn’t done.

Except, this is exactly what I just did.

Buying anything major, which you must finance, is an ordeal when your credit score is in the “Really Sucks” category. You get charged crazy bad interest rates, which jacks the cost of your purchase up, and you usually have to come in with a pretty hefty down payment. Plus, smaller, local lenders with better terms and interest rates usually won’t give you the time of day. This means you’ll likely end up shopping at a dealership where you can get the financing. It also means you’ll be paying a lot more money for much less vehicle than a person with a credit score in the “Doesn’t Suck” or “We want To Give You Money” categories.

We all know what an impossibility it has been for me to try to scrap together any kind of extra savings, let alone a down payment for a car. When my daughter got in her little fender bender, I was at a loss as to how I was going to repair my vehicle. I considered not having it repaired. I delayed getting the car into the shop for an estimate, because I was trying to drag things out until I could figure out how I was going to finance that deductible.

Once I realized the vehicle was going to be a total loss, things kind of got worse for a bit. I had no idea what I was going to do. My car wasn’t going to bring in a settlement offer that would allow me to purchase a replacement from a private party and pay cash. I knew this. I also knew my options might be limited as to who I could finance through. Plus, car shopping, haggling over prices, etc., is just not something I’m good at. I don’t do the poker face thing very well. Plus, I had no idea what I wanted. Any number of vehicles would have thrilled me. But, I can’t afford any number of vehicles, so after spending a day browsing the local car lots, I was no closer to figuring out what I was going to do and I was very discouraged. The options weren’t great. Items in my anticipated price range were much older models with higher miles. I’m really tired of driving old cars with scratches dents and dings.

Enter Enterprise Car Sales. I had to get a rental car after my insurance company took my car for evaluation. My insurance company works through Enterprise. Over the course of owning my Dodge Durango, I’ve had to submit three claims. Each time the service from Enterprise has been fantastic. The cars have been a joy to drive and were immaculate. This time, they put me in a Nissan Altima. I fell in love with the car so much I bought it.

Well, I didn’t buy that exact one, but I did buy a Nissan Altima. And…I basically bought this car online. Here’s how it works. You pick out a car online. If Enterprise has a sales lot near you, you can go there and look, in person, but I didn’t have that option. So, I worked with my salesperson to get the financing started. I filled out the online credit app. I waited to hear back. I was stunned when she said, “I’m really going to try to get you into an Altima.” I was even more stunned when she came back with the numbers on a 2012 Altima.

Then I went to work. I spent hours online looking over their inventory. I researched cars, gas mileage, reliability measures, makes, models, customer reviews. All the while, I’m driving a 2013 model, and feeling more comfortable in a car than I ever have in my life. I decided on the 2012 model. It was just four days from the time I started talking with my salesperson to the time I picked up my car and drove it home.

Enterprise Car Sales drove my car to me with no transfer fee. I then had the option of test driving it, looking under the hood and banging the tires, before I signed anything. Had I not wanted the car, they’d have taken it back, at no charge to me. I now have 7 days to drive the car around. If, in this next week, I decide I’m really not all that thrilled with the car, I can return the car for only $200 detailing fee. The best part? Enterprise worked with my ugly credit picture and got me into a late model vehicle with low miles and no dings dents, or scratches. I will be getting over 30 mpg. I will have to replace or repair the license plate holder, but that is minor. There is a definite difference between the 2013 and the 2012 models, because Nissan completely redesigned the vehicle in 2013. None of these differences, to me, reduce the value of the car. My experience with Enterprise Car Sales was wonderful. Their customer service is great, and they really worked hard to get me into a reliable car that I can actually enjoy driving for many more years. They surpassed all my expectations and I’ll definitely be a return customer.

Quick. Convenient. Painless. Works for me.

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Bootstraps, “You Didn’t Build That”, Victims, and Miracles

A while back, like last July, there was a great deal of hoopla about President Obama’s comment, “If you’ve got a business,  you didn’t build that.” Okay, I can see how the hardworking business people of this country could get really sideways about that, but reading the entire comment in context it completely makes sense. After all, in context, what Obama was really saying is that others have paved the way to make us successful…no man or woman or business person is an island.

I’ve recently heard people, friends and colleagues, espousing the ideal of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps”.  I have been thinking about this a great deal lately, in conjunction with President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” statement.  I have a lot of questions.  I mean, I love the idea of rugged strength and determination overcoming all obstacles, but…I wonder…what if the bootstraps were to break?  Who’s wearing the boots?  If I’m wearing the boots, who’s supporting the ground the boots are supposedly firmly grounded on while I do my own bootstrap pulling up activities?  I don’t know.  Kind of makes me wonder.

So often people experiencing hard times are accused of taking the victim mentality just because they are experiencing hard times.  Yes, I know.  There are people out there who are making choices that lead them to a place of dependency on others’ good graces, whatever form those good graces come in.  There are many who appear content to live this way.    They milk the kindness of other people and “the system” for their benefit all the while escaping the responsibility of every citizen to give back and help pay for the freedoms and luxuries our great country affords us.  They do this, in spite of the fact that they are able to do more for themselves.  For them, it is a lifestyle choice rather than a helping hand in a time of need. We could accuse them of being lazy.  We could say it is the system’s fault.  We could point fingers at a number of different reasons why this is the case, and all of it, to some degree, will be valid.  All of it, to some degree, will also be bunk.  I know of people who have received more in food stamps than I, as a working professional and single mother of four children, can ever afford to pay for groceries.  It is these very same people who sell their food stamps for money.  This should not be.  I agree.  But not every person who is a victim has a victim mentality.  And not every person who needs assistance at some time or another requires it forever.  Not everyone collecting welfare is a victim.  And not everyone, experiencing hard times is able to get themselves out of their hard times on their own.  Sometimes, even the most stalwart need a helping hand….or a miracle.

I, myself, have been a “bootstraps” person for most of my life.  I figured if I just set my mind to it, I could make it happen.  And…generally…that was the case…when I was younger…and prettier. Two divorces and four children later and, try as I might, no matter how hard I work, or how hard I try, or how much effort and genius I put into things, I can’t catch a break financially these days. Well, okay, I lied.  My water bill was half what it was last month and I’ve paid off the surgeon that did my cancer surgeries this year.  Wow.  Big deal.  I’m still pretty, but the wrinkles are beginning to be obvious.  No one has a clue what my age is unless I tell them (they often guess I’m in my mid-30’s, I’m not).  Wow. Big deal. I have worked hard to pay off debt that belonged to me only because an ex-spouse incurred it.  I have experienced drama and demise of one disaster after another none of which I was responsible for. Try as I might, I can’t seem to catch a break.  I really am trying.  I’m not taking handouts.  I’m working extra hours.  I pay my taxes, my insurance, my bills. I’m not getting ahead.  When I am able to get a little bit together, something unexpected and totally out of my control descends upon my life to evaporate the savings as quickly as I deposited it. I mean seriously.  I couldn’t control my getting cancer.  I had no say in the decision about health insurance costs and premiums and deductibles. I have no control over my daughter, one very normal Sunday morning, getting into an accident that meant yet another cost ($500 deductible) and stress (What the hell are we going to do for transportation now?).

I have changed my opinion about the bootstraps thing.  I mean, sure, people can have an amazing impact on the course of their own lives.  A child from poverty can go to school, do well, make plans and achieve great things.  A child from wealth can squander all the benefit he/she started out with and end up being pretty much nothing.  We all have great power to do great things with the energy and intelligence we’ve been given, in spite of our circumstances.  I still firmly believe this.  Sometimes, there are things that happen that are just beyond our control.  Sometimes these things are so monumental or so continual that we can’t, no matter how hard we try, change our circumstances.  We are, in essence, pulling as hard as we can on our bootstraps, making progress even, but someone, something cut the bootstrap just a little higher up.  I know.  This is tough for people who’ve never really known hardship to fathom.  If life has always been pretty easy for you, it is difficult to imagine others’ struggles.

This bootstrap cutting from higher up has been my life this year.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t catch a break.  I worked extra hours, I cut back on expenses, I even moved and made colossal changes in lifestyle to try to get ahead.  Under normal circumstances, the efforts I’ve expended would have paid off.  What I didn’t account for was the stuff in life that no one can really ever account for.  Early this year, I knew it was going to be bad when the biopsy came back with results that required surgeries, radiation and additional out-of-pocket medical bills that I could not have planned for. (Remember, I’m a divorced, single female trying to support four children on my own salary which is decent, but not what someone with a graduate degree in a professional position should be earning.)  I also filed for bankruptcy, and that has not gone well.  I was assigned a trustee who is Evil Incarnate and completely non-communicative, so I couldn’t plan for the surprise billing she threw on me in late September. A billing of over $738.  In spite of all my attempts, and my attorney’s attempts earlier this year to avoid this scenario, it happened and it is beyond my control.  To add insult to injury, my daughter recently was involved in a fender bender.  She rear-ended someone.  No big deal, but the deductible is $500.  Since I just paid $817 on this vehicle to service the transmission and replace brakes, rotors and all just a month prior, I have absolutely no discretionary spending or savings to get this vehicle repaired.  It isn’t because I haven’t tried.  The point I am trying to make is this:  From cancer costs, to Evil Incarnate Trustee, to daughter wrecking car, to insurance deductible, to unexpected but required car repairs, none of this was in my control.

What the bootstraps people don’t seem to take in to consideration (and what I didn’t consider for years) is the fact that sometime shit just happens.  Sometimes that shit can be dealt with quickly, and other times the shit just keeps coming and you can’t recover before the next load drops.  Such has been my life this year, which gives me a greater appreciation for the words President Obama uttered when he said, “You didn’t build that.”  I understand the value of having others around to collaborate with and to support you in your efforts.  No man or woman is an island.  Though success does require our own initiative and efforts.  Our own initiative and efforts can’t always guarantee success.  There’s just too much out there that we can’t plan on, budget for, or anticipate.  Sometimes the bad fortune rains heavily on the parade we are trying to conduct in life. These days, I can’t catch a freaking break because the shit just keeps dropping.  It keeps dropping in spite of my good choices, in spite of my efforts to be a responsible, contributing, law-abiding citizen of this great country. Sometimes, the bootstraps don’t help.  Sometimes, your success is predicated on the kindness or efforts of others, whether you are willing to admit this or not.  Sometimes it is just complete chance or fortune. Sometimes it’s a miracle.

Last month, as I endured the worst month ever since my divorce and trying to feed a  family of four on $350 for an entire month, I needed a windfall.  I even whispered the prayer, “God, I know you’ve done miracles for other people.  I’ve tried.  I worked.  I couldn’t plan on the demand from the BK attorney.  I need help.  I need a windfall.  And not a $500 or $1,000 windfall either.  I’m not asking to win the lottery, but I need help with the car and Christmas.”  Okay, sometimes in desperation, we beg for the miracle.

****

Call was at 12:30.  My daughter had stressed how important it was to be on time to the call for her show, so I made sure I was ready. !2:15.  12:30.  She drove up in my Durango at 12:45.  I didn’t wait.  I hurried out, locked up the house and turned to climb into our beloved SUV that we  affectionately dubbed, “Rango.”  I glanced in the window and panic shot through my psyche.  My daughter was in tears, her eye makeup streaming down her face.  My daughter is not prone to obvious displays of emotion. I was alarmed.

“What happened?” I asked.  “Are you okay?”

She sputtered and sobbed and finally got the words out. “I was in an accident.  My phone vibrated.  The sound startled me.  I looked down.  I hit the car in front of me.”

Every mother’s nightmare.

My daughter, who is usually so very careful and cautious behind the wheel had rear-ended an F-350 which tore out the fog light on our vehicle, leaving a gaping hole.  The Durango, otherwise, seemed unharmed.

As insurance issues tend to do, this one unfolded in slow motion, as did my understanding of exactly what was going on.

“Oh no,”  I thought.  “Another at-fault accident on our insurance and a $500 deductible to fix. Great.  How’s this going to work.”

Remember, I had $350 to my name and I had to feed my family with this and I still had most of the month left.  I drug my feet for a week getting my car into a body shop to get an estimate.

****

“I’d like to take your car back to my tech to have a look at this,” the young handsome adjuster said.  He was getting to know me by name.  This was the second time this year my vehicle had reported to his shop for repairs.

Before he took the car to the garage, I asked, “So, what are the chances that this vehicle is actually totaled?”  He smiled, “I’m not sure, but that frame is bent pretty far back there.”

We waited.  My daughter cried.  I waited.  As I waited it dawned on me.  If the vehicle is totaled, then there will have to be some sort of cash settlement.  I glanced over at my daughter and whispered, “Honey, don’t despair.  This could be a blessing in disguise.”

****

Three weeks later, and I am I going to pick up my 2012 Nissan Altima tomorrow (today).  Never in a million years would I have anticipated ever driving, let alone being able to afford a recent model anything, let alone a vehicle which is fuel-efficient, comfortable, reliable, has low miles on it and is absolutely luxurious in a color I like!  I would love to sit down and detail all the ups and downs between then and now, but it would be tedious for you though it was an exciting ride for me.  The insurance settlement came in much higher than I dared hope.  It provided a substantial down on this new car, and will replace the money that Evil Incarnate took out of our Christmas/Emergency Fund coffers.  In addition, it will allow me to pay off the rest of my medical bills and pay down my credit cards. It is an amazing windfall, and not a little one either.  And one further thing…there was nothing I could do to make it happen.  It just did.  I’m grateful, but I’m fully aware that, “I didn’t build that.”

Sometimes bootstraps and strength alone are simply not enough.  Sometimes we all need a little good fortune or a helping hand.  I got an  assist through some bad/good luck and a bunch of events that were beyond my control which happened to turn out well. They could just have easily turned out badly, leaving me without transportation at all.  I’m really grateful for how things turned out, but I did nothing other than make my insurance payment to deserve this. I didn’t do any of this on my own, but all of it seems to be the turning point for my little family as the savings in gas costs and repair costs will far outweigh the new car payment, plus it will put money in the bank for us. I just wonder, does this make me a victim or does it mean I’m able to recognize that I am not all-sufficient.  I can appreciate the miracles in my life, even when they walk in clothed in disaster.

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