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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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Irony

It isn’t supposed to work this way. Life isn’t supposed to be bad, really, really bad, so-bad-it-sucks bad and still be enjoyable.

So, go figure. My finances suck. We’ve been over that. My love life is non-existent. I just had a guy I supported walk out on me after two years. He gave me three days’ notice and he was gone. Haven’t heard a word from him since. After my two epic fails at marriage, I don’t know which hurt worse, to have the marriages end, or him walk out after I invested so much financially and emotionally for two.fucking.years. It is now all water under the bridge, but at times, it still stings.

I’m at an age and in a demographic where there isn’t much dating action, and if there is, it isn’t serious, nor is it even remotely authentic. Face it, after 45, there are so many obstacles to overcome, so much history to wade through, so many people’s scrutiny you have to undergo before a relationship can even be viable, let alone long term. I’ve given up on that area of my life ever being a source of pleasure or happiness. People who really know me, will know what a big deal that is. Most people tend to understand that it is the nature of the beast these days. Dating after divorce is, at best, a difficult thing, and unlike wine, this does not improve with age. Oh, to be 35 again. Before the wrinkles. Before the mistakes. Before the calendar reveals the stigmatizing number of years you’ve been on this planet (because you cannot lie about that).

In spite of all that, the little surprise I’m experiencing is this: I’m actually having fun. I’m enjoying life more than I ever have. I’m happy, in spite of the fact that nothing (except my delightful children) is as I would have expected it and most of it reeks of pathetically miserable failure. I can’t keep a relationship. I can’t catch a break financially. I rent, on purpose, instead of owning. My car is ready to self destruct at any moment. I should sell the thing and try, if possible, to get some money out of it to put down on a more reliable car. But…how to do that? It’s crazy. I have more problems facing me than solutions. I have experienced more endings in the last year than beginnings. I have more reason than ever to despair, instead of hope. Read the rest of this entry

It’s Raining Again

Life turns on a dime. One moment, you are sailing along enjoying everything, even though everything might not be perfect. You’re thinking to yourself that, even though things may have been rough, they are now looking up a bit. You worked a little extra, got a little money set aside for Christmas; something that hasn’t happened in years. Then one wonderful day, as you finally, just barely, allow yourself to begin to believe that there might be hope for a brighter financial future for you and your family, you get an email. Read the rest of this entry

Life Superior

“Mom, my graduation from my fellowship is Saturday, August 24th. Can you come? Dad can’t make it, and really would like someone here for me. Plus there are many key political figures I want you meet. Can you please come?”

How does one say no to child who asks, no begs, for you to remain present and involved in their adult lives. This isn’t because the apron strings haven’t been cut. No, this is my firstborn, the independent one who has chosen to do life her way since she was born. She drives herself to achieve impossibilities, she still fights sleep, she’s been tapped to lead a prominent campaign for a candidate of her political party, and she’s intentionally choosing to sit out a term of college to gain this experience. This is not a needy, clingy child who is having a tough time leaving the nest. This is strong, intelligent, independent woman we are dealing with here. So, when she asks, especially when  she asks in this particular way, a caring parent pays attention. Even if she is not yet 22 years old. I was very close to having to tell my daughter no this time.

Why would I do such a thing?

The problem is a financial one more than anything.

More than once, this month, I’ve regretted the fact that I allowed the insurance company to pull The Gone BF’s payment out of my account. Sadly, he was attentive enough to our finances to wait until the payments had cleared before he decided to head out. More than once, over the last few weeks, I’ve wondered why I let this relationship go on an why I didn’t do something earlier about it. The fact that he is now gone, brings a different kind of sadness. It is a sadness that comes from realizing the truth when you worked so hard to ignore it. It’s a sadness that comes from realizing you had to work at ignoring the truth, that he just never was that into me, in spite of his helpfulness and wonderful words. He’s gone. I’ve no doubt he is glad to be gone. He hasn’t contacted me in well over a week. I don’t expect to hear or see from him again. I do wish I hadn’t been such a fool, but other than that my life is greatly improved since he left. But I am annoyed with myself for having paid his insurance bill.

I also wish my daughter, for all her competence, had informed me earlier. I would have planned this month so differently. Traditionally, the end of summer, with it’s back school registrations and expenses, is tight. This year is no exception. Even though I am past my bankruptcy, and I am doing all I can to improve my credit, I still don’t like using the credit cards. I have one with a small limit that I use and pay off every month, but it didn’t have enough on it to cover the expenses for this trip. On a whim, exactly a week ago, I applied for a credit card with a $1, 000 limit. Okay, in my past life, that’s a low limit, almost an insult. In my current financial recovery life, it’s an indicator that my life is improving. If you read through the credit repair literature, most suggest that it takes about a year to be approved for a credit card with that kind of limit. I was approved and it has been just over two months since I received my discharge letter. This was great news. Now to hope that I received the card in seven days rather than the ten of the 7-10 business days it takes to receive the card.

Waiting. As time drew near and my mailbox remained empty, I made up a Plan B. The Good Ex is usually great about giving me cash if I write him a post dated check. I hate doing this, but this was an exception and for a good reason. So, the stress was off as far as whether or not I was going, because The Good Ex was very good about it and payday is very near.

I have to say though, that in a situation like this that involves unplanned expenses four days before payday, having a credit card helps. What also helps is that this summer, I worked five extra weeks. What I spend this weekend will be paid off in a week. I will get to see my daughter and support her. But having that credit card would mean I’d have a cushion. It would mean some extra in case something happened. It would NOT mean a spending spree, it would mean I could enjoy the trip without worry.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was firming up our plans, I texted my oldest, “If that card is in the mail today, my life will be superior.”

I am pleased to report that my life is indeed superior.

Endurance and Healing

Most nights, lately, I’ve been sleeping. I’ve been sleeping far more than usual. Now that my radiation treatments are done, I’m feeling the full effects of my body’s efforts to heal. I find I can do one thing a day, and that’s about it, before my energy dissipates. A full night of sleep, beginning at around 8:00 in the evening, and a mid-afternoon nap are the norm these days.

Tonight is not the norm.

I stayed up and watched a movie, Limitless, which was disturbing to me. Loads of violence. Of course, the movie also deals with addiction to a substance, in this case a mysterious pill that provides powers of mental clarity far beyond the average individual’s ability to think and reason. The drug, in the movie, was unknown, illegal, and highly sought after. The problem? It was instantaneously addicting and, once addicted, to stop taking the drug resulted in certain death. This created an insane demand for the remaining limited supply of pills. Thus the violence. Thus the disturbia.

I’ve tossed and turned all night. I’ve slept only fitfully and my sleep has been fraught with images from the movie. I know that just as dawn creeps up over the horizon, just as my neighbor with the fake boobs and hair weave gets up to let her noisy, yippy, little dogs out for a bathroom break while she lights up her morning smoke, just as this small little rural berg begins to hum with the activity of a new day and my youngest is waking from her slumber, my body will finally give in to some much needed shut-eye. I’m glad I have no appointments and no work obligations.

On the upside, this is the first sleepless night in forever that I haven’t been up worrying about finances. In the month since I last struggled to sleep through the night, some really wonderful things happened. I record them here, as a statement of personal gratitude and celebration and because it is something to do besides the ineffective tossing and turning, trying to block the violent images of that movie from my psyche. Also, if there happened to be a worried, frightened soul out there wondering how they are possibly going to make it, maybe this post will provide some encouragement to just keep on plugging, because, as they say, “This too shall pass.”

Most recently, I’ve been whining about the way my tenants left my old house. Thanks to a very helpful and kind group of friends, we were able to get rid of most of the salvageable stuff, to bag up the garbage and contain the bags to the garage until the time I could actually afford to rent a dumpster to dump it all into. While I was over there on one of my many trips to clean up or monitor the place, I dug out some plants from the yard. The place is completely overgrown with plants, and I figure, since I put thousands into that yard, I should take a few of my favorites with me. I have no yard in my new digs, but I do have loads of decking and driveway space that begs to be adorned with tastefully arranged containers of plants. I don’t believe the plants I dug up and carted over, using The Hesitant Boyfriend’s truck, will even be missed. Further, they really brightened up the new place. I think only two plants didn’t make it. The rest seem to be doing fine. As long as I can have a bit of nature and beauty around me, I can find the strength to keep on pushing forward.

In the last month, my bankruptcy discharge letter arrived, thus freeing me from a mountain of debt that I struggled for the last five years to pay on, all the while cutting back on groceries and other much needed things for the kids. I can now begin to rebuild my credit and hack away at the student loan debt (not discharged) and the medical bills which were incurred after I filed.

The Evil Ex and I will have a hearing in a couple of weeks to address the child support he doesn’t want to pay to help with our daughter’s medical expenses. I seriously do not think I will have any luck there, but requesting a hearing, delayed the reduction of child support (a loss of $200 of income each month). While this reduction may be retroactive, I think I’ll be okay, for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’ve diligently worked to eliminate any unnecessary expenses from our budget. I’ve easily shaved more than the two hundred I will be losing and that’s a great thing. At the same time, The Hesitant Boyfriend got some steady work. Though it was frighteningly tight for a while there when I had to help him with his bills before he got paid, he is getting paid these days and the extra he is bringing in really helps.

We aren’t out of the woods entirely financially, yet. I have a further reduction in child support coming because The Good Ex gets to begin paying our daughter directly instead of paying me. Let’s hope he actually does this, because insurance to keep her driving is astronomical. She needs to drive in order to work, so I can’t exactly drop her from the insurance policy. Further, my student loan payments start back up again next month; another expense.

A few months ago, I was also whining about the fact that my rather large tax return was taken by the BK court. To make this money up for myself, I was able to land some part time summer work which will allow me to start up a small emergency savings, which, in spite of everything I hope to be able to add to each month. This is a much different place than I was in even six weeks ago. Nothing destroys the spirit quite like ongoing financial struggle. Now that things are more hopeful for me in this area, I am sleeping better and my spirits are improving as a result.

Bankruptcy can be embarrassing and stressful. Many people don’t talk openly about it, but the folks who shared their stories have given me hope. Every single one of them told me things will get better. Things are already getting better.

On a whim, I decided to go car shopping. I drive an older SUV and I definitely need to look at getting something more fuel efficient. I haven’t been car shopping in almost a decade and I didn’t do a great job of it then, so I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t seriously expecting to find a car and actually purchase it, but going through the process would give me a bit of a starting point. After all, I wanted to know exactly what I’d be up against in terms of interest rates, expected down payment, and monthly payments.

A cute little 2001 VW New Beetle with 50,000 miles caught my eye, so I arranged for a test drive. It’s definitely a fun car to drive and it had a moonroof. I fell in love right away. I’m a horrible negotiator and I knew I probably wasn’t going to buy this car, or even be approved for the financing, so I didn’t really haggle much on price. We got into the process right away. I told them what I wanted my monthly payment to be and so on. If you’ve ever purchased a car from a dealer, you know how this goes. You look. You drive. You talk. You fill out paperwork, then you wait. When they finally came out to me to tell me “what they could do” they gave me an offer that included cash out of pocket that was impossible, a monthly payment that was twice the amount I told them I was comfortable with, and an interest rate of 29%. I laughed when they handed it to me. Then they offered me another deal on a 2010 Ford Focus that was $5,000 more than the Beetle I wanted to buy. Now, this is where I do not understand car sales. They were able to offer me a better out of pocket, much lower monthly payment, and a lower interest rate on the Focus. How can they do that on the more expensive car where their risk is greater? I don’t get it. In the end, the interest rate was still 17.5%, and the car was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever driven next to an old Ford Taurus I once had. I haven’t made a car payment in almost four years, and while I’d consider payments to rebuild my credit, I’m certainly not going to do this for an interest rate of 17% on a car I don’t even like. Obviously, I shook hands, thanked them for their time, and consideration and went on my way. I got the information I needed anyway.

I went home, did a quick Internet search on repairing credit after bankruptcy and on buying a used car after bankruptcy. It turns out that while purchasing a used car is a common way to rebuild one’s credit, the interests rates on the deal will be really high. One source suggested finding a car you like with a payment you can handle. Accept the rotten interest rate and make every payment on time for a year. After a year, refinance the vehicle for a lower interest rate. That sounds like a possible plan, eventually, though I’m in no hurry to rush right out and begin making payments. I want to get through these next few months first, get some money socked away in savings, and then see.

Another source suggested this plan for rebuilding credit after filing Chapter 7. Obtain a credit card with a limit of $300. Use it to buy stuff like gas or things you need anyway. Take the money you would normally spend on those items and use it to pay off the credit card in full every month. Do this for six months, then get a credit card or two with higher limits of about $1,000. Spend very little on these cards and pay them all off every month. This source emphasized staying within budget and not carrying a balance on any of the cards. After a year, your credit will have improved enough to be able to negotiate a better interest rate on a car.

This second plan sounded much safer to me. I’ve spent the last five years living on a cash only basis with no credit cards. I’m loathe to go out and rack up debt, except for the very express purpose of paying it off monthly, so I can rebuild my credit scores. It just so happened that a credit card offer came in the mail. No annual fees and no interest rate until next year. I applied and was approved. I just made the first payment to pay the entire balance, and it’s two weeks before the due date. It just feels good to be able to do that and not worry.

The first part of this year was horrible for me and many people I know. In tough times, I’ve always been fairly resilient and I try to stay hopeful. The last several months, however, have been some of the most difficult I’ve faced. We all know that nothing is permanent, even bad times. I was beginning to wonder. If you are beginning to worry and wondering if things will ever get better let me encourage you to just keep plodding. Survive today. Before you know it, a month or two has passed and things might look much better. It might be a long time before things improve, you might have to make some sacrifices and do things differently. You might just have to endure. Just don’t give up.

There are better days ahead.

Trashed House~My Payment For Trying To Do A Good Deed

I wonder, is it my payment for doing a good deed or is it just that somewhere along the line, maybe when I was a kid, (I was a really bratty kid and lied a lot to my parents) I earned up some really bad karma. Or maybe, it is that bad things, sometimes really bad things, happen to good people. I don’t know. My right wing fundamentalist evangelical Christian friends might say it is because I’m being punished by God for not attending church every week, tithing, and being a faithful servant. Well, as for not attending church, tithing and being faithful they’d be completely accurate. I’m just not sure that’s how God rolls though. I mean, think about it, when Jesus walked the earth he hung with some of the lowest of the low according to society and the religious elite of the day. Rahab, a harlot, was used to save some godly peeps and, well, I kinda think God tends to look past the mess in our lives right into our very inner being and that is where he deals with us on an individual basis. I think the outer stuff, the yuck that I am dealing with now, is just life. It is also the result of me being a naive person, when I should not have been. It is also the result of me simply making some very foolish choices. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But about the next bad thing that has happened in my life. The thing that makes me wonder what kind of evil karma I built up throughout my life only to have it be dumped out on me this year has to do with the rental. I’ve only alluded to it. Here’s most of the story.

Last year, I made the decision to go through bankruptcy (actually a smart decision given all the details which I will not disclose here). In the process, I decided to surrender my home. This was also a smart financial decision when you run the numbers, again, something I won’t bore you with here. This was not a case of me being angry at the bank for whatever reason. I just wanted to make a fresh start financially and the home was more financial and physical burden than I was going to be able to deal with. However, the entire process has ended up taking far longer than expected (over a year and counting). I knew it would take some time and I was not able to stay in the house and risk a move during the middle of the school year. I have three school age kids and my own career would not have been able to accommodate such a transition at such a time. I was getting legal heat from the Evil Ex and needed to make sure my daughter was enrolled in a good school and that she was doing well and liked it. I decided to move to a nearby town and in September we found a place to rent and settled it. And that, was going to be that…or so I thought.

I was approached by a friend….(you can see this coming, can’t you?)…who mentioned that her son and two friends were looking for a place to rent temporarily and would I be interested. Well, no, not really. I mean, I really had no desire to be a landlord or make the place a rental; I just wanted out. But this was a friend I have known and worked with for 14 years. Her kids and my kids grew up together, went to school together and our kids are now graduating together. This woman has impeccable character and is a top notch quality person. Her son is also. The friends came highly recommended. So, I did a bit of research, wrote up a rental agreement, we all signed it, they paid their move in money and I moved out. I left the place in pretty decent shape. It wasn’t perfect. I had some stuff in the garage still to move out, but the place was, for all intents and purposes, a clean and homey dwelling. The friends of the friend’s son turned out to be disastrous.

Things started being a problem almost right away. I’d drive by the place and see that it wasn’t being maintained, then the rent began to come in partial payments. Two months in and I was working on evicting them. Fortunately, they ended up getting out within the 30 days after being served the rental termination notice. Then I got another renter in, who was actually, at first, responsible and timely in her payments. She got some roommates to help share the rent and utility expenses and all was golden. That lasted about two months and things began falling apart. There were violations of the rental agreement, which I followed up and she attempted (though not satisfactorily) to remedy and I gave her a 30-day notice of termination of the rental agreement (we have a month-to-month). Rent was not paid completely last month and rent didn’t appear at all on the first. I went by to collect on the first, no response. I went by the next day. The house looks deserted, but the door is wide open. No answer when I ring the bell. I try contacting my tenant with no response. I drive by the house the next day, the door is closed, otherwise there is still no sign of life. The dog does not bark when I go to the door. This goes on for a week and I’m beginning to think they’ve abandoned the house. Finally, I get in touch with the tenant, over a week after the missed payment and the termination notice. She confirms that she received the notice. She also confirms that they have indeed abandoned the place, with the intent to come back for her stuff by the end of the month; the others have already gotten all their things out. In a phone conversation, I express my concern about the security of the home if no one is living there. She agrees that she will get her stuff moved out within the week and move the rest of her stuff to the garage. I gave her till the end of the month to get her stuff out of the garage. In exchange I get the possession of my home and I won’t go after her for the late rent. Her week to move her stuff ended yesterday. Today, after my radiation treatment, I went over to the house to check things out.

This is the scene that greeted me when I drove up to the home:

I just had a really bad feeling about this. I immediately texted my tenant asking about all the stuff and she actually texted back saying she’d had a garage sale and this was the leftovers. On the mattress, there is a sign that reads, “Free. Please take.”

This is what the living room looked like when I entered:

Those are the window blinds that were in great condition when I moved out…now all broken and scattered on the floor. The big black stain in the middle of the carpet was not there when I moved out. You can’t see it well from here, but there is also smoke damage on the fireplace brick. Nice. Here’s the other side of the living room:

It gets better, before we head back to the bedrooms, let’s check out the kitchen.

The back slider was left open. Check out the grass in the back yard. We left them a lawn mower. It sure looks like they made good use of it. Here are views of each side of the kitchen:

2They left the kitchen sink.

And some food for any guests that might stop by:

I just can’t fathom how people can operate like this. They were in violation of their rental agreement for trash being left around. I gave her the appropriate amount of time according to state law to correct the problem. An attempt was made, but it was nowhere near satisfactory. Look what they left behind in terms of trash:


The thing that really irks me about this is that for the entire time I was renting this house to both sets of tenants, I paid for the garbage service which included a recycling bin and a yard debris container. What kind of mentality is it that thinks that it is okay to live in squalor like this let alone leave it for someone else to pick up? But let’s just do a quick tour of the rest of the home. My skin is beginning to crawl and I’m glancing around for the rubber gloves and sanitizer.

Part of the rental agreement stipulated no smoking in the house or garage. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to these folks.

Those aren’t just carpet stains you see in that picture with the pillow in the corner. That is dog poop on the carpet.

Of course, no rental trashing by tenants is complete without some damage to the walls. This hole is about a foot long from top to bottom.

That wasn’t the only hole either, but it was definitely the largest one. In all there were three holes in walls, and a wall had been repainted a hideous purple-blue color. The wall was previously white. Other damage to the home included damage to lighting fixtures:

Broken glass on the floor:

The toilet looked a lot like the kitchen sink:
I guess they had a crappy experience living in my home. Here’s the genius work in the master bathroom:
I’m not sure you can make them out. The writing reads, “I am beautiful. I am a leader. I am an amazing mother and friend.” I’m thinking that explains a lot. She must have run out of Prozac.
Last but not least, the garage is the coup de grace:
These mattresses are as high as I am tall.
Yes, folks, this was the disaster that I walked into today after getting my tenants out. When I moved out all the lighting fixtures had just been replaced. Now they are all damaged and missing light bulbs. I had just had someone put new screens on every window a couple of years earlier, and only one window has a screen left. There are stains on every carpet, holes in walls and the yard alone will take weeks to clean up. There is damage to doors, the air vent grate has been kicked in and there is rotting food everywhere.
Upon returning home, and while uploading the photos, I did a quick Google search on landlord’s rights when tenants trash a house. Turns out, in most states, this is not a police matter, it is considered the risk one takes when renting. It becomes a civil matter. In my case, I know these people are unemployed and even if I did go to court and win (which I would), I wouldn’t see any of that money ever. I’d spend more than I’d be awarded just to get it back. Here’s another kicker: I have to do this clean out myself as I have absolutely no financial resources to pay someone to clean it up. The Hesitant Boyfriend’s long stretch of unemployment and even longer stretch till he gets paid for the work he started last month is straining my monthly budget beyond belief and it was already strained before I picked up the tab on his car payment and insurance this month. (Which he promptly decided to increase the cost of by getting into a fender bender with a Cadillac.) Add to this the fact that the 18 y.o., just got her license and her cost to be insured inflated my insurance bill to over $400 a month.
Yes, I am the poster child for the club “Smart Women Who Basically Make Idiot Choices In Every Aspect Of Their Lives”. Or maybe Some Divine Being mistook me for the Morton Salt Girl who is comfortable with the idea that when it rains it pours.
Which leads me back to the thought about karma vs. punishment vs. it’s just life. This all happens to be just great timing. The tenants are out of the house, but the house is completely trashed. Just making the house secure and sanitary so it isn’t a public health hazard is going to take some doing. I’m halfway through my radiation treatments and my energy is in limited supply as it is. Just as all this crap is hitting the proverbial fan of my life, The Hesitant Boyfriend and I ran headlong into a deal-breaker, that I just can’t get past. I’ve told him he needs to move out and get his Hesitant Stuff sorted out, because sorting it out in anger on me or my children is just not how I roll. All of this is just very, very, very unfortunate.
This afternoon as I looked upon the devastation that is my life right now, I turned to my son and said, “I am truly at the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life. It is worse, even, than when I had to call in help to clean out after the Evil Ex.” And yet I had no tears to cry. I could do nothing, but make sure the doors were closed and locked, all the electrical items unplugged, and walk back to my car and get in and drive away and try not to gag in the process. My brief search on Google helped me realize that while tenants can trash houses, and unhappy people who are unhappy tenants often do trash houses, my situation could have been so much worse. While this clean out is bad and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get it done quickly and on the cheap, it is basically a matter of dumping and cleaning. At least, I hope that is how it works out.
As I am up late documenting this damage and pondering the irony of this all, I strangely aware that while none of this is fun for me, I’m not exactly in a panic about any of it. It is kind of like I’m playing a game of Monopoly and I pulled the “Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200” card. I’m stuck in the Monopoly Jail of life right now, not able to move forward or improve my situation because I simply keep drawing the bad cards. It’s a season. It’s not forever. (I sooo have to tell myself that right now because there is that teeny voice that sometimes squeaks, “What if this NEVER changes?” or, worse, “What if things just keep getting worse?”)
In a nutshell, it can all be summed up in the following conversation I had today with my oncology nurse:
Nurse: So…how are things going? How are you handling the treatments?
Me: Great. This is the least of my worries in life.
Yes, she looked at me like I’m crazy. Maybe I am…just a little.

April Recap And Random Money Musings

May 2012 is already shaping up to be a better month than April was. That’s pretty decent considering it isn’t even May yet. I get paid at the end of the month, and have already paid all my bills for May. That’s also pretty decent considering I paid up the ones I had to skip on last month just to survive. I absolutely detest living like this but one of the first things I learned in Divorce 101 is that sometimes you just have to survive. That was April’s mantra. May’s, I hope, will be more about recovering and stabilizing rather than just making it. By July, I actually hope to be moving ahead.

So, I’ve paid the bills, and there is money to eat on for the rest of the month; another reason May is already better than April. In addition, I did this without planning on the rental money, from the old Someday-The-Bank-Will-Decide-To-Foreclose house. I’m going to terminate the contract with the renters whether they pay or not on May 1. We are on a month-to-month and i can terminate the agreement with 30 days notice for no cause. The income is nice, the hassle is not. It is also a good idea for me to just get used to not having that income. After that, I’m probably going to need to begin not planning on the money from The Evil Ex, because I suppose that will go away soon also. I just can’t worry about that now. On the up side, I have a few gigs that opened up over the summer that will hopefully do much to get my savings going.

On another note, my son was sick all last week and he gave me whatever he got. I spent most of the glorious spring weekend indoors, sick with a killer cold. I’m feeling slightly better now, but won’t be heading in to work tomorrow. I’m certain my clients would not appreciate me coughing, sneezing, and hacking phlegm all over them. I’ve already called in my assistant. She can handle most of the important stuff, and reschedule the rest. I will be spending the day in bed sleeping, hoping like anything to speed my recovery. God knows I’ve taken enough sick time this year.

In all, April sucked. Bankruptcy is no fun and things were super tough. On the other hand, I do believe the home we are in right now was divinely appointed. There were not and still are not any homes of the kind and size we have for the amount we are paying. I’m not sure this is necessarily a forever home for us, but I can think of much worse places to land for a few years while we get back on our feet financially. Plus, it is low maintenance and I love this place. Things could be much, much worse.

So, here’s to moving through the roadblocks and challenges in life. After every hill climb, there is a glorious descent. Let’s hope the ride smooths out for the rest of 2012.

Moving On

Somewhere I heard that most of what we worry about never comes to pass. Where today’s meeting was concerned, that statement was only partly true. The trustee did, indeed, require me to turn over my tax return. Since it is a size able sum and since turning it over now means I have nothing to pay my state tax bill with, this doesn’t exactly give me the “clean start” everybody who promotes bankruptcy (read those who make money off bankruptcies) says I will have. In addition, the out of pocket medical bills just showed up in the mailbox today. Woo. Hoo. Juggling all these bills with so few resources just becomes a domino effect of holding bills to pay other bills and so on. So, instead of being able to catch up, I will have to keep playing this crazy financial catch up game for a while longer. The Hesitant Boyfriend really needs to get some steady work.

Needless to say, when I left my meeting today, which lasted all of 15 minutes, and wherein no relevant questions germane to my situation were raised, I was angry. After all, every one of my creditors has already made a fortune on my debt and the astronomical interest I paid on that debt over the last 10 years. As for the mortgage company, they already got their bailout. Why can’t I get mine? Yes, I was definitely angry. I feel my attorney should have communicated with me far better than he did. The things that impacted me, which should not have, were amateur oversights and could have been prevented had he been a bit more communicative of the process. After all, I’ve never done this before, so I didn’t know.

Anyway, I’m sufficiently over it. In two months my debt will be discharged. I can begin rebuilding my credit and turning my net worth from a negative number to a positive number. It does feel good to finally be done with that episode of my life even though it didn’t go the way I’d hoped.

I’m now ready to let this go and move on.

Chapter 7: The Bad News Is…

Today, when the sun comes up and business resumes, I will be attending my Meeting of Creditors, a requirement before having my debts fully discharged in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Prior to this, I spent nearly 5 years on a debt repayment program, trying to pay off credit card debt that was mostly The Evil Ex Husband’s. Never mind how that unfair trick occurred. I ended up struggling desperately to pay those bills, while trying to support my family, keep our home, and avoid bankruptcy court. A year ago, I met with my bankruptcy attorney and now, today, after an agonizing amount of paperwork, I have my meeting of creditors.

I am going into this meeting fearing the worst. This year, instead of owing more taxes, I am getting a healthy sum of it back. My attorney just informed me late Saturday afternoon, that the Trustee will take that tax return. In addition, my attorney informed me that because there was a few thousand dollars in my account on the day my petition was filed, (I had just gotten paid) I am likely going to be owing another $3,000. This is devastating news for me. I’m not a little angry about this. I’m depressed and I’m furious.

Bankruptcy is intended to discharge debt. Instead, in my case it is creating debt. I have $400 to pay bills and feed my family for the rest of the month. With two teenagers, one pre-teen and a gas bill for an old SUV that reaches hundreds every month, I cannot make it to the end of the month. I also have medical bills now, that I did not have when I filed due to having a small illness called cancer. I cannot discharge those debts. Further, even if all my debt is discharged it will not remove the huge student loan I will probably pay until I die.

I have definitely arrived at my lowest point since leaving The Evil Ex. I’m not sure how I’m going to make it. The fact is, I’m going to have to not pay some bills this month and this will put me even further behind for next month. Instead of providing me with a clean slate, this bankruptcy is adding more to the crushing load I already carry.

I’m praying that there will be some truly Divine Intervention this morning at this meeting. This beleaguered single mom needs a reprieve, not another bill to pay. I don’t have any rich relatives I can call on. Well, at least none who would deign to assist me right now. My only hope is that the God whose resurrection we celebrated yesterday will somehow perform a miracle on my behalf. I could really use it.

Please, God, make it possible, somehow, that I can keep that tax return and not have to owe money. I just can’t take another financial blow.

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