Monday, December 30, 2013

Money Doesn't Buy Happiness But Neither Does a Foreclosure Notice

I am not poor.  I have a roof over my head (as long as I can stay on top of the sky-high mortgage for my cosy, three bed, one bath ranch), I have warm clothes, I have food, I have my basic needs covered.  My furnace is running, which is a good thing since it is nine degrees outside.  I contributed to charities this year and bought birthday and Christmas gifts. I even have cable and WiFi, which is how I am able to write this, today.  Of course, if I had no WiFi, or laptop, I could always go to my local library to use their computers.  It would be inconvenient, but obviously, doable.  

This is what I want to talk about today; the inconvenience of being in a less than ideal money situation.  

My family and I live paycheck to paycheck.  We put away a few dollars every week for a rainy day, but our little savings would not do much to save us from financial ruin.  
It's something, enough to spring for a part for the ever-failing dryer, or to pay an unexpected expense; provided it was a relatively small one.  It won't cover my husband missing a few days of work if he caught the flu, though.  My husband is in a union and his salary is very good, but I would love to talk to the geniuses who decided not to negotiate for sick or vacation pay or even holiday pay (hello?  Christmas and New Year's?).  

In an ideal world, we would figure out the cost of those days off (five major unpaid holidays, two weeks of vacation and another cushion of five days for illness) and we would come up with an amount in the neighborhood of $5000.  Saving for that would mean putting aside $100 per week.  Putting aside another twenty per week for unexpected costs puts our minimum ideal savings plan at $120 per week.  Some weeks we have it, some weeks we don't, for reasons I illustrated earlier.

The problem with this is that often times on the lean weeks we need to borrow from the fat weeks to get through.  What winds up happening is that we never really save anything.  We usually get a decent tax refund and a shrewd financial planner would probably tell us to put that money aside.  That would be great, if at some point we didn't need a new washer/dryer/exhaust system for the car/roof/windows... you get the picture.  

The vicious cycle that we live in is that we can never hold onto a chunk of money for very long.  It's not that we blow it on fancy clothes or purses or shoes or vacations (ha!), it's that it gets pissed away on stuff that has waited too long to ignore.

This is where the inconvenience part really comes into play.  If we had more money, we might be able to look for sales on things, so that we can buy them for less instead of buying them RIGHT! NOW! for whatever cost, because it went bad three days ago and we can't live without it for much longer.  It would mean replacing our roof before it starts leaking and the damage drives up the cost.  It might mean never having to pay late fees.  It also might mean that our credit would be better since we wouldn't be late paying bills.  Our mortgage company couldn't charge us all the fees involved with paying late.  An extra sixty here and thirty there, really adds up.  If our credit was better, we could also negotiate a better rate, instead of the 6.75% we are paying now.  

Even with all of this, I haven't even gotten to the worst part:  the stress that comes from worry.  If all I ever had to worry about was money, I guess I would be okay.  I'm okay anyway and of course, there is more to my worry than the balance in my checking account.  Having had my middle child go through open heart surgery twice in his young life, I can assure you that when it comes right down to it, when your loved ones are safe and healthy, money seems like a mere nuisance.

You could ask me why I don't work.  I mean, I did work full time for about three years after my kids were in school full time.  The reasons for my not working now are as simple as no one I want to work for wants to hire me and as complex as my availability.  The bottom line is that I want to be home when my kids walk through the door from school.  Working around that is challenging.  You might scoff and grumble that it's my own fault.  I am in a mess of my own making.  

You would be right.  

I take full responsibility for not earning an income.  I also know that when I take my kids to the movies or bowling or out for a cheap bite, I probably can't afford it.  I do it anyway.  When you don't have any family around, weekends present a challenge.  Movies fill the time that a big family dinner would in my husband's or my past.  Times change.  It's the same reason I don't let the cable lapse.  

Which brings me to the reason for this post. 

Here I am, with my kids on winter break and they shut off the cable and WiFi.
I have a choice:  Put what little cash I have left in the bank so that I can pay the bill and have it turned back on, or have a tiny bit of money and wait it out until Friday, when DH gets paid.  

Since I have enough food and crock pot recipes to get us through the week, I chose to turn the cable (and phone and WiFi) back on.  The prospect of being without, with single digit temps outside, for the last week of Christmas vacation was bleak, to say the least.  This way, at least we can use our computer, watch some movies and if friends call to invite us somewhere, they will get through, and not receive a vague message about our phone not "accepting calls" (code for:  These deadbeats haven't paid us!).

I know that I am one of the lucky ones.  I am not writing this to complain, at least, that is not my primary motivation.  I am mostly writing this so that I can see it written out so I can make it better.  If I can figure out how to make money less of an issue in the coming year, maybe I can move on to bigger and better things.  

I know that there are parts of the problem that are out of my control.  It's about taking what IS in my control and fixing it for the better.  There is no better time than a new page on the calendar to start.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Water Heater as Life and Christmas Miracles

On Christmas Eve Eve, our water heater went out.  The kids and I were eating lunch, when all of a sudden, there was a hissing, teakettle-like whistling coming from it.  It took me a few minutes to realize what it was and when I did, I called my dear husband, held the phone up to the thing and said "the water heater is doing that".  He talked me through shutting off the water supply to it and the hissing stopped.  I was momentarily relieved in the silence, but almost immediately starting sweating.  

"How much is a new water heater?"  

Since DH would be home within a couple of hours, we hung up with the plan that he would deal with it then.  Of course, we had no hot water now, but it was no big deal at the moment.  I had already showered. The kids had no school, so they could be a little stinky for the time being.  

But, seriously... "How much is a new water heater?".

That was the song playing in my head for the next few hours.

When DH came home, he confirmed that the darn thing was indeed, shot and after taking a fast shower in what was left of the waning tepid water, he started making calls.  The good news is that my DH works for a heating and air conditioning company and they install water heaters.  They would come out first thing in the morning and by noon, we'd have hot water, without the tea kettle sound.  The bad news is that we'd still have to pay for it, somehow and for today, I'd have to do dishes with ice cold water.  The fact that it was literally 1 degree outside made this prospect really unappealing.

I sucked it up, telling myself that this was a First World problem and I was lucky that I had a roof over my head and indoor plumbing...even if my hands were numb through the dish washing gloves.  Lucky, damnit!  Suck it up!

The service guy that came the next morning was very nice.  While waiting for a helper to come so they could carry the old one out together, he decided to take a look at the furnace, which was rattling near the hot water heater.  

He asked if it always made that sound, and to my memory, it had for a while.  DH had replaced parts and cleaned it and done all kind of tinkering with it, but it still rattled.  It was really annoying when we tried to watch TV, or have a conversation or pretty much anything when it started up; but we were used to it; annoyed by it, but used to it.

Since he had some time, he asked if I wanted him to check it out.  I figured, "what the hell?", since we already couldn't really afford a new water heater, we might as well add the furnace servicing on top of it, because what's another couple hundred bucks?  Anyway...

I was in the kitchen when he called me over to listen to the furnace.  I thought it was funny, since normally I could hear the stupid thing from the kitchen anyway.  He assured me that it was running and I couldn't believe it!

In all the tinkering DH had done, he hadn't realized that there were two little gaskets that had dry rotted.  Once they were replaced, the thing quieted down to a dull hum.

I could have kissed that service guy.

After it was all said and done, DH came home, also professed his love for the service guy, but also for his boss who said (When DH asked for the bill) "Merry Christmas!".  It was on the house.  It helps that my DH is the most ridiculously fantastic employee in the world.  Maybe it's the fact that he was in the Marines, or maybe it's just that he is a perfectionist by nature (I think it's the latter).  He's just an awesome guy to have on your team, whatever that team may be.  I am lucky; hot water, or cold, rich, poor (mostly kinda poor) to have that guy.

Christmas came and went.  In my busy-ness, I didn't give much thought to the now quiet furnace or the miracle of "on the house" hot water.  I was grateful, thankful, but beyond that, focused on dinner and presents and missing family and friends and trying to find five minutes to be alone with DH.

(that's a blog post for another day:  Intimacy in a Small House).

This morning I woke up, heard that quiet furnace and started to wonder about what other annoying things I was used to.  I mean, surely if I can listen to a god-awful, rattly furnace day in and day out and think " Well, yeah, that's just the way things are", there must be other things that I am used to that need to be changed.

I'm used to being heavier than I should be.
I'm used to being out of work.
I'm used to these drafty old windows and this cold, icky climate.

I'm wondering what kind of service guy I need to call to fix this; but I am pretty sure she already lives in my head.

It's time for some changes and a new year is the perfect time to make a plan.  2014:  The year of the un-rattling.  

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What the duck?

I have never watched Duck Dynasty, apart from catching the commercials for a few seconds as I changed channels.  I thought it was amusing that guys like "that" were so popular, but I kind of chalked it up to the train wreck mentality that seems to have taken over popular television.  I thought it was a little weird when I saw Duck Dynasty pj's in the kids' department, but again, whatever.  I didn't pay much attention.

I figured they were harmless.

After the brouhaha that has erupted over the remarks that Phil Robertson (yeah, I had no idea who that was, either) made in an interview, A&E suspended him.  Read or watch his remarks here.

While his musings are hateful and repugnant, I am less offended by them then by the cries from his supporters saying that his First Amendment rights were violated.  Um, what?  I am no Constitutional expert, but I am pretty sure there is nothing in the First Amendment that says you can say whatever you want in an interview without being fired by the television station you work for.  I could be wrong.

A&E is perfectly within their rights to suspend him over things he says if they feel that they reflect poorly on their station.  Maybe they should have given more thought to their programming ahead of time, but that is neither here nor there.  You can get fired from ANY job if you publicly say something potentially damaging to your employer.

And guess what, America?  Being a homophobe DOES reflect poorly and it DOES damage A&E's reputation with a majority of their audience.  Most people don't tolerate hate speech very well.

Even more offensive are the supporters saying how Godly he is for his views; how sad that he is being persecuted for following the teachings of the Bible.  

Again, what!?!?

How, pray tell, is it "Godly" to spew hate?  As with the Constitution, I am no expert in translating the Bible, but I do know that there is enough conflicting jibberish wisdom in there to contradict any notion that "God hates fags" (to use a catchy phrase from one of the Westboro Baptist Churches favorite signs).

I logged into Twitter just before starting this post and typed in Phil Robertson, which was trending.  Since then, about thirty minutes ago, there have been 352 tweets (and counting) with his name in them.  Shockingly, and to my point of view, scarily, many of these SUPPORT him.  Some are just in support of his right to say whatever he wants, which I would also agree with, but many are just to the right of seriously coo coo crazy.

Unsurprisingly, Sarah Palin has come out here to defend him, blasting A&E for their "attack on his First Amendment rights".  Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz also tweeted about it.  Yawn.
I mean, these guys need to pander to the scary to get votes, so I take what they say with a grain of salt.

It's the tweets by the "regular" people that really scare me;  the ones that think this is all a conspiracy to distract from Obamacare.  The ones that are trying to make a martyr out of this grizzled duck hunter for his racist and homophobic views are terrifying.  "He's being persecuted for being godly" shouts one.  "Thank you for standing up for your beliefs" says another.


I will support anyone's right to say whatever it is they want, but (and this is a BIG BUT) if you are spreading hate, you'd better be ready to take the heat.  I don't tolerate speech that could potentially cause harm to anyone and I will let you know it.  If a company like A&E feels your words could damage them in any way, of course it is in their rights to stop giving you a platform.  In taking away the ignorant soapbox that this guy found for himself, A&E is sticking up for tolerance, that is all.  

I can only hope that the immediate and loud voice that the LGBT community used to shut him down will join those that come to the aid of individuals with intellectual disabilities.  People with developmental delays seem to be the last stand for hate speech.  I have your backs, now please have mine and my kid's.  If you won't tolerate it for yourself, or your community, PLEASE don't tolerate it for others. 

798 tweets (and counting)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I have written ad nauseum about losing a good friend (ex-boyfriend) of mine.  I probably wrote five or six (or more) different posts on different blogs about it over the years, and much, much more than that in various diaries and such.

Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite posts:

My favorite song to listen to when I am depressed is "Smoke" by Ben Folds Five.  You can feel the despair in the way he bangs the piano keys and in the catch of his voice.  

But, the lyrics...therein lies the magic.
"Here's a one will ever know the reasons for the tears"

That line says it all.

It's hard to lose someone that you love, but I have found that it's the sadness that no one understands that is the hardest to deal with.  

For example:  if your cat/dog/significant other dies, everyone knows why you are sad.  If your high school boyfriend that you hadn't seen in three years dies, people are sympathetic, but only to a point.  When it's been a year and you are still talking about it, people wonder what's wrong with you.  When it's been almost twenty, they just think you are crazy.

"They were broken up!" they say to themselves.  They think they know the whole story.  But they don't.

This year marked twenty two years since he passed.  It also marked the fact that he has now spent more time dead than he ever did alive.  

I've spent many hours contemplating his death.  Even so many years later, I still find myself reaching for him telepathically.  I know that this will sound weird, but of all those that I have loved and lost, he has kept in touch the best.  It's complicated; just like it was when he was here.

I imagine that it's hard for my husband to understand this relationship.  I say I imagine because we haven't talked about it much.  Mostly, I am afraid to bring it up, for fear of sounding like a crazy person.  Of course, I am much more prone to jealousy than he is, so maybe I am just that:  crazy.  

The dead have a way of only showing their good side, though.  I forget how angry he made me and remember how much he made me laugh.  I forget that his skin was not always flawless; in the beyond, he glows with color and health.  Dying before your twenty first birthday helps, too.  I mean, it's pretty much downhill for your looks somewhere around twenty eight, so he had the privilege(?) of dying before he started balding or developing a beer belly.

I'm not saying any of this is logical.  What I am saying is that it's a tough act to follow.  

The guy I was with when it happened understood this and was, in turn, totally jealous of a corpse and actually angered by my grief.  Those were fun conversations.  Seriously?  I need to explain why I am crying?  Or worse, hide the fact that I am sad?  Geez.  

I'm pretty sure that was the beginning of the end for us, even though we stayed together for another eighteen months.  I was lost in wishing I had done things differently; regretting that I hadn't called my friend after what would be our last fight.  Too much grief and too many unresolved and un-resolvable feelings messed me up.  

I can barely remember the girl I was when I met my husband in 1992.  I was still grieving KD and I had just lost my maternal grandfather, whom I adored.  I was lost.  I remember arming myself with sarcasm and hiding my vulnerability behind a thin wall of bravado.  "You are dating someone else?  Who cares?!?"  (ha).  I'm not sure how quickly he realized that I was mostly bluster.  I'm really not sure what there was of substance for him to be attracted to, but there must have been something. I think in my sadness I had become something of a ghost, myself.  Maybe he was a bit lost,too.  Maybe we rescued each other.  

In any case, this year marks twenty years that my husband and I have been together.  Twenty years!  In that time, both of our lives have been touched by plenty of grief.  We've lost five grandparents and three parents.  We've worried and struggled and have become a family of five along the way.  

Somehow, midst all the pain, we've managed to become more, rather than less.  The sorrow has colored us in, rather than diminishing us.  We've become stronger as a couple and grateful for what is, rather than wishing for what isn't.  It hasn't been an easy lesson, but I am grateful for it.  

I am glad that I have learned that there is more to life than "counting my abs and lovers", something I used to say about my hypothetical single life.

As for my long gone friend, I will always miss him.  I just will.  There is not much I can do about that.  But as I have grown in wisdom, I have learned to feel lucky for what was and what still is.  Life is a gift.  It may be poorly wrapped at times.  It may be smaller than what we were hoping for, but if we hold it up to the light, we will see its beauty and it will be a joy to behold.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Recently, a friend of mine made an offhand comment about some of the negative things that I had posted on Facebook.  I was a bit taken aback, mostly because over the last several (probably six or so) months, I have been really striving to only post positive things.  The only exception to this rule is that if I post something ugly, or horrible or sad, I won't just post it with a sad face :( ; it will be something that I am actively working on changing.

For example, when I post about the plight of Russian orphans with Down syndrome, it's not to boo hoo about it (though, it does make me cry), it's to call attention to something that I am actively working on changing.  Change takes time.  Change takes outreach and noise.  Change takes reaching out to people who speak different languages.  Change means shining a light on perceived "norms" and asking questions and challenging individuals to look at things differently.

Facebook has it's issues, and being a huge time waster is one of the biggest; so in between posting memes of funny cats and hilarious "Fifty Shades of Grey" reviews, I want to spend some time doing something good, even if it doesn't appeal to everyone.

I mean, I get it.  The world is effed up.  There is a ton of stuff to bring us down; crazy world leaders, environmental degradation, extinction of beautiful animals, children in danger...the list is endless.  If you let yourself get sucked into all the horror, it's hard to feel positive about anything.  I mean, why bother?  It's so easy to be consumed by it all and to feel like whatever good you can do will be swallowed up by the rest of the crap.  Maybe it's best to just focus on the good things and ignore the rest.

Except, I can't.

I mean sure, I love cute pictures of babies (here) and animals (here).  I love videos that help restore my faith in humanity (like this) and (this) and (this).  I KNOW that there are more good people than bad and I KNOW that there are so many individuals hard at work, changing things for the better, in small ways and large.  

But, the bad stuff is there and it needs facing to keep it in check.  

Every day, every minute, I have a choice.  I can ignore the bad, stick my fingers in my ears and say "la la la, I can't hear you" and continue playing Scrabble, or I can take a deep breath, see what issues feel pressing at the moment and dive in.  It's constant battle between the two.  Sometimes, the issues are so absolutely soul crushing that I need to walk away for an hour or a day or a week before picking up the thread again.

Sometimes, I am so struck by the hatred (this guy), that I feel paralyzed and it takes me a few days to formulate a plan of defense.  I was ready to begin writing about the Michael Laws' of the world, when my friend posted this.

My first reaction was "god damn it.  I can't deal with every slight, every single infraction, every joke made at the expense of kids like mine" and I played some Scrabble and scrolled and tried to formulate the blog post that was percolating along with the coffee and watched the snow fall fast outside my window.  

My second reaction was "god damn it!  I have to email the guy!" and I did.  This is what I wrote: 


I get that the onion is satirical and my sarcasm muscle is usually sore from overuse. But, kids should be off limits.  

Babies with Down syndrome are still, in 2013, routinely sent to filthy orphanages to rot in Russia.  Children with Down syndrome in this country still have to fight to be included in school, in sports and in a society that too often does not want to "deal" with them.

My kid and children like him are not broken gifts.  They are cherished members of their families and their communities because I and many parents like me have fought for years against prejudice.  

Please don't make this job harder.

It took me all of five minutes and it felt good hitting "send".  I supported the friend who posted it first and supported my kid in NOT ignoring it.

I'm not saying that I will jump on every bandwagon.  There are only so many hours in the day that I can tweet celebrities who think calling people "retards" is still honky dory.  There are only so many items that I can focus my attention on before I become pulled in too many directions.  

The only things that keep my going are the fact that I am trying, in spite of the overwhelming-ness of it all, to make the world a more welcoming place for my children and that I am not alone in my quest.  

Alone, I would hardly make a ripple in the vast ocean of insulting, unfunny and downright dangerous debris that I wade through.  Together, we make waves.  From the tiniest splash made the first time a parent kept their kid home instead of placing them in an institution, to the parent whose kids are going to college and driving and getting married, we are making our presence known.  

You feel that wave?  That's us pushing back.