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Two of my former co-workers notified me that our office instant message service has declared that it has been 100 days since I logged in. That means, I have not been to work in 100 days.

With my anthropology background, I find it interesting that the 100-day mark caught their attention and that they both contacted me about it. One friend suggested I look up the significance of 100 days; the other friend suggested I write a blog post to commemorate the event as a possibly therapeutic process. I’ll do both.

The passage of 100 days is significant to people around the world, but I did not find analysis of why it is significant. My guess: the number 100 is important mathematically and mathematicians were crunching numbers prior to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Mathematicians have likely been teaching the general population about the significance of the number 100 since before recorded history. Look around and it’s not 100 days that are significant, but 100 anything. 100 degrees Celsius is water’s boiling point, 100 kilometers above sea level is the end of Earth’s atmosphere, 100 years is a century, and the number 100 is an easy-to-remember emergency phone number in multiple countries, like 911 is used in the US.

Focusing only on the significance of 100 days, I see that my friends were dialed right in. I made a list of some of the ways in which 100 days are significant:

  • Buddhists have a prayer ceremony 100 days after a death, and this also may be a long-lost Catholic tradition.
  • Schools celebrate 100 days of learning.
  • 100 days following a bone marrow and stem cell transplant is a milestone.
  • Napoleon’s final military campaign in 1815 was called The 100 Days.
  • The 100-day moving average is a method of analyzing the health of a particular stock.
  • Chinese babies have a celebration when they are 100 days old.
  • American zoos wait 100 days when naming baby pandas.
  • Films called 100 Days include a 1991 Hindi murder mystery and a 2001 film about genocide in Rwanda.
  • There is a book called 100 Days in which a teenager has a rare disease and 100 days left to live.
  • People set goals of 100 days to bring awareness, to do art projects, to lose weight, to make money.
  • The first 100 days of an American Presidency is considered a landmark.

The question I ask myself today is “How are my first 100 days away from work significant to me?” Honestly, until my friends pointed it out, I wasn’t even paying attention to the timeline. So in that sense, not significant at all.

I miss my job. I love the job. I miss figuring out the puzzles every day. I miss both having a tight enough knowledge of the law that I can recall the regulations from memory, and I miss searching through the laws and court cases till I find exactly what I need. I love writing my decisions. I love finding new medical evidence and pointing it out to an overworked doctor, putting the pieces together for them, so all they have to do is recognize what I’m trying to do and either agree or disagree. I like volunteering for the totally confusing screwed up cases that have been ignored for two years because nobody can figure it out. I miss serving people.

I’m still mad at myself for failing at my job. I left for medical reasons that are not my fault, but I still feel like I failed. Because. I did.

Yes, people I used to work with still love me, and probably nobody blames me for forcing them to take over work I was supposed to do. The fact remains that I can’t do my job while other people can. Just because my decision was valid doesn’t make it comfortable. It sucks. It’s hard for me to tell myself “Well, I’m sick, I had to leave the job,” because that feels too much like blaming my problems on something else. Also it’s very hard for me to accept that I’m sick. I don’t want it to be true.

Either I’m sick and that prevented me from doing my job, or I’m not that sick and I simply failed. Both options bite.

I suspect that once I’ve found my new path/career/plan, I’ll be able to put my last job into the right context. In 2003 I left my job after 11 years as a weather forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to go to University for the first time. Once I embraced my role of student, I was glad I had left weather forecasting. In September, I left my job as a disability benefits decision-maker with the Department of Veteran Affairs after 11 years. Eleven years must be my auspicious number, rather than 100 days!

I have remained the same person during the past 100 days. I adore my same friends, I get excited over visits with Tara, I nerd out about all the same nerdy things, I still go for walks around my property, I can’t stand grocery shopping, I love my kitty, I whine about the cold, I drive into Portland to catch shows, I plan future travels. Without the job, I am the same woman.

So just maybe…maybe a word like “failure” is much too grand for my story, and the truth is merely that I used to work there, and now I don’t. After 100 days away from work, I’m marking that event by recognizing that who I am might inform how I do my job, but is not shaped by what that job is, or whether I even have one. I am grateful that my friends told me about this milestone and prompted me to think about it. It’s no great ceremony, but it does give me hope and confidence.

This pin acknowledges my time as a public servant in the Air Force, as a NOAA weather forecaster, and as a Decision Review Officer with VA. I am proud to have been able to give so much to my country.

While texting a friend last night about his career as a musician, he said he has been overcoming challenges and right now is focused on manifesting something much better.

This morning I got the email reminder that my Leave and Earnings statement from my federal government job is now available for review on the .mil website. It’s the one I’ve been worried about, and it took me a while to open up the website and take a look. With relief, I see that it was the best I could have hoped for, which is 73% of what I usually receive. It means that I was credited every last hour of vacation leave and sick leave I had left. Until now, I wasn’t sure if there were any wonky rules that would end up restricting use of some of those hours. But yes, I was paid for it all.

While Human Resources helps me through the paperwork, I am now in Leave Without Pay status. It makes me anxious. Today I received my last paycheck from VA. I’ve been questioning myself over and over and over: what the heck am I doing? Trulove, are you crazy?!

My job at Department of Veterans Affairs is stressful, and I may have expressed it now and then over the ten years I have been blogging. They do not manage people well, and it is hard on employees. The government takes forever to fix a problem, and that is only after they’ve taken forever to even admit there is a problem. VA has not yet realized, as an agency, that it doesn’t manage people well. Clearly the fix is not going to happen soon enough for me.

With the new White House Administration, the screws have been tightened more than ever before, and our managers are being squashed under unrealistic demands and expectations. It trickles down even though many managers try to shield us.

On a personal level, I have been struggling more than usual. I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to multiple sexual traumas in the military. Since my job requires reading medical records of veterans so that I can make decisions about benefits, I’m reminded often of my own trauma. There is a case on my desk with someone who has PTSD every single day. It’s that common.

October 2017 sexual allegations against Harvey Weinstein exploded into the #metoo and #timesup movements. I wrote, at that time, about how I can feel this kind of news story in a physical way. A jab in the stomach every time I hear the news. It has literally been in the news every single day for a year.

Beginning October 2017 my performance at work began to decline, and it just got worse. My managers had to get creative to protect me from getting fired due to my mistakes. A month ago, I hit a wall and could not go back. The combination of everything spent my resources and I couldn’t get out of bed. I have not gone back to the office. That explains why I used up every last hour of paid time off.

So here I am.

FYI, I can afford this for right now. I have talked with my financial advisor, and it’s ok for awhile. Tara can stay in college. I can make plans without time pressure. It’s a relief.

And I’m doing better. I’ve been sleeping through the night, which I think is the same as medication. I’m painting much more. I’ve had time to visit friends. I’m working on my photobook for my trip to Myanmar. These are the things that fill the fuel tank rather than drain it.

The surge of anxiety this morning with the notice that I just received my last paycheck was the most anxiety I’ve felt for a couple weeks. It feels normal to get anxious now and then over some scary news, instead of anxious every day.

A few hours ago I sat at my computer, carefully updating my financial spreadsheets, and worrying about future unknown expenses. The words from my musician friend came back to me and I realized he had given me the emotional boost I needed today. As scary as change is, I am doing a good thing. I am manifesting something much better, though I don’t yet know what that is.

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Frosty pond on Thanksgiving Day.

After rain and clouds and fog and darkness, we’ve had a week of sunshine. Sun in November means there is no protective blanket of clouds and the ground is exposed to the frigid atmosphere. Lows in Rainier have been in the 20s (below zero Celsius) at night and warm up to around the freeze/ melt point during the day (most people saying “freezing point,” but meteorologist say “melting point”). Despite the cold, the sun makes me happy. And when it’s cold day after day, and you walk in the air and breathe deeply while chasing chickens or chopping wood, you get used to it in no time.

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I am no longer worried about the pond being too warm for the fish to stay healthy. Interestingly, I have no concerns about the effects of a frozen pond on the fish inside.

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Frost is adornment for the leaves and grasses and branches. When the sun hits them, the land sparkles.

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My friends told me this plant looks like kale. I’m pretty sure it is not kale, but I haven’t identified this random weed growing on my property. I do agree that it’s as pretty as kale.

The chicken hussies (so-called because of their stubborn insistence on misbehaving) are periodically in their pen. I capture them, and I force visitors to help me wrangle chickens, so on occasion all four are inside. But they lose their patience and fly out within days. Or hours. They used to be content to scratch the dirt and eat the grass within feet of the house, but in the past month have decided that no distance is too far to roam. I usually have no idea where they are.  Thanksgiving morning I walked down to the chicken pen to visit the only chicken in there at the time.

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Tawny examines a crust from leftover key lime pie.

After chatting with Tawny, dumping out the solid block of ice and refilling her water dish with liquid water, I noticed something white that looked like paper trash down by the creek. It was not trash but the most amazing ice sculpture! I’m guessing that the cold temperatures froze the moisture inside the sticks, and when the ice swelled, it was forced to squeeze out of the sticks. Anyway, what do you think happened?

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I brought the two branches up from the creek to the deck, so I could photograph the ice better.

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It was very difficult to get my camera to show what I saw: delicate feather-like wisps of ice that clumped together in a chilly pillow.

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As soon as I touched these mounds of ice, they crushed and melted beneath my fingertips.

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I was totally captivated by the ice.

I have been worn out with my commute. I spend three hours a day in traffic, sometimes four. I can’t stand driving to begin with, so it really takes a toll on my spirit and my ability to get stuff done at home since I’ve been deprived of all that time. But the upside is, I am slowly learning my new job and gaining a tiny bit of confidence. In a few months I will probably be released to go back to working at home.

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My view every single day when I leave work and begin the long trip home. Well, usually it’s raining.

Hair care I find to be a menace, and once I have a hairdresser that suits me, I stick with that person till something drastic pulls us apart. When I lived in Boston, I continued to schedule haircuts for when I flew back to California, ha ha. Well, I have moved from Portland to way out in the country, and only recently made it back into the city to get my hair cut. I like it long in summer, so I can pull it back into a ponytail. I like it short in winter.

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Short hair is a good way to show off enormous earrings!

I was asked out on a date a few weeks ago, and he and I hit it off, which is CRAZY because this guy is proud to call himself a conservative Christian Republican. I may be nuts. I am proud to call myself a liberal atheist who refuses to align with any political party. In my Thanksgiving phone call to my Pa, he laughed and said, “Well, I’ll bet you two have some rousing conversations!” So… it could make for some future rants in my blog that could offer some real entertainment. Stay tuned. 😉

Tara has been home the last two weekends and I am *so* happy to have my kid at home. I didn’t realize how much of a hole there was until it was filled and I felt the peace of it.

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Last weekend, Tara came home because there was a performance by the dancers at their old studio.

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It is like family being there, even for me. I love these girls and have watched them grow into stunning young women athletes.

Tara got their first tattoo yesterday. It was an event. Tara has wanted a tattoo for years, but I would not give consent. The kid is now 18 and I relinquished my right to say “no.” If the plan had been to get a tattoo on the face or neck, or someone’s name, I would have protested, but instead Tara wanted a honeybee on their thigh. I can totally live with that. I think the tattoo is beautiful. While I was there I showed the artist my sadly distorted faery on my abdomen (who looked lovely until I got pregnant), and she had some ideas for how to make her pretty again. I may soon go under the needle myself.

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From this photo you can’t tell how much pain my kid is in.

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honeybee

It’s the season for giving thanks, and I am so grateful. For having a perfect child and an open mind, for having a father I can call, and a stepfather who calls me. For the reminder that I am a woman that a man could love. I am grateful that it’s so cold I think about the weather, and grateful that I have chickens to worry about. I am grateful for a troupe of gorgeous dancers and their parents and siblings who hug me every time I show up. I feel lucky to have a job many miles away, and I know I am lucky to have a home that fills up when my Tara and my Racecar kitty are here with me. I am so grateful that I turned out to be a person who never ceases to be fascinated with investigating the world around me.

Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

America, you piss me off sometimes. I feel like a parent who knows how much greatness her kid is capable of, and yet must watch while that kid takes the lazy, irresponsible route.

I work for VA. Not in a position of any influence, I work amongst thousands of other anonymous civil servants who take our responsibilities seriously. We endure the often ridiculous demands of the D.C. Central Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs, because when we are able to contort ourselves into their expectations of us, they leave us alone to do our jobs. If we check the boxes and count the beans the way Central Office wants it, the end result is that we get to serve, and educate, and literally change lives for the better for our favourite group in the whole world: U.S. Veterans.

Until yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs had a good leader in Eric Shinseki. Not a perfect man. I’ll tell you from experience that under his watch we were worked very hard while under enormous pressure. I am not kidding when I say at times I wavered between fearing I would get fired and plotting how I would quit. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some stressed out VA employees who cheer his departure. Shinseki is direct, and sincere, with high expectations, and he makes decisions and then follows through. It was usually hard to comply, but in 5 years we did some impressive things in VA. Improvements I am proud of.

The fiasco regarding VA medical facility waitlists that has shocked the nation has been identified – by Shinseki himself! – as systemic. That is ugly to hear. Painful to consider. Embarrassing. Inexcusable.

What I found most interesting about this whole ordeal was that my strongest reaction has been to feel deep regret that the employees of VA medical facilities have been under so much pressure that they had to lie to save their jobs. See, what makes my reaction different from a lot of you is that I’m not instantly thinking of the vets. I give the better part of my life to vets, I *am* a vet, I don’t need to prove my patriotism to anyone.  The story I see is one of oppression in the workplace.

I think Secretary Shinseki would have been the man to get to the bottom of the problem. The work he already did to begin addressing wait list problems was lightning fast (by government standards). He knows the Agency, he knows how we keep it running, he knows what we’re up against. Now that he knows that some parts of it are infected with lies, he would have been ALL over that. Dr. Foote, now known as the whistle blower, also felt that Shinseki should stay onbronze side

HOW will forcing his resignation and bringing on someone who doesn’t know what’s going on fix anything? How will Sloan Gibson merge into this breakneck pressure we’re already negotiating within? The pressure of eliminating the backlog of disability claims. The pressure of getting veterans quick appointments. The pressure of constant media disdain and misleading news headlines.

You bastards, whoever you are. Go ahead and pat yourselves on the back for forcing Shinseki to resign. By implying that this could be a partisan issue, and by directing your fury at the Secretary, you have successfully allowed the public NOT to have a discussion about how to fix the problems. You have hurt veterans more than you know.  Your demands should have been to insist that the Secretary fix the problem, not for him to leave. Now the sheep among us will think something was done to address the problem, and that the problems are as good as fixed.

We missed our opportunity to do the only thing that really would have helped the situation, which is to have public outrage centered on how we got into this mess. Members of our U.S. House and Senate were screaming to take down Shinseki, but they cleverly did not clamor to hold themselves responsible for providing the funding to increase VA medical facility size and staffing to fix this problem.

Just think about it sensibly. The reason why a hospital can’t bring in a patient is either because there is no room, or there is no doctor available to see the patient. Can’t you see that firing people is not going to fix the problem? Isn’t that obvious to anyone but me?

That’s why I feel such empathy for the employees at the medical facilities identified. I can imagine how dreadfully stressful their jobs must have been up to this point. And now some of them have been fired, adding insult to injury.

Possibly the first person to attempt to change things at the Phoenix VA facility was Dr. Katherine Mitchell, who contends that after confiding in hospital director Sharon Helman, she was subsequently disciplined and transferred. She then tried to confidentially complain again, this time to the Inspector General, but instead of being touted a hero, was put on administrative leave and threatened that she may be held accountable for violating patient privacy by her allegations. The one who finally got this recent ball rolling is Dr. Sam Foote, who first retired, then took on the role of whistle-blower. These are only two people, but the environment is made very clear to me: if doctors – the power elite  of hospitals – if doctors’ complaints are met with disciplinary action, then there is no hope that a complaint will be taken seriously from the scheduling clerk who answers the phone and handles appointments. In fact, it’s pretty clear that anyone who resists the system can expect to get fired.

Have you been spouting off about the integrity of those VA employees? Well ask yourself if you’re willing to get fired today. Are you? It is another example of asking the victim to be the one responsible for changing their environment.

When this nation found out what was happening to our veterans, having to wait so long for an appointment that they missed critical care, and in some cases may have died while still waiting, we were right to be astonished and offended by the news. Our next step should have been an outpouring of support to the hospitals, asking them “What can we do for you? How can we help?” And most of all, we should have all apologized for ignorantly allowing them to suffer for so long. Newspapers and television networks could have used their fabulous investigative skills to root out VA facilities that were finding ways to succeed without lying, and to identify proposals to improve the system that no one was taking seriously yet. Reporters could have spun the story so that the American public learned that our representatives in Washington, D.C. had been the source of the edict to get vets into facilities in two weeks or less, but had not provided the financial support necessary to make it happen. We could have begun campaigns to let Congress know that we love our vets so much, we want them to approve a VA hospital budget that will actually allow us to take care of them the way they deserve to be taken care of.

When faced with a critical decision to make, our country’s leaders copped out and picked a scapegoat on whom to blame their problems. American citizens, we are bad parents of our government. They will never learn to live up to their potential if we don’t teach it to them.

In January we did our taxes and got another shock: Mark owed thousands. In 2007 he had panicked, watching his stocks fall, so he gambled and took everything out of the previous investments, and put it all into banks. Hindsight will tell us all that it was an unfortunate move. Investors will know that when you pull stocks out of one place to buy something else, it’s counted as income. Though Mark never saw a penny of it, the IRS saw that he “earned” about $140 thousand in 2008 by selling stocks. In his despair at seeing banks fail and all his savings evaporate, Mark did not remember to hold anything aside for paying taxes.

Catch up to our story if you like, by reading Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.

24)       We did manage to talk the IRS down from owing $46 thousand to owing $18 thousand, but what’s the difference when we have nothing to pay it with regardless?

25)       I was thankfully spared from owing taxes, because of my incredible loss on selling the Massachusetts home.

26)       Eventually the stay on foreclosures was released. We chewed our fingernails. In April 2009 we received our foreclosure notices.

The paperwork that went into our response was tedious, but we were willing to play their game for a chance at a new agreement. We began hearing stories about how people had their interest rates reduced to 3%, or had the amount financed reduced from $400 to $300 thousand – huge benefits offered to those who were willing to work with their lenders and to pay off their debt somehow. We had hope, and pressed on.

Part of our requirement was that we had to call a credit counseling agency. I called one of the numbers listed in the Wells Fargo paperwork. I talked with a wonderful woman who asked a million questions and gradually began to lose her assurance that she could help us. “There is no way my company could get you better rates than what you have,” she said. “You are managing your finances very well.” Hm. Small amount of good my smugness did for me at that point. But regardless, I had talked with the credit counselor. I had upheld my end. What would Wells Fargo do for us?

27)        We had been asked for budget spreadsheets and copies of taxes and pay stubs on three separate occasions. We had been asked for letters explaining why we wished for a mortgage modification. Finally they responded that we had been approved on a trial basis. Rejoice! They came up with a new, lower monthly rate, and said if we paid that new amount for three months in a row, they would consider installing it permanently. They had reduced our obligation from $1624 a month to $1185. We were thrilled. Now we could afford everything on my salary alone.

We paid $1185 in May, June, and July, and then called Wells Fargo. They had stopped the foreclosure process, and our house would not go up for auction. Whew! But that’s all they could tell us. “Keep paying that same amount,” they always said. “We will contact you as soon as we get to your case. We can’t guarantee it, of course, but the $1185 you have been paying will most likely be your payment from now on.”

Months trickled by. My student loan forbearance with Direct Loan expired, and they requested that I begin paying another $210 a month in addition to the $223 I am already paying in student loans to Sallie Mae. And, in the time since I had last reviewed my account, I saw that the amount I owed in student loans had climbed to over $80 thousand. Why, again, did I go to school? What an idiotic thing it seemed to me. What a fool I was to buy that classist ideal that school is the path to a better life. Well, not from what I have seen. I put that portion of my loan back into forebearance.

28)       When my tax money came in, I paid off a credit card, and paid off Mark’s student loans.

29)        Mark got a job in July, after 13 months of unemployment and no unemployment compensation.

Finally we didn’t have such bitterness when hearing news about unemployment benefits extensions. We had applied for food stamps, medical care, housing assistance, heating assistance, and were turned down for everything because I make too much money.

Finally we didn’t have to listen to all the ignorant comments from people intending to help, saying, “If you haven’t found a job, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough.” Or “Lower your sights and you’ll find work.”  And, “Apply to 10-20 jobs a day. Unemployment is a 40-hour-a-week-job.” And our favorite, “Have you tried looking outside your field?” Thank god there are people who have had an income through all this, and have had no reason to understand what it has been like for suffering families. But still, if you think you’re helping someone by saying those phrases to them, you aren’t, so shut up.

30)        With the new lowered mortgage payment, and second income, you’d think we’d finally be in a comfortable place, but it didn’t work out that way. Suddenly, we had the option to take care of more responsibilities, and all of them cost money.

Milda and me

We scheduled dentist appointments for everyone. We took both of our clunkers to the shop so that they would pass emissions tests and we could renew our tags and drive legally again. Both cats went to the vet. I paid off a loan from my 87-year-old grandmother (I HATE owing money, and especially hate owing people I love). I started getting the mental health therapy that was long overdue. Bought our kid new clothes that she desperately needed. Paid off another credit card. We continued our pared-down lifestyle of no cable, no home phone, very few dinners out, no splurging on little things that catch our eyes. We ate tons of food from our small but unexpectedly productive garden.

31)       The last week of September our final paperwork from Wells Fargo finally came through! But we were confused with what it said. Rather than the $1185 we had been paying, they had finalized our bill at $1536. And even though we had been making payments on time since May, the money had been held in a separate account, and not paid against our debt. Their records showed that we had not paid for months, so 1624 x 7 months = 11,368 + 207,000 still owing = a new financed amount of $218,000 at 4.625% = $1536 a month.

Ok, yes, I concede that 4.625% is a great rate. However, we previously had a great rate of 5.875% that was fixed. Now we had an adjustable rate and the amount financed had jumped drastically! Months of fear, anxiety, and paperwork all amounts to this? A savings of 88 dollars a month? Yes, we defaulted on our mortgage, but we were under the impression that this “Making Home Affordable” plan at Wells Fargo was going to, er, help make our home affordable.

With Mark’s new job we could possibly afford the new payment plan (if we made a few more cuts), but we were furious. We had been abused. I saw it as a breach of contract. Mark called to ask what happened, and was told that the people who first worked up our paperwork had made a mistake by using our net income rather than our gross income, and the $1536 was the absolute best they could do. I called someone else at Wells Fargo, and she said if we don’t like the new terms, don’t sign the new contract and send it back with a letter explaining why we won’t sign it. So we sent it all back.

32)        Then we wrote our congressmen, the CEO of Wells Fargo, President Obama. We’re hoping for a couple of form letters from someone, but so far haven’t received even that.

cc: President Obama

33)    The IRS called and said, “Enough dilly-dallying! You must pay!! $300 a month, and that is our final offer.” So, I guess we must pay.

And here it stands.

November 13, 2009, we have two reasonable incomes and are as broke as can be. How is that possible?

  • Mortgage – 218,325.79
  • Sallie Mae – $57,570.70
  • (Direct Loan Student Loans – $19,487.35) – in forbearance till April 2010
  • IRS – $18,461.60
  • Discover Card – $14,125.37
  • Chase Visa – $4,737.38

That leaves a monthly amount of $289 to take care of: utilities, school clothes, food, phones, home&auto insurance (we have no health insurance), internet access, etc.

You try spending only 289 on every expense for an entire month for a family of three. It is not POSSIBLE. When my forbearance expires, it will drop to $79 per month available to live on. I don’t know what we will do. Wish us luck.

Here’s a quote I caught this morning, and I’m going to take courage in it: “Despair is for people who know beyond any doubt what the future will be. Nobody’s in that position. So despair is not only a kind of sin, theologically, but it’s also a simple mistake.”

the house we hope to remain in

Chapter 1

Buoyed in part by the courage of a couple in LA who have made their foreclosure worries public (as well as the fact that, despite the financial shambles they find themselves in, they remain happy and in love), I have decided to come clean publicly too.

Just reading Stephanie Walker’s blog has reassured me. No, everything is not all worked out, and no, we don’t exactly know what we’ll do and whether our home will be stable… but yes, everything is going to be ok. Well, hey, the Internet is not a place I feel comfortable telling this story, but the fact is that no matter how or where the story is told, it’s simply an uncomfortable story. Maybe one person who reads this will feel a little bit more courage in their own life, and the chance for that result makes this effort worth it for me. Here goes.

How do decent people get themselves into a mess like this?

It’s just not in my personality to blame others when I’m having a hard time. Deep inside, I maintain full awareness that I got myownself here. It was not speculators and hedge funds and risky assets that turned toxic… it was me. We made gigantic mistakes that any idiot could have identified.

Our future success was dependent upon these things occurring simultaneously: a) I would find a job immediately after graduating with my master’s degree, b) both of us would retain our full-time employment at all times, c) real estate would never lose value.

Since then, of course, we’ve readjusted our definition of success. And like Stephanie and Bob, we have also redefined happiness. It has much less to do with jobs, credit union balances, and real estate value than we had assumed.

But in order to catch up to that epiphany…. I need to back up and start closer to the beginning. Since my life today was shaped by every moment since I was born, it would be most accurate to go back to January 9, 1970, around 7:26 pm, Pacific Time. Neither of us has time to read all that, so I won’t. However, I still need to back up several years to set the stage properly.

1)      Stuck against a ridiculous glass ceiling and dragging my single mom butt through rotating shiftwork in my job as a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service, I decided to leave the job in 2003. Life was like a roller coaster that year. I got married, had surgery for a partial hysterectomy, accepted an invitation to attend University of California Berkeley, went to France for the honeymoon, sold my home that I LOVED for a huge profit and moved into a teensy apartment so that I could be ready to hit the road the moment I was able to go. My husband moved on to Berkeley to begin his PhD and to wait for me.

About right then, my whole world went wonky. I didn’t begin to recover until 2009. Which is recent. Which means I am not yet well.

Listen to this: The guy I married dumped me on our one-year wedding anniversary in February of 2004. Two days later a beloved friend of ours died at age 24. That same weekend, California courts said that if I chose to leave town to go to a University then they would award primary custody of my daughter to her recovering crack addict father.

(Can you hear the brakes of life skreeeettching to a halt?!)

2)      So, I enrolled in a local community college to earn an Associate in Science and an Associate in Arts while I dedicated myself full time to the insane California Family Law court system and to being the parent I had always wanted to be, but couldn’t previously, because of the rotating shift work inherent to the field of weather forecasting. I bagged the Berkeley idea because I no longer wanted to be anywhere near that guy. I accepted an invitation to attend Brandeis University instead, which was about as far away from all the misery of California as I could get. And then I asked for a one-year deferred enrollment so that I could work out my personal life and decide whether or not to move to Boston. Bite Me, California Family Law Courts: I will take charge of this despite you!

(Keep in mind I’m leaving all the details about personal life catastrophe out, but there are CHAPTERS I could write on what it was like to live through that. My intent is only to set the stage for financial meltdown.)

On the way home from work last night on the bus, I was listening to This American Life with Ira Glass on my iPod. One of the stories was told by a son, painfully watching his parents suffer in this economy. His parents had both recently lost their jobs, and were in a place in life I recognized. They were beginning to cut back on their expenses in ways that make sense to people who have enough. It’s that first stage of sacrifice, where one gives up the things that have always seemed like a little bit of luxury.

The father was contemplating environmental work in Iraq, and the son was horrified. We went through that too, when Mark first started talking about going to Afghanistan, people who heard about it were shocked. My mother flatly refuses to accept that it could ever happen. The mother in the story was going over a long list of possible job fields, trying them all out in her mind. Thinking about jobs in terms of what would suit her best.

It occurred to me that I’ve actually been granted a boon while the suffering is beginning to rage about me, affecting more and more people every day. We have already been in the stage where many are just now approaching.

We panicked already. We shed tears of despair. We’ve already gone through lists of desperate strategies in our minds, looking in vain for something we hadn’t thought of that will save us. We have stopped fantasizing about what jobs would be nice to have, and have started the humbling job search for anyone willing to hire Mark, on any terms. We have cut our coffee consumption in half because it’s one of our most expensive grocery items, and switched from Peets tea to Fred Meyer brand tea – 100 packets for $1.98. We already received the foreclosure letter from Wells Fargo, and got the letter from Bank of America taking my level of credit on the Master Card from $37,000 to $500. …and my balance is already zero. They’re just protecting themselves from me: a liability.

When so many more people are being forced to understand how bad our economy really is, and how it translates into innocent peoples’ lives, there is a growing sense of worry emanating from America. The boon is: we’re already on the bottom, and can see the uphill climb that will take us out of here. The despair and panic are in our history, which is a relief.

It’s a twisted way to feel grateful, but gratitude is always a good place to be.

crack house

This time, my honey found work. Ahhh, finally. The stress level in the house has dropped considerably, and we’re starting to look for houses to buy.

We found an awesome, fully trashed, crack- house looking place that we fell in love with. It may take a year before it could be repaired enough to feel like a home, but we’re both handy and we love doing home repairs. This place is mostly gutted inside, and you can almost see in the picture the yellow “caution” tape around the perimeter. Ha!

We put in a new wood floor in the place in Massachusetts, and we were like little kids playing a game. We had so much fun with it. We started wrong, and had to tear it up and start over, and we were only bummed a couple hours before we got all excited again. I love to paint walls. Love it! In my home in Eureka, I even textured the walls and found that to be a fun task too. I had to work quickly, so there was pressure, and that made it like a game.

Well, wherever we end up living, I am happy when I’m looking for houses. I’ve bought five houses on my own so far. This will be the first time I have to rely on someone else’s credit and paycheck to get into a place, because I am still responsible for the Massachusetts house. I am glad that he and I have the same taste. I love looking at houses and dreaming. I am such an easy window-shopper for houses because I can get totally excited about a place, then if it turns out that I can’t have the place, I just get excited about another one.

I don’t think we’ve got enough time to pull off a new home before Christmas, but that sure would be an awesome holiday gift…

In several ways!

Patience and perspective are always the order of the day. Right now I worry about money and that just seeps into everything else. I am not sleeping well, I feel pressure and I’m afraid of the future. My growth is in resisting panic, maintaining my happy spirit, letting go of things I have no control of, believing in myself though I am not getting validation in the form I wish for.

I am still unemployed, and it’s hard to keep my demons quiet. In the midst of persistent mortgage payments, mounds of educational loans, and the need to get my daughter equipped with all her school gear, I ask myself, “What was the point of going back to school? I should have just stayed in that job where I was miserable, and worked rotating shifts and had no chance of advancement… At least I had a paycheck to take care of my family.”

Icky dark thoughts. They do nothing but promote more dark thoughts. Perspective helps me remember what a beautiful life I have, which is full of so many gifts: my daughter, my partner, my family and friends who love me. Though I whine about the cost, I have a home. Though I whine about dipping into my retirement fund, at least I have one to dip into. The things that bring me the most joy don’t cost anything at all, so what, really, have I lost by being poor? I’m not keeping up with the Joneses.

Well! If that’s all it is… I guess I’m just fine after all. Thank goodness!

Comment from the old blog:

Hello my beautiful friend, First, thank you bunches for my birthday gift! It’s so lovely and perfect for my altar. Second, I know how tough this has got to be for you so I’m happy that you’re focusing on the lesson of patience, staying in the beauty of the present moment (perspective), and faith/trust in being supported by the Universe. The whole job hunting process is so hard (even when employed like I am). The job I’m being considered for right now is $10,000 more a year than I’m making and since we’re barely scraping by, with a car that’s about to fall apart, that could make a huge difference for us. I keep telling myself as I go to interview after interview that it’s like dating–it’s about the chemistry, not my worth as a person/employee.  Love you and thinking of you…Ophelia

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