Monday, September 27, 2010

Looking For My Sense of Humor

I used to be so funny.  I mean funny to the point where people told me that I could make a living at it.  I found humor in everything and an amazing ability to help other people see humor in most anything.  Even the terrible and tragic.  Yet my humor was human humor. I never made fun but just pointed out the obviously absurd or silly.  I never hurt another person with my silliness.  My only goal was to see people smile. Oh how I loved the sound of laughter.  Even more so, I loved the sound of laughter coming from someone who realized I had just hit the nail on the head and there was humor it that rusty old piece of metal.

I am trying to find that part of me again.  Admittedly, I am a little too paralyzed at the moment to be too effective, but I am trying.  I miss that girl and I love the laugh lines around my mouth. I earned each and every one of them.  This whole foreclosure business has completely robbed me of my sense of humor, except those few moments when I allow myself to fantasize about mean and horrific ways to torture corporate executives.

So in my quest to find my sense of humor and find the motivation to finish makeover projects (foreclosure or not) - here are a few conversations I had with myself over the last few days while I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling:

Yellow and black spiders the shape of black widows are not big enough to eat process servers. Move it along or kill it.  It's not nice to put a dead spider on a string to drop down into someone's face when they ring the doorbell.

Spray painting and putting a frame around a spider web will not catch on as a new art form.

Putting a basket of oranges in front of the cabinet door will not hide the fact that the paint job is half done.

Blood that dripped onto the sheer drapes from a finger cut does not look like candy stripes.

After painting all the bedroom furniture white and then spend hours -- correction - days upon days --  finding just the right color of blue and white comforters, sheets, drapes, knick knacks and flowers does not get me out of painting the walls just because the bank might take my house.  My stubborn refusal to paint just calls into question my taste - or color blindness.

You can't run around in the dark all the time. Replacing light bulbs gives light to the room, they are not gifts to blood sucking bankers.

The sound of a dripping faucet will make you nuts long before it would fill up the condo and flood the place.

Strangling a grown man with a doily is too silly to dream about.

Always leave a place with a smile and your dignity intact.  You can key their car doors when you get into your car heading out of town.

Anyone need a motivational speaker?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Frightened By Recent Decisions and Circumstances, parts 3 & 4; Update 2012

Part 3 - Life Changes Forever

On October 31, when my son had his first psychotic break, it was the beginning of the end of my son's days of employment.  Ever optimistic and in a state of denial about the severity of his illness, we did not file for disability for him. The doctors had high hopes for a better recovery for quite awhile and I followed along with their predictions and prognosis.  In fact, many schizophrenics are able to manage some sort of employment with the proper medications and support.  This hasn't been the case for my little boy.  My son is still very sick, unable to care for himself, unable to be left alone and arrangements are in the works for a day treatment program due to the severity of his illness.  Everyday my heart just breaks all over again for the child I have lost to mental illness.

In June, his doctors told me that it was time to apply for disability. That process continues and we are months away from approval and financial assistance. In the meantime, he has to have weekly therapy, several medications and recurrent hospitalizations when he becomes a danger to himself.  His credit -- before he ever actually had credit - is destroyed and the bill collectors are baying at the door.

Part 4 - The Last Straw Finale

In February, I got my tax bill and discovered that my condo is now worth less than half of what I owe on it. Uh oh. 

In March, thinking that maybe I should just sell the darn thing, I called my original realtor. Her response to my inquiry was that as much as she wanted to help, she can't sell a condo in my suburb to save her life.  Overbuilt with thousands of condos and townhouses, we have been hit hard by the real estate meltdown. Everyday we see another moving van and a new for sale/foreclosure sign goes up.  \an exodus of people leaving for areas where the rent hasn't skyrocketed and the cost of basic living isn't as high as it is here.  

In April, after reviewing my finances and realizing that I would not be able to afford the current mortgage payments by the end of summer, I started the process for help by applying to the Making Homes Affordable Program.  Without going into details that are a whole other column, let's just say that the process did not work as it should have and the due diligence that should have been in process by the bank (mortgage holder) was not in place. After jumping through one too many hoops, I had to enlist the help of a government sponsored financial counseling corporation to run interference -- more than once. 

In July, the bank finally informed us they had all the documents they needed and I would hear something by August 20.

As I noticed the first signs of Fall last week, that old familiar feeling of panic set in. For two weeks, I had been hounding the bank without response.  Knowing that my bank account was dwindling, I again had the counseling corporation run interference.  Time was up and I needed information. 

Finally,  someone at the bank made a decision.  I was denied the program.  I do not have a high enough income to qualify.   Let me repeat that:  They cannot lower my mortgage payments to something I can afford because I do not make enough money to qualify for the program.  Wait, isn't that what the program is for?

It was worst possible of news. My fear of homelessness is becoming closer to reality. Upon hearing the news, I broke down.  It is now the end of summer and I can no longer afford the full mortgage payment. At the beginning of next month, I will be over $1200.00 behind and the number will grow every month until foreclosure proceedings start. By my figures, the possibility of homelessness by Christmas is very real. The bank said they are looking into other programs. They were vague and secretive in their explanations of these "other programs."  I suspect  they were just trying to get me off the phone.

If I could run away, I would already be packing. If I could live in my car, I would be heading for a warmer climate. My son is in treatment, I am in treatment -- we cannot run away. Tears have become my night time companion.

Remember when I typed earlier that it was my superstition that kept me from saying much about it? It was just a silly little thought I had that if I talked about it, I would jinx the process.  How precious are those childhood tactics that we go back to when faced with a consequence we can't deal with?  Today, I am motionless with shock and paralyzed with indecision.

I can't think anymore about homelessness with my schizophrenic son. For just right now, it is just too much. Tomorrow is another day to burn up the phone lines.

Update 2012
We won our modification.  It took almost 3 years from beginning to end.  Thinking about the process: over 100 hours on the phone, two consumer groups, one state and one county agency, 3 federal agencies, 11 Bank of America customer assistants, about a thousand tears, many tantrums, countless failed promises and bottles of anti-anxiety meds boggles the mind. In December 2012, tentative approval was given and after a few smaller hoops, final modifications were granted.  Hip Hip Hooray. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Frightened By Recent Decisions and Circumstances, Parts 1 & 2

Part 1 - The Days Before

Since the start of this blog, I haven't divulged much about the what, why and how of the situation regarding the possible loss of my home.  It was just plain ole superstition and anxiety that has kept me quiet. Circumstances changed on Thursday and the the clock has started ticking again. I truly believed our chances were good.....but now..... fear kept me awake most of the night.

When I bought my condominium a few years ago, I was healthy -- financially and physically.  I did my homework, hired a reputable mortgage broker and real estate agent, spent several weeks reviewing properties and got pre-approved for a mortgage loan at a set 6½%. I utilized a city program to help with first-time buyers closing costs, reviewed my financial situation with an adviser, put away four months of funds for emergencies and bought a condominium well within my budget.  In other words, I had all my ducks in a row. 

Except for one thing - Total and permanent disability.  I was still in my forties, in good health and of the belief that I would work at least until age 65.  Like most other Americans working for small businesses, my employers didn't offer short term or long term disability insurance.  Buying that type of insurance was so cost prohibitive that I had talked myself into believing it was an unnecessary expense for someone so young.

I was wrong.

Part 2 - The Hits Begin

I became permanently disabled three and half years ago. It took 18 months to get through the Social Security Disability program - forms filled out, records retrieved, files reviewed, independent medical exams, etc. -- all take time.  Even after approval, there is another 5 months before the first check arrives.  Additionally, it's another 24 months before you are eligible for Medicare.  As a result, my savings and retirement monies are gone. With absolutely no money coming in for over two years, my retirement and savings accounts were wiped out faster than I could have imagined.  

During a time when the U.S. economy tanked, living expenses spiraled out of reach.  We cut back on food, took light bulbs out of lamps and shut down the heater as often as we could. Physician copayments and medications in the range of $200 - $400 a month caused my checking account to tap into in overdraft account that was only meant for emergencies.  Unprepared, I became a virtual medical bankruptcy much faster than I believed it could happen. 

With some creative juggling, things settled down for awhile. With my SSDI income and my son's paycheck, we weren't living as before but we were making it. 

                                        [ To be continued...]

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Auction Bound

Another great auction is scheduled soon and I, of course, will be there.  I don't mean getting in my car and driving out to some warehouse in the middle of the state....entering a building that could have been a barn at one time -- but now has a green neon sign across the rooftop proclaiming to have unbeatable prices.... sitting on chairs that have to be tested for weight bearing..... and listening to some skeletor-looking guy (normally I would cross the street to avoid).... bark out sentences that could resemble a price......

I'm too intimidated to raise my hand and ask questions, let alone bid on something. God forbid, I accidentally buy the hood ornament to a 60-year old Chevy. 

No, I'm talking about attending auctions from the comfort of my computer room (read bedroom) with a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin to nibble.  The net has changed everything and much to the relief of this agoraphobic, for the better.  They have made it so easy, almost to the point of too easy. You have to learn discipline -- find your item, pick a price and stick with it.  Bidding wars are fun .... until you realize you just bid 35 bucks for a Pez dispenser.

For $2.50, this is what I won at the last auction I "attended":

                        This awesome little wicker table and.....

                                               this iron!!

I put the little wicker table in the corner of my bedroom with my beloved blue pitcher and a vase of silk flowers that match the colors of my room.  It's in a spot that I see when I wake up or when I am working on my computer and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.  It truly is the little things.

"Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and
realize they were the big things."
Author Unknown

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Keeper of Childhood Secrets

Over the years I've heard most of the secrets of the childhoods of my friends.  The good, the bad and the ugly, I have always been interested.  The following story appeared in my old blog and I still get emails about it to this day. Thinking that it contains good insight and a lesson or two, I have decided to re-post it here today.

I've been thinking a lot about a story I heard that happened over 40 years ago. A young girl, around 13 years old and just this side of puberty, was shopping in one of the local discount stores with her father. She was a pretty little thing with blue eyes, blond hair and a long-held secret of extreme shyness. While her father wandered off to whatever it is that dads wander off to, this young girl was trying on shoes for her first day of school. She was alone on a shoe aisle when a man came up to her and stating chatting with her about the shoes.

The young girl heard the alarm bells in her mind the minute the man started talking to her. The conversation was innocent but it did not sway the fear that was slamming her into almost breathlessness. There was something wrong with the man.  She continued to try to ignore him but he kept up his barrage of compliments and encouragements to leave the store with him. She tried to tell the man that her father was in the store. The man paid no attention and pushed the conversation further, asking the girl to go have coffee with him. Assuring the girl that it would just be for a few minutes, he placed his hand on her arm and started herding her towards the front door. As the alarm bells got louder in her head, the girl began to cry -- with panic sending her right to the edge of hysteria. Heads started to turn, conversations stopped, people began looking around and the man quickly left the store.

The girl's father hurried over to the girl, demanding to know what was going on with his young daughter. As that young girl turned toward the sound of the man who should have been her hero, trembling with fear and tears streaming down her face, her father began to get that look on his face. The look that said she was making a scene. As she tried to explain to her father the unimaginable that had almost happened, he just got angry.   He wanted to know what all the crying was about.  His response to her after she managed to get the whole story out was to tell her to stop crying, to stop over-reacting.

No reassurance, no comfort, not even a hug. Just a father curiously infuriated at his frightened child.

I wonder if my friend's father ever knew what he did to his daughter that day? In telling me the story, I knew that was the day that her feelings, fragile as they were, finally shattered as she became aware that Cinderella was just a fairy tale and there was no white knight coming to the rescue. Growing up in a home where discipline was handed out with slaps and belts and even moments when things went way too far, I knew she battled depression long into her adult years.  I thought about the men she dated and even the man she married, realizing that in her search for Prince Charming, she was actually replaying that young girl over and over.  Where was her hero?

This woman of delightful laugh lines on her face and a touch of gray in her hair believes that if that man had gotten her out the door that day when she was so young, she wouldn't be here today. She wonders out loud if her perception was off and perhaps she was being too dramatic.  I don't think she is being melodramatic -- I believe very much it was an attempt by a pedophile to snatch her. I am grateful her intuition is so sensitive. I am grateful she is here.

My friend's father is much older now, in failing health and memory.  There can be no attempts at coming to terms with a traumas of long ago between this father and child. She can only try to get on the other side of her fear and anxiety with a therapist that has finally heard this secret. I will continue to hold her hand and listen whenever that young girl needs to cry. I hear as the keeper of her childhood secrets.

I am here my friend. I am listening.  Are you?

In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him, and in that I am his pupil.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sweet on Sopapillas

I first discovered sopapillas during a visit to a themed Mexican restaurant with a group of friends when I was much younger than I am now.  A ridiculousy picky eater during my youth, I was unusually enchanted during my first encounter with these heavenly pillows of delight.  Already loving anything that has honey dripped over it, no convincing was needed to try one or two or twelve.  Since then, I have been collecting recipes of sopapillas, always striving for to find the perfect one.  After reviewing the dozen or so recipes that I have from the Internet, I realized that they really don't vary all that much in ingredients and that there are 2 basic recipes - one that uses yeast and one that doesn't.  A version of each recipe is below:


1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon of butter, melted
1 tablespoon of sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
vegetable oil

Mix the yeast with the warm water and let it sit for five minutes.
Combine the flour and salt.
Add the butter and sugar to the yeast/water mixture and then slowly add to the flour and salt.
Knead for two minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.
Rise in a covered, greased bowl for one hour or until dough is doubled in size.
Punch down risen dough on a floured surface then roll it out until dough is 1/4 inch rectangle.
Cut dough into inch squares the cut each square in half to make diagnal piece.
Heat up three inches of oil in a big pot to 375 degrees. Fry two triangles of dough at a time in the oil for one minute on each side. The dough should puff when it hits the oil.
Drain and put on paper towels to absorb any extra oil.
Mix together equal parts cinnamon and sugar (to your taste) and lightly coat each sopapilla.
Serve hot with honey.

 4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. shortening
1 1/2 quarts oil for frying

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and shortening. Stir in water; mix until dough is smooth. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.

Roll out on floured board until 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into 3 inch squares.  Heat oil in deep-fryer to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Fry until golden brown on both sides.  Drain on paper towels, and serve hot with honey.

My own version: I coat each sopapilla with sugar and cinnamon, then put several on an individual plate, drizzle raspberry syrup over the top, drizzle honey over the top then add a dollop of whipped cream.

Ready, Set, Fry!

And feel free to let me know which recipe you prefer.