Friday, July 27, 2012

One less monkey on my back.

In December 2008 I sat down to pay my bills and cried.  I had dug a hole deeper than I could get out of. And every month it was getting worse and worse. I had to do something.

I was $15,000 in debt and took home about $800 every two weeks.  I had rent, a car payment, a cell phone contract, DSL internet (but no cable t.v.), insurance and the occasional kid to feed.  I am not a frivolous spender, but I had put everything from a mattress and box spring to gas to an MRI on my credit cards.  I had nothing of substance to show for my purchases - no big screen t.v., no jewelry or designer clothes. My car could get from A to B and my knee could bare weight. I had hocked what I could - a couple of lenses, some scrapbooking supplies and a wedding ring that wasn't being used.  I was down to the stuff that doesn't sell at garage sales. 

I had heard Bob Brinker (a less annoying Suze Orman type who hosted a show called Money Talk) advise people in my position to go to Consumer Credit Counselling Service and talk to them about debt consolidation.  

I instant messaged my manfriend and fessed up about how bad my financial situation had become.  There were more tears. Angry ones. Embarrassed ones. Worried ones. SCARED ones. And all of them were fat and ugly. Lord, I am an ugly crier. I asked him if he'd come with me to the appointment I was mustering up the nerve to make.  Yes, he said. I asked him if he'd stand by me when I was really poor. Yes, he said.  I asked him if he thought I was stupid or weak. No, he said.

So I made the appointment.

I needed a second pair of ears to make sure everything I was told would come home with me.  I needed a second brain to make sure all the questions got asked. And so on a cold, dreary day in January we entered the back door of an unassuming office building in Parma.  We sat down with Casandra Hudak and I told her things about my money that no one wants to tell anyone. Hi. My name is Caroline. I don't make much money.  I've spent more than I make, and now I'm in deep doo doo. Please help.

She looked at my income. She looked at my bills. She asked me how much I pay for haircuts and how often I buy shoes and why I didn't have a line item for clothing. She punched numbers into her calculator. She entered numbers into her spreadsheets.  She clucked and shook her head and printed out the bad news. 

It would take $435 a month for 42 months. All my credit would be shut off, CCCS would negotiate a lower interest rate, all over limit fees would be waived. Late fees wouldn't be an issue because on the 20th of every month CCCS would take their money and make the payments on my behalf, and, unlike me, they would be really kick ass about making payments on time. I had to agree not to apply for any credit cards for the duration of my time in the program and if their auto-deductions were declined more than once I would be kicked out of the program and left to the mercy of my creditors. 

She pointed out that haircuts and clothing weren't going to be something I could afford.  She advised me not to do the program because there simply wasn't enough income to make it happen without other issues cropping up.  What if your car breaks down? What if I had a medical emergency that required copays?

Yeah? What if? Because I didn't have any money left over after making my payments anyway.  So please, just print out the contract and give to me to sign before I lose my resolve.

We left and it was still cold and dreary, and I was still scared and embarrassed and worried, but I also had butterflies of giddiness.  I could get out of this mess. There might be an end. 

And for the last 41 months I've watched as CCCS has taken $435 out of my checking account.  Most months I've really sweated that money being there.  I've learned to time my other bills and my paychecks to accommodate that withdrawal.  

The bills still came.  Sometimes I would open them and throw them away in disgust.  Progress was steady, but it was SLOW.  Lower interest rates were helpful, but because there was interest, my monthly payments were making dings, not dents, in my total debt.  

Most months I told myself that I was better off not looking at the bills.  They got shredded in a sealed envelope.

Over the last three and a half years I've heard surprisingly little from CCCS.  I got a letter letting me know they were being absorbed into Apprisen Financial Advocates.  There was a tiny flurry of communication a year ago when my bank switched my debit card from Visa to MasterCard.  Aside from that, we haven't been in touch. They make it surprisingly easy to hand over all your financial dirty laundry and let someone else deal with it while you walk away and try to not spend money.

And for all that lack of communication, I was a little surprised to get a message today from Thomas at Apprisen, asking me to call him about my "services" with them.  Once I placed the name I steeled myself for the worst: it was going to take longer than predicted or some other yuckiness.  Megan answered and I told her I was returning a call from Thomas.  Rather than passing me off, she took my name and social security number and proceeded to tell me that I had a zero balance.

What does that mean?

I am done. I have payed everyone off.  A month earlier than planned. I dutifully took notes through the rest of the call, writing down when I should check my credit report (3 to 5 months), what I should look for there (anything that looks out of place), the website that they recommend ( and why looking at the credit report is more beneficial than just buying your scores. I listened politely, asked her to verify that they had my correct address to send the final paperwork, thanked her and hung up.  

And then I cried again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Brings new meaning to "Quickie"

I'm going to abandon my usual wordy ways and just post a layout without commentary:
I absolutely LOVE the Fancy Pants Wave Searcher line of papers - so sublime, so perfect for memories of a relaxing time at the beach.  

Man. What I wouldn't give for a week at the beach...

Have a good thought for me on Thursday (7/12).  Second of three tests in my calc class.  I'm all studied out, with writers cramp like you wouldn't believe from working problems from 10a.m. to 8:30p.m. At noon tomorrow we'll be down to a mere three weeks. 

I can do it. 
I can do it. 
I can do it.

(I hope.)

Thanks for stopping by!

p.s.  Yeah. I know. So much for no commentary.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Being a parent of teenagers is HARD.

I thought it was hard with Ian because of his ADD.  I grew up with a sibling with ADHD and have 4 kids, only one of whom has ADD.  I know that there are a LOT of people who think it's a BS diagnosis, that really it's an excuse for bad behavior and lazy parenting.  But I can't stress it enough - I came from a household where bad behavior wasn't accepted.  My parents held the bar high and called us when we fell short.  I think there a lot of differences in my parenting style, but tolerating bad behavior isn't one of them.  But ADD often has academic consequences, which can often leave behind a wake of self confidence well as a number of other challenges.  It's hard for a kid with ADD to keep his shit together all day long, and after he has, he will lose it a little home.  And I'd rather that happen at home than at school, work, church or in public in general.  Is it encouraged? No.  Was he given free reign? No.  But it was sometimes a challenge.  Is.  Is a challenge.  He's 21, works full time, still takes medication to help him focus.  And sometimes those issues still flare up.

Maggie had been easier.  Dreamy, in fact. Especially by comparison.  But part of being a teenager is pushing the limits.  Pushing mom and dad away.  That's how they gain independence. It's the cycle that happens in every home, to some degree or another.  Yes, some kids are easier while some kids wreak havoc on their homes.  So even though she's been on the easy end of the spectrum we've still butt heads on plenty of occasions.

We've had a rough week around here.  And I bare some responsibility in this: if you've stopped by at all in the last 7 weeks, you've certainly read that I'm in over my head with the class I'm taking this summer.  It's put me on edge and I am REALLY trying to hold my shit together for my kids.  Where the little kids haven't really picked up on my edginess, Maggie has noticed and has - wisely - given me a wide girth.  But her wide girth translated into some miscommunications and then - unwisely - some non-communications.  It came to a head tonight - not in a yelling, screaming kind of way, but a calm and civil discussion about expectations, respect, perceptions, family, being a teenager, growing up, consideration and then a whole other slew of things.

WHY am I telling you all this?  Sheesh.  Over sharer of the year. But here's the thing (and I've said this before): I don't think that sharing our struggles is a bad thing.  Because if one person reads this and feels a sense of relief because they, too, are experiencing a less-than-perfect existence, then all this typing was worth it.  I think the front of perfection is bullshit and bad for humanity. :)

Also, I tried to share this layout yesterday and I had nothing to say.  I love the layout, the picture, the journaling.  But yesterday my head and heart weren't able share this.  The sentiment of the layout held, but it felt, somehow, like a lie.  Today, with things ironed out, I can happily share a layout about my daughter.  The daughter I am deeply proud of.

I wish I could easily share the journaling, but apparently I didn't save it.  At this point I'm sunburned, dirty and beat and I just don't trust myself to try to retype it.  If you can make it out, I think it's worth the read.

Thanks for stopping by. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, I hope all is well with your families.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tonight might be one of those nights....

...where I grab the kids and an old quilt and head to the beach. My feet hurt and it's hot, and I think standing ankle deep in the lake and then laying down and listening to the waves would be just what I need to shake off the week.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I don't like rice.

Which is odd, because there's nothing wrong with it.  I just don't like it. I associate it with being poor or sick. It doesn't really have a flavor.  I think it's a waste of calories.  So I don't like it.  And I don't eat it.

If a person says "I hate Brussels sprouts" or "I hate beets", everyone understands.  Even if you happen to like Brussels sprouts, you probably get why someone else doesn't like them.  But rice? No one sympathizes with me.

Journaling reads:

Kerig started calling me “math girl” close to a year ago, and I have to admit, there in the beginning, I didn’t like it very much.  I felt like maybe he was making fun of me. To be fair, that’s probably all in my imagination, especially since he’s been my biggest supporter and best, most reliable cheerleader all along.  But over time the name has grown on me.  In my head, Math Girl is a super hero.  I have a silly vision in my head of a cartoon girl with a cape with a fun and MG logo on it.  I would like to say that I envision fighting off bad guys with a dry erase marker and my mad integrating skills, but alas, my attempts to study in public have yielded some pretty weird experiences: boys in chicken suits, strange men asking to borrow 50¢ “or maybe a dollar?”, a lady who began making really loud crowing noises and randomly rearranged chairs at the tables around me.  I think these experiences have proven that I’m not ready to go up against the Joker, Lex Luthor or The Riddler anytime soon.
 And never mind that “sigma notation” is my own personal kryptonite… 
I find that televisions, computers, and boyfriends all pose a huge threat to my concentration level, so I have found that going "out" helps me avoid those distractions.  Except, I just seem to trade pleasant distractions for just plain WEIRD distractions.

What on earth does any of this have to do with rice? Nothing, really.  On the way from school to work today I was thinking about how I might have time to write up a blog post, and that it would be about this layout.  Which got me to thinking that I made this right after the Spring semester ended, and how Sigma notation was a pain in my ass then.  And just today we moved on after having spent the last three weeks on....drum roll please...sigma notation.  And it wasn't any less of a pain in my ass this time around.  But really sigma notation is like rice: it's not really a big deal.  But I don't like it, so I make my own big deal about it.

Look.  I found the place where whining about school and scrapbooking intersect. WOOT.