Monday, January 31, 2011

The night before the big storm

Pretty much the only thing on our minds here in Chicago tonight is snow. Snow. Snow. Apparently we're about to be hit by a storm that rivals the blizzard of 1967. People are stocking up and hunkering down. I'm hoping for a snow day on Wednesday so that we can all be home together.

My theory about winter is if you have to endure the cold, there may as well be lots of pretty snow. I love snow. Because to me snow always suggests play. Yes, I know it also suggests hassle. And possibly disaster. But I'm thinking like a kid here. And all I can see is snowball fights, snow men, snow angels, pretty snowflakes and people coming together.

So here's hoping for a lovely snowfall full of play and wonder and hassle and disaster-free.

Now, on a completely separate note. I was recently interviewed by my friend and fellow playwright Sara Israel for the Blog at Boston Court as the first in a series called "From the desk of" where Sara takes a look at writers' writing spaces.

We talk about my physical writing space as well as a bit of my process and the new play I'm working on. There are a few pictures too. I love the one of my writing space where you can see both Malcolm and Pablo. Check it out here.

Okay, Malcolm's crying. Gotta run!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Disappearing debt little by little

Let's talk about debt.

As I said, we still have it. We're still paying off debts to the IRS, the State of California Franchise Tax Board and student loans. And we have a long way to go. That debt weighs heavily on us every day. It's suffocating. And usually when I think about it I feel a mixture of apathy and failure.

*Sigh*

Not very inspiring. Quite the opposite, actually.

So I'm talking to my good friend Darchelle the other day about this debt and she offers another way to look at it. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: (whining) It feels like we'll never be out of debt!

Darchelle: But you have less debt this year than you had last year, right?

Me: Well... yes. (a light bulb goes off) Actually, we haven't accrued any new debt in over two years.

Darchelle: How many people can say that?

And scene.

No new debt

It's true, we haven't accrued any new debt in 2 years.

For the last two years we have been living a cash life.

And it is so rare that we actually acknowledge the triumph in that. We're usually too busy beating ourselves up for the debt we still have. But Darchelle was totally right. We have had less debt each year for the last two years. And if we had managed to hang onto our house, there's no way we could say that. We're moving in the right direction.

It's hard to see the progress because it's not tangible. Because we have nothing to show for our success in chipping away at our debt. That's precisely the point-- having nothing to show. But it's precisely what makes it such a challenging mental game. We're wired to have things to show for success.

Being debt-free... that's not visible. It's not tangible. And it's so slow. We're also wired to want everything now. Now. NOW! Instant gratification. Such a curse.

I mentioned this to Bob the other night. I said, do you realize that we haven't accrued a penny of debt over the last two years? He said that hasn't been the case since he was in college. Or was it earlier? I can't remember now. The point was that it had been a while. Bob got the triumph.

It is a triumph. To go from living most of your life accruing new debt year to year to breaking that trend. Intervening in the upward climb of what we owe. For two solid years. That intangible pile of money owed has shrunk. Maybe not perceptibly. But it has grown, not bigger, but smaller.

We've completely altered the way we live. It's not glamorous, but it's totally aligned with our goal of financial freedom.

Life without credit cards

Because we live a cash life, we have to budget and save before we spend. And once it's gone, it's gone. No more spending.

I haven't had a hair cut in months because there isn't any room for it in our budget. And I've been making do without winter boots in single digit temps in Chicago because we don't have the cash for a new pair. (I'm using thick wool socks in my rain boots for the brief moments I'm outside and it's been working. But I do really want some warm winter boots and curse myself for selling the pair I used to own in the Estate Sale.)

Thankfully, and of most importance, our main NEEDS are taken care of. We have a roof over our heads. We have heat. We have food in the refrigerator.

Hand-me-downs have saved us in regards to Malcolm. Almost everything for Malcolm has pretty much been handed down or gifted to us by the wonderful people in our lives. The rest was purchased at Goodwill and various thrift stores.

We're constantly distinguishing want vs. need. And it gets easier each day. Easier too because we simply don't have the room for wants. We do very well with what we have.

Of course, that doesn't stop us from wanting from time to time. We're human. But it does stop us from spending. And that's key.

Where there is room for improvement: Budgeting.

But for now, I'm going to raise my glass of water in a toast to having less debt this year than last year. And less each year that comes until we work our way all the way down to zero.

Disappearing debt little by little. It's a triumph worthy of celebration.

And thank you, Darchelle, for helping me get that!

Salud!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dear LITTOF...

One of the things that was so helpful to me in writing LITTOF when we were going through everything was hearing similar stories from readers.

Every time someone shared their parallel story with me it made me realize more and more how we weren't alone. Not that I wished these circumstances on anyone but knowing that someone out there could relate to our struggle made it so much easier.

It also put things in perspective.... helping to put a stop to any potential pity party. One thing was increasingly clear and still is. We aren't alone.

I received another e-mail like this today that I thought I would share and respond to publicly.

Hey there!

I am so happy to get your email and see that you will be addressing this topic again. My husband and I have two small children (9 months and 2 1/2 years old) and we began our modification/shortsale/foreclosure (what ever it is going to be) when I was pregnant with our first baby.

We saw the train coming but couldn't dodge it. The Bank wouldn't talk to us until we missed payments and got behind. We played their game, sent all the docs again and again and again.

Got several Modification offers that were ridiculous and didn't help at all. More countless, crazy, no-resolution hours on the phone with the bank than you can imagine....no, I'm sure you CAN imagine!

Well, anyway, right before the bank was to sell, they decided to do a mod trial with HAMP. After 10 months of that and escalation to the corporate resolution team, we were finally told we didn't qualify. Hmmmm.

Well, now we are in contract to short sale our home but who know if they will accept the offer. We may end up in foreclosure and then bankruptcy like you. It's all going to take time to tell.

Meanwhile, we love our home that we have remodeled and made our own. But it is just brick and mortar. We are excited about our future and the lessons we have learned, that we have each other. We consider it the price to pay for this painful education we have received.

BTW, we are following Dave Ramsey's principles to get out of debt and change our legacy. Another podcast I like is: www.reboundpodcast.com A couple emerging from foreclosure too and their very candid experiences along the way. Well, I look forward to seeing your new blog. Where shall I look? Or, will it pop up in my email? Good luck. -Laurie

Dear Laurie,

First of all... I cannot imagine facing foreclosure through not one but two pregnancies! You've been going through this for almost three years now, yes? That's just mind boggling. Yet, it's a reality. Your reality. So, congratulations for maintaining such an amazing attitude in the face of so much unknown.

HAMP. I'm sorry to hear yet another failure in regards to HAMP. I would love to hear from someone that this program actually helped. HAMP was first introduced when we were negotiating our short sale contract and we had such high hopes for it.

LOVE FOR HOME. Oh boy, I can relate. We still miss our house. We still fantasize about it. And we're clear that by now we have totally romanticized it... completely ignoring the flaws and things that drove us crazy (like lack of storage, for example.) Anyway, you are right that it's just bricks and mortar. That's what we kept reminding each other. Home can be created wherever you are. Bob said something to me just before we had to be out of our house that I recently re-read. He said:

"Wherever we go, we'll improve."

That perspective offered me so much comfort. At the time we didn't know where we would be living, but we had confidence that no matter where it was we would make sure to be better. I hope that offers comfort to you as well.

PAINFUL EDUCATION. This phrase you use really struck me. It's so true, isn't it? It is an education. All of it. Especially if you choose to view it that way. And it can be certainly painful. It sounds like in the face of that pain you've created boundless moments of joy as well. I wholeheartedly believe in that. You have each other, as you said, and your two children. And now you're prepared for anything.

SHORT SALE. Well, if you've followed the blog you'll know that we managed to sell the house in a short sale, thereby avoiding foreclosure. I hope the bank does accept your offer and that it all works out. But if not, keep at it. We had one short sale offer totally fall apart before the one the bank accepted.

DAVE RAMSEY. I need to read his book already. So many people have told me to look into him and the difference he makes for people in debt. I'll definitely check it out.

REBOUND PODCAST. Thanks for pointing me in their direction. I can't believe I haven't heard about them yet. I'll definitely be listening.

THE NEW BLOG. You ask where you can find the new blog. Well, right here! At Loveinthetimeofforeclosure.com. And if you received my last post as an e-mail, that means that you're on the e-mail list and you'll keep receiving them every time I post. Thanks for asking!

Good luck to you, Laurie. And thank you so much for reaching out. Thank you for allowing me to publicly share your e-mail. Keep us posted!

Best,

Steph

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The re-birth of LITTOF

This doesn't have to be awkward.
I know it's been a while, but I'm still me and you're still you.
Let's talk as though no time has passed. It can be that way, right?
That's the testament of a true friendship. Time goes by but it feels like only yesterday.

So, yes. I'm back.

I know what you're thinking.

Why? Why now? You said you were done with this blog.

True. I did say that. But...

A girl can change her mind, right?

Here's the thing. All this time has given me something. Perspective. And two things happened last week that brought my new perspective into focus.

1. The numbers came out. 2010 was the biggest year for foreclosures. 1 million American homes were repossessed in 2010.

2. A friend who is finding it hard to hold onto their home reached out to me for advice and inspiration.

As I was writing my friend a long message providing what I hoped would be inspiration, it hit me. Just because our foreclosure story is now almost two years behind us doesn't mean that I can't still make a difference for others who are in foreclosure or teetering on the precipice today.

I said that I began this blog to make a difference by sharing our story. And I was passionately committed to that. The truth is, that commitment never ended. I'm still passionate about making a difference for people in financial distress.

Having come through to the other side has me even more passionate about that.

I know I said I didn't want our lives to be defined by foreclosure and that's part of the reason I "retired" LITTOF. But I see now that who we are today is so clearly defined by who we chose to be in the face of foreclosure. I think what I needed was just a long break. To just live. To have a baby and start a new blog and enjoy our new life on an island and gain some distance from the F-word.

I just really want to make a difference!
While responding to my friend in distress, I thought about the millions and millions of Americans in the same situation. I thought about the LITTOF readers that still sometimes e-mail me and ask for advice. And I just kept thinking about how I want to help. Somehow.

I know how easy it is to give into the despair. And I also know how important it is to rise above it. I don't have answers, but I do have a survivor's tale filled with inspiration. And by sharing that, by continuing to share that, I hope to spread some much needed hope.

Blogging with purpose

After retiring LITTOF, I started my new blog, Two Years on an Island. On that blog I wrote about life on a rural and very special island. Being pregnant. Giving birth. Mowing the lawn while seven months pregnant. That was a fun blog to write but ran its course when we moved from the island at the end of August.

Since then I've fiddled with the idea of starting another blog. Just to have a blog. But I don't want to blog just to blog. As a new mom who is still trying to be a playwright and non-fiction writer, I do not have that kind of time. If I'm going to blog, it must be with purpose.

So last week after getting the reality of the increasing scope of the foreclosure crisis and hearing how it's impacting someone I know, I finally got it.

If foreclosure insists on persisting, then I insist on loving. Or something like that.

Bottom line is, I'm not done yet.

All you need is love

This, in American history, is still the time of foreclosure and love is exactly what we need.

The title of this blog came from our personal story. How we managed to be more in love than ever before in the face of foreclosure. How our marriage benefited by how we approached our financial crisis.

But now I see the title as something beyond that. Actually, Bob helped me see it that way. When I told him that I was going to start blogging again at LITTOF and why, he totally got it. And he said:

"Now you can give love to others in foreclosure."

So that's what this is about. Putting love out there in the world via a little blog. Blog post by blog post, that is my intention.

As I said, I don't have answers.

I have only our experience.

And our commitment: to rise above our financial distress. And love above all else. Love as an action. As a commitment. As a way of being.

One last note. The tag line of this blog still applies.

"TWO PEOPLE DEEP IN DEBT, WORKING OUR WAY OUT AND HAPPIER THAN WE EVER HAVE BEEN."

Yes, we are still deep in debt.

Yes, we declared bankruptcy. But the "Big B" doesn't wipe out IRS debts or student loans.

So I will be sharing about that. About what we're doing to get out of debt. I'll share about parenthood through this lens. I will write about our experience in our third home in less than two years. And pretty much whatever else is on my mind. If you've been a follower of this blog, then you know what to expect.

What do I expect from you? Nothing. No expectations.

What would I like? Well, for you to share. Write to me. Ask me your questions, share your stories. Share this blog with someone who is facing foreclosure or worried about ending up there one day. I need your help to spread the love.

You can write me here: loveinthetimeofforeclosure@gmail.com

What do I intend? To make a difference. To provide a little inspiration. A little light in the darkness. Maybe even some humor. But most of all I want to get you to believe that it is possible to be happy, in fact happier than ever, even in the face of foreclosure.

Love,

Steph
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