Saturday, December 8, 2012

How to know when to declare bankruptcy

This morning Bob said to me, "You know, if we had declared bankruptcy earlier we could have stayed in our house at least six months longer."

I responded, "Yeah. Maybe. There are a million if only's. Oh well."

Two things about that...

1. It has been four years and we are still replaying our every move like a chess game that just won't quit. 

If only...

If only we had declared bankruptcy before falling into pre-foreclosure, then we might have had a chance to save the house.

If only we had listed the house at the price we paid for it right away, we would have found a buyer immediately, thus avoiding the need for a short sale and subsequent bankruptcy.

If only we hadn't dumped all of our savings into a renovation.

If only we had never bought the house.

That's where the "if only" chain of  thought always ends. If only we had never bought the house. Well, I shouldn't say it ends there. It pauses there. And hangs for a beat.

Then I usually go to:

"Yeah, but... I loved the house. We got to live there for the time that we did. And while we did, we loved the heck out of it."

So... why do we keep torturing ourselves with "what ifs" still four years later? Perhaps we feel that if we can play the right moves, we won't repeat the mistakes in our future. To me, it always feels futile. I mean, who knows how events would have unfolded if we had never bought the house. We might have been reckless in some other way that could have devastated our finances.

The lessons we learned from our brush with foreclosure are the lessons that make us savvier today. We didn't know that then. And we didn't even know that we didn't know that.

We're smarter now BECAUSE of everything that went down.

2. Bob has a point about the Bankruptcy

Bob first bought up bankruptcy protection when we were about to miss our first mortgage payment. He wanted to look into it then.

I did not.

He was thinking of it as a business decision. It's called bankruptcy protection for a reason. He wanted to protect our assets; I wanted to be a good girl.

I saw bankruptcy as a shameful failure and one that should be avoided at all costs. I was unwilling to consider that it was a viable choice. I was unwilling to consider that we might eventually be forced declare bankruptcy. I had fixed my mind on salvation. We will get out of this mess. Somehow. We won't have to declare bankruptcy.

Well... I was wrong.

We avoided foreclosure, but ended up short selling our home and losing everything in the process. And we found ourselves cowering under the protection of Chapter 7. We no longer had any assets to protect. What we were protecting now was our future. See, we were worried that the bank would wait for us to get back on our feet and then come after us for the difference from the short sale.

Had I been willing to give up my judgements about Bankruptcy, we might still have our house today. And if we had been able to hold onto it, we would have a major asset in today's rebounding housing market.

I don't allow myself to think about that very often because it's neither here nor there. I really am "oh well" about it. Because we are where we are. We are back on our feet. We're not homeowners. We're still in debt. But we are much better off than we have been for many years.

I'm focused on creating our future, not rewriting our past. 

That's not to say that I don't occasionally find myself daydreaming and playing that alternate reality game. The "what would our life look like today if we never lost the house" game. But I quickly see the danger in that and shut it down.

How can you learn from us?

First. Do NOT do this:

Do not fool yourself into believing that everything will be okay so you don't even need to become familiar with the B-word.

That's what I did. And I regret it.

So, what to do?

Learn. Investigate. Interview the B-Word and learn about all of its many complexities.

Learn about the different types of bankruptcy protection and determine which would be right for you. There's Chapter 7 (what we filed because at that point we didn't have any assets,) Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13...

Learn about how it will impact your credit. Try to determine if it is worth it.

The more you learn now, the better. Try to separate your feelings about bankruptcy. I would suggest looking at it from a matter-of-fact business decision. Try to view this as a potential business decision. Subtract the emotion from the fact-finding.

You could even set up a meeting to talk to a bankruptcy attorney just to better understand your options. I wasn't even willing to do that because I really believed the worst couldn't happen. Then it did. And it was too late to salvage our assets. You don't have to make my mistake.

Ground yourself in reality as early in the process as possible.

And remember, just because you're talking about Bankruptcy, doesn't mean you're surrendering to it.

I'm not advocating running for the cover of Bankruptcy before trying anything and everything else. I'm just saying that you don't want to wait until it's too late. Until you really are left with nothing.

It's a very tricky and emotional thing. I completely understand that. And I don't have an answer to the question, When should I declare Bankruptcy?

And if I did claim to have an answer to that question, you shouldn't listen because I AM NOT AN EXPERT. I am not an attorney. I am just a writer who wishes she hadn't been so afraid of failing.

Bankruptcy exists for a reason.

Just like short sales exist for a reason. Sometimes things don't go as planned. These are things to help mitigate the losses.

We didn't want to have to declare Bankruptcy. Trust me. I write about that here. We didn't take it lightly.

Bankruptcy isn't to be taken lightly. If you end up there, I highly advise that you learn from the mistakes that led you down that path so that you don't wear it thin.

And in the meantime, do as our Bankruptcy attorney advised:
Be good to each other.

And... quit with the "If onlys" and "what ifs."

Instead, create a financially responsible future.

My blog post about our decision to declare bankruptcy is here: B is For...

As always, I greatly appreciate your sharing this with someone facing foreclosure or bankruptcy.

This holiday season, share some Love in the Time of Foreclosure. The eBook is available here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


image from OBEY

Tomorrow, voting for me will be easy. I know my polling place (only a few blocks away). I know who I'm voting for and how on all of the propositions. And I know (I'm pretty sure) I won't have to wait in too long of a line.

Voting for some of you might not be that easy. Especially if you're in a battleground state. Today on the radio, Ed Schultz said that this election comes down to "the heart and soul of those people standing in long lines waiting to vote" tomorrow. That might be you.

If it is, thank you. Thank you for being willing to fight to make your voice heard. Thank you for caring enough about our country to wait and wait and wait to vote. I feel very lucky that I have never had to deal with challenging circumstances in order to vote. And I like to think that if I did, I wouldn't give up.

I've read about some crazy stuff going on out there... robo calls saying you can vote over the phone. You can't. Go to your polling place. If someone calls and says your polling place has changed, don't listen.


EVERY VOTE COUNTS. Don't give up. VOTE. VOTE. VOTE. Use your power. 

For the record, I am proud to be voting to re-elect our President.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Just how tempted are you by Halloween candy?

Flyer from the Manila production directed by Rich Tuason
I  used to hide my Halloween candy from my brother. And he hid his from me. At least that's how I remember it. That candy is a precious commodity, no? As a kid, you work hard for that. Dressing up, going door to door to door to door. The candy you earn tastes even sweeter after all that work.

So, what would you do if your mom stole your Halloween candy?

Did this happen to me? NO. Thankfully the only threat to my Halloween candy was my little brother. But... I did imagine what it would be like to BE a mom who stole her kid's candy. And I wrote a play about it. Because, that's just what I do.

The play was commissioned by my friend and fellow playwright, Jeanette Farr for a production at Glendale Community College called THE MOTEL CHRONICLES. The only requirement was that the play had to be set in a motel room.

What sort of things happen in motel rooms, I wondered? Hmmmm.... Of course! Candy bingeing.

On this day when we are all either hiding our loot from ourselves, our siblings, our co-workers, our partners or our kids, I thought I would share my ten-minute play THE CHOCOLATE AFFAIR about a woman who steals her daughter's Halloween candy and checks herself into a seedy motel room to eat it in peace.

This is by far my most popular play. It has been produced all over the world from South Africa to India to The Philippines to the virtual world of Second Life.

I hope you enjoy!

You can read it online here -
THE CHOCOLATE AFFAIR by Stephanie Alison Walker

Also available in the anthology -
THE BEST 10-MINUTE PLAYS FOR 2 OR MORE ACTORS 2009 published by Smith & Kraus

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Good thing the foreclosure crisis has been resolved!

Sarcasm, folks. Of course it hasn't been resolved. But, listening to the presidential debates and the main talking points this election, you'd think it had been.



Not Romney.

Not Obama.

No one.

Or is it just me? I mean, I guess it could just be me. I have been busy lately. I suppose it is possible that I completely missed it. That some brilliant proposal to solve the housing crisis strode in on a white horse  unbeknownst to me.

No... No. Nopey. Nope.

I wouldn't miss that. If either candidate had a brilliant plan for housing, it wouldn't matter how distracted I've been by child rearing, I would know about it.

EVERYONE would know about it.


You bet.

So no one has a plan. Okay. It's a complicated issue. Indeed. It's gone on far longer than anyone hoped. And it's far from over.

But why isn't it at least being acknowledged?

Are they just hoping - presumably because they don't know how to fix it- that it will go away? That we'll forget about it? That if it's ignored, it will erase itself as an issue that actually plagues millions of Americans still today?

I don't get it. And I'm not the only one.


A few weeks ago, I did a segment for Huff Post Live about the foreclosure crisis along with Tracy Van Slyke of Home is Where the Vote Is.

Home is Where the Vote Is is a campaign launched by The New Bottom Line that "gives voice to the underwater homeowner."

They are asking that same question.

From their site:
More than 15 million Americans are living in homes that are underwater, many of them are in the key swing states of Ohio, Nevada and Colorado.  We give voice to the underwater voter.
Neither President Obama nor Governor Romney are really addressing the root cause of the housing crisis or proposing any bold solutions to fix the problem.
The facts are clear:
Nationally, there are more than 15 million underwater homes, that are $1.2 trillion underwater. Resetting those mortgages to fair market value would save the average underwater homeowner $543 per month, pumping $104 billion into the national economy every year. This would create 1.5 million jobs nationally.  The bold and necessary solutions are clear, and have been advocated for by economists on both ends of the political spectrum. 
-The predatory practices of big Wall Street banks caused the economic collapse and foreclosure crisis, destroying millions of jobs and devastating communities.
-Americans’ homes have lost $6 trillion in value because Wall Street banks artificially inflated the housing bubble and then crashed the market. The continued housing crisis is a major drag the overall economic recovery and significant source of financial pain for families everywhere.
-With $700 billion in negative home equity and millions of homeowners being held underwater, banks have chained the American economy to a crushing housing debt load.

HELLO! This needs to be part of the election dialogue. If not now, when?!

Home is Where the Vote Is encourages underwater homeowners to contact the candidates to let them know that this issue is important to them. But whether you're underwater or not, it's important. This impacts us all.

What can you do? You can go to their site to share your story and sign a petition that states:


It’s time you STAND WITH US.
I also suggest following their blog for information and ways to help bring housing to the table.


The Home For Good campaign recently sent more than 35,000 postcards to the Obama and Romney campaign headquarters demanding that they make foreclosure a top campaign issue.

From the press release:

During the first Presidential debate, both President Obama and Gov. Romney made no mention of how they would solve America’s continuing housing crisis with millions of homeowners still underwater. Instead, Gov. Romney promised to “repeal and replace” the consumer protections ushered in by the Dodd-Frank legislation.
And, while President Obama has created the Consumer Financial Protection Board, initiated the Making Home Affordable program, expanded housing counseling, and joined 49 state attorneys general in a national mortgage settlement with five major banks, these programs have yet to reach the millions of homeowners who could and should benefit from such assistance. 
“Abuse by banks and the financial industry, inadequate consumer protections, and massive long-term unemployment caused the mortgage and homeownership crisis, continue to plague a huge swath of the US public, and hold back our economy,” added Jenkins. “The candidates’ silence on these issues is as politically shortsighted as it is morally appalling.”
Three of the eight states with the highest foreclosure rates are presidential battlegrounds: Florida, Ohio, and Nevada. In Florida there were 27,000 new foreclosure filings in August alone—one out of every 328 homes in the state. According to market research firm CoreLogic, more than 3.7 million homes have been lost to foreclosure in the past four years.
Who knows if the postcards made an impact on President Obama, but last night on the Daily Show with John Stewart, he finally talked about the housing crisis:

It's a start. But, if I were fighting to save my house today I would want to hear a lot more.
Like an actual plan.

What do you think? Why have both campaigns been so quiet on the issue?

Is it because no one wants to say the 'F' word?

Further reading:


Friday, August 17, 2012

"Thank you, Foreclosure" on Huff Post Live

Screenshot from today's Huff Post Live conversation
Just this morning Bob said that he's been feeling grateful for our near foreclosure and bankruptcy because it's had him feel stronger and more connected to the impact of our financial decisions. 

Later in the day, I received an e-mail from a Huff Post Live producer - completely out of the blue - asking if I would be interested in coming to the studio and talking about the silver lining of foreclosure.

Totally bizarre, right? Such serendipity.

So I quickly booked a babysitter and headed to Beverly Hills to the Huff Post Live studio to talk about my personal experience with the upside of foreclosure. It couldn't have been a better fit.

The conversation was inspired by a piece written by Peter S. Goodman titled Foreclosure Crisis Spurs Quest to Reinvigorate Suburbs, which was inspired by the MOMA exhibit Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.

Did any of you get to see the MOMA exhibit?

Here's a link to the Huff Post Live segment from today-- Thank you, Foreclosure

If you watch, I hope you'll comment either here or on their site.

And just a head's up, I don't start talking until about 9 minutes in. Hard to believe that I held off that long. But it's hard to jump into those conversations. I kept waiting for an opening... This was my first time on "TV." There is so much more I wanted to say! Hopefully they'll have me back. It was so much fun.

I hope you enjoy the discussion.

And what about you, dear reader? Have you experienced the silver lining of foreclosure? If so, in what way? Please share in the comments below. Thanks!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On your 2nd birthday

Dear Malcolm,

You're two years old! 

Two whole years old and you are so clearly your own person. With likes (stickers, soccer, strawberries and pirates,) dislikes (bees, toothpaste, the tribal masks on Uncle Tommy's wall and doing anything you don't want to do when you don't want to do it,) and full sentences (I love you, everyone!)

You just began to speak in full sentences in the last couple of weeks and it is so amazing to us. You also recently just began to refer to yourself in the first person instead of the third.

Malcolm no like it recently became: I don't like it.

Every day is filled with moments of parental pride for your dad and me.

You so clearly communicate what you need from us and we love that. Sometimes you "over- communicate" but you get that from your dad so I can't blame you. (Haha.)

You live life so fully and without any fear. We learn from you, Malcolm.

You go right up to kids at the playground to play. Sometimes they don't want to play with you, but you don't let that interfere for even a second with your own enjoyment.

Recently at the playground, there were some older kids sitting in a circle under the slide. They were about five years old and seemed to be making big plans. You saw them and wanted to be a part of whatever they were planning. So you went up to them and sat down. They looked at you and you started talking. All we could make out was every third word... which happened to be "Mommy." You went on for a minute or two -- Mommy this and Mommy that. I imagine you were saying,

"Guys, my mom is so awesome. Have you met her? My mommy is the best. Do you love your mommies? Because I love my mommy so much. I love just saying her name. Mommy, Mommy, Mommy." 

After about a minute of that, the older kids got up and moved to another location to continue their secret plans. But that didn't impact you at all. You just went about playing. And I loved that.

You try again. And again. Because that's who you are. I always learn from you when I witness that fearlessness.

You play full out when you play. Sometimes that means you get hurt. Bumps on the head, bruises on the shins and scrapes on your knees. But that's part of growing up. You invite adventure into your life, but you always use caution. And as your mom, I so appreciate that. Thank you.

You love so many things. Here is a short and partial list of things you love these days:

Singing, playing soccer, playing baseball, running, pushing your baby stroller, playing in the sand, playing in the water, dancing, cuddling, playing stickers, coloring with markers, helping mommy cook and clean, playing with other kids, hide and seek, Pablo, trains, pirates, trucks, mac & cheese, reading, being read to and doing things "myself" or "Malcolm self."

You are generous. You share. Yes, sometimes you need a little encouragement in that department. But you always come around. "Here ya go" was one of the first complete sentences you spoke and spoke often.

My little fishy. You love the water. So much. Today we celebrated your birthday at the beach. When it was time for cake, you didn't want to leave the water. I had to carry you away from the water. After cake, it was time to go home for a nap. When you woke up from your nap, the first thing you said was, "Ocean. Ocean!"

Cuddle, Mommy. 

I think you say, "Cuddle, Mommy" more than anything. Times ten. And I am so lucky for that. This morning you didn't want to stop cuddling. I wanted to get up and get things done before your party. And then I thought, "It's Malcolm's birthday. And all he wants to do is cuddle with me. I think I can give him that gift." But it is truly more of a gift to me than you. Times ten.

I hope to always remember what it feels like to cuddle and be cuddled by my sweet little two year old boy. Because I know that this will truly be the most precious moment in my life. Everyone tells me to soak it up because it won't last forever. And I know that. And I try to freeze the moment as much as possible. But I know that like every other parent, I will get to a point where I will wonder where the time went and long for our morning cuddle sessions. That much is inevitable. Today I am grateful that you love to cuddle.

You stopped nursing this week

I hope that you won't be mad at me when you're a teenager for writing this. It's a big deal for us. Two years of nursing. I never thought we'd go that long. And this week we said "Bye bye" to Mommy's milk. I'm proud that we went as long as we did and I'm proud that we weaned without drama. Thank you so much for that. One day I'll tell you the whole story of how you weaned... but only if you want to hear it. (Other moms, contact me privately for the story. It's a good one.)

You're two. You're about to start pre-school. You're about to start potty training. You're rapidly gaining independence. Growing into your own. And making it impossible for me to fully express how I feel about it all. Two years ago your dad and I became parents, thanks to you. Two years ago we lived on a little island in the Pacific Northwest. We were just beginning to get to know you. Two years ago as I write this, we were still at Island Hospital with your Grammy Pammy and our tiny little newborn baby boy. We were in our bubble of joy.  

Drunk on the miracle of you.

Two years ago tomorrow, we brought you home on a ferry. (Your entire birth story is here and here if you ever want to read it.) We arrived with you at the farm house on the island and introduced you to our friends Juniper and Sean... and you met Pablo for the first time. You won't remember that moment, but Pablo will. What have they done?! I'm sure he was thinking. But he has grown to love you. When you cry, he cries. When you sleep in your room, he waits outside your door. Listening. Protecting. He forgives you when you pull his tail. Actually, pulled. Past tense. Thankfully, you are over that phase.

Two years ago we had no idea how we would travel from our little island to Chicago and then on to L.A. No idea. (It's still hard to believe.)

Some days you and your presence in our lives seems normal. Like, of course. And then I think... no. No! You are a miracle. You always will be. Because you weren't until you were. And are. And continue to be. Like all children. Here you are. How can we ever understand? How can I ever fully express what you mean to me? I can't. I try. Because I feel like I should be able to. But I always come up short. I procrastinated writing this birthday letter to you for this very reason. I kept thinking I'd find a way to say it. "It." The "it" that is surreal and escapes my abilities. The "it" is the miracle of you.

Right now you are snuggled with Daddy on the sofa watching your favorite movie at the moment - Muppet Treasure Island. You are filled up with beach time, grandparent time, friend time, sand play, water play, sticker play, strawberry and cream cake, presents, presents, presents and so much love.

Sometimes it feels impossible to love you more than I already do. And then I love you more. And guess what? I'm not the only one who feels that way. Your dad does and so do all of your grandparents and aunts and uncles. We love you and we are so proud of you, Malcolm.

Happy birthday, my sweet boy. As you grow, we grow.

I love you.



P.S. Daddy made you this video for your birthday and it is one of your favorite things to watch again and again and again...

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

What I know about love and the surefire way to heal a wounded heart

This post was commissioned by the lovely Therese Schwenkler of the seriously-you-should-be-reading-this blog The Unlost who asked if I might be willing to write something about love and heartbreak for a blog post celebrating her one year "single-versary." She was hoping I would provide some wisdom and hope for women who are currently dealing with heartbreak and/or loneliness.

I welcomed such a noble (if not daunting) challenge and here is what I came up with...

Bob and I just celebrated nine years of marriage. And we've been together for twelve. I haven't had to go out on any first dates in a very long time. Mark Zuckerberg was 16 when Bob and I started dating, so thankfully Facebook wasn't a part of my single womanhood. I'm a thirty-six year old woman with a husband, a toddler and a Pug Dog... so how the hell can I relate to someone who is single and heartbroken?

Well, it's true. I can't completely relate to where you are right now. In this world. But I have been there. And what I can tell you is this... as much as it hurts, as much as it seems like you'll never be happy again, as much as you can't go a day without crying or at least trying not to cry, as much as you want to just shut yourself away from the world for a little while...

You alone are responsible for your own happiness.

I'll say it again. (This time with feeling.)

You alone are responsible for your own happiness.
This piece of advice was given to me by my stepmom Silvia following a particularly bad breakup when I was 24. I was having such a terrible time getting past being dumped. I couldn't go a day without wallowing in my misery. I felt cheated and lost and hopelessly sad. It was all very dramatic. One day on my way home from work, I was on the phone crying to my stepmom (who had been a wonderful listener during my weeks of wallowing) when she said this to me.
Our conversation went a little something like this (I reserve the right to paraphrase... a lot):

ME: It hurts so much. It's so unfair. (blubber blubber, sniff sniff) I don't know how I'll ever be happy again...

SILVIA: The thing is, you alone are responsible for your own happiness.

ME: But, you don't understaaaaaaaaand--

SILVIA: You alone are responsible for your own happiness. Not a guy. Not a relationship. Not your mom. Not your dad. Not your job. Not your circumstances. You.



ME: But--


ME: Okay.

And it hit me. Not right away. But soon after that conversation I realized she was right. If I was responsible for my own happiness, then I could just be happy. Now. I didn't have to wait for anything to happen. I didn't have to wait for the pain to go away. I didn't have to wait for his new relationship to crash and burn in order to show him how amazing I was compared to her and how wrong he was for dumping me. No. In fact, I could just be happy. More than that. It was my JOB to be happy. No one else's job. MY job.

But how do you just be happy? You begin by getting that outside circumstances have absolutely nothing to do with your happiness. Then you start doing things that happy people do. At least that's what I did. I engaged in my life. As a single woman. I empowered myself. I determined to kick ass as a smart and single twenty-four year old. I signed up for a 500-mile bike ride for charity with my mom (it was my very smart and kick butt mom's idea.) And then I began training for that ride. Raising money and riding my bike all over Chicago for a cause far bigger than myself. This ride was the AIDS ride and raised money for people living with AIDS. Doing that made all the difference.

I was up to something and loving life. I realized that had I still been in that relationship, I probably never would have done this ride. It was such a fulfilling experience. And it completely had me get how powerful those words "You alone are responsible for your own happiness" really are.

The best part of the story comes now.

I met my husband training for that ride.

Our first date was the ride itself. 500 miles over six days from Minneapolis to Chicago. We fell in love in bike shorts and helmets, pedaling up steep hills, in wind and rain, through knee pain and sore butts.

I was never one to believe in love at first sight, but by the end of that ride I knew I would spend the rest of my life with him. That ride has been a metaphor for our life together. Ups and downs, pain and tears.

Love never gets easy. The most rewarding relationships are hard fought. What I've learned from our 12-year-relationship (that has been far from perfect, by the way) is that love isn't saying yes once and hoping it lasts. It's saying yes over and over and over again and especially when everything seems impossible. Saying yes in the good times and especially the bad. That's love. That's our love. We just keep doing it.

Throughout our marriage, Silvia's advice has come to mind many times over. "You alone are responsible for your own happiness." Not anyone else. Not ever. Not only when you're single, but also when you're in a committed relationship. And especially when you're married. Trust me. I've tried to make Bob responsible for my happiness. It does not work. So, please don't even try it. You can outsource a lot of things these days, but not your happiness. Why would you want to?

So, I guess that's my advice for anyone who is brokenhearted and/or lonely.

Make being happy your new occupation. 

Go out and surprise yourself with how awesome and amazing you are. Do a bike ride for charity. Sign up for a 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk. Raise money for an important cause close to your heart. Learn to play the saxophone. Take a tap dancing class. Volunteer at your local shelter. Deliver meals on wheels. Write that novel you've always dreamed of writing. Be someone who inspires happiness in others.

Be. Happy. Now. Yes. Right now. You deserve it.

Thanks, Therese for inviting me to write this post. It had me realize that I write way more about foreclosure and debt than I do about love. I've been neglecting the LOVE part of this blog. No more.

Now that you've read this, it would be so great if you would comment below with your advice to the lonely and temporarily brokenhearted.

And DEFINITELY go read the inspiration for this post- Therese's one-year single-versary blog post about love:

Rewriting the Great Love Stories of Our Time - The Unlost

Check out the other wise women contributing posts to The Unlost's post on love:

The Road to Transformation - Further Bound

Guest Post, The Unlost: Stories of Our Time - [According to Aletheia]

Later today there will be another related post up on Expat at Home.

P.S. If you liked this post, please share it. You know what to do. Danke!
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Relocation update

Bob and Pablo eating healthy on the road.
Bob is driving our 1995 Volvo Wagon to L.A.

Pablo is his co-pilot.

By far the most asked question is:

"Is the Volvo going to make it?" 

Yes. YES! It HAS to make it. So it will.

Day 1 Bob and Pablo drove first to Humboldt, Iowa to visit family and then on to Des Moines to spend the night at his sister and niece's.

Day 2 they drove from DesMoines to Dallas to visit family. Long day of driving capped off with a lovely family visit.

Day 3 was Dallas to Roswell. Why? Because he has always wanted to see Roswell. He confessed to me that for two hours during that drive he was in the middle of the desert without cell phone reception. In a 1995 Volvo wagon. He promises never to drive a remote two-lane road without cell phone reception ever again.

Day 4 is today. He's making the long haul to Los Angeles. Send good thoughts his direction.

Malcolm and I are camped out with family in the burbs. Enjoying every second.

AT the moment I am sitting in a coffee shop scouring the web for places to live while my sister babysits Malcolm.

Speaking of places to live. We could really use one. ASAP. We arrive on Friday and need a short term furnished rental while we apartment hunt for something more permanent.

Anyone in L.A. looking for a house sitter?

Seriously, if you have any leads on any pet-friendly vacation rentals near Century City in Los Angeles please please please send them my way at: loveinthetimeofforeclosure at gmail dot com

Thank you thank you thank you!

Now back to the search.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Did the foreclosure crisis turn us into nomads?

Pablo Neruda packed into the car for our move from L.A. to Chicago in 2009
As a teenager, when I imagined the map of my life, there were push pins all over the world. I visualized myself as a traveler. At one point I even wanted to be a foreign corespondent. I wanted drama, excitement, new adventures. Settling down in one place was the equivalent of death in my teenage mind.

Now it seems all my late-thirties mind wants to do is settle down. And it doesn't mean death. It means connection.

What makes it so hard to leave Chicago this time around is not Chicago (though we do love Chicago)... it's our community. The same thing that had us torn up about leaving L.A. Community is what we crave. It's what I crave. And what makes our life so full and wonderful.

But all this moving around has me wonder... 

Are we nomads?


They all have one thing in common: no permanent abode. No fixed address. They move from place to place.

Traditional nomadic hunter-gatherers moved from place to place in search of food. Sustenance. I suppose that is similar to what we're doing here with this move.

It's true that in losing our house our anchor to Los Angeles lifted, thus setting us adrift. Though we made sure we had purpose in our drifting. It would appear that each move we've made since that time was nomadic in character. At least in some regards.

The move to the Chicago immediately following the loss of our house was for shelter.
The move to the island was for shelter.
The move to Chicago was for Bob's job (sustenance) and sweetened by the presence of community. This move back to L.A. is also for a job opportunity (sustenance.)

A quick Google search of "modern nomads" brought me to a blog belonging to a caretaking couple - Modern Day Nomads. They call themselves nomads because they move place to place in search of caretaking opportunities. They are currently property caretakers of a 150+ acre farm in Maine. Before that they were property caretakers of a ranch in Texas. He's an artist and she's a freelance writer and editor making it easy for them to move from caretaking gig to caretaking gig.

They are living a life Bob and I thought we might end up living for longer than we did. As caretakers. But... the point is that they do seem to fit the definition of modern nomads.

Where does that leave us?

Though four major moves in three years is a lot of moving, I'm still not sure that makes us nomads.

Perhaps it's a phase.

Like a pixie haircut.

It takes guts to do it. You've got a really good reason. And you look back on it years later trying to imagine what on earth you were thinking.

I only hope that years from now we look back on this glad that we had the cojones to jump at this opportunity. As crazy as it seems at times. As cozy as our life here is.

You know, it seems to me that traditional nomads wouldn't have done what we're doing. They wouldn't move on until their food source was used up. Right? Ours isn't. And that's what is so hard about this. We're not moving because there is nothing for us here in Chicago. Or because we hate our life here. No. Complete opposite. We love our life here. And we're moving.

Doesn't make sense. Right? I'm having a hard time encapsulating what that feels like. Choosing to move from one wonderful life to another hopefully even greater opportunity.  So if there is anyone out there who has done this kind of a move before, please share your insight in the comments section. I would so appreciate it.

Moving to L.A. this time around is bringing back memories from our first move to L.A. when we were engaged and moving for me to go to grad school at USC. I keep referencing my mindset then. Looking back at how different we were. And how different this is.

One thing I know for sure.

Nomads or not.

This time around, we're out to make Los Angeles our bitch.

There. I said it.

We've got a kid now.

This is all about him.

His future.

Making hard choices in service of the extraordinary.

And as cozy as our life is, reaching for the extraordinary can be pretty damn uncomfortable. So I guess the way I feel is about right.


Did the foreclosure crisis turn us into nomads?

Well... maybe a little. But it didn't turn us into something we weren't already. When I was only two we moved to London for my dad's job. I'm certainly not new to big moves like these.

Maybe instead of turning me into a nomad, foreclosure freed the nomad within. 

For now, at least, I'm okay with being a little bit nomad-ish.

What about you? Did foreclosure turn you into a nomad? Or nomad-ish? Please add to the conversation by sharing in the comments below. I love your input!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Full Circle

Have you gotten tired of our big announcements?

We've made so many over the last three years...

We avoided foreclosure!

We're leaving L.A. and moving to Chicago!

We're moving to an island!

We're having a baby!

We're leaving the island and moving back to Chicago!

Well, it's time for another one.


We're leaving Chicago and moving back to L.A.!

I know.

We must sound totally certifiable.

For the fourth time in less than three years.
For the second time in Malcolm's 21 month life span.

Almost three years after losing our house and leaving L.A., we are moving back again.

I know!

Yes. We really are moving back to Los Angeles.

And yes, perhaps we are mad.


But I promise there is a method to our madness.

We wouldn't leave my family if there weren't a really



really good reason.

Dropped right into Bob's lap, completely out of the blue, is the opportunity for him to do the same work he's been doing for double the income working for 20th Century Fox.

When does that ever happen?

When does that happen in this kind of economy?

It doesn't. Well, not often. Not every day, that's for sure.

Way to go, Bob! Way to continually create opportunities for our family for being so awesome at what you do. 

Here's how it went down.

On the day we were flying to L.A. to visit friends and family and see one of my plays in The Car Plays: San Diego, Bob got a call from a headhunter. This headhunter is someone he hasn't spoken to in ten years. TEN. YEARS. And she just happened to call him on the day we were going to L.A. about a job in L.A.

We said no.

No way.

We are not moving.

We're not leaving Chicago. Not leaving my family. Not putting everyone through that.

We're happy here.

We hate moving.

We're not doing it.

But then...

A few days later...

Bob thought about it.

He ran the numbers. Then came to me and said, "I can't believe I would just turn down this much money without even giving it some thought."

So we gave it some thought. We saw that we could be out of debt in a year and a half with this kind of salary bump. We saw the opportunity to actually start saving for Malcolm's future. We saw the future we've been trying to create...

A future free from debt.

And it just fell in our lap.

Yes, it would have been better if this opportunity had been in Chicago.

It would have been a total no-brainer.

But the universe doesn't work like that.

I mean, we did move all the way to an island that was pretty much in Canada without ever having seen it just for the opportunity to live rent-free. And let's be honest, for the adventure. We are not shy of adventure.

But we've gotten cozy here. We love Chicago. We love our life. We love, as I like to say, our little corner of the universe. And though we've begun to make a habit of it, we really do hate moving.

Yet, we're still living pay check to pay check. We're still carrying our IRS debt, our student loans and our debt to the Franchise Tax Board in California. We're still a very long way off from zero debt. From ever even thinking about owning a house again.

Stay and be happy as we are? Life is good here. Yes, we go pay check to pay check. But, let's be honest, we have a fabulous life.


Embrace the opportunity and possibilities and return to L.A. Complete the circle.

We talked about quality of life. We wanted to make sure we were not just following the money and ignoring quality of life. Is it better to go pay check to pay check slowly chipping away at our debt for years and years on end as long as we get to see my family on a weekly basis? Or is it better to eradicate our debt quickly but see my family only on a monthly or bi-monthly basis?

Moving back to L.A. doesn't mean Malcolm won't be around family. Bob's dad is there. So, he'll have the opportunity to get to know his Grandpa Jim.

My brother is in San Diego... only a 2 hour drive away. So Malcolm will have the chance to get to see more of Reverend Godfather Tommy Dubs.

Bob has two sisters in California. One lives up the coast in San Luis Obispo and the other is in Sacramento. So Malcolm will have more time with his Auntie Chelsey and Auntie Shana.

We're trying to rent a 3-bedroom or at least a large enough 2-bedroom to allow for guests to be comfy. We want guests.

To everyone in Chicago- friends and family alike-- I say this: PLEASE VISIT US.


We are budgeting for travel to and from Chi-town.

If we could, we'd be bi-"coastal." Yes, Lake Michigan is considered a coast. At least in this scenario.

After considering everything it really came down to an offer that we couldn't refuse.

When we were offered the incredible opportunity to housesit on San Juan Island, we obviously didn't have Malcolm to consider. But... if we hadn't gone, who knows how long we would have delayed before having Malcolm.

We had to consider many of the same concerns. And different ones too. One thing I wrote at that time resonates today.

In my blog post announcing our big decision to move to the island and be caretakers for two years, I wrote: I WILL NOT ALLOW MY FEAR TO PAINT THIS WINDOW SHUT.

My fears range from concern that I won't be as happy there to just being afraid to reinvent my life again. To uproot again.

But here's the thing. It doesn't have to be forever.


We can always come back.

(seems to be our mantra)

We know how fortunate we are to have this opportunity. And we know that some people will disagree with our choice to relocate. It has not been easy. We have so many mixed emotions. There have been tears.

We'll miss so much.

We always do. Every time we move we miss what we've left behind. We've missed our life in L.A., we've longed for aspects of our life on the island. And now in going back to L.A. we'll miss our fabulous Chicago life. The list of what we'll miss is too long. So we're trying not to focus on that and instead just stay in action. Moving forward. Focus on the positive aspects of our move. How we're having yet another adventure.

What makes it easier is that we're going to a place we know where we have a community. We don't have to start completely over again.

If we took only one lesson from all of these moves it is to truly appreciate every little thing in the moment. Don't fall into the trap of "there's plenty of time for that." Because there's not. That's an illusion.

Moving again.

Does it get easier each time?

No. You'd think it would. But, for some reason it just doesn't. Probably because of this whole aging thing. The desire to plant roots. Especially as parents.

As our friend Porter said when I told her the news: "We are a more global generation."

Sometimes I think life would be easier if you never knew anything even existed outside your little world.

Then I slap myself. And remember how many amazing adventures life has given me and how I love being "global."

But change isn't easy. And we are no different than anyone else. We still have the same fears about change.

We worry. We fret. We stress.

And somehow we act in the face of all of that.

By remembering what we're committed to. By getting that it's not supposed to be easy. It's not even supposed to be hard. It just is. It is the way it is. And if you want things. Like financial freedom. It's more than likely going to be uncomfortable in the 'going for it.'

I'm so clear that status quo is so much easier. But apparently that's just not who we are.

This move is our chance to take every lesson we've learned through marital crisis and foreclosure and short sale and bankruptcy.... this is our chance to take all of that and be free. No longer burdened by debt. No longer stressed about how we'll save for our son's future. And live a created life.

The universe opened the window.

All we have to do is step through.

Or allow our fear to paint it shut.

But we made a commitment to each other... to be bigger than our fear. To grab opportunities. So... we will not allow our fear to pain this window shut.

Which is why we are moving.

Back to L.A.

Just shy of three years after losing the house.

The latest Walker adventure.
As my mom says, the only constant with us is change.
I hope to settle down one day. I do.
But for now... let the whirlwind begin.


The details

-Bob's new job is with 20th Century Fox

-He starts the first week of May

-We are looking for an apartment in Culver City. Why Culver City? Because it's a great community that is really close to Bob's job. We plan on remaining a one-car family, so a short commute is really essential. We need something that is dog friendly, kid friendly and visitor friendly. We know we've been spoiled by this apartment and by Andrew- our landlord. But we're hoping to find something similar. Tall ceilings. Lots of light. A yard. 

-We're also looking for awesome people to take over our apartment in the Lincoln Square neighborhood on Chicago's north side. If you're interested, write me at for details and pics.

What do you think? Are we insane? Or would we be insane not to go?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A deleted scene from American Home

So I have this scene that I wrote for my play AMERICAN HOME that just didn't fit into the final draft... it's one of the "babies" I had to kill, so to speak. But I'm unwilling to bury it. I want it to have some life. Which is why I'm sharing it here.

I hope you enjoy. And if you do, I hope you'll share it.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

            A scene by Stephanie Alison Walker

                                   JOE (41) sneaks a cigarette at a rest
                                   stop somewhere in Kansas. After a
                                   couple of beats, CINDY (41) appears.
                                   Caught. They lock eyes. Enough said.

                          (no response)
            Better hope the kids don't see you.
                          (no response)
            I can't believe you're smoking. Where'd you even get that?
                          (no response)


            Where'd you get that cigarette?


            You bought a pack?



            Cindy. Please. I'm losing my fucking mind. 

            But a whole pack? You couldn't just bum one?

            Bum one? From who?

            I don't know. A trucker. Another driver. There was an old
            lady smoking by the women's bathroom. I'm sure she would've
            given you a smoke.

            A menthol or Virginia Slim. No thanks.

            Fine. But you could've--

            I didn't want to talk to anyone, okay. I just wanted to smoke
            in peace.

                                   (A few beats. Then...)

                          (just can't help herself)
            So you're smoking again.

            I'm having a smoke.

            I'm just trying to get this straight because the kids--

            Cindy, will you please just lay the fuck off?!

                                   (Silence. JOE takes a few drags.
                                   Relaxes. She watches. Then looks out at
                                   the scenery.)

                          (a peace offering)
            It's nice here. Everyone always talks about how ugly it is.
            But I think it's pretty. The wheat fields. They're wheat,
                          (Joe nods)
            The twins with Matty?
                          (Joe nods)

            He took them to play over in the grass.

            In the grass?

            They're fine. They're with Matty. Running around. Stretching
            their little legs.

            That's good.


            How're we doing? Think we'll make it to St. Louis tonight?

            If the kids sleep.

            No guarantee there.

            I can't take another stretch like the last one. Tell you that
            right now.

            Want me to drive? I said I'll drive.

            I'm fine. It's just the constant noise.

            I can't do anything about that.

            Should've bought that DVD player.

            This again.





            I'm just saying/

            We can't afford--

            It would've been a good investment. Keep me from losing my

            I said we should have flown. 

            That we can't afford.

            But if it was just--

            Five plane tickets?

            You could have driven by yourself, I said. 

            We could have rented our own private plane. That would have
            been a much better scenario. Why didn't you suggest that?

            Joe. Don't.

            Or a spaceship. We could colonize the moon while we're at it.

                          (after a beat)

            Mars? Seriously. Mars?

            No. You're right. The moon is a much more realistic option. 

            That's all I'm saying. To the moon. To the moon, Cindy. To
            the moon.

            Okay, okay.

                                   (They look at each other. Then laugh
                                   off the tension. Relief.)

            I heard Harry tell Matty he misses his bedroom.

            What did Matty say?

            He said something about how great their room at Grandma and
            Grandpa's will be. But, I saw tears.




            I know.

                                   (CINDY snatches the cigarette from

            Hey, come on!

                                   (CINDY takes a long drag. Exhales.
                                   Hands it back.)


            Desperate times.


            Promise me.


            It's all just temporary.

            The smoking?

            That. Yes.


            And the rest?

            I hope to God it is. I can't live with your parents forever.
            I just can't.

            People used to do it. That's how things used to be, you know.
            In other countries that's how they live. Generations under
            one roof.
            Not that I want to. I'm just saying...
                          (off Joe's look)
            I know. Something will appear. Somehow this will turn out for
            the best. It will.

            You keep saying that.

            I'm sorry if my optimism annoys you.

                                   (JOE takes his last drag, drops the
                                   butt on the ground and steps on it.
                                   Then leaves it there.)

            It doesn't annoy me...

            I know it does. 

            It's just... 

            Look...being a cynical grouch doesn't help anything. So why
            not try a little optimism. At least for the kids.

            How did we ever get here?

            We just did.

            It's just. If I'd seen it coming...

            It doesn't matter how we got here. It only matters how we'll
            get out. And never end up here again. But look... we have a
            place to live, three beautiful and healthy children and...

            And what?

            Each other. That should be enough.
 (C) Copyright 2012
All rights reserved
For information about rights, please contact Stephanie Alison Walker
stephawalker at gmail

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Grace in foreclosure

Are you starting off 2012 in foreclosure?

If the answer is yes, I'm very sorry. I've been there. I know how hard that is.

According to a story published today by CNNMoney,

"One in every 624 U.S. households, nearly 211,000 in total, got hit with some sort of foreclosure filing last month."

Starting off a new year with a foreclosure notice is not ideal. Not at all.

I get it. Bob and I received our intent to accelerate just days before Christmas in 2008. We know how challenging it can be to try to be optimistic and empowered when you don't even know if you're going to have a place to live months down the road.

It can be so overwhelming. Just know that you are not alone. Not by a longshot.

What can you do? 

Well, there are so many things you can do. But so as not to add to the overwhelm, the biggest thing you can do is face this potential foreclosure with grace and integrity.

What does that look like?

At the most basic level, it looks like a clean house.

Yes. Keep your house clean. Continue to love it. Treat it nicely. Take good care of it. That is especially important if your house is on the market.

I know that keeping your house up might be the last thing you feel like doing when the bank is threatening to take it away, but it's the right thing to do.

And, it will help you confront this challenge with grace.

When we realized that we wouldn't be able to keep our house in spite of everything, we decided that we were going to do everything in our power to find a buyer in a short sale scenario who would love the house as much as we had.

That meant that we had to take care of it. Yes, it can be exhausting keeping the house show-ready month after month after month after month. But, doesn't it feel good?

In the face of foreclosure, you can choose the path of destruction or the path of grace and integrity.

Choose grace. For yourself. And for your future.

What ways do you face your foreclosure with grace and integrity?

Foreclosures Climbed in January - CNNMoney

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Get your FREE copy of Love in the Time of Foreclosure today - one day only!

 Happy Valentine's Day, LITTOF readers!

My Valentine's Day gift from Bob was a Dunkin' Donuts coffee delivered to me in bed this morning. And my gift to you is a copy of my eBook, Love in the Time of Foreclosure.

Yes. That's FREE. For just one day.

If you haven't read it yet, why not take a chance today. At least load it up on your new eReader.

Dick Gordon of The Story with Dick Gordon called it
“A genuine human adventure.”

Sara Clemence (co-founder of said: “There are life lessons in here for all of us.”

Janelle Brown (author of “This is Where We Live”) said: “Walker’s personal real estate horror story is wrenching and emotionally honest, as she explores the impact of home ownership on relationships, dreams, and self-identity.”

And a woman in my mom’s book club said that Love in the Time of Foreclosure is “Enchanting and addictive.”

Enchanting and addictive!

So, what are you waiting for? Get your free Love in the Time of Foreclosure today.


Go to my publisher's site - Outpost19 - look at the left column and scroll down until you see this:

Outpost19 offers
epub versions for
non-Kindle devices
and apps:

Click on the "Outpost19" icon to download your free non-Kindle version of the book. When you get to checkout, enter the code "LOVE."

Happy Valentine's Day.

And enjoy!

P.S. We need your help to spread the love today. Please help us by sharing this blog post on Facebook, Twitter or wherever you hang out. For your convenience, you can just click the social media share buttons to the bottom or the left of this post. Thank you!

P.S.S. This special is for a non-Kindle version of the book. That means you won't be able to read this version on your Kindle, but you'll be able to read it anywhere else. Computer, iPad, etc. It's an .epub doc. If you have any questions about this, please leave them in the comments so that others who have the same question can see the answer. Thank you!

like this heart? sara jensen designed it.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

A frank conversation with Valentine's Day

Yo, Valentine's Day...

I'm not down on love.

I'm not down on romance.

I'm not even down on Valentine's Day, per se.

What I'm down on is the pressure of Valentine's Day.

It is totally possible to have a perfectly lovely Valentine's Day. Yes. It is possible.

Just like it's possible to be happy in the face of pretty sucky circumstances.
It's possible to experience love on a day that seems to be designed to make most of us feel like our love isn't the right love.

Yes, Valentine's Day. You did hear me correctly. You are designed to make us all feel like losers in love. No matter what.

If we're single we're losers because we don't have someone to be with on your day.

If we're in a relationship, we're losers because our relationship doesn't look the one put forth in the glossies or the ads. Whatever it is, it's not enough.

I'm a total sucker for romantic stories and movies. So I've been wondering why just the idea of a day dedicated to love and romance paralyzes me so.

I think it's this idea of perfection. And one day. Like I have this one shot to perfectly express my love for Bob in order to feel like everything is right in the world. That I'm doing the right thing. That I'm with the right person and our marriage is on the right track. Right. Right. Right.


Too much emphasis on right only leads to wrong.

Because there is no such thing as "right."

There's only what we say is true.

There's only what we create.

But you don't emphasis that, do you?

It's in your best interest for us to feel inadequate because that way we'll spend more money on flowers, chocolate, lingerie and bling in order to feel RIGHT.

You set this up so well. You're so sly, VDay. You tap into that part of us that makes us desperate to prove how perfect our love is and how loved we are. You want us to spend as much money as possible as a way to go from feeling wrong to feeling right about ourselves. About our relationship. And in order to erase any loneliness we might be feeling.

In fact, you want us to feel bad about feeling lonely, don't you? As if loneliness itself weren't bad enough. We all get lonely from time to time, Valentine's Day. Whether we are single or married. We get lonely. Why? Because we are human. And loneliness is a perfectly normal and acceptable human emotion.

You want us to be terrified of loneliness. As though being lonely on Valentine's Day is the worst thing in the world. You want us to feel like we did in third grade when we were so fearful of being the only one in class who didn't get a homemade valentine. You want us to remember that feeling and organize our lives around making sure it never happens again.

You want us to think that if we are alone on Valentine's Day that means we will be alone for the rest of our lives.

But that's not true. Not at all. I mean, think about it. It would be like me believing that if I'm mad at Bob on Valentine's Day then I'm going to be mad at him for the rest of my life. And then I'll end up alone and we're back to the loneliness.

You know what I most dislike about you, Valentine's Day? 

That you make me feel incapable of adequately expressing the love I have in my heart for Bob.

Here's the thing. Of course I'd love to be able to show him how much I love him by surprising him with a fancy sports car with a big bow on top.

That'd be nice. He'd love that.

Or whisk him off to some tropical location for the weekend. He'd love that too. We'd both love that.

But I can't. Kind of have this debt we're paying off, see?

So what is it about you that has me want to spend money I don't have?

It's like I'm afraid if I don't then it means my marriage is missing something.

Really, Valentine's Day? Really? Is that how you want me to feel?



So, let me get this straight.

You're saying that if I spend more money than I can afford to buy my husband the perfect gift that makes him feel like he's 18 all over again
and I give him that gift with the perfect card with the perfect message
and I wear lacy lingerie just this side of naughty that makes my boobs look like I'm 18 all over again and I light candles
and wax my body
and tantalize his senses with perfume and aromatherapy
and I cook him a meal made for a man with sophisticated palate that also makes him feel comforted like he's at home with me... something like slow cooked short ribs and garlic mashed potatoes
and I bake him a chocolate cake with some sort of hot chocolate pudding lava center that we eat together and that has us wanting each other in a way that we haven't in a long time...
that he will fall in love with me all over again?

And in turn, he will look even sexier than Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise
and he will say all the right things in just the right way
and he'll give me those earrings I admired that day that we were walking by that shop in the neighborhood and I will love them more than any gift he's every given me not because of the earrings, but because it will show me that he was listening. He was listening.
and he'll hang on every word I say with the utmost sincerity.
and our conversation will be mutually fascinating like we are the two most fascinating people in the universe.
and he'll gaze at me as though I'm the only woman in the universe
and he will make me feel like everything is absolutely perfect and that I am without a doubt the most beautiful, accomplished, sexy, brilliant, powerful woman in the world.

And that is how Valentine's Day is supposed to be.




Ridiculous expectations?

But, Valentine's Day, that's not the message you send. You make it seem like that IS how it's SUPPOSED to be. And now you're suddenly saying I'm the one with ridiculous expectations?

Let's get real.

This is how it normally goes:

Every year. I tell myself and Bob that I don't care about Valentine's Day because it is a stupid and contrived "holiday" and I will not be caught in it's net of stupid expectations and childish fantasies about what real love is. I won't spend money in order to prove that our marriage is romantically on par with the best marriages in America... or what the magazines and movies say a romantically healthy marriage is. No. It's dumb.

We're happy. We're in love. We don't need to prove it to each other. We express our love every day. In different ways. In a look. In a kiss that lingers longer than usual. In our daily routines. The sharing of our lives. The way we parent together as partners.

We have nothing to prove to Valentine's Day.

We don't need to plan anything. Nope. We'll do what we always do. We'll eat dinner together as a family. We'll laugh at something adorable that Malcolm does. We'll get frustrated when Pablo begs for table scraps and even more frustrated when Malcolm throws his food on the floor for Pablo. We'll get frazzled when Malcolm screeches that he wants down and we don't get to finish our dinner.

Then we'll take Pablo and Malcolm for a walk. We'll relax. We'll look at the moon. The stars. We'll be in the moment. We'll give Mallie his bath, put him down to sleep, then snuggle up together and maybe watch a movie. Or just listen to music and talk. Yes. Perfect.

And it's settled. That's my ideal Valentine's Day. Being happy with my life exactly the way that it is. Yes.

But then something happens as you get closer, Valentine's Day. I panic. I don't know why, exactly. Maybe it's the amount of Valentine's Day e-mails I get (I'm clearly on too many of these lists) or the plethora of stories about how to have the perfect perfect perfectist day that proves just how perfect you are and how perfect your life is... or maybe it's the inordinate amount of conversation hearts I've consumed in the last 24 hours.

But, it happens.

I admit it. I allow you to suck me in.

I get anxious. I did it again, I think. I planned NOTHING for Valentine's Day and it's TOMORROW.

What's wrong with me?! What does this mean? Who am I? Am I a terrible wife? Boring? Lazy?

I worry that if we do nothing to celebrate, that I'll feel left out. I already do. I feel left out.

Why does everyone else get chocolate?
Why does everyone else get champagne, fancy dinners, a night out worthy or red lipstick, back rubs and sex?
Why do I have to be "above" it?

I want romance. I want love. I want lingerie.

I get desperate. I start thinking of ways to make this the BEST VALENTINE'S DAY EVER.

There's still time to rectify this. No problem.


Wrong! This is a problem. There's not enough time. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

I'm here to tell you this, VDay: This one day is not a telltale for our future.

Stop making yourself so important. Seriously. You need to stop.

Oh, I need to stop?

I'm the one making you so important?

You're just you? You're just a day. A day that someone invented. And I'm the one giving you power and meaning?

Damn it! I know. You're right. I already knew that. And yet. And yet... I let you suck me in for a second.

It's a good thing I sat down to write this blog post because who knows what I might have done. Most likely I would have made Bob's life miserable by comparing him to Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise. What man can compare to that?! I would have just continued to invalidate myself and my marriage.

Because that's what we do when we measure our lives up against unrealistic expectations.
 A "perfect" Valentine's Day, just like a perfect ordinary day, isn't something that just exists. It's created.

And it has nothing to do with how much money you spend or how delicious a meal is.

Just like happiness is not a static state of being, neither is romance or love.

Romance and love are created feelings/emotions/moments.

Circumstances have nothing to do with romance. The circumstances in life rarely line up to create romantic moments all on their own. More often they seem to conspire against romance. At least against our pictures of what romance is.

So what to do?

Appreciate the love in your life.

Laugh when the perfect meal you were planning goes up in flames.

When the cookies you bake him end up being literally, "The worse cookies in the world."

Laugh at yourself. Laugh with each other.

GIVE the gift of unconditional love to others.

If nothing else, Valentine's Day is an opportunity to practice being the love we seek in our lives.

How do you celebrate Valentine's Day? 
Do you hate it?
Love it?
Please share in the comments below!

Check out this blog post on the subject:

Valentine's Day and Emotional Spending - EducationCents

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Monday, February 6, 2012

wanting and needing and everything in between: the beauty of a basic budget

There are things I want.
Source: via Stephanie on Pinterest

There are things I need.

There are things I want but don't need.

There are things I need but don't want.

And there are things I want to need but don't need to want.

(I have yet to find an example of that last one.)

The beauty of a fine-tuned, tediously crafted budget

The other night Bob and I sat down and worked tediously through our tedious and extremely tight budget. Did I mention it was tedious? We have a shared Google doc with our budget and lots of tabs. One of the tabs is our queue of things to buy that don't fall into our regular budget categories.

In this queue we have prioritized the expenses that fall outside of our budget.

We have the things we need to buy now (a new windshield to replace the cracked windshield before it shatters.)

Things we want to buy but don't necessarily need to buy them, though they would make life easier. (Such as a steam mop. And a Dustbuster.)

Those are just two examples. The point is that we have gotten really specific and vigilant with our finances. The goal is to take all the guess work out of spending and saving.

While working through this process, I noticed two things.

Thing 1
It's a lot easier to distinguish between want and need when the stakes are extremely high and resources are limited. If you have $5 and you're hungry, you're not going to spend that $5 on a tube of tinted lip balm when you already have three in your bag and spending that $5 means you don't get to eat. No. You're going to buy a sandwich instead.

Last week, I was a guest at my mom's book club. Yes, my mommy got her book club to read Love in the Time of Foreclosure for their January book selection. (Best. Mom. Ever.) Anyway, the discussion was really wonderful. One of my mom's friends brought up Maslow's Hierarchy of Need.
via Wikipedia

She said, "It's easy to be concerned with self-actualization when you're living in abundance."

That really hit home. Especially because I have been thinking about that a lot lately.

Another way of saying that is that it's easy to be concerned with your personal psychological development when you're not flat broke. When you're not in foreclosure. When you're not unemployed.

When you're in that space of needing to fulfill fundamental human needs like shelter, food, water, breathing... you have no room or space to waste on wondering, wanting or any kind of existential concerns. It's all about providing. And the stakes are high. This is survival mode. (Notice that none of Woody Allen's characters are flat broke. At least not Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris.)

Obviously, there are so many reasons why it's not appealing to live every day in survival mode. Especially when it's not your choice. But there are those people who actually choose to live here. Christopher McCandless comes to mind immediately. He was the Emory College graduate who gave away all of his belongings to live off the land in Alaska. Into the Wild is the book by John Kraukauer about Chris McCandless. (I highly recommend it.)

So there is something appealing about only having to worry about our most fundamental needs. About eliminating even the space to want. I definitely romanticized that notion different times throughout my life.

And I experienced the Zen of it when we were selling everything. Yes. It's wonderful to be set free from the material. It can be incredibly freeing if you have the ability to face it with a positive mindset.

Back when we were facing foreclosure it was a lot easier to avoid buying things we didn’t need because we didn’t have the money to even make that choice. We didn’t have to think “Do I really need this?” Because the answer was usually NO. You don’t. And we were so highly focused on the task at hand—saving the house.

Years go by. We begin again. We get back on our feet and begin to build up savings again. We get some room. We’re more comfortable. And foreclosure and short sales and mortgage payments are firmly in the rear view. That's when the wanting begins.

I've begun looking at property listings online. I gaze at houses and imagine a life in those images. I create entire worlds and stories. And then I shut it down. It's easy to do that with something as big as a house. Not so easy with the little things.

Things like a latte at the local coffee shop. A breakfast out. A new pair of jeans. On sale, of course. I want clothes. I hate mine at the moment. Bob and I haven't bought new clothes in years. Literally. Sure, I bought a sweater here and a pair of underwear there. And I've traded my clothes in for a few new items at Crossroads. But that's it. We both really want new clothes right now. But do we need them? Well... that's a little harder to answer.

It's not like we'd be walking around naked without them. So we don't need them for physiological reasons. But we do need them for reasons of esteem. The fourth layer in Maslow's Pyramid. It's just under the top. And this is how we categorize our needs. We don't need it to be safe, but we need it to feel good about ourselves. About our lives. That area can become so hazy so quickly that it requires constant checking in.

And that's what leads us to the second thing I noticed while budgeting with Bob.

Thing 2

When you budget with a fine tooth comb and really track your spending, there are no grey areas.

By budgeting every single penny (as incredibly tedious as it is) you actually eliminate the hazy area. It either fits in the budget or it doesn't. Every fiber of my being HATES sitting down to budget and track our expenses.

But (after a lot of internal and external kicking and screaming) once I give myself over to the process, I find freedom. I know myself well enough to only allow an hour maximum for this type of penny tracking at one time. And that helps. The knowledge that I won't be sitting in front of our spreadsheet for all eternity, but just for an hour.

It's been not only freeing to have this sort of command over our spending, but it's also been great for our marriage. I've been so unwilling to track our spending THIS closely that Bob has felt completely alone in regards to managing our finances. And that is so unfair. And just plain dumb.

For 2012 I'm done being dumb. Financial freedom happens through action. Not wanting. Not hoping. Not wishing or fantasizing. Action. That's it. And for us, that action is sitting down once a week with our budget and putting cross-checking, counting pennies and debriefing with each other on where we succeeded and where we failed that week.

Being able to know the difference between what you want and what you need is critical.

But it's okay to want even when you don't need...

As long as it's in the budget.

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