February 15, 2017

Figuring out family and asking for support

When helping family turns into a thorny mess The story of my money and my family goes back to the very start of this blog. I wanted to be independent for my own sake, but also wanted to take care of them as they had me. I wanted to support them until they got back on their feet.

More than ten long years of striving later, the truth of today is hard to swallow. My dad isn’t who he once was. He’s not the person I dedicated half my life to helping. He’s become, maybe as a result of my taking on so much responsibility, someone who lies to me, and takes from me. Because he’s not working with me, for his own benefit, but rather working against me, I have to step away from this relationship even more. He’s not just undermining my efforts, he’s damaging my ability to trust people, all over again.

This truth has lain heavy on my heart for months, for years. It hasn’t set me free, I didn’t know what I could do with this revelation.

In all these years, I’ve kept this a secret from the rest of the family. I didn’t share my challenges, or discuss Dad’s actions, I just took care of business. It was my other way of protecting them – I didn’t want them to look bad in front of their siblings. It wasn’t something they asked me to do but it felt, much like writing anonymously, it was just the right thing to do. Take care of your business and don’t share that with people outside the family. Heck, I barely learned to let PiC in on the secret, in no small part, due to the scars it left.

Walking Seamus in the dusk, ground wet from the (drought-breaking?) rain last week, I finally felt overwhelmed. After all the struggle, when confronted with a need to move, I find that honoring my responsibilities has left us with the choice of no choice at all. To change living situations, we have to make financial commitments that eliminate even the possibility of asking whether I want more kids. We can’t afford to have that answer be yes. We can’t afford to take on foster kids, we can’t adopt more dogs, we can’t afford to add to our family in any way.

With that frustrating realization, something in me dissolved. That last bit of pride fell right out of me and I called my aunt.

Not my rich aunt, I don’t have one of those. My poor aunt, the one who still knows what it’s like to struggle because she still works every day plus weekends to provide for her family, putting off retirement for another couple of years so she can be sure her kids make it through their internship years.

I asked her if she had a minute. I asked if she might talk to my dad about his housing situation, and convince him to apply for housing assistance. He should be eligible. For more than five years, he’d been telling me that he always intended to move out now that Mom’s gone but he’s done nothing. We think that he doesn’t want to move to a more affordable place because he’s tied to Mom’s memories there. It’s the only way I can see us squeezing any more money out of our budget – we’re currently footing the bill for his rent and utilities, all of which add up to well over a thousand dollars a month but I can’t very well push him again without coming off like a total jerk.

What she had to say shocked me.

Not only did she already know what I’ve been doing all this time, she’s talked to (at) Dad in the past already. She and the other aunts have always helped a bit as they can – bringing by food, or clothes when they spot a great bargain, but they can’t tackle his living expenses. This I knew.

What I didn’t know was that while doing so, she’s told him that grieving Mom is one thing, and his right, but he has to attend to the living as well. If he loves me, as he should, he shouldn’t let his grief for someone who is gone override his love for the person who’s still here working her tuchus off. He should be looking for ways to ease the burden on me. She and her family love me, unconditionally, and it’s clear to them that he needs to be making better choices, my support notwithstanding. He’s not, she says, “realistic.” That’s a very accurate assessment. He’s never had to learn to live with our poverty, not really. He’s always had me to cushion the financial hits, to pinch the pennies, and Mom did it before me. It’s past time that he starts making better choices, and nothing I’ve said has ever made a difference. She’s agreed to try to talk to him about it.

I don’t expect results immediately, maybe not at all, but the confession, and hearing someone in the family agree with me and offer to support me, was unexpectedly hard. You’d think it’d be harder to go solo – but I’m used to that. I’m NOT used to being vulnerable enough for someone to offer help.

Choked up, I confessed, I’m not sure that he loves me, judging by his choices. It’s a hard thing to say out loud and I thought it didn’t matter, but it does. The knowledge makes it much harder to continue to give and sacrifice freely, even if money wasn’t an issue.

While I can’t (won’t) put him out on the street, I must pull back on some of the bills we pay. With someone, another elder, willing to push him to live more prudently, and make changes, I can take steps to minimize the financial harm. He’s more likely to give into that pressure.

Whether it’s because of the shaming fact of my going to his sibling, or that he’s more willing to listen to her, it appears that he already has given in.

For 5 years, he’s said my sibling refused to apply for disability assistance which would include housing support to pay for the rent that I’ve been footing. I don’t disbelieve that, but I don’t necessarily believe he’d done all he could, either. Mere days after my aunt said she would step in, they started the application and approval process. I can’t know if the magic was my aunt stepping in, for certain, but the timing is certainly telling.

We need to save every bit that we can now, and he needs to make ends meet on his own eventually, with or without sibling. It’ll take months for the process to be completed. Then we’ll see if I see a penny of that housing assistance without becoming a bill collector but this is the first step toward that goal.

Wish me luck?

:: Have you ever had to make a tough love decision? Tell me about it?

February 13, 2017

When you can’t throw money at the problem(s)

Dogcare and when I can't throw money at our problems I hate change (that I didn’t initiate) so much. This is turning out to be the season of many changes, many more than we had originally planned.

We have that awful neighbor / house thing happening right now, which means we have to pare our things down to the bare minimum, and then put a great deal of furniture in storage. That also requires renting a truck to move said furniture to and from storage. And of course that’s the smaller portion of the greater problem: we have to show and sell our place, while finding a place for ourselves to buy. And then move.

That’s been stressing me out but I’ve just about been able to handle it, even with dealing with the logistics for a big trip we have to take later this year.

It’s almost like I was taunting my old friend Murphy who came swooping in with a new problem and dropped it on my head.

I’ve been trying to book our favorite, and most trusted, and let’s be honest, our only trusted petsitters well ahead of time. We always try to give them as much notice as possible. This isn’t just our favorite sitter, this is The Perfect Sitter. They made themselves available when JuggerBaby was born, picking him up, dropping him off, bathing him, keeping him an extra day when we had to stay in the hospital another night. They take him for hikes, their dogs cuddle with him, they sleep together on his bed. They text with pictures and updates regularly, they spot even the slightest new thing wrong with him and alert me immediately.

But – you knew that was coming, right? – they are unexpectedly unavailable for several months this year. We would normally need to leave Seamus with them a few times, and now we have to find a new sitter entirely.

This has happened before.

A few weeks before we went to Italy, 20 days before we were set to leave, our sitter had serious issues that prevented her from watching Doggle. Given the short timeframe we had to find another sitter, I wanted to skip the trip and stay home with Doggle and Seamus who had just come to live with us. That feeling seemed irrational at the time. There are competent, caring people who can care for a dog, and some of them live right here! We finally chose to trust a friend – I’ve regretted it ever since. The worst possible thing happened: we lost Doggle.

Can you imagine how little I want to go on any trip, much less an international trip in these uncertain times, and leave Seamus in the hands of someone who hasn’t proven to be a completely reliable, intelligent, resourceful sitter with great communication?

This is one of those times where I would normally just say damn the cost, and find a way to fly out a trusted friend for a vacation for the price of hanging out with and caring for Seamus.

This is one of those times that totally sucks because I can’t afford to throw that kind of money at the problem. Our housing situation is going to suck up every bit of cash we have and then some.

I have more than just 3 weeks to find someone suitable, this time, but I can’t shake that horrible feeling that this is going to turn out terribly again and I don’t know how I’d forgive myself if that came to be true.

:: Tell me that it’s possible to find a second great dogsitter in a few weeks? Tell me good stories of your pets (or kids if that’s your thing) being taken care of by other people?

February 1, 2017

When refrigerators go bad

Ice capades: our adventures in refrigeration

Standing in the kitchen polishing off a snack of pretzels dipped in peanut butter, I prodded PiC. Ready for Sherlock?

We had one last night to catch Episode 2 of the new BBC season, before PBS stopped streaming it, so I was looking forward to a little Saturday night treat.

That’s when I heard it.

The fan in the refrigerator spun up an alarming rumble, loud enough to be heard from the next room, and it rumbled the doom of our relaxation. An hour of Googling and Youtubing later, we settled in for a long night of DIY.

According to a dozen semi-reliable (meaning also semi-sketchy) sources, this particular brand is prone to icing up and they have to be taken apart and de-iced before the icing destroys the fan compressor. Awesome.

PiC wanted to get started right away, figuring it’d only take an hour and a half. The brat in me whined “but, Sherlock!” while the ever so slightly stronger, more responsible side, grumpily conceded even though it really preferred to go to sleep and get an early start.

As it turns out, we were both wrong. It definitely didn’t take only an hour and a half, and we would have regretted starting the next morning.

We spent the first hour prepping: unplugging the fridge, unpacking the fridge, packing perishables into the cooler, and hauling out all the shelves to inspect the work area. Only one person fit in the space available so I worked on cleaning all the shelves which were overdue for a wash, while PiC used the hairdryer to melt the ice around the fan cover.

Try as he might, though, that fan cover wasn’t budging like it should according to the DIY videos until we realized why. The icing problem wasn’t just around the fan cover, it was a solid block of ice behind it as well! No wonder he was getting nowhere prying it off. It was 11:30 and my hands were aching from the additional late night labor, so I proposed an overnight break. We’d leave the fridge unplugged, set up a mini space heater aimed toward the fridge three feet away on high so we didn’t melt anything, and let it (try to) melt overnight. If it all worked out, we’d be able to pick up in the morning.

I usually ration my energy for the day pretty strictly, based on prioritizing absolute musts against the nice to have chores. This was definitely nowhere on my list and I’d thought I was done for the night.

I can’t quite accurately describe the level of tired and dread that passed over me as we contemplated whether this would work or not.

Nothing for it but to try!

For extra cooling, the perishables went into coolers that were rolled out on the porch to take advantage of the rainstorm chill. I prepoured JuggerBaby’s milk into sippy cups to minimize how many times we’d need to open the coolers if the fridge wasn’t back in order the next day, and placed several other morning needs at the top. With that, off to bed.

Around 3 am, my brain couldn’t leave well enough alone and I had to go check. We’d left a towel under the unit to catch the water and it was soaked. Thank goodness! I replaced the towel and slumped off to bed.

By morning, the jury-rigging had done the job and with more than a little interference from JuggerBaby, PiC had the whole lot of shelving back in, plugged the unit in and it was humming back down to temp by the time I emerged from my hibernation.

These same sources say that this issue is going to keep happening. We could attempt to MacGyver a solution but since we’re not positive what the true problem is, I’m less motivated to monkey around with it.

If it does ice up again, at least we know what should work, but what a pain!

Pessimistically I’m assuming that this is something that will keep happening or we’ll have to replace the unit. What are the odds that we find a real solution?

(No really, what are the odds?)

:: Any handyfolk out there have some refrigeration expertise you’d like to share? Failing that, any favored fridge models we should save up for?

January 30, 2017

Slow goals are long term goals

With the whole house thing dropping down on my head like I’m the Wicked Witch of the West, plus the feeling that the world is coming apart at the seams, I need a reminder that slow and steady has brought us through some pretty tough times, and can still serve us well.

I’m reminding myself that not having a cool million in cash with which to buy a home in cash does not a massive failure of me make. (Sherry bought her half of their new home in cash and I’m STILL chuffed by that.)


  • I weathered a year of unemployment during the Great Recession.
  • I started investing in 2012 in one stock, 7 whole shares worth $500 in total. We now hold 1100 shares of mostly dividend bearing stocks, worth $60,000 at our brokerage with Tradeking. I heartily recommend them. It was so easy to use when I first started out and continues to serve our needs.
  • We once had a large mortgage loan, a bit of retirement savings, and my cash. Now we’ve halved that mortgage and double my cash savings, doubled the value of our tax-advantaged accounts, and own an investment property.

We’re by no means wealthy, but we have done well. A dear friend pointed out my money management was nearly miraculous given the obstacles and commitments we’ve honored. While I think she might have been at least a little hyperbolic, I respect her opinion immensely, particularly with regard to money given her background in financial fields.

Health and Fitness

I’m uncommonly tickled about this discovery. I was aiming to establish an average of 2000 steps per day starting last June. It was a struggle to get out from behind the desk twice a day, but Seamus and I have hit a nearly 100% success rate in getting out the door for walks two, and even three, times a day, every week day, even when pain was so high I could barely feed myself.

We walked, dadgummit!

My average to date is about 3900 steps daily.

I haven’t been nearly as good at the yoga, so that’s a work in progress. There’s something much more compelling about telling yourself that it’s for the dog’s good, and having Seamus yodeling at me, that gets me off my duff faster and more consistently than telling myself to stretch because it’s good for me. Maybe I need to train Seamus to yodel at me until I stretch every night?

This month, I signed up for an account with Achievemint which pays you $10 per 10,000 points earned. I’m already pushing myself to walk consistently and a little more each day, why not get paid for it?

This took me three minutes.

1. Use my referral link to create an account. This nets both of us 250 points, so right away, you get points.
2. Choose an app to link to Achievemint. My choice was the existing Health app on the iPhone. You can choose from, among MANY others: Fitbit, Foursquare, MapMyRide, Microsoft Health, MyFitnessPal, even Twitter!
3. Download Achievemint to your phone if you’re linking to an app on your phone. Linking an app nets another 50 points.

I only started out with 50 points since I didn’t have a referral link (sadface) but you can (look up there!) leapfrog over with a lot more points. It doesn’t look like you’ll earn remarkably quickly but this is my one of my favorite things – getting paid for doing something I’m already doing.

The world

Like I said, the state of American politics and government in this very moment has me incredibly concerned for our democracy and Constitution. Is the American experiment over? Did it fail?

I was raised in the bosom of staunch Republican families, surrounded by serving men and women, but none of them recognize what the party has become today. I sure don’t. To see some conservatives still speaking out against what’s happening now does give me a little bit of heart, but I think we’re still deep in the muck and a whole lot of vulnerable people are going to be hurt before it’s over.

This weekend was Lunar New Year. The airports were filled with protests against the unconstitutional Muslim Ban, and Custom Border Patrol officers were refusing to enforce court orders. Lawyers were on the ground doing pro bono work to help those who were being illegally detained: green card holders, visa holders, citizens with dual citizenship.

It’s hardly been any time at all in the new administration and we’re already seeing civil rights being violated left and right. There is almost certainly an intent to fatigue citizens who can’t protest forever, while it’s quite easy for the administration to roll out EO after EO violating our rights. It can be overwhelming.


PiC and I are going to stand up for ourselves and our neighbors, families and friends, all of whom are fully deserving of the rights that our Constitution affords us, regardless of age, race, sex, religious convictions, disability, sexual orientation and any other way we can be defined and divided up. I can’t physically march, but we can speak out, organize on a one-on-one basis, donate to those organizations and individuals doing tireless work to protect our civil liberties and reminding us that we were never perfect and that we can improve.

:: Can you share any financial or fitness goals you’ve achieved over time? What’s a great activity day for you? What’s your approach to defending our civil rights?

January 25, 2017

The day of unfortunate events 

The day the ATM stole my moneyPiC and I went to a doctor’s appointment together in the middle of the work day. The skies would not stop pouring down rain and a hint of ice. I really should have taken a hint and just gone straight home afterward.

There wouldn’t be a post, though, if I did, so onward we went, though the weather be foul. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

We went to exchange my discounted gift card that I’d bought for a clean one that didn’t have marker scribbled all over it.  Nope, they can’t use a gift card to “buy” a gift card, and can’t transfer the balance, so I was stuck with the ugly card to gift. Classy.

Having trudged out in the rain, I figured we’d make the most of having to be at the mall. We stopped in at Target to find a pair of boots because daycare requires them. Nope. Nothing on the shelves anywhere.

Fine. I had $1000 burning a hole in my pocket. It’d been withdrawn for the appointment but it turned out that we didn’t need it after all. We went to the bank to deposit a huge wad of cash, and like a fool I told PiC it was fine to just hit the ATM. THE ATM ATE MY MONEY.

In 16 years of banking primarily through the ATM this has never happened. So of course it’d happen on this day. Me and my big mouth. “I always use the ATM, it’s fine.” “No, of course we don’t have to go to the teller.”


7 minutes later, I had a claim number from the Citi rep, and an assurance that when the ATM’s take was reconciled, they’d match the overage to my claim and all would be well. “Give it 1-2 business days,” she said. Mmhmm.

Four business days, and a lot of semi-panicked grumbling later, the rep I spoke to found the claim after 30 minutes of searching. “Odd, it was archived, so I couldn’t find it. But I found it! You just have to call the disputes department directly to have them complete the process though, they’re open from 9 am to 1 pm EST.” That’s great.

Another 2 business days later, because of course this would happen when I was traveling and didn’t have time to sit down and deal with it, I remembered that another phone call was due and reached for the slip of information … that wasn’t in my wallet. Many bag searches later, I had to conclude that JuggerBaby had stolen and eaten it. !!!!!

Almost exhausted, I just gave up and called the branch to appeal to them for help locating any of the claim information that would help me duke it out with the disputes department. The almost jolly young man on the other line put me on hold to go a-huntin’ and returned 8 minutes later having opened a new claim, credited my account with a provisional credit, and an assurance that that money would stay put and they’d match up the new claim to their general ledger and confirm that the money was really returned to me. I thanked him profusely, he apologized for the inane contortions they’d made me go through, and I have my money back.

It’s an ante-Christmas miracle.

:: Do you have strong feelings about ATMs or a preference for going to the teller (is it worth having to talk to people)?

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