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Sunday, October 18, 2009

No More Dancin' Around


As you all may know, my Big Bear got laid off over a year ago, and life as we knew it kinda went ... how many ways can I say this and still sound decent?  You know what I mean.  And as a result, although my readership went up, my comments tanked - because you all can read me like a book and I think you know when my "voice" isn't my own anymore.  I just want to finally tell you what I've really been feeling this past 13 months.  No more dancin' around the issue.


Before September 15th, 2008, life was good.  For 16 years (that was our entire marriage) we had been financially secure, happy, grounded, and on an upward mobile career path - both of us.  Even as Bob was the main provider in our family, we were doing just fine.  We had made good, solid decisions about 5 years into our marriage that we were no longer going to depend on credit to purchase what we wanted.  We were going to pay off everything, right down to the automobiles and the mortgage, and eliminate anything that could possibly interfere with our security.  If we couldn't pay cash for it (with the exception of our home) we weren't going to buy it.  Isn't it funny (not really) how when you avoid credit, you ruin your credit score.  What kind of ridiculous system is that anyway?

We got close to achieving that goal.  It took years, but we got real close.  We paid off our credit card debt, we paid off our automobiles, and we paid off most all of that incidental debt as well.  Bob is in the tech industry - you know - the one that turns your computer into a dinosaur every 2 years as new technology emerges.  We have been on that roller coaster our entire marriage as Bob was laid off nearly every 2 years as companies changed their focus or there were acquisitions and mergers as in the case of Compaq and Hewlett Packard.  


Still, even as lay offs happened across the industry every 2 years or so, we moved on.  We were secure.  We had faith, and our faith proved to be good to us as Bob always found another position in an upward mobile career path the entire way.  I had faith in God.  I had faith in Bob.  Bob had faith in the industry and in his career path - and God too by the way.  

It's funny now that I think about it, but ever since Bob got laid off from Bell Atlantic Internet Solutions (his 2nd experience with company layoffs after our marriage, the first being with GE Information Services where he had been employed for 12 years), I have been telling him this ... "when you hit 20 months, it is time to start sprucing up your resume and sending it out.  Test the waters.  See what's out there."  Why? Because "every day over 2 years that you have your job is one day we're livin' on borrowed time."  And boy did that ever prove to be right on the money too.

Family picture on Easter 2003

Before we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, we lived in Woodbine, Maryland, and we had a neighbor who was riding that same tech wave.  In the 8 years that we lived in our home in Woodbine, Bob and Joel were laid off just about every 2 years or so (by different companies) but on the same 2 year cycle.  They kept their eye on each others career.  If Joel got laid off, Bob knew he would be next, and vice versa.  They networked together and within a few months, both were employed again and on another 2 year cycle.  And so the story goes.  Every day over 2 years was borrowed time.  We knew it was just a matter of time before the company would start laying off people.

Geneva2003 (7)

Nevertheless, we were doing well.  When Bob's parents moved in with us in November 2001 and we ended up being a family of 8 living in a 4-bedroom house, Bob got laid off about 4 months after they moved in with us.  But, we had a lot of savings and a lot of equity in our home, so Bob actually took 4 years off from looking for a permanent (if you want to call it that) job to help me in the care of his parents.  


Instead, we started a landscaping business "Vaughn Lawn and Landscapes" and we had ourselves 2 zero-turn radius Kabota mowers, a Kabota tractor, and a lot of landscaping equipment, trailer, the whole bit, to get the business off the ground - and we did.  Together, Bob and I mowed about 30 acres every week or so during the green season.  We'd put on our Boze headphones, attach it to our iPod, and we'd mow acre after acre.  We'd put down lime and grass seed.  We'd aerate and do pressure washing too.  We were proud of our little business and we had a good thing goin' there for a while.


Woodbine Home

Our plan was to build an addition onto our Woodbine home so that Bob's parents, and my mother, would have personal space and bedrooms and bathrooms on the main level.  Going up and down the stairs for all of them was becoming increasingly difficult.

So we paid to have plans drawn up for the addition, and let me tell ya, if we had been able to complete that addition, it would have been magnificent.  But life took a different turn.  God had other plans for us.  



Plans changed when we ended up fussin' with 2 of our neighbors over the location of the addition to the property line and it got ugly.  They didn't want our addition to block their view.  Their view of what? The countryside?  Our side yard?  You'd have to see where the fool behind us built his house (4 years after we had moved into our house) to appreciate that statement.  So we solved that problem after paying off thousands in attorney's fees.  We planted about 70 blue spruce and other variety type Christmas trees along our back property line.  We zigzagged them too when we planted them.  Oh, he has a view alright - a wall of trees.  No longer can he look out his front window and see all of the beautiful countryside.  The addition would have been a lot prettier.  I gotta tell ya, revenge can be sweet - if you do it in a clean, respectable way that is.


Bob's parent's health issues were getting worse year after year.  No need to get into all of that here, just suffice it to say that Bob's father (a serious stroke victim) was having a lot of trouble getting up and down and around, and Bob's mother's Alzheimer's condition was becoming far worse and more difficult to manage.  My mother was fine - or so I thought.



Our landscaping business was thriving quite well.  But then in 2005, just 6 weeks after Bob's mother failed to recognize her husband of 52 years and wondered who the strange man was in her bed, Bob's father passed away.  I suppose he knew that she didn't need him anymore.  It was sad, but the next time he got ill, he came down with pneumonia, and rather than fight, he passed away peacefully in the hospital, just 10 hours after I took this picture of him.  Bob's mother never knew he was gone.



Soon after we got our property tax bill.  Dang!  Put it this way, if you live in Montgomery or Howard County, Maryland, you are paying out the wazoo in real estate taxes.  We knew we had to make a decision because Bob's mother needed to go into a nursing home.  She had become way more than we could handle.  So, we decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina.  We had friends in Charlotte and the cost of living was far less than where we were living in Maryland.  Where we had lived all our lives.

We put our house on the market and it sold in 9 weeks.   We found a beautiful home in the South Charlotte area that we loved and we found a good nursing home close by for Bob's mother.  Bob did not have a job when we bought this house either.  We had to stop our landscaping business as well when we moved because the requirements for landscapers were different in North Carolina than in Maryland.   I'll bet you can't buy a house without a job now!  



And this is where we made a mistake - I think.  I'm still thinking about this decision and wondering if we made a mistake.  We had made enough profit on the sale of our Maryland home to pay off this house when we bought it, but instead we decided to finance 50 percent of the cost so that we would have the tax write-off and use the rest of the savings for home improvements (of which there have been many).  Everybody told us to mortgage our home for the tax write-off.  I'm sorry, but I've always wondered what the logic is in having a mortgage.  I thought the dream was to own your home.  What's the deal with that anyway?

And that is exactly what we did.  We put 50% down and mortgaged the other 50%.   We put some money in the bank, Bob bought me a new car, (my little Beamer) and we used about a hundred grand for remodeling projects.  From re-plumbing the entire house, to new drainage systems and irrigation.  From new garage doors to new driveways and sidewalks.  From all new appliances to all new toilets and cabinetry and carpet - this house needed an overhaul.  But we loved it when we bought it and we still do.

We never would have believed we'd be facing such difficult times.  But here we are - together with millions plus other people in the US facing the same financial and career dilemma.  What next?  Where is this road taking us?

Together, Bob and I have worked hard to get where we are, and "NO" (I say that emphatically) we have not been living above our means!  We have always been careful with our finances, our home expenses, and our life & home choices throughout our marriage.  We've had fun along the way too, and yes, we've spent money on things we "want" along the way - because at the time, we could comfortably afford them without going into debt.  I don't owe anyone an explanation for how we live, but I will say this ...


I just wanted to get that message perfectly clear - we are not trying to keep up with anyone named Jones.  We have had every right to have lived a good "honest" life and make a good "honest" living.  (and that is more than I can say for many) And, we did it without stealing from Tom, Dick, or Harry or borrowing from Uncle Joe 2 states away.  We have had every right to provide our family, our children, our grandson, and our parents, with the most comfortable home possible.  We have every right to enjoy our hobbies and passions, like motorcycles, painting, and piano.  It makes me sick in my stomach when someone says that we are living above our means or that we are trying to keep up with anyone.  That is crap.  Someone ought to punch you in the mouth for even thinking such horrible things about us.  (And we all know why people do that anyway - to feel better about themselves.  People who mouth off do that for no other reason than to elevate their own ego).  Or that your tax dollars are supporting us.  "Listen up my fair-weather friend - We've paid more in taxes than you ever have earned in income in your lifetime.  Get real and get your head out of the sand."  And the person who said that - and you know who I am talking about - obviously doesn't know us very well and has serious issues of her own - every time you want attention you end up in the hospital.  It angers me terribly to think that anyone who knows us, or doesn't know us for that matter, would make a judgment call that is completely wrong.  People who judge others and then talk about them behind their back are shallow, simple minded, uneducated idiots.  I don't talk about people behind their back - I have enough integrity to tell you to your face that you make me sick.  People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  There, I've said it.  I feel better now.



Well, in 2007, and long before Bob got laid off, I started this blog about my life and my family.  I've always been a bit of a comic and I love to write, so this was my comic relief among other topics (unlike that angry vent in the last paragraph) I had a strong readership.  I enjoyed all the comments.  I still do.  But something changed over the past year.  I tried to put on a smile and a positive face, but I think you all saw right through it.  Maybe it was my subject matter.  Maybe it was that my humor seemed to fly right out the window with Bob's job.  Maybe it was just that - well - life wasn't funny anymore and I wasn't either.  I don't know what it was, but whatever it was I miss myself. 



I have tried to stay strong this past year, and maybe I have in some ways, but I'll be completely honest here - it has been a painful year for me.  I either sleep way too much or not enough.  I spend most days in my pajamas unless I'm going somewhere.  I rarely smile anymore except at my children.  I rarely laugh, which is completely not like me.  I do, however, wake up every morning and thank the Lord for my blessings in this life, the lessons learned from the struggles and the heartache, and the future that I know will bring much to be thankful for.



I've aged and I can see it when I look in the mirror.  I'm tired all the time.  Sleep seems to be my best friend at the moment.  (And if that makes a particular person feel better about herself because I'm miserable at the moment - get help). 

I paint, but not with the same enthusiasm as before.  The only thing creative that I have done this year that has given me a pick-me-up has been my new palette.  Working with wood has been a nice change and fun too.   It doesn't hurt that I've sold a few too!


Still, I've been in a real slump and a bummer of a mood for about 5 months now.  Actually, I think it was the death of Bob's mother, Geneva, and spending our last dollar on her funeral expenses and driving her to Maryland in the back of the Suburban that sent me over the edge - and I think it shows - in the way I look, the way I feel, the way I write too.  Now, not all my stories have been bad, but I think my readers can tell that I haven't been myself.  I've tried!  It just isn't the same when we feel like our security and our home are at risk.  Our parents are dying, our friends have betrayed us, our eldest children upset us, and we don't know when it is going to end.  

We still have faith.  We still have prayer.  We still have each other.  We support one another totally.  We still have many, many, many blessings and yes, many honest, true friends - and that is my fuel.  That is our fuel.  That is what gets me up in the morning.  That's what takes my footsteps into my studio to paint or to make a few new palettes.



I don't think I am depressed, but I do think I am sad.  Not just for our situation either.  At least we have hope and we have each other. Honestly, I am terribly saddened by the families who have lost their homes, their children, their lives.  I am devastated by the innocent loss of life because of war.  I feel helpless by the needless crime around us, the lives that are hurt, abused, or lost as a result.  I cry when I hear of another child or person who has lost their battle with cancer like Beth's friend Deb.  I feel frightened when I hear of a child that was perfectly healthy one day and dead 5 days later from the swine flu.  I feel unable to reach out to the families who are living in tent cities across this nation.  I want to help.  I want to help a lot.  I want to do more to help those who are far worse off.  And believe me, I know that even in the worst of circumstances right now, we've got it good.



Yes, we are having a bad year.  Yes, we might have to sell a few things - soon - to pay another mortgage payment or to pay the utilities.  Yes, we may even have to move.  But I have faith, and by God I'm not going to crumble without a fight and I'll go down kicking.   I may look like hell, I may feel like hell, and well, that's just going to have to be the least of my worries.



Just know that I'm doing the best I can.  I'm sorry I haven't been the comic relief that I used to be.  I'm sorry that my posts seem to be bland; but they are a reflection of the things that are on my mind - and my frame of mind - no matter how hard I try to hide it.

I hope you won't leave me here alone.  I hope you will continue to comment and continue to be the virtual friend and support that I have really enjoyed these past few years.  One day - soon I hope - I will be back in full swing.  The pictures will be better, the prose will be too.  Promise.  I just didn't want to bring everybody down with me if you know what I mean.  But I suppose I should be honest with you.  I suppose I should let you know how I feel and stop worrying about how everyone else feels for once.  Every now and then I suppose I should look in the mirror and see "me,"  because lately, I don't know who that woman is looking back at me in the mirror. 



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