What is Home?

04.28.09

We’ve been thinking a lot about home lately. I wrote in one of my posts that a house is not a home without love. Well, what is a home without a house?

One of the quotes on the Airstream website is: “Home is where you are.”

We tend to agree.

Speaking of Airstream, we’ve been fantasizing about selling everything, moving into one and venturing out onto the open road… towing our home behind us. It would be a mobile live/work space. And it would be fabulous. We’d see things we’d never seen before, we’d be free and the great American outdoors would be our ‘backyard.’ That’s the fantasy.

The reality is that we can’t afford to buy an Airstream (new or used) but if Airstream were to say give us one (I said it was a fantasy, didn’t I?) well…

The idea of selling everything and paring our lives down to the absolute bare minimum is thoroughly appealing and equally frightening. I say I don’t want to be attached to the material, but am I capable of living in a 200 square foot space? Am I cut out for that? On one hand it seems perfect. Bob can work anywhere as long as he has wifi and I can write anywhere. We could live almost anywhere. We could, as the Airstream motto goes, SEE MORE, DO MORE, LIVE MORE!

And I do love the design of the Airstream. So sleek. And you can do almost anything– including solar-pimping. You can be eco-friendly. Check this out:


The Portable Planet-Friendly Home
at Sprig

It seems like the perfect thing to do now while we have the chance because when else are we going to be so displaced without a plan? It could be our best chance to raise the anchor and be vagabonds for a bit. No matter where go we know we’ll be working extremely hard. This is the time for that. And how much space do we need for that? Another bonus about living in a tiny space: it’s so much easier to clean. Right?

Could you do it? Would you? Anyone out there done it before and have some insight to share? Please do. Share away in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

So will we end up in an Airstream or pop-up camper? I don’t know. We’ve had lots of extremely generous offers from friends and family to stay with them for a while. And that’s most likely where we’ll head. Back to the Chicago area to stay with my family for a bit. Work our butts off to make something happen. Then either rent an apartment back in L.A. or buy an Airstream trailer and act out our nomadic fantasy.

For now, I surf the web and try to imagine a home on wheels.

Here’s another one I found today on Inhabitat. It’s a pretty amazing concept. Very Jetsons. And unfortunately it’s still only a concept. Instead of popping up, it fans out and there’s a weather-protective skin that stretches over the top.


Click HERE for more pictures of the Expandable Mobile Mini House.

Links:

The very fancy Design Within Reach trailer – Airstream

Airstream Trailer Serves Eco-Nomads – Cnet News

Small Space Ideas from an Airstream Trailer – Apartment Therapy

The Expandable Mobile Mini House – Inhabitat

 
 

“You’re just having a moment,” Mom says as I grip the steering wheel, suck the air for life and wail into the Bluetooth. She’s right. I’m having a moment. A monumental moment. A moment of epic proportions. Months of many squelched moments stored up for this very big, very cathartic moment I am now having.

“Where are you now?” She asks, concerned.

I’m sitting on the 110 Freeway in rush hour traffic on my way home from work. I am a sight to behold as I cry like a child filled with despair beyond comprehension… my face contorted into a twisted mess of anguish. Eyes blinking through the haze of salty tears as I try desperately to ‘keep my eyes on the road.’ My bottom lip quivering as I try to hold the tsunami back.

“I’m in rush hour,” I blubber and somehow she understands.

“You’re driving?!”

I’m only going five miles an hour, I try to reassure between gasps and sobs. I’d been holding this back for a while. Months, maybe. But it all came bursting forth once everything became real. It was official. Countrywide, we just learned, was accepting the short sale offer and we have 30 days to be out of the house. For real. It’s no longer theoretical. It’s happening. We have to move. We have to pack up our house, our beautiful house that we love so much and move. But to where? We don’t know.

“You can always live with us,” Mom says. And this thought makes me incredibly grateful. I can’t imagine what it would be like without the safety net of my family… offering a place to crash, to regroup. As long as they were there, we’d never be on the street. Moving back to my hometown to live with my family isn’t in this moment what I want. It scares me. I’m afraid of how I’ll feel. Missing life here. Missing our house. Going backwards in time.

Going back home for a few weeks, however, might be good. To regroup, to decompress, to mourn the loss of our house- our “foothold” on the American Dream. Visit with family, friends. It might be just what we need. For a few weeks. A month or two. But I don’t want to get too comfortable there. And I think that’s what scares me. Loss of forward momentum.

Mom understands this. She gets it. She tells me that it’s perfectly normal for me to be feeling this way. She lets me cry. She tells me that the next few weeks are going to be really hard while we pack up our house and say goodbye and figure out where we’ll go… but that once we close the door and let go, things will get better. They’ll be easier. It won’t be so hard once we’ve moved on.

I know she’s right. But I really don’t like this part.

“I know,” she tells me, “I don’t either. And there’s nothing I can fix right now. All I can do is listen.”

This makes me cry more. Out of gratitude.

Thank you, Mom. Everything you said was just what I needed to hear. Thank you for letting me cry or, as you said, have my ‘moment.’ Thank you for trusting us and not being afraid for our future. Thank you for believing that the moment would pass. As it has. I don’t know what I’d do without you.

Now that it’s been several days since my ‘moment,’ I can see both the victory and the opportunity. Our goal was to avoid foreclosure. And we did. (fingers crossed that we make it through escrow) In this crazy mess of our lives, it is something to celebrate. On May 19th when we close we can say with certainty: We did it! We avoided foreclosure.

And we found a buyer who truly loves this house. He will take care of it. He’ll be a good neighbor. He’ll enjoy living here as much as we have. I know. I could see it in his eyes when he was here. He’s already mentally moved in. This is a good thing.

As I write this I listen to the sounds of our house– the irrigation system, birds chirping and the distant hum of the 5 Freeway. This has been our life, our home and now it’s not. We’ve loved here, and we’ve hurt. We’ve come apart and back together. We’ve been wounded and healed. We’ve become better people. We’ve learned big lessons. And now we’re ready for what’s next. Whatever that may be.

We may be starting over, but we’re starting over with so much more in our ‘arsenal.’ We take these lessons with us. And as Bob said the other morning while we were taking Pablo for a hike in Elysian Park:

“Wherever we go… we’ll improve.”

 
 


Good morning, everyone! Traffic’s humming, garbage trucks are beeping and the birds are chirping… it must be Earth Day in L.A. (This picture, by the way, is not L.A. This is where I go in my mind when I’m stressed– The Abacos.)

Anyway…

Today I have a collection of links to share and I’ll kick the first one off in honor of Earth Day (I know, I know. EVERY day is Earth Day.)

1. It’s time to live green (without spending too much of it)! by Ashley Fielding/ GainesvilleTimes.com

I love the perspective in this article. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately– how our ‘new’ economy might actually force a return to the basic concept of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Humans are motivated more by money than anything else. Nobody has money to waste anymore. The limitation of resources could actually shift us collectively towards a more ‘green’ way of living… not for altruistic reasons, but financial. And I say, hey, whatever it takes.

Here’s an excerpt:

But just because you can’t afford a Prius does not mean that living “green” and saving money are mutually exclusive pursuits. In fact, the recession might just be an opportunity to reconsider your lifestyle choices, Hall County Extension Agent Debbie Wilburn said. And in most cases, making environmentally-sound choices can save money, said Cindy Reed, director of Keep Hall Beautiful.

Keep Hall Beautiful holds to the old adage of reduce, reuse and recycle, but Wilburn calls it getting back to the basics. In a nutshell, if you want to save the environment, buy less and think like your grandmother, Wilburn said.

“My grandmother didn’t generate nearly the trash that most people do now,” Wilburn said.

My grandma always saved leftovers and encouraged us to use no more than 2 squares of toilet paper. I could never get on board with the two squares concept, but she made her point. What did your grandma teach you?

2. Congressmen help constituents cut through red tape in tough times by Dana Bash/ CNN.com

It works! When we reached our breaking point with Countrywide thanks to the endless runaround, I got on the phone and just started making calls. I called our Congresswoman, the Department of Treasury and Governor Schwarzenegger’s office. It was the Governor’s office that finally helped us cut through the red tape.

If you’re in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure and are trying to negotiate a modification with the bank, but aren’t getting much response (if any) it certainly can’t hurt. Call everyone: Your Congressperson, Senator, Governor, Councilmember… Just keep reaching out. It worked for us. And for the people mentioned in this article. It might work for you too.

3. Thy Neighbor’s Mortgage by Randy Cohen/ NewYorkTimes.com

I read this article on my lunch break and found the perspective rather poignant. Of course, I agree with the thesis. Here’s an excerpt:

Some people do take extravagant chances with other people’s money. We call them hedge fund managers and we reward them lavishly. Ours is an age that glorifies risk-taking entrepreneurs. (Or did until five minutes ago.) It seems inconsistent to condemn that trait in a home-buyer, particularly when rapidly rising housing prices promised big profits to all. Home ownership itself has been exalted as a national virtue, an essential element of the American Dream. It would be odd to suddenly scorn those who chased that dream, albeit a bit too vigorously, and assisted by those financial steroids, the subprime mortgage.

What do YOU think? Agree? Disagree? Why? (Make sure to read the full article)

4. This I Used to Believe This American Life episode 378

I can’t get enough of This American Life and I especially loved this one. Act 1 is especially timely and appropriate to “Love in the Time of Foreclosure.” A little synopsis for ya:

Act One. Scrambled Nest Egg.

One day in January Alex French got a call from his mom, saying that she’d been laid off. A few hours later she called to say that so had his dad. Alex takes a trip to Massachusetts to see how his parents are getting by since entering unemployment for the first time, in his father’s case, in 30 years. (9 minutes)

Listen via Podcast: This I Used to Believe on Thislife.org
(Ira Glass, you are a radio god… even though you don’t believe in God.)

Happy Earth Day, everyone. Go wind energy!

 
 

It’s really, really hot in L.A. today…. the perfect kind of day for FREE ice cream. But really, free ice cream is good any day, any place as far as I’m concerned. It’s especially sweet when it’s free… especially when you’re short on money like me.

Today is Ben & Jerry’s annual FREE ice cream cone day!

Ben & Jerry’s

(Just thought I’d share)

 
 

Our house was recently appraised by the bank for so much less than we ever would have imagined a year ago. Even just six months ago. It’s hard to believe how much the market has changed… slowed. To a demoralizing halt. Well, everything is shifting. And it’s going to take some time for it all to click into place in this new economic paradigm. For now, change is the paradigm. Transition.

What we’re seeing now more than ever before is (as I wrote in my earlier post today) we are SO not alone.

We weren’t “victims” of greedy lenders or overextending ourselves on a subprime mortgage. No, that wasn’t us. We put 20% down on a 30-year fixed. We had the income. Then it went away. Poof. Then the market changed. Dramatically. And we couldn’t sell our house for full-price. Couldn’t pay the mortgage, couldn’t sell the house. Double whammy. And we are where we are. And it is (as Bob has been saying a lot lately) as it is.

We’ve had over seven months to come to grips with our own situation. The shame, failure and embarrassment we felt at the beginning is long gone. There’s just no time to indulge in all of that. AND…. it’s happening all over the place- to all tax brackets. The people who did get subprime mortgages, those who overextended themselves, those victims of irresponsible lending, both the expected and unexpected, people in cookie cutter subdivisions in the Inland Empire and people in luxurious mansions in Hancock Park.

Speaking of luxurious mansions in Hancock Park, I found this example on Curbed LA today very interesting:

Harry Warner Hancock Park Estate Now A Short Sale – Curbed LA

 
 

We began this blog with the desire to help other people who might be in a similar situation- buried under a seemingly insurmountable debt, fighting foreclosure, struggling with unemployment, feeling alone, demoralized and looking for a way to rise above it all. The more we hear from readers that our honesty makes a difference for them, the more passion we have for this project.

Our goal is to help as many people as possible by sharing our experience.

Foreclosure doesn’t have to be the end of something. It can truly be the beginning.

That’s what this blog is about.

If you’re someone who connects with our message, there are ways you can help us:

Look to the toolbar on the right…

You can now

DIGG IT

and

STUMBLEIT

You can also become a “follower”. Please do. We would love that. Or you can simply pass it along to someone you know who would benefit from our reading our story.

We know how lonely all of this can feel. But you are not alone.

Thanks for allowing this interlude in regular LITTOF blogging!

Thank you for reading and sharing!

Steph & Bob

 
 

Back in March I wrote to the Governor of California to ask for help in qualifying for the Housing Affordability and Stability plan. We were getting nowhere with Countrywide and I just began reaching out wherever I could. I sent him and e-mail and also called his office. The phone call was surprisingly successful and I blogged about that HERE.

I’d forgotten about the e-mail until a few days ago when I finally received a response. It’s not that I expected more, it’s just that… well, it’s so unsatisfying. The canned message doesn’t even come close to addressing our specific issue. I didn’t make any ‘suggestions’ to the Governor. I asked for help. Please, Governor, help us save our house! And this e-mail is what came back in response:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I appreciate hearing suggestions from my fellow Californians on how we can improve our state.

California’s future success depends on public leaders who welcome the contributions of the people. Adding your voice to this active and dynamic partnership is vital to the growth of our great state.

I also applaud your willingness to become involved in the issues facing California and encourage you to also contact the State Legislature with your suggestions and ideas. Contact information for your elected representatives, as well as information on Assembly and Senate legislation, can be found at the Official California Legislative Information website: www.leginfo.ca.gov.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write. I value the input of people who care about the future of California.

Sincerely,

Arnold Schwarzenegger

I’m not naive. I know this is all a Governor can do. Send a canned response. Maybe if I hand wrote my letter and sent it to his office it would have more effect. Maybe not. Probably not. I don’t know. What do you think?

 
 

Lately, I feel like I’ve just been waiting for things to happen. Waiting for the bank to decide on our short sale, waiting to be approved for a modification, waiting to hear back from multiple theatre companies on my plays… and it’s driving me crazy. I’m trying not to wait around. I’m “trying” to let go and give it over to the universe and just keep living every day. “Trying” is one of my least favorite words. How do you just stop waiting and start living? How do you get that question out of your mind?

How, I wonder, is Al Franken doing with this? He has been waiting for a long time to be named the Senator of Minnesota. Since November. A lot has happened since November and still he’s waiting. I suppose you could say that Norm Coleman has been waiting too. But a court just ruled in Franken’s favor (check it out) and Coleman is appealing again… thus extending the wait. How is he not going crazy? What is he doing in this time? How do you live when you’re waiting?

I don’t think you do. I mean, I don’t think you can. Waiting isn’t living. It’s suspension. It’s forgetting to breathe. It’s a clenched jaw. Restless sleep. The stiffness in my neck. Glazed eyes.

I don’t know how you stop waiting. Maybe it has to do with breathing. Walking and breathing. Running hard and breathing. Sweating. Listening. And reaching out. Getting out of your own head and making a difference for someone else. I could start there. I keep thinking yoga would help. Yoga and volunteerism. This is a Zen thing, right? Chop Wood, Carry Water.

Get up away from the desk and take a short walk. Close the e-mail and don’t check it for the rest of the day. Drink a glass of water. Call a friend or family member just to say hi. Be present in the conversation. Then back to the desk. Back to work. No longer waiting.

Well, it’s worth a try.

-Al Franken

Chop Wood, Carry Water

 
 

The Heavy

04.13.09

It’s Monday… more important, it’s APRIL 13th. Two days before tax day! For most people, this week is going to be a challenge. Yes. We love taxes, don’t we? I suppose when the IRS owes YOU money, it’s not so bad. But when you owe them… more than you can pay. Much more. Well…all you can do is put one foot in front of the other. File, be in communication, deal with what comes.

Being in communication has been our key through this entire ordeal. It’s what helped us avoid the “charge off.” Yep. We avoided it. Here’s how.

A week ago, Bob got on the phone with our Realtor and together they called HER contact at National City. She has a contact there because she’s been negotiating another short sale offer with National City. She wanted to get some information about the charge off and what it would mean for us from someone she knew to be rational. Her contact told her that indeed they could do this but that it would NOT impede the sale of our house. This was contrary to what the other National City person had told us. The one that had been threatening us. This person shall now be referred to as “The Heavy.”

The Heavy told us that if we didn’t pay them $645 by 9 PM, they would charge off our mortgage and we wouldn’t be able to sell our house. This is a lie… we knew this now. Bob told her: well, that’s not what we were just told by one of your negotiators. The Heavy fell silent. Most people don’t verify. Most people fall for the threat. I suppose.

Bob asked her: Do you have our current phone number? They did not. But they did have a note saying that they should update it in their system. They just hadn’t. Since December. Since December they had been calling our old number and leaving messages. In their mind, we were non-communicative. This is NEVER GOOD in a situation like this. It’s infuriating that they completely ignored our note to update the number and were blaming us for their inability to reach us, but that’s what they do. The burden is on us because we’re the ones in financial trouble. We owe them money. They don’t owe us anything. You do not argue with them. You accept responsibility and you explain your situation. Calmly. Nicely.

That’s what Bob did. He nicely explained the whole story to The Heavy… and she listened. He told her how he had been making a very nice salary and then suddenly lost it, how it took us both several months to find jobs, how we have been working very hard to sell our house, how we’ve tried everything and how we have absolutely no money to pay the $645 just to hold off the charge-off for 30 more days…

He was calm. He explained. She listened. Then something crazy happened. She said:

“Okay, we’re not going to charge-off the loan.”

Um, okay. What? Really? Just like that?

Apparently the threat of the charge-off is a tactic they take when they fear their homeowners are on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. They pressure until they squeeze out what they can. They use fear. They scare you into thinking if you don’t pay them, you are screwed royally. They want you the think that the only answer is to pay them. They’re trying to put themselves into the “First” position when they’re in the second. The second has no real bargaining power, so they threaten. They bring in The Heavy. They make you think that not only will you not be able to sell your house, you’ll be marked for 7 years AND taken to court for every penny.

Hearing our story, she realized that we weren’t who she thought we were.

The next thing she said was even more interesting. She told Bob that if for whatever reason the short sale fell through or if we decided not to go through with it we qualify for a MODIFICATION where they would take the late payments and money owed, put it on the back end of the loan and drop our monthly payment 50% for 2 years. 50% for TWO YEARS.

This points to just how crazy this process has been. Had this been offered to us in the Fall when we first started asking for modifications, we would never be so far under water. None of it makes sense. And this modification means nothing, unless Countrywide is willing to do the same. So Bob called our contact at Countrywide, told them what National City was willing to do and requested that they do the same. Our contact said she have our case reviewed to see if it was possible and would get back to us by the end of the week. We called on Friday when we didn’t hear back from her and left a message. We’re still waiting. We’re not holding our breath, but it was worth asking. You, obviously, really never know. One second The Heavy is threatening to ruin us and the next she’s offering to save us.

Where does this leave us today?

Well, this weekend we signed more documents. Another offer. This will be the 2nd we submit to the bank. This means the bank now has two offers to review and consider. They choose the one that looks the most solid. Or neither. It’s up to them entirely. We just keep doing what we’re doing. Taking each day as it comes and continue to be in communication.

Today, The Clash is in my head.

A little ditty we sing to our lenders:

Always tease tease tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine, next day is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

 
 

On the home page on the New York Times website yesterday was a story titled:

RECESSION ANXIETY SEEPS INTO EVERY DAY LIVES

It began talking about a woman who had not lost her job but was so afraid she MIGHT that…

She “could not stop reading every single economic report,” was so “sick to my stomach I lost 12 pounds” and “was unable to function,”…

Here’s the thing… it’s true. People ARE freaking out about the possibility of losing everything. At least once a week one co-worker of mine asks me about our house and then tells me: “I want you to tell me more about foreclosure because I’m afraid I’ll end up there too.”

Whenever I tell people more about foreclosure I include the fact that it’s not the end of the world. We’re viewing this as an opportunity. An opportunity to live with less. To, as my dad would say, “Get religion” about our finances. To rearrange our priorities and live like we promised each other when we first got married when we promised to NEVER BE ATTACHED TO MATERIAL POSSESSIONS. This is our moment. And we’re taking it.

I understand the fear. Completely. I’ve been there. I still go there. And I’m most gripped by fear when I’m fretting over the unknown. Waiting for something to happen is not easy. Waiting for the bank to approve our short sale offer, waiting to find out where we’ll go next. Will we be able to stay in L.A.? Will we be able to rent an apartment? Will we end up in my mom’s basement? I’ll start worrying over the mistakes we made to lead us here and the ones that we have yet to make in the future. And I’ll get that feeling in my chest. Like there’s a little man in there trying to stand up.

The anxiety is not usually about what is actually happening, though. Because, yes, we’re in ‘danger’ of being tossed out onto the streets. But, no…. we are not on the streets yet. We’re in our house, actually. I go to work, come home and sit by the fire with Bob and read. It’s really quite lovely. I get up early to write or do some research and I have this beautiful view to enjoy. This is where we are NOW and if we worry about where we might be in the future, we’ll miss it.

Nine months ago is when this all began. That’s when Bob lost his job and we knew without a back-up plan for his income, we were in trouble. Neither of us wanted to sell the house. Everything was unknown… and the fear and anxiety was definitely worse then than it is now. What the hell would happen to us? Well, we didn’t know then, but many of our ‘worst case scenarios’ would come to pass. The house didn’t sell at full price and instead sat on the market through many reductions for over 7 months where it still sits. We didn’t get jobs right away. It took me 3 months and Bob 4 months. Our bank account rested in negative territory for a couple of weeks at the lowest point. And we’re now selling the house in short sale with the hope of avoiding foreclosure.

Having gone through all of that I can honestly say that the fear of losing everything is definitely worse than actually losing everything. Once you’re in it… you realize it’s not that bad. You tap into resources you never knew you had. You surprise yourself. You realize you can handle it. Anything that comes your way. And when you turn the worst case scenario into the greatest opportunity, you give yourself a lot more room to breathe.

A TIP: If you’re freaking out about the possibility of losing everything to the point that you’re just ‘waiting’ for it to happen… stop doing that. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But actions help. Any action. I started this blog. That helped. A lot. It’s a way to focus my thoughts every day. When I feel that anxiety I think next of the blog. And it reminds me to find the opportunity.

ANOTHER TIP: Stop reading every single economic report! Right now. Instead, listen to music. Read poetry. Or read a horror novel, it doesn’t matter. Go for a walk or a run. Do some yoga. Play some basketball. Go bowling. Enjoy the people around you. Cook a meal. Whatever. Just stop. For the love of god. Stop reading every single economic report.

HOUSE UPDATE– I forgot to mention in my posts about the weekend that we received a 2nd short sale offer. We countered it and are waiting for a response. The appraisal is happening today.