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photo by Sheri Dixon

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Garden Fresh Goodness Squelches Mental Meltdown

Today was a special day- the first batch of sauce from our garden tomatoes.

I fully understand that by September (with any luck) I'll be thoroughly sick of saucing tomatoes, but this first batch is always magic.

It's actually ridiculously easy to make tomato sauce, so easy there's not even a written recipe for it, and the amounts of the ingredients can be adjusted to taste without any problem at all.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

tomatoes (I used a mix of cherry tomatoes, romas and yellow cherries)
fresh onion (I used yellow)
fresh garlic
fresh basil
brown sugar

Cut the tomatoes into pieces- 6 pieces for the romas, halved for the cherries- and place in large saucepan- start simmering
Chop the onion into medium chunks and mince the garlic- add to pan
Tear the basil leaves and add to the mix
Add a few pinches of brown sugar and stir

Simmer and cook down till the onion is transparent and tender
Pour it all into a blender and chop till it's more "saucelike" in appearance and less like a pan of veggies- very important step for a house with children

Serve over spaghetti noodles (tossed with olive oil) and fresh grated cheese and

Garlic Bread

medium loaves of french bread, sliced lengthwise, then in half (quartered)
melted butter/olive oil- half of each
minced fresh garlic, added to melty stuff
fresh basil
shredded cheese

Spoon the melty/garlic mix onto the cut sides of the bread
Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil and shredded cheese
Bake at 350 till just barely browned

If you anticipate a VERY difficult day, make a pre-emptive strike to finish off dinner with

Fresh Peach Frozen Custard

Make the custard-
1c sugar
1/6c flour
3c milk (if you have goats milk, that's best)

Stir together sugar and flour in a saucepan and add the milk- cook till thickened slightly and just barely boiling.

Add 3 beaten eggs (stir a small amount of the hot milk into the eggs first, then pour the eggs back into the milk and stir very quickly to avoid curdling). cook till thickened and of a custard consistency.

Chill for at least 3 hours- take this time to be sure you've got your ice cream freezer parts ready to go including ice/rock salt etc.

Spoon chilled custard into ice cream maker, add 1 1/2c heavy cream and 1 1/2c pureed fresh peaches (taste best when from a friend's tree) with 1/4c sugar added and freeze as directed.

Wait! Before you run off to a scrumptious dinner/dessert, don't you want to hear all about my horrible day?

I'll tell you anyway.

The cancer doctor's office called. The cancer doctor who made the July appointments for Ward's scans and bloodwork FOUR MONTHS AGO- appointments (let me repeat) that were made by the doctor's office, not at our request.

Appointments that we've built all our other post-surgical appointments to coincide with.

That doctor's office called (just a few weeks before these appointments) to say "I'm very sorry, but Dr. HXXXX is going to be out of town all of July and we need to reschedule for August".

Really. No shit.

That's FINE.

It's not like I've made hotel reservations, or made arrangements for work, or made sure we've got a farm-sitter for those days.

Oh. Wait.

Well, then, at least it's not like we might be having to pack up our entire house and MOVE in August.

Oh. Wait.

Close on the tail of that lovely information, I went shopping. For myself. For new...undergarments.

But it's OK- because undergarment shopping is a joy since all sizes in all brands universally coincide, and all those little darlings that look so divine on the rack look even BETTER on my real-life, gravity-challenged aging female body. Especially in the attractive lighting of the dressing rooms.

I need more ice cream...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bargain Book Discovery- Goodbye and Amen

We're all avid readers- every human in our house.

All of us are most comfortable with our noses in a good book, and even though the subject matter varies wildly between people and depending on the day, the important role books play in our family is evident to anyone entering our house.

Books are everywhere, every horizontal surface becomes, by default, a bookshelf, no matter the room or supposed intended use thereof.

In my old age, and at the encouragement of the rest of my family, I've taken to spending serious time putting thought to paper with mixed results, but it's all a learning and growing process- accomplishments even an old fart like me can achieve.

The best of my efforts having to do with living life on a small farm are published on www.homestead.org thanks to website owner (and my toughest critic...after myself) Neil Shelton, and I've had other things printed up into book form thanks to the magic of www.blurb.com.

Someday, if I'm very lucky, my book(s) will be published by a "real" publisher, but I have no illusions about best sellers or Oprah's Book Club. If and when I become a real, live, published author, my books will go straight to the Bargain Shelves of the big bookstores.

And that's OK with me- I purchase ALL my books from the $5 and under shelves and have yet to get a real stinker. I've been unlucky enough to READ real stinkers that are best sellers and refuse to do it again.

So I'm going to share some of my favorite books and hope to raise the sales for the authors by just a few copies.

Goodbye and Amen by Beth Gutcheon
www.bethgutcheon.com

A really neat little book presented absolutely wonderfully, the story surrounds the untimely death of a couple and the subsequent sorting through of things physical and emotional by their grown children and various grandchildren and friends.

The really neat part is that there's no narrative as such- the entire book is done as though all the characters are being interviewed about the events and it showcases how different people in the same family, in the same room, going through the same motions, see and feel things totally (sometimes heartbreakingly, sometimes hilariously) differently.

This is a great study of the interplay between grown siblings and how family hierarchy doesn't change no matter how old you are, how successful you are, or how many miles you put between you and your past.

A very depressing or comforting or happy or fatalistic thought, depending on where you personally fall in the food chain.

Oh. And just so ya'll know.

I don't read stuff that's full of violence, or graphic sex, or anything horrible.

Real life has that mess aplenty and I don't put myself in front of it for entertainment.

Alternatively, giving credit for everything good to God and blaming everything else on human frailty and/or Satan doesn't appeal to me either.

I enjoy a good story about ordinary people living through normal stuff with as much grace as most of us can drum up and coming out the other side mostly unscathed.

Wow. I'm boring.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I love our house.

It's old and filled with character. From its raising in Tyler's Azalea District, to its migration out to Brownsboro, to its sad intermission of neglect and decay, to my purchase of it while I was still a single woman in between husbands, it's sheltered and protected me for over 15 years- longer than I've ever lived anywhere my entire life.

My husband was my beau when I purchased the house and he walked through it with me before I bought it- not with a realtor or in the company of the owners, just by dint of there being no annoying obstructions like doors or walls standing in the way of walking through it. Always a man of few words yet deep thought, his only comment was "Lotta work". And it has been a lotta work- and it's not even "finished" yet- all the finish work remains to be done. Ward's never lived in a Fixer Upper before, but he loves this house too- and the 15 years he's lived here have been longer than he's ever lived anywhere in his entire life.

Our son was born here. Not as in "we brought him home from the hospital to this house" but as in "he was born HERE- right here in our bed with the aid of midwives- like...on purpose". Obviously, Alec's never lived anywhere longer in his entire life.

About ten years ago we started looking for larger parcels of land with the intention of moving this house somewhere else- hey, it's done it before...but all the many hundreds of parcels we drove past and the dozens we actually walked were not nearly as pretty as the mere three acres we've got here.

Five years ago we found what we were looking for only three miles from here. Smaller in size than what we thought we wanted- we'd thought we wanted something with at least twenty acres and what we bought is only twelve- it's nevertheless got so many more features and micro-eco-systems that it "lives bigger".

One thing only casts a sad shadow on this otherwise perfect piece of land- the trees arch across the tiny county road and meet in the middle- the road Home is a living tunnel across two wooden bridges.

Moving the house would necessitate cutting those trees back to get the house through.

Ain't happening.

So the house stays, and the quest for the perfect stewards for our beloved homestead started. We've been close a few times- three to be exact- but it never quite happened. And most of the last few years that's been okay because we've been in Houston so much dealing with that pesky cancer and the aftermath thereof.

We've just come reeling back after a particularly nasty stretch and just like magic we have not one, but TWO possibly perfect families for our home and the chances are good that this time it will really happen- we'll be handing over keys to the front door to someone and pulling out of our yard for the last time within months (I can't say "weeks" as that gives me a panic attack. Those who've seen our STUFF understand).

So what's the problem?

The new place is GREAT- there's a hill rising 150ft. in the back right corner from the low point in the front left corner- the wetlands filled with springs. There's not one, but TWO live creeks that never go dry even in the worst drought years anyone can remember, but that also never jump their banks when everything else is flash-flooding. There are huge trees and dogwoods and wildlife to beat the band. Meadows and shady glades and an old slatted hay barn and...and...and...

Hey. Where's the house? Where's the animal barn and fences?? Where's the WELL???

*Exactly*.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Beyond Father's Day

My older two children- the ones that aren't children anymore being all grown up and whatnot- are products of my first marriage.

I had at least enough sense to not have any children with my second husband.

This "new" child- a mere 10 years old- is a product of my third marriage.

My husband (the third one- the GOOD one) has no other children even though he had a former wife. When I expressed my desire (pun intended) to have another child before it was too late- I was looking the big Four O straight in the eyes- he said "I don't know what the big deal is- any animal can reproduce".

About a year later he found out what the Big Deal is- actually the first time he felt that little critter kicking and punching inside me he started getting an inkling of the Big Deal-edness of the whole thing.

So we have this boy.

When alot of men, especially those who've never had to share their wives with anyone else, have children, they are adament about the baby sleeping IN THE CRIB.

We had a nursery set up in the big bedroom next to the kitchen. Three rooms away from our room.

Ward said "You can't put that baby in there- he's spent nine months right next to you and he'll be all alone way back there. In the dark". So that baby moved into the bed with us, and there were many times I'd wake up to see them staring solomnly at each other.

Ward's never talked down to Alec- has always treated him as another human- not a baby, possession or toy, and never an annoyance.

He has the patience that the saints WISH they had.

So, wait.

YESTERDAY was Father's Day, what's the lame idea of writing about this NOW?

Today we went in for the initial consultation with the occupational therapist for Ward's outpatient treatments- and though he's still almost 50 pounds underweight with all the weakness, lack of stamina and strength that go along with that, the main concern is his right shoulder.

Not this surgery (either one), but the LAST surgery over 2 years ago, they harvested a muscle from his back for the graft (the graft that failed necessitating THIS surgery/surgeries). This muscle holds the shoulder blade in place. When he had things like tissue and muscle back there, it was apparent that there were issues with that area, and truth told, he was supposed to go for physical therapy at the time but he was still frantically trying to hold onto his job for the insurance he so clearly needed to have, so he/we blew it off.

Now with nothing there but literally skin and bones, it's clear that he's really compromised in that shoulder- the blade pops out of place with little provocation and the entire area hurts like a son of a bitch most of the time.

So the therapist measured his reach, mobility and strength and recorded all of it. He had to fill out a ream of paperwork telling how difficult it is (on a scale of 1 to 5) to do things like lie down, kneel, balance, go up and down stairs, etc. ad nauseum.

At the end of the session, she asked him "Mr. Dixon- do you have any questions? Is there something in particular you want to be able to accomplish at the end of our working together?"

Ward loves to walk, to hike, to camp, to garden, to work on our property, to travel and sight-see everything from National parks to museums and I expected him to answer with any of these things.

But he was quiet, head down for a moment, then he looked past me to Alec- obliviously reading his latest Star Wars novel- and he softly asked

"Do you think I'll be able to throw a ball again?"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why Do They Even Call It Customer Service?

I have a hypothesis.

The quality of customer service you will receive from any given place can be pre-determined according to the saccharine sweetness of their "on hold" messages.

MDAnderson Cancer Hospital has a wonderful "on hold" message- calming music, assurances that everyone is treated as a beloved individual, care is first class and top of the line technology...

...and then they answer the phone.

I'll be the first to admit that I believe MDAnderson's doctors, surgeons and (most of) the staff are the best in the world. I'll be the first to admit that I believe my husband is alive because of these same people. We've met wonderful professional compassionate people at MDAnderson.

However, the dissonance of the "on hold" messages, repeated over and over and over again sort of grated on my very last nerve as I was waiting to talk to someone regarding each latest "oversight" on the part of the medical staff- oversights that resulted in him going essentially crazy for almost a week, kept him crazy and starving for over 2 weeks, deleted his memory and ravaged his body and it was very clear to me that they were NOT interested in him as a beloved individual, the care was NOT first class, and they may have the coolest technological toys, but the people in charge of running said toys could use refresher courses in basic human patience and compassion.

We're trying to build a house. Like most other folks, we'll need some sort of loan unless those lottery numbers I haven't checked yet are finally going to pay off...

Lemme check...

...never mind...

...so we'll need a loan.

Due to multiple expensive health issues, our credit scores are dismal. Our builder has a banker that they work with exclusively- a small town bank that's supposedly going to finance our home.

The "on hold" spiel says how very clever I am to have chosen a small home town bank, how all the people are friendly and they're at work every single weekday to meet all MY needs- and make all MY dreams come true even when the "other" banks say "no" because they look at all the important things and not just our credit score.

They said "no".

On accounta our credit scores.

I bought this camera. It's a very nice camera and I was very excited to get it- my first brand new Kodak Easyshare- the other 2 I've had (and loved) were refurbs and the very inexpensive models, this one is from their Professional Line.

There is something wrong either with the USB cable or the camera's slot the USB cable fits into because it won't transfer to the computer.

I spent hours and hours and hours on the telephone, in online chat, and composing a letter to the "I am the person you contact when you've not gotten help anywhere else" person at Kodak. The best they could offer was to send in the cable for a replacement, then if that didn't work, send the camera back to the distributor for a replacement.

Except for the "last resort Go To" chick- she never answered me at all.

Every time I was put on hold, either via telephone or waiting for an online person to help me (I gave up after THREE HOURS one time), I heard (or read) that my call was VERY important to them, and they'd be with me as soon as they could to answer all my questions.

Questions I might have regarding my "ready right out of the box" camera.

But it's ok. I finally got the help I needed for my camera without all that hassle.

The kid at Walmart sold me a memory card and card reader for less than $20 total and in five minutes this afternoon.

Call any Walmart store. You'll get a bare bones store directory- no promises of care or rosy visions of knowledge and compassion.

And yet...

Boggles the minds.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Because I'm the Child and I Said So

Not me personally- I haven't been a child for many years. But I have children, and I'm still perfectly capable of behaving in a childish manner.

Since I'm not proud of the latter, but very proud of the former, lets talk about the former.

Yesterday we had a well-child visit at the doctor. At my son's request. He was concerned that his tetanus vaccination needed updating, so I called the doctor's office and they said "No- not for another 2 years, but you ARE due for a chicken pox booster". So off to the doctor we went, and my son sat stock still while receiving his shot- he's been blessedly healthy and couldn't remember his last shot (probably about 4 years ago).

And I started thinking about raising children, specifically the difference between how I'm raising this one compared to his brother and sister, both much older than he is.

With the first 2, I did things when the "experts" told me to. And some things need to be that way- vaccinations, exams if there are really concerns or problems, things that will affect their health or well-being.

I'm not sure if that had anything to do with it, or if it's just a difference in personalities, but I remember my older son at about Alec's age at the doctor, needing a booster shot, and I had to literally sit on him to get it done. Luckily I'm a trained veterinary technician, so I know how to hold fractious, possibly dangerous critters. The give-away for the nurse was that I was also scratching him behind the ear to deflect his attention away from the syringe...

And my daughter is deathly afraid of needles. She'll be 30 next year.

Back when Alec was about 4, we went to the dentist. A pediatric dentist since I remembered being scared poopless by imposing, stern, crabby Dr. Newell. The hygienists took the x-rays and cleaned his teeth without incident. All they had left to do was the fluoride treatment and we'd be done. I sat and read my book. Suddenly there was a commotion and when I looked up, the chair was empty and my son was across the room, perched like a spider monkey on a different chair- hissing at the hygienists.

Apparently, they'd hovered over him and started sticking the little "mouth bumpers" in between his teeth and the sides of his mouth without telling him what they were doing and it felt like he was choking and/or suffocating. So he bolted.

They told me they couldn't work with him and we could either wrap him in a blanket and sit on him or drug him for the rest of the procedure. Not sedation, more of a paralyzing drug. So he'd still be afraid, he just couldn't get away. I declined both (awful) options, collected my little spider monkey and walked out.

After that, Ward's illness(es) took front and center of our time and getting Alec to the dentist was not high on our priority list. He brushes regularly and his teeth look fine. A few months ago, Alec said he wanted to go to the dentist.

So we made the appointment and last week he walked into the dentist's office and sat perfectly for the hygienist (different office- this one explained everything beautifully before she did it). He's got good teeth and no cavities.

The difference,other than age, was readiness.

I think too often we don't trust ourselves or our children when it comes to the Proper Way to Go About Growing Up.

I didn't stress about any of them regarding potty training. I figured when they were ready, they'd do it. And they did. My daughter coveted a package of Strawberry Shortcake underpants at about age 2 1/2 and I told her those were for big girls who don't wear diapers. She grabbed the package and never looked back.

My older boy could literally leave wet footprints through the house without concern even at age 3 until...I was director at Girl Scout Day Camp and he wanted to go with his sister and me but couldn't unless...and that was that.

I don't think there was a specific event surrounding Alec's coming of bathroom age, he just worked into it- at his own pace.

The older 2 went to public schools, and we're homeschooling Alec.

My daughter tested into the Gifted and Talented program and has been a driven soul ever since- her basic personality true enough, but at his nursery school, my older son was referred for Speech Therapy- he was "fronting and backing"- leaving off the beginning AND ends of words. WE could understand him, and he was barely 4 years old. If we'd just let him alone, I suspect he would've turned out just fine. I can't think of a single adult who leaves the beginnings and ends off of words.

Alec was slow to talk, and slow to walk- the result of many chronic ear infections that damaged his hearing and tilted his equilibrium till he had those little ear tubes put in. We did not bring him to therapy for either "problem" and even though he wasn't talking or walking at age 2, now try to keep him quiet or still.

Ditto for reading. Luckily, our curriculum stressed that children will learn stuff when they are ready, and even though they SENT reading books starting in 1st grade, if our child didn't seem interested in reading, we were to read TO him until he was. At age 6 Alec was not reading.

At age 7 he was reading adult books. Skipped right over the Dr. Suess stage and into Dragonology. For his 10th birthday he requested Stephen Hawkings Brief History of the Universe.

We trust animals to raise their offspring and the offspring to have certain innate survival instincts. Yet humans "overthink" the whole process.

My first two were crib babies. I'd put them down in their cribs to sleep. If they woke up crying (or went down crying) I'd stand there and rub their backs, or take them out to rock them till they settled down. I was just "wrong" enough to not "let 'em cry it out". By the time Alec came along I was alot older and more tired in general. He slept with us.

We were warned that he'd still be sleeping with us at age 16, but he left on his own and moved into his own bed by the time he was 8. I figure all the stress and worry of his dad's illness(es) postponed his leaving a good 3 years, but the main thing is he's fine. And in his own room.

And here's what I say to the Family Bed Opponents- "I work for a veterinary clinic. If someone called me and said their dog was fixin' to have puppies and they were planning on taking the puppies away from their mom and making them stay in a box in another room- letting them with the momma dog to clean and feed, but then putting them back in the box away from her, I'd call animal control and report them for abuse".

"But your baby needs to learn to be independent and to go to sleep by himself" they said. Apparently they didn't stop to think that my baby (any baby)
-can't walk
-can't talk
-can't open the refrigerator
-can't dial 9-1-1
just how independent do they want that infant to be???

So I'm proud of my older 2 who have become fine adults and who hopefully learned to think alittle outside of the Normal Box because of their ol' hippiechick mom and her sometimes non-conformist ideas, and I'm proud of my youngest boy, proud of the person he's growing up to be on his own schedule, under his own power, using his own instincts of what he needs to know and when.

And I hope I've done even a fair job of not training these people I grew inside of me to fit carelessly into society, of allowing and encouraging them to question anything that seems sketchy no matter what Expert it comes from, and to become the people THEY want to be, and not what anyone else expects of them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Closing the Barn Door After the Cats are Out of the Bag

So the oil keeps belching up from the bottom of the ocean, and there's no shortage of fingers to point and blame to lay.

And everyone is demanding that everyone else DO SOMETHING, FIX IT, STOP IT.

But here's the thing- the thing that's so horrible no one's said it out loud.

Maybe we can't. Maybe no one can. Maybe this is un-fixable un-stoppable un-speakably irreversible.

Because people can do alot of things- we're smart, probably too smart, mostly not sensible enough- people as a whole generally know just enough to be dangerous- and there have been very few times that's as obvious as right now.

Do the oil workers know their jobs? Yes- they're good hard-working men and women doing a difficult task every single day. I don't for a minute think the rig workers could have stopped what happened.

And whoever it turns out to be who did allow/ignore/corner cut this mess into being it doesn't change anything- it'll most likely turn out to be one of those unfortunate chain of events that just sorta blew up on them.

And the Gulf.

And, once the ginormous oil amoeba hits the Gulf Stream- the entire planet.

So what we (and by "we" I of course mean...We- everyone on this little blue and green marble called Earth) may be looking at has not so much to do with "Whose fault is it", or "Whose job is it to fix it", but

"What the hell do we do NOW?"

I dunno.

But I think that while we (and by "we" I of course mean BP and our government and pretty much any other government and all their scientists and geologists and smart people) continue to try to find a way to LESSEN the damage and the waste and general decimation of the thing,

our main consciousness, front and center of all our brains, should be that THIS is our new reality. THIS is our new Gulf, and THIS is something we'll have to live around, live with, and live hopefully in spite of.

Because even though people were smart enough and had clever enough tools to drill the well, run the rig and provide the oil barring any accident or Act of Nature, when faced with what we've got now, we're clearly still Puny Humans and it can't be made better.

Will the ocean heal itself? Will Mother Earth rebound yet again? Golly I hope so.

But I suspect it'll happen (or not) despite whatever humans do, not because of.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Today We Went to the Zoo

Sounds mundane, but in our case, it's not.

We went to the zoo for our first date- 15 years ago yesterday.

Both newly divorced and pretty traumatized, we'd been friends- good friends, best friends- while we were each witnessing the deaths of our marriages, marriages that we both valiantly tried saving, even though we could see the terminal hopeless status of the other's situation. Afterwards, we fell apart in the aftermath and though it looked alot like "rebound", what we fell into was a deepening of our friendship, our very real concern for the other's happiness and well-being. We fell into love.

So we went to the zoo on June 10th, 1995 and about halfway through it Ward took my hand in his.

Even though we like the zoo, and go to the zoo several times a year, we always go to the zoo on June 10th.

We went to the zoo alone the first few years, but then had company- first a tiny baby of 4 months old, and each year a bigger and bigger boy- this year a young man of 10 almost as tall as myself.

We went to the zoo in the rain at least once- speedwalking through the deserted park with the animals peering out at us from their shelters, amused and bemused.

We went to the zoo when we were both employed and I'd pick up lunch, meet Ward at the picnic tables, inhale the food and barrel non-stop around the familiar route before a quick kiss and pointing our cars back to work.

Yesterday was June 10th. It was pouring rain- the rain gauge a few miles from here read 5.6 inches in less than 24 hours, though I've heard rumor of closer to 7 inches. There was thunder and lightning and we did not go to the zoo.

Today we went to the zoo.

Ward has endured so much these last few months- less than 8 weeks ago medical personnel were encouraging me to put him in a nursing home, and a wheelchair has taken up residence in the trunk of our car. He's painfully thin and fragile looking, tires very easily and is in almost continuous discomfort.

Today my husband walked around the zoo- refusing to use the wheelchair.

And I marvel in every tiny miracle and cherish my husband and my son- both so courageous and kind, intelligent and hilarious and though it seemed like the most normal average thing for a family to be there, walking around looking at the animals and enjoying sno-cones and animal crackers it WAS a miracle to us- and not a tiny one because there were more than several moments over the last few months when we were deep in the bowels of the cancer hospital that I couldn't hope, couldn't imagine, couldn't even aspire to think that we'd get another chance to say, casually

"Today we went to the zoo".

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

We're Not Worthy

I grew up in a simpler time.

A skin-of-my-teeth child of the 50's, we lived a pretty stereotypical life- dad worked at the same place from his late 20's (after his 4 years in the Navy) till the day he retired, mom stayed home to raise us till we were both in school all day long and she then picked up a part-time job so she'd be home when we got there every day.

Our family consisted of dad, mom, myself, and my brother.

Mom and dad rented a little bungalow surrounded by trees in a quiet neighborhood- we could see the elementary school from our front window- one of my earliest memories is asking my mom why the flag was "not all the way to the top" and she explained through tears that someone had shot and killed President Kennedy.

After they saved enough money, my parents took the ultimate plunge- Home Ownership- and purchased a newer (but not new) house in a less treed (but still quiet) neighborhood. Our lot was 40ft by 120ft, and the house consisted of a small eat-in kitchen, a small living room (mom's spinet piano took up a good quarter of the room), 3 tiny bedrooms and 1 bathroom.

Although the elementary school was a different one, we could still see it from our front porch.

I guess I shouldn'tve used the past tense about our house since mom and dad still live there 38 years later.

That's how things were done in our parents' day, and in THEIR parents' day. People got and stayed married, had 2 children- a boy and a girl, worked for the same company till they got their gold watch and a cake-filled sendoff, saved up, bought a house, and lived there till the end credits rolled.

So it's a surprise, and not a good one, for our generation to find ourselves changing jobs every few years, changing spouses at least once, moving long distances at the insistence of employment or matrimony, and generally not having the deep roots of our recent ancestors.

Jobs are no longer something secure, marriage is no longer "till death us do part", and houses are investments instead of homes. Everything is "A Journey" implying that we keep moving, keep searching, never quite managing to get There.

Only one thing has remained the same, stayed solidly unmoving, unbending and impregnable- The Credit Score.

The Credit Score is an antiquated gauge of judging a person's credit-worthiness.

There are the Big Three reporting agencies who tally up every good and bad bit of your credit history and those numbers are added together and averaged and in a whole lot of lending institutions will determine if your application even gets glanced at, or if it gets shit-canned out of hand.

I worked in the financial industry for a few years- first as a bank teller, and then at a private loan company, and I've always thought the Credit Score was sketchy at best. There are alot of mistakes on them, for starters. You'd think that something this crucial would have a little more care taken to the accuracy of the reports.

But you'd be wrong.

I can't remember a single report that I pulled that was 100% correct.

And here's the hilarious part.

It takes a slew of phone calls, a ream of letters, and a notarized blessing from god to take off the mistakes.

And it'll take months to do so.

Here's why this is today's topic.

We're trying to build a house. A very tiny simple house on land that's 1/2 paid for so plenty of equity there. We can afford to do it. We have everything lined up to do it. Although our original plan was to go sans bank and build it ourselves, recent events have dictated that someone else build the house and we pay it off as quickly as we can.

The lady at the bank nodded and added things up and smiled.

Then she pulled the credit reports.

There are medical bills on there with outstanding balances- but they're not supposed to look at those.

There are 2 items there that have been wrongly reported.

I called both companies and they verified that we are not, in fact, deadbeats, and that they like us just fine. But I'll have to go through "Credit Reporting Dispute" to get the report changed, which (as stated above) is messy and onerous and will take several MONTHS to accomplish.

This is a small local bank, and the one who deals exclusively with our builder, so my hope is that they'll take the telephone verification at face value and proceed As If.

Otherwise, we're momentarily screwed through no fault of our own.

I'm hearing from alot of bankers that "It's almost impossible to get a construction loan right now".

Why? The banks got all that bail-out money, right? Where did THAT go? Oh. Wait. I already mentioned where that went, it went to all those brand new bank buildings cropping up everywhere with the empty parking lots since they WON'T GIVE ANYONE ANY MONEY.

I'm hearing from alot of bankers that they "can't even look at someone unless their credit score is over 750. Ours right now is hovering around 600- and that's with us at the same residence and employment for over 15 years, ONE car note,and ONE credit card. I cannot conceive that in today's high mobility-high debt load-high unemployment-high foreclosure society that very many people can manage over 750 anymore.

I've always said that "Banks only loan to people who don't really need it", and that seems even more true now.

So we'll stay with the small local banks, and cross our fingers, and hope they can see past The Credit Score, and into our characters and history.

But we won't hold our breath.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Let the Spin Begin

So, there's this oil spill, see?

Not a little one- like the iridescent amoebas floating in puddles under parked cars-but one of truly epic proportions and with no end or edges in sight.


This one is a horror all around- men have lost their lives because of it, their families changed forever by the deaths. Men and women are getting sick because of it, working tirelessly to assist in what can't even be described as a "clean up" because cleaning up is something that's done after a fact, and this is still firmly in the middle of "during", and can't even be described as "containment" because something this huge, this transient-yet-suffocating cannot be boxed, vacuumed, skimmed or dissolved.

Whole communities that depend on the Gulf for a livelihood are facing a very long haul before they can fish there again, though people who live on the ocean face disaster every season from hurricanes, from Acts of Nature- literally farming the waters is as tenuous as farming the land, and as harsh.

And there is one more industry that depends on the Gulf waters and beaches for its income- the tourist trade.

So it shouldn't have come as a surprise last night when a tourism spokesperson for The Sunshine State came smiling on TV for his interview- assuring people that Florida's Gulf Coast was still a prime vacation choice- that unlike those nasty stinky gooey blackened beaches of Louisiana, the waters of Florida are still clear, the beaches still pure- only a "shimmer" of oil on the surface.

Really.

No shit.

He said "shimmer" with a straight face- encouraging families to come frolic in the waters-turned-liquid-rainbows because of the shimmery magic of petroleum.

You know- like the surface of your bathtub shimmers when you add that scented Calgon Bath Oil.

So I tried twisting my brain into Tourism configuration...

"Hey, ladies! Yanno how swimming in the ocean is so DRYING to your skin? Come to the Gulf Coast- where our shimmering waters will naturally moisturize your skin while you enjoy our salty surf- like a day at the spa".

"Hey, Kids! Yanno how your parents are always ruining your fun and not letting you swim when all those poison jellyfish come ashore? Not THIS year!"

"Hey, Dad! Yanno how your favorite vacation pastime is setting shit on fire? Imagine your family's wonderment when you actually set fire to WATER! Top THAT, DisneyWorld!"

That's as far as I got before I threw up a little in my mouth and felt a tiny portion of my soul withering up and blowing away, so I stopped there.

Guess I'm just not cut out for Public Relations...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting There From Here

I love trains.

Not freight trains, although some of them have car after car of totally kickass graffiti treating folks stopped at railroad crossings to an ever shifting mural of urban life, dreams and imagination.

Passenger trains- generally Amtrak here in the US, are the trains who hold a near and dear place in my heart.

I cannot step foot on an airplane without massive debilitating panic, I cannot step foot on a boat without puking my toenails up, but I can ride sea to shining sea in the rocking clickety clack embrace of a train.

The cheap seats are the best seats in the house- the private sleeper cars are tiny and cramped, and would make my heebie jeebie claustrophobia tip into overtime- but in coach, there are windows on both sides from front to back to see out of- to enjoy the scenery in seats that are mightily more comfortable than any airplane seat I've been in.

I've ridden the train from Milwaukee to Chicago, Milwaukee to South Dakota, Milwaukee to St. Louis, Milwaukee to Los Angeles, Texas to Minnesota, Texas to Chicago and Texas to Austin (Texas).

I've ridden the train as a child and with children.

And here's the coolest thing about the train (in my opinion anyway).

When you fly, you're going the fastest (supposedly) way from point A to point B. There is no scenic or relaxing benefit to any part of the flying experience.

When you drive, there is scenery aplenty- but the driver is limited by having to watch...the ROAD, and the passengers keep messing up the schedule by insisting on stopping to go to the bathroom every few hours.

When you take the bus...eww.

But the train is different.

Train passengers are those who want the scenery while not stopping to pee. They want to get from point A to point B but aren't in a terrible hurry to do so.

People on trains tend to not be in business suits, or in a rush, or crabby.

People on trains tend to be college students, retired people, families.

Boarding a plane feels a little like a cattle call- herded up the ramp like so many steers after leaving your luggage to (hopefully) be loaded onto the same plane going to the same destination.

Boarding a train is an Event- the train thunders up, whistle blowing, steams to a halt, and the conductors shout the age-old "All Aboard!" and ceremoniously help passengers up into the train- leave your carry on luggage on the first floor and up to the coach seats on the upper level- it's the TRAIN- no one will bother it. Really.

Once aboard, there's no "Please remain seated till further notice". You're free to wander up to the observation car (where they show movies), the dining car during mealtimes, or downstairs to the bathrooms. Whenever you want/need to.

Kids love the train. They're not strapped into carseats and their ears never pop. Everyone sleeps better on a train than in a car or plane- if it's raining that's an added bonus- the rain sings you to sleep while the train rocks you.

Now that everyone's worried about peak oil, and the cost of gasoline, mass transporation is finally and for real coming to the forefront here in this country- the "rugged individualism" of the US has kept us stubbornly clinging to our "one car per driver/go where we want when we want" mentality.

I know Amtrak gets alot of bad press- the routes are weird, and they generally run late- hours late in some cases.

But here's the thing.

Amtrak uses trains. Trains use train tracks.

All the track in this country is owned by the freight companies, who allow Amtrak to use certain tracks during certain times. That's the problem. Amtrak needs free rein to all the tracks all the time and they could put together routes that serve the entire country and would run on time.

I hope we reach a point very soon where the above can be reality and I hope that once it does, riding the train catches on.

I have yet to see a happy child get off of an airplane, or unfold out of the backseat of a car after thousands of miles of fast food, being poked by siblings and hollered at by parents.

But my son has met new friends on every train trip we've taken, has slept soundly snuggled in the seat next to me, and considered the train ride an integral part of the trip instead of "the icky part before getting to the fun stuff".

And I'll never forget the look on the faces of a grandfather and grandson we met on our Texas/Minnesota trip- a trip just myself and my not-quite-two-year-old son took (something I'd never attempt via plane or car).

If I had to guess, I'd guess their ages at 6 and 66. This pair of adventurers was wearing matching striped railroad hats, and had been on the train almost a month- they were riding all Amtrak routes over the summer with short stops every few days to shower and sight-see.

They were happy, they were excited. They were reveling in just being together for a summer neither one would ever forget.

And that's the magic of Vacation- it's not the destination, it's the company.
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