Thursday, October 25, 2012

Home Again

Ok, I knew I had been neglecting my little blog, but when the inclination struck me to look at it today...WHOA! I have not posted in over eight months?!

So what has the Four Walls Family been up to in the last eight months?

Well, first off, the I Clean Up After Myself Campaign?  Epic failure. I think that I just have to accept that I am raising a pack of slobs, and give myself over to it. Oh, and the dishwasher died last night, so that will make it even more interesting around here until the landlord gets around to fixing it...

We passed the one-year anniversary of the foreclosure last month.  No fanfare.  I pulled our credit reports, and actually we're almost fully recovered in terms of our credit scores. Savings and sanity--not so much, yet.

The kids keep getting bigger.

Jellybean turned ten and is in fifth grade.  Middle school is on the horizon, and every time I really think about it I start to hyper-ventilate, so that's all I will say about that today.  She is still competing in gymnastics, although on a slightly less strenuous level, and her first meet of the season is in a few weeks.  Of course, she is stunning in her new competition leo.  It actually brought tears to my eyes when I saw her in it for the first time, but that's not surprising.  Peanut has taken to calling me Cry-Baby-Mama, lately...

Miss Florida turned eight, was accepted into the Highly Capable program for our district, and is thriving there. Don't get me wrong, she has had some great teachers up until now, but she has never really been challenged.  That was most evident the other day as she was working with Mr. Four Walls on a challenging assignment.  She was struggling to grasp a new concept and broke down in tears, saying "I don't like not being the smartest in the class anymore!" That, my dear daughter, is a GREAT lesson to learn, and your life will be so much easier if you grasp it now at age eight and take it to heart: no matter where you go, who you meet, and what you do, there will always be someone bigger, better, faster, stronger, smarter than you.  Don't let it defeat you, let it inspire you.  Learn from them!

And now for Peanut.  Oh, Little Peanut.  She is still Terrific, just now as a three-year old.  All that means, really, is her tantrums have become more mature. I had a really hard time with her birthday this year, though.  Three.  She's not so much a baby anymore, is she?  Since we're done, it was really bitter-sweet for me.  I suppose every birthday will be, though.  Thanks to my sister for having a new baby the week after Peanut's birthday! Is it wrong that as I breathed in his Baby-ness, I wanted to take him home with me forever?  It is?  Ok, that's what Mr. Four Walls said, too.  And he reminded me that they don't stay that little and sweet for long, as he pointed to Peanut and Miss Florida, wrestling, screaming and clawing at each other over...I'm not sure, really.  Oxygen, maybe?

So what about me?  What have I been up to that has caused me to neglect my mind-blowing fifteen Followers? As usual, Life. Around the time of my last post, I was getting sick and tired with always feeling sick and tired, so I started a long-ish process of addressing what was going on.  Doctors appointments, lab work, etc, etc, etc. Long story short, I have now joined the ranks of the Gluten Free world.  It's been six months since I've intentionally eaten gluten, and oh-my-goodness, what a difference!  I'm not yet completely symptom free, but at least now I can function.  I can braid Jellybean's hair.  I can type.  I can live without so much pain.

And I can look forward! So much so that I am finally returning to finish my BA! No more College Dropout status for me.  So, I cannot promise this blog will not continue to be neglected, because let's face it: Wife, mom of three, employee, and college student...not much left to give there.  But I will try to update and come up with interesting observations on what this crazy, busy, wonderful Four Walls Home life brings.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The "I Clean-Up After Myself" Campaign

It's an election year.  Can you tell?  I thought I'd mention it just in case you hadn't noticed.  Consider it my Public Service Announcement for the day.  You're welcome.

However, there is likely a campaign happening that you are not yet aware of, probably because it just started in my living room about five minutes ago.  I call it the "I Clean Up After Myself" campaign.  There will be no mud-slinging, and if there is, you have to wipe up whatever you throw, as soon as you throw it. 

See, lately I have reached a breaking point.  I. Cannot. Keep. Up.  My house is in a constant state of disaster. It might have a bit to do with how exhausted I have been lately, dealing with Peanut and her recent Terrificness, I admit.  I've said before that I am no Neat Freak.  I am okay with the slightly disheveled design theme I have going.  Three kids, two adults, and three pets all in 1,000 square feet - there's no way this place is staying photo-shoot worthy for any length of time. 

However, when I can rarely see the kitchen counter, have bruises all over the bottoms of my feet from stepping on a bazillion lego parts, and have had to put the baby in gently-worn, unlaundered socks for the past two days.....something's gotta give. Today it was me, in the form of a blurry-eyed meltdown in the middle of what should be a kitchen but instead resembles a sad graveyard for cereal bowls, school papers, uneaten grilled cheese crusts, and God-only-knows what else.

We have tried chore-charts.  They work for a while, but the funny thing about them is that you have to keep updating them, rotating chores from person to person, and adjusting them to whatever sports or extra-curricular activity interferes.  Throw in a cold, unplanned over-time, or the impending Mayan-apocalypse, and things get off-kilter really quickly.  So basically, they become a chore in and of themselves.  And if I have a hard time getting the laundry done, adding the duty of the chore chart on top.....just doesn't work.

So, a light bulb.  My kids have responded well to sticker charts in the past, but again, a sticker chart  is generally just a glorified chore-chart, and we've established how horrible I am at those.  But a basic, cover-the-whole-sheet with stickers you earn when you are caught doing a desired behavior? I think I can swing that.  Basic behavior-modification tactic: reward the good, ignore the bad.

So here is our campaign sign:



Pretty simple, and not at all perfect.  The kids and the adults will earn small stickers to cover first the letters then the white space when they are "caught" cleaning-up after themselves as they make the mess.  No stickers for reminders or requests, only for taking initiative and responsibility for oneself.  Extra stickers might be rewarded for taking on messes that aren't your own, such as cleaning up after the baby when she's gone on a Tasmanian-Devil style tour of all the play bins.  Once the sheet is covered, we will go for ice cream. 

Really, it sounds so simple, but anyone with children knows that theory and practice don't always go hand-in-hand when it comes to the art of parenting.  Will it work long-term, successfully making new habits out of messes?  I'll update later! And let me know if you want a position on the campaign team!

Terrific

I've been MIA, I know. 

Life took over. Mr. Four Walls has been working a TON of overtime; Peanut is really coming into her Terrific-Twos, complete with two-year molars; Jellybean is working hard to get ready for her first gymnastics meet this weekend; and Miss Florida - well, she's the middle child, so she's contentedly along for the ride (maybe not contentedly, but she fakes it well, I suppose).

Suffice it to say between keeping the household moving forward, shuffling the kids to practices, working, and dealing with all the Terrificness of Peanut lately, I've not had much time to do, well, anything.

But I did find a great blog entry that sums up my life with Peanut the last couple of weeks.  It's a couple of years old, but the blogger, a fellow PNW-er and mom of three, Might Maggie, is still active on her personal blogs (yes, plural: blogssssss.  Now I feel like even more of a slacker.....). Enjoy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I Did It!

A few weeks back, I posted all about my husband's request that I learn how to paint. Well, I took the leap and on Friday I painted our kitchen!  Some before and after pics:

READY!



SET!



GO!!!!




Drum roll, please.......








The finished product (except for around the fridge - I need Mr. Four Walls to help me move it, and since he's been working a TON of overtime lately, this will have to wait until we see each other for more than 5 waking minutes here and there).
This might seem silly to many, my fear of painting a room.  However, as I brushed and rolled, I realized that every time I started to paint before, someone was there to criticize my every move - so I stopped and let them do the work.  Since then, I've never even attempted.  But now - watch out white walls!   

And wow, I need to do something about that fridge.....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Digging Out with Zombie-Links

Whew, what a week!

We've been hit with multiple storms bringing tons of snow, even more freezing rain and ice, strong winds, and then several days without power, all mixed with a pesky cold-bug that is making the rounds again and again and again in our home - thus my lack of new posts this past week.

I will attempt to get back on the multiple-posts-per-week-wagon later in the week when I emerge from my zombie-like state, but for now some links to articles and ideas you might find interesting.

Enjoy this first installment of ZOMBIE-links!

  • My crafty-est daughter, Miss Florida, and I have been talking about creating some sort of tile back-splash for above our stove, and I think these hand-painted tiles are going to be the center-piece for it!

  • Speaking of the weather, a great article on why those of us in the beautiful, normally mild, coastal Pacific Northwest are NOT snow wimps! (Okay, maybe we are a little, but with good reason...)

  • For those facing a challenge - and aren't we all - a bit of encouragement that It Won't Always Be Like This (and as I create this post, my own strong-willed Child is in the next room, expressing her refusal to nap by kicking the walls, throwing her toys, and screaming to me "I done; I feel better, Mama!" - it won't always be like this, it won't always be like this, it won't always be like this....)

  • The definitive piece summing up the futility of The Mommy Wars (if you're scratching your head, asking "Mommy Wars?" then you are not a mom...) - it's an oldie but a goodie by one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess. (FYI: Jenny is a straight-shooter with a gift for cursing - you've been warned...)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Stories

It has snowed nearly all day here, an unusual event that deserves mentioning.  We spent the day getting some housework caught-up, watching the kids build snowmen and make snow angels, and just generally hanging out.


Dinner-time brought out the sillies again, in what is now becoming a Sunday evening ritual: One-Word Storytelling.


Now, this week's installment in a new series I intend to post every Sunday from now on entitled Sunday Stories:


A bubble-eyed fish went to school and learned many tricks.  One of the other fishes couldn't do any, so the fish sang a silly song. The fish that sang also danced.  Once he even did carwheels!  It was an awesome event.  Soon everyone told the teacher it happened to have a trick that everyone loved.  The teacher told the fish that he should do free-style art.


We're trying to work on flow and word-choice with the kids.  We'll get there....

Learning to Paint (and to stop talking!)

My husband is not a talker. Mr. Four Walls is a do-er. In his view, words get in the way. You can imagine that I, as a word person, can sometimes get frustrated with his lack of participation in conversations, especially when I’m feeling over-whelmed or under-appreciated. We’re continually growing in how to avoid the conflict that can come from this disparity (a great tool for us has been this).

Nevertheless, every once in a while I have my moments where I just want to talk with him. Seriously talk WITH him. Not about the kids, work, house, money - just us. Our marriage. Our feelings. Sappy-stuff, as he calls it.


So….


The other night after returning home from a particularly insightful MOMSnext meeting with speaker Kellie Pritchard of Pritchard Ministries, I decided to stoke the conversation-fire a bit. I came away from listening to Kelli wanting to make sure I commit everyday to being the wife that he deserves (even when he might not really deserve it – not a big issue in our house, but a great point to remember when my pride might get in the way….).


I figured a great place to start would be to ask him, non-confrontationally, how he felt I was doing in the role of Mrs. Four Walls. So while curled up together in bed that evening, as we (I) talked about our (my) days, I asked, “If you could pick one thing you would want me to change or try to improve – just one – what would it be?”


I can hear the groans now. I know. I know. Loaded question.


But I was serious. I learned a long time ago not to try to guess what Mr. Four Walls is thinking. If I truly want to improve myself for our marriage, I need to know from him what he most needs improved.


I had a list in my head of the possibilities he might voice:
  • More sex.
  • A cleaner, tidier house.
  • More sex.
  • Pretty myself up more often for him.
  • More sex.
  • Less nagging.
  • More sex.
He thought for a long moment before replying. I was beginning to wonder if he was going to reply at all. Then, in true Mr. Four Walls fashion, and once again proving my point that I really have no idea at all what he’s thinking moment to moment, he gave me his request.




(Drum roll)




He wants me to learn how to ... paint!?!



Photo Credit: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As in walls, not canvases.


At first I thought he couldn’t be serious. It was so far off my radar I couldn’t even imagine it was a serious answer. I thought he was joking to avoid telling me what he really wanted to say, maybe in an effort not to hurt my feelings or cause an argument. So I pressed him some more.


Really, though, he wants me to learn how to paint.

I need to highlight right now that he is a professional carpenter – more of an artisan, really – and when it comes down to it, he has extremely high standards for all things home improvement. So, over the years I’ve learned to back off and let him do things. It’s just been better/easier that way. I’m not the most handy or crafty gal in the room (ask my mom about all of her attempts to teach me to sew…).


But maybe I’ve been unintentionally avoiding learning how to do some things, like painting, simply because I have always had him to do it for me. When you are married to a master, you have no need to be a master yourself. Why ever would Alice Hosched√© have attempted to capture the light of the Water Lilies at Giverny? Just sayin’.


So while it’s embarrassing to say that I am thus far incapable of a simple task like painting a wall, I now resolve to learn how to paint to Mr. Four Walls’ standards.


He works so hard, and just like there is a never ending list of daily chores for me and I consider it nearly a form of foreplay for him simply to do the dishes, there is also a seemingly never-ending Honey-Do list for him. In his request he has said he needs to feel some “love” from me, in easing his burden a bit.


Before it is suggested that we do it together – he the teacher, me the student: been there, done that. Not the best idea. Plus, it would defeat the purpose of his request – to ease some of his load. I’m thinking this will be a good Saturday project for me and some of my girl-friends (also thinking I need to come up with an application to weed out those that are lacking in the bristle-manipulation department…wait, that doesn’t sound right…)


However it shakes out, it now appears I have some work cut out for me. There are currently two room-painting projects on his Honey-Do list, plus a couple of furniture projects hanging around. While I’m not sure on the timeline, stay tuned for my results!


P.S.


Reading back through, I’m now thinking maybe Mr. Four Walls has a point with the less talk, more action thing – could have kept me out of the whole now-I-have-to-learn-how-to- paint thing. Note to self: stop while you’re ahead…..

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Shout Out

Earlier this week I opened my email to find a new post from one of my favorite bloggers, Amy at The Finer Things in Life, celebrating her frugality as she reached 150,000 miles in her minivan. Seeing as I just celebrated this accomplishment myself, I dropped her a note of congratulations. I have corresponded with her before, receiving permission to use one of her blog posts in a newsletter I edit for my local MOMSnext group, so I really wasn't looking for anything other than letting her know a loyal reader was celebrating with her.

This morning, I opened my e-mail and again saw that I had an update from her blog - as I do most days.  Every Friday, in a column she titles Weekend Wanderings, she shares links to other blogs and articles she particularly enjoyed or thinks her readers would find useful.  And guess who's post was first up on her list?!

So this a big shout-out to Amy for sharing my little 'ol blog with her readers, and a HUGE welcome to you if you found me through The Finer Things in Life.  I appreciate you taking time out of your lives to share a bit of mine, and for the great comments.  Keep them comin'!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

All Aboard the Child-Labor Train!

What exactly is it about kids and water?!

Cranky baby?  Give 'em a bath!  Need a few minutes of uninterrupted time or a way to distract a bored kid? Hand them a squirt bottle and a rag!


All three of my girls have instantly responded to water when upset or bored.  I swear, I think I'm going to start giving dollar-store squirt bottles out as baby-shower presents, we've gone through so many over the years!  To be honest, the allure hasn't worn off even for my oldest, at 9 1/2.  She and her sisters can always come up with something to do with a squirt bottle!

And the benefits go beyond just keeping them happily entertained for a few minutes. 

You know all of those finger/nose/tongue/whatever-other-sticky-body-part-last-contacted-the-glass prints on the lower parts of your windows and doors????

What to them is a game, standing and squirting away, to you is housework when you hand them a rag and tell them to wipe off the water!  Does it get the glass crystal clear?  No, but it does help, and let's face it, Mama. Every little bit that you don't have to do yourself is help!

Admittedly, the older girls (7 & 9) are catching on to the this-isn't-a-game-you're-tricking-me-into-working aspect of this approach.  I think that's why God blessed me with another kid:

To keep the Child-Labor Train chuggin' along!


Peanut, cleaning the slider, with Moses supervising.  I swear I heard him say "Yup - you missed a spot!"

What are your favorite tips and tricks to getting the kids involved in housework?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Going Bananas, One Word at a Time

Family meal-time is a big deal at our house. It doesn't need to be fancy; it just needs to happen - regularly and repeatedly.  I won't bore you with statistics here, but suffice it to say it has been fairly firmly established that when families share meals together on a regular basis, around a table without distraction (no t.v, phones, etc), everyone is better for it.

So, my kids know when dinner is ready, they are to sit at the table. Unless I make a big, surprise announcement like, "We're having pizza and ice cream on the floor while watching a movie tonight!" (which I do sometimes, because I'm cool like that...).  Lately, though, this has been a challenge for our youngest.  At 27 months, she does not enjoy sitting anywhere.  Ever.  Period.  Layer in a dose of early evening fatigue, and mix with the rumblings of a hungry two-year old tummy...let's just say not everyone is always enthused with our mealtime arrangement.  And it's not always just her, but we get through it.

Like tonight. 

Dinner time started with a battle: first getting her into her chair, then getting her to stop kicking and screaming and snotting long enough to attempt to take even a bite.  As she's the third child and we've been to this circus many times before, we largely ignored her fit except for the occasional reminder that once she settled down we would love to help her get some food in her hungry tummy.  Eventually she did, we hugged, she took a few tentative bites, and before long she was chowin' down on minestrone and garlic toast.  Within minutes her fit was a distant memory, and we began our newest dinner game: One-Word Storytelling!

The gist is this: one person starts a story by saying a single word. Any word that pops into their head.  The story continues one word at a time, one person at a time.  If the kids were older I might put a spin on it by only giving a few seconds for the word to be chosen, or maybe adding key words that have to be used at certain times in the story - no matter how they fit (or don't), but for now we just enjoy the story as it unfolds.  Even the baby gets in on it on some rounds, although it's usually some random word she throws out that just happens to work at that moment, so we go with it. 

Without further ado, here is the result of our dinner-time creativity this evening....

I like to eat bananas, and when I do I get crazy! My sister thinks they are gross.  She likes grapes.  I wish she were a monkey. I know how funny it gets around banana and grape shelves when my sister and I jump on carts like crazy monkeys!  The manager thinks it's funny, but not right, so we get in trouble - but today we didn't because we were the only monkeys there.  My mom left us to fling ourselves off posts to get into the mode for swinging in gymnastics.  We were going, so I got a banana and loved pickles.

That random "pickle" bit was Mr. Four Walls, by the way.  Figures. He had to put his goofball spin on our Manor House moment. Makes it even more of a Manor House moment, I suppose. And I"m not even going to begin to try to figure out what it says about me that "Mom" leaves her kids alone in grocery stores to fling themsleves around as a warm-up for gymnastics.....

It probably says I've gone bananas, one word at a time.

What are your favorite dinner-time activities?  How do you handle the dinner time melt-downs, toddler or otherwise?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Manor House Perfection

Every once in a while I come across a home, in person or in a photograph, that absolutely speaks to me.  I LOVE this house. 

"Manor House"

I envision stepping into a foyer simply but elegantly decorated, a blooming Amaryllis on an antique entry table. A warm fire crackles in the parlor (because this house has a parlor). The smell of bread baking wafts through every hall. From the inside looking out, the cold, wet, harsh, snowy exterior quickly becomes simply a festive and homey backdrop to the warm, joyful, inviting interior.

A family lives here.

The snow will eventually melt and reveal a wide, green lawn for games of tag and kick the can and football. Borders of flowers will bloom, carefully and loving selected and tended: tulips and daffodils in the spring, giving way to cosmos and daisies for the summer heat, that soon make room for delphiniums and mums to linger into fall.  The maple and alder leaves will put on a fiery show, and a grand holiday meal will be meticulously prepared come November.  A passerby will hear laughter and shouts as the clan gathers around to watch the Cowboys and Lions. Snow will again fall. Wreaths and garlands and trees will be placed.  Decorations will be dragged from the dormered attic, and children and parents will giggle at forgotten treasures of years past now again found in dusty boxes.

Sounds perfect, right?

We can't all have this sort of perfection.  I'd venture to say that no one really has this sort of perfection.  Our "manor" might be anything from a 4000+ square foot McMansion, a modest ranch house, or a cramped apartment.  The family might not always be able to gather for the football and the feast.  There might not be enough money for the grand meals, the antiques and decor, or even the simple flowers bulbs out front.

But no matter the circumstance or the setting, time will pass and memories will be made, good or bad. So today I commit to do one thing each day to make my humble home a Manor House.

What are your favorite tips to give your house a Manor House feeling, especially when funds (or motivation or energy) are low?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

150,000 Miles!

The odometer on my van rolled past 150,000 miles yesterday. I snapped a pic with my cheap-o phone and texted it to Mr. Four Walls, but I'm having technical difficulties getting it to load to the blog, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

But, wow! How many other people do you know driving an old, 90's mini-van with 150,000 miles on it?

It's funny. 

There was a time in my life, not too many years ago, when I would have told you there would be no way I would ever be driving a vehicle with that sort of mileage.  I would have said that the headache and cost of maintenance on something that old and used wouldn't be worth it.  That there's no way a vehicle like that would be safe enough for my family. That having a regular, predictable car payment is so much better than being nickled and dimed for ongoing maintenance on a beater.

That was then, this is now.

Now I say that I would have said all of those things out of pride. I would have said all those things because I didn't want people to see my family rolling through town in something that makes odd sounds at odd times, has one lock outside that won't work at all, and the others that only sometimes let us in on the first try.  I would have said all those things because I thought it was normal and perfectly okay to live in debt, to never really own all the things we call "ours."

That was then, this is now. 

Since "Goldie," as we affectionately call her, joined the family in November of 2010- already with around 140,000 miles - we have lived car payment free.  We have diligently and deliberately maintained her, mostly ourselves, and spent WAY less than we would have on car payments and maintenance on a younger, hipper vehicle. And we've gotten over ourselves. 

I still have pride, mind you. Now I'm proud of my old "girl" for being so steady for the family before us and now for ours.  I'm proud of myself for not caring how people look at me when I try and try and try to unlock my driver's side door and then have to occasionally resort to crawling in through the back. I'm proud of Mr. Four Walls and me, how we've weathered this long road of financial uncertainty, and are coming through it stronger and more committed to making the journey ahead together, whatever it should hold. 

Goldie won't live forever.  I know we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought she'd be truckin' (vannin'?) along in another 150,000 (but stranger things have happened....).  I'll be tickled pink if she's still going as we ring in the New Year next year.  For now, though, I'll simply take her 150,000 milestone as a great reminder to be thankful for what we have, while we have it.

Thanks, Goldie!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year, New Focus

I have missed my blog since the house situation was resolved.  I contemplated what to do with it for quite a while before and after the foreclosure, and to be honest, after the house sale fell through I needed a break from telling that story.

Now, I've decided to tweak the focus here, and keep on bloggin'. 

If you notice, I've renamed the blog "Home." Our foreclosure journey is still a key part of the blog, since it's a key part of our story, but it is no longer the focus. I've labeled the main posts from that time-frame "The Path to Now," and you can access it through the tab at the top or by clicking on the labels on the right.

The process of losing a beloved home, reassessing priorities, and reaffirming values has made me really think long and hard about what home is to me, what kind of home I want to create for our children, and what it entails to create that home.

So, that's what this blog is now about.  HOME. 

Posts by me, and hopefully some amazing guest writers, on all things to do with HOME:  finances, family relationships, shopping, decorating, whatever! Don't worry, this will not become some perfectionist's ideal of a perfect home - because I am NOT a perfectionist's ideal of a perfect homemaker.  Far from it.

Here's proof - a photo of my living room right now


Christmas decorations still up after New Year's.  Kids' toys EVERYWHERE.  See those beady, glowing eyes?  That's the dog sleeping on the blankets I just pulled from the dryer. On the right is a crib mattress leaned against the wall, and just out of sight along the hallway wall is a toddler bed, and various other pieces of furniture that we removed from the girls' rooms last weekend.  I intentionally did not share a picture of the kitchen (yes, it's that bad at the moment!).  And out of sight around the corner is our little entry way, currently overflowing with shoes, coats and goodness-knows what else the kids' (and I, ahem) have dumped there recently. So, really - NOT a perfectionist's ideal.

Just one mom's perspective on what it takes to keep our family, keep our home, moving forward - good and bad.  I hope you enjoy what I share, and as always I love getting feedback, so drop me a note or leave a comment if you have something to share!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year Update

Nearly four months have passed since the foreclosure, and life has gone on. The bank finally sold the house, closing last month for $232,300 according to county records. That is almost $20,000 less than the last offer we had ready to close, about $40,000 less than the original sale price when the house was build in 2003, and $150,500 than our purchase price in 2006. Talk about falling prices...

Mr. Four Walls has so far weathered this late fall and early winter with relatively no down time at work, save for a few hours off here and there for the holidays. That is huge for us, since the last four years around this time, we've been faced with a temporary lay-off. Some that didn’t feel so temporary.

I have started working part-time teaching gymnastics to preschoolers and lower levels, mainly to pay for our eldest’s competitive-team coaching expenses. Jellybeans's heart is gymnastics, and she has really missed it these past couple of years as we cut way back to get our financial life back on track. We let each of the older kids choose one activity to join this fall, though, and of course she went straight back to it. Literally. We expected her to need to work back into it, to regain some skills lost, but nope. Her first day they bumped her to pre-team and within a month they had invited her to the competition team. The gym has had some help-wanted signs up for a while, so I threw my name in the hat, and "Voila!" I'm a gymnastics coach. It’s a work out, I’ll tell ya’! Nothing makes you feel middle aged faster than doing repeated forward rolls, hand-stands, and cart-wheels.

The kids are growing like weeds. This school year has been a bit better for them, as they are no longer the new kids, but I also can't say it's been ideal. Jellybean in particular has still struggled to make good friends, making her involvement in positive, outside activities like gymnastics and Girl Scouts so important. Miss Florida is become really close with one neighbor girl, and seems to be thriving. Peanut is almost unrecognizable, becoming such a little kid instead of a baby. Potty-trained, sleeping on the lower bunk of the bunk beds, the works. Sniff, sniff. Not sure I'm ready for it....

I am so thankful to be home again. Granted, they've driven me batty these past few weeks on Christmas break. But that's what they do, right? It's Christmas, after all. It's back to school tomorrow, so hopefully we'll all be back in the swing of things in a few more days. With only one real income, we're not ever really sure where the money will come from for the next month, but so far we've made it work, only by the grace of God I'm sure.

Life has  come full circle. It's not all wine and roses, to be sure, but we are blessed, healthy, and happy - just like we were this time last year, but with a bit more perspective and experience to recognize it.

Happy New Year!

Friday, September 9, 2011

TGIF

Today the "F" stands for foreclosure.  And yes, I am thanking God for it. 

It's not the plan we had, but it was obviously the plan HE had.  I feel horrible for all the people involved in this process with us that are now left high and dry, though.  The buyers, their agent, our agent, and the loss mitigator all put a ton of time, energy and money into this deal, with nothing to show.  But again, God's plan, not ours.

Ultimately, Mr. Four Walls and I have accepted that this is likely the better ending for us.  The wording of the short-sale acceptance was so vague, we would have spent the next 6 years (the statute of limitations on collecting on a default here in our state) looking over our shoulders, waiting, wondering if the bank was going to come calling, wanting more money.  This path, foreclosure, saves us from that and while I didn't expect to feel this way, I'm relieved - almost celebratory for our own personal situation (but again, NOT for those of everyone else, especially the hard working Realtors that fought so hard for this to go through).

It's over.  Yes, we will have a foreclosure on our credit history, and that will likely cause a few more bumps in the road for the next 7 years or so.  Overall, though, it's over. The question has been answered and we can move on with our lives.

So, TGIF.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The End is Near, Part 4

And ANOTHER update:

No signing today, or ever.  Just received a call from escrow that our bank is refusing to sign one measly piece of paper in a timely manner, and without it, we can't close.  Again, they also refused to delay the foreclosure tomorrow, so it looks like it's done.  The "F" word officially wins the race.

The end is no longer near, it is here.

The End is Near, Part 3

Another update: we will be signing at escrow at 2 p.m. today, so if all goes smoothly this will end in the short-sale and not a foreclosure.

The End is Near, Part 2

I intended to have this as a running, day(or-every-other-day-)-by-day run down of the last few weeks in our race to the finish line on the short-sale, but life intervened.  In a good way, but so much that taking time to blog about something that has already eaten up so much of my time and energy just wasn't at the top of my to-do list. So, without further do (and minus the day-by-day) here's a run-down of where we're at.

The short-sale still has not closed.  Once everything on our end was handled, we expected to be able to close early last week.  However, there were some roadblocks on the buyers end and now we're coming down to the wire. The foreclosure auction is tomorrow morning, September 9th. Yesterday the bank rejected our request for a one-day extension.

Today is the THE day.  At this point, if we can close in the next 3-4 hours, the sale can get recorded at the county and be taken off the auction list for tomorrow. At last update, they buyers should be called to schedule their signing "soon."  Escrow has not contacted us, however, and time is ticking.  It takes us about an hour to drive to the escrow office.  I've made arrangements for a friends to get the older girls after school if I I am still battling my way home, but if it is the case that I'm signing that late, there will only be a slim chance that the sale will actually record today.

So, we're back to Purgatory (link to a previous post), but just like then I'm doing my best to remember that my life is good - wonderful in fact. Mr. Four Walls is working steadily, the kids are thriving, I'm home everyday doing what I love most, and we're all safe, healthy, and loved.  This foreclosure, if it does indeed end up there, cannot and will not take all that away.

 My motto this week has been "God is in control."  Everytime I feel like I'm going to lose it, or I get sad, or angry, or frustrated at all that has gone on, I say it to myself.  I post it on Facebook.  I yell it out.

Because at this point, it's all I can do.  Really, it's all we can ever do, regardless of the situation.

So, God is in control, and we will know the ending to this not-so-fairy-tale very shortly.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The End is Near, Part 1

The past 10 days have been a roller-coaster with the house. Over the next several posts, that I'm naming The End is Near, I'll give a run-down of the events leading up today, and continue beyond until the end-date of September 9th.

Friday, August 5th:

I received an e-mail from the loss mitigator that an attorney in the firm thinks we should request mediation through the state's new mediation program

The mediation program went into effect the week previously. In a nutshell it means that homeowners in our state facing foreclosure have the right to mediation through the Department of Commerce to ensure that all parties are acting in good faith and treated fairly.  This will hopefully reduce the number of homes that are seized in foreclosure by giving distressed homeowners a fair opportunity to negotiate alternatives such as loan modifications, short-sales, etc. 

It's not free, but fairly inexpensive at $200 for each the homeowner and the bank, plus any attorney's costs if a homeowner chooses to be represented.  Homeowners cannot request mediation directly; they must be referred to the program by an attorney or housing counselor based on specific criteria, but once referred, the foreclosure process has to stop until the mediation process is completed.

The bank is required to have a decision-maker at the mediation meeting in person or on the phone, so the biggest positive is that it will greatly reduce the run-around for homeowners that enter the process.  If no agreement is reached, once the mediator has entered their report, the foreclosure can again be scheduled for 90 days. 

If either party is found not to be negotiating in good faith, then the mediator will compile a report on that fact, but they cannot stop the foreclosure.  It would be grounds for the other party to sue, however, and in some instances the bad-faith efforts could be reported to the state Attorney General to aid them in cracking down on fraudulent/illegal foreclosure-practices.

We contemplated long and hard (well, as long as we could, given the time-crunch) on if we should request mediation.  The positive of forcing the bank to have a decision-maker readily available on the spot was very appealing, since they seem to take the cake on giving people the run-around.  However, there were no guarantees that we would come to an agreement, and I strongly doubted that they would negotiate in good faith given the events of the last year. 

We also felt that we would need to hire an attorney to represent us, taking it from a $200 deal to a couple grand, or more if the outcome warranted further legal action.  At best we'd come away with an agreement allowing us to sell the house, but the buyers had been getting really anxious and were not giving us the impression they'd stick around through the process.  More than likely, we'd commit the time, money, and energy just to be right back on the foreclosure track, only dragging it out by another four months or more. 

Thursday, August 11th:

We declined the referral to the mediation program.

That same morning, we found out it was all moot, since we didn't qualify for the process anyway.  Only homeowners living in the property in question are eligible, and since we moved out in January of this year we would have been rejected by the program.

About 10 minutes later, we received an e-mail from the loss mitigator that for the first time ever, the bank had called her!  She has spent so many hours each week over the past year calling them, sitting in Muzak Hell, and getting the run-around on our behalf.  Never had they called her. She knew right away something was up since they initiated contact by more than a general e-mail asking her to call customer service.

So, what brought the bank out of their shelter to initiate contact? 

The wanted to let her, and us, know that they had approved the short sale!  They needed to confirm her e-mail address so that they could send over the approval letter.  We waited with baited breath, since an approval didn't mean no-strings-attached.

Mid-day, the loss mitigator called me to let me know she'd sent me the letter for review.  As we read it over together on the phone, she indicated that it was unlike any approval letter she'd ever seen and she needed an attorney to go over it before talking with me anymore.  It was clear that they were not requiring us to sign a promissory note for the deficiency, as we were told to expect based on the bank's previous approvals her firm had received for other clients.  What was not clear was if they were forgiving the balance.

Late that afternoon, she contacted me again and let me know that in the end, she had every single attorney in the firm look at the letter, and they were split 50-50 on whether or not the approval released us from liability on the deficiency balance.

She attempted to discuss the ambiguous wording with the bank, but of course there was no one she could speak with that could help with giving more information or re-writing the letter.  She also attempted to call Fannie Mae directly, but it was after hours there and would have to wait until the morning.  She requested that I also try to contact them (Fannie) and see what information I could gather.

Friday, August 12th:

I spoke with a Fannie Mae representative directly early in the morning. He wouldn't speak to the specifics of our approval letter, only saying that it is always Fannie Mae's intention to leave the door open to seeking the deficiency within the laws of the state in which the property sits. He wouldn't or couldn't say what their plans are in our case.

I communicated this information to the loss mitigator and our realtor, and let them know we did not feel comfortable signing the letter as written.  The state laws here mean that if the bank takes the house in a non-judicial foreclosure - which is the process they are using - they cannot seek a deficiency judgement except in cases of fraud.  We've been nothing but open and honest, so we had nothing to worry about there.

Even so, we were deflated.  We'd fought so long and hard to avoid a foreclosure, but here we were, having to decide between foreclosure or taking a deal the "might" open the doors to them suing us for the deficiency, an amount that they are saying is currently topping $160,000.  That total is so inflated by their delays and stalling tactics it isn't funny, but even a more reasonable estimate of $140,000 (did I just call that reasonable????) would mean bankruptcy for us, dragging the turmoil of the past few years out well beyond another decade.

I let everyone know that was not an option for us.

Then....the loss mitigator, our realtor, and some of the attorneys at the loss mitigation firm came to us with some facts about the likelihood of Fannie Mae seeking the deficiency.  First, in all the years this firm has practiced in our state- doing much more than loss mitigation, and very reputably - they have never seen Fannie Mae seek a deficiency judgement in our state.  The laws here would make it an uphill battle for them, and they have chosen not to fight it, historically. 

Additionally, the exact wording in the approval letter has legal precedence to indicate forgiveness of a debt.  The term they used was "Discharge" - they even put it in bold type-face in the letter - and it is most commonly used in bankruptcy proceedings to indicate a debt has been resolved and nothing further is owing. Again, with the wording as it was, we were advised that it would be an uphill battle for them to get a judgement.  If they chose to seek the judgement, state law gives them six years from the date of the short-sale to do so.

This left us with a really difficult decision: wave the white flag of surrender and take the foreclosure hit, or plow ahead with the short-sale, taking the risk that we might have to fight in the future against a judgement.

We asked for the weekend to decide.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Shock of Shocks

Instead of walking today, the buyers sent us an extension through August 30th.  It's still a LOOOOONG shot to get this through before the foreclosure date, but they really want this house I guess.  Hoping it works out for them, but I'm not holding my breath. 

The news yesterday that the bank generally will not release liability on a short sale makes it unlikely we'll be able to accept their terms (if we even get that far).  A foreclosure on our record is better than a bankruptcy, which is where we'd be if they force the issue.  Since we're in a non-recourse state, foreclosure is the end of the road.  They cannot get anymore out of us after that point.

A few months ago I might have been willing to discuss signing a note for some of the difference, but not now.  We can't take on anymore expenses (the reason we're selling in the first place). Plus, based on their horrid and unethical behavior, I won't pay them any more on principle.  They've lied to us for months, and I'm more convinced after sleeping on it that it was a tactic to drive up the fees and interest so that the difference was as high as it could be.

I'm sick to my stomach just thinking about it.