Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Making of Destiny

I firmly believe in Choice.  Life is, after all, a series of Choices.  We always have a choice, even when we think we don't.  Sometimes the choice is between what we perceive as good or bad, sometimes between good and good, sometimes between bad and bad.  Frequently the choices life offers us don't feel like "choices" at all, depending on the beliefs we currently hold.  There is, however, Always an "out" in some direction other than straight ahead.  Lately, I've been faced with the process of making choices concerning whether to continue attempting to save the house vs allowing it to be sold by the state at auction and moving into an apartment or rental property somewhere. 

On the surface, the choice to fight for what my parents worked hard to pay off and own free and clear is pretty set in stone.  It was supposed to be my inheritance.  I don't have to pay rent living here.  I don't have seriously close neighbors on the other side of a wall, potentially being a problem.  No security deposits for my various pets, and plenty of room in the back yard for the dogs to run in. There's lots of room, which meant I could spread out, and no individual room was To terribly overloaded with accumulated "stuff" that I've collected over the past several years.

The opposite side of the coin isn't as clear cut, but it has as many "pro" areas as retaining the house seems (on the surface) to possess.  An apartment is Much more limited in space, and therefore a natural inducement not to waste money I can't afford on accumulating junk I'll never use or will only use once.  Limited space also limits the number of pets that I am willing to obligate myself to take care of - no dogs, because they have no room to run (and I simply won't tolerate cat sized yappy little ankle biter breeds) and only 2 cats because more than that would overrun things in a hurry even spayed and neutered.  Limited number of pets = strictly limited amounts of pet food I have to pay for each month, limited number of potential vet bills, and limited opportunities for things like flea infestations.  Lack of space also means I go through and prioritize what I already Have, get rid of a bunch of stuff I don't use and don't necessarily Want, and toss out everything that's broken/waiting to be fixed or simply a space taker that serves no purpose other than to collect dust and eat up space.  Another thing that I personally consider high on the 'pros' list for an apartment - no maintenance issues to deal with out of pocket.  Along the same lines, there will Never be a lawn maintenance issue in an apartment complex - because there is no Lawn.  Other things I've been looking at include completely getting rid of 2 utility bills - gas and water - along with the yearly property tax bill and any issues pertaining to same.  Granted, those will be replaced by suddenly having to pay Rent each month, which I haven't had to do in Years, but that could be a good thing in the long run.  Having to be responsible for the rent on a place on the first of each month will force me to actually pay attention to my spending habits, and to get back into the practice of accounting (at least to myself) for everything that comes in and subsequently goes out, financially.

There are other choices involved in this that aren't as clear to outsiders looking in as the ones involved in fighting to stay vs letting the place go/moving.

I have to face a choice of continuing to fight for the house - and it's attendant stress - or step back from the fight, conserve my emotional strength for a battle I can potentially win, and get rid of all the stress that's currently playing a huge roll in things.  After all is said and done, if I kept the house, I would still have significant amounts of stress over it - there would still be maintenance issues, lawn issues, clutter issues, to many pets issues, past and current property tax issues.  And ultimately, there would be the fight with my brother when dad DOES finally die, over his contention that the house "should" be his simply because he's 16 months older and male.  (I still fail to see where his logic comes from.  I will probably Always fail to see the logic behind his argument.) 

We make our own destinies.  Each choice we make closes the doors on the choices we might have made previously, and opens doors to choices further down the road.  Each decision has consequences, each consequence leads to further choices.  We never truly leave the cycle of choice/consequence/choice - even in how we deal with the fact that we have to make choices and deal with the consequences of those choices.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Family - it's a Relative Issue

I've long been a proponent of the idea that Family is Chosen, while Relatives are a trick that the gods play on us to see how well we handle conflict resolution.  I still believe this.  What I'm finding though is that sometimes, the two aren't really so different.

My relatives are, without a doubt, some of the biggest pains in my life.  At least those who aren't already dead or who haven't already been specifically cut out of my life for being such a pain in the rump, are still some of the biggest pains in my life.  I really don't have all that many Relatives left in my immediate family.  Most of them are dead from either old age or chronic illness.  C'est la vie, life is one of those games that nobody wins, and nobody makes it out alive.  I've still got plenty of cousins amongst the living, but I haven't had a whole lot of contact with any of my cousins in the decade since my mom died.  After all, they're all cousins through that side of the family - mom is dead, grandpa is dead, and I removed the bat from the attic and sent her packing quite a while back - so there's really not much left in the way of connectivity there.

My chosen Family, on the other hand, has for years been the SCA "Household" that I'm a member of, and have been a member of for closing on 2 decades.  That "family" has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 2 decades, and now has branches in pretty much every state of the US, as well as folks overseas in several other countries.  It is comprised of an amalgamation of people from practically every walk of life, with a wide range of hobbies, vices, educational levels, incomes, and preferences.  Some of us know each other only rather vaguely, having met perhaps once or twice at an SCA event somewhere along the line, but considering each other Family in that we are both part of Thunder as a Household.

Now, like every conglomeration of folks who have little in common except a single mutual hobby, there are those amongst my Family who are rather dear to me.  I love them as much as if we had been born of the same mother, rather than having met as adults.  And then there are those who, quite bluntly, I view in the same light as I view my Relatives - I detest them, could happily live the rest of my life never seeing or speaking with them again, and frankly can't stand to be around them (although for the sake of good manners I'll be socially polite to them when I absolutely Have to be.)  These are folks that I don't particularly consider to be part of my Family, despite the fact that we're both part of the same Household, and ostensibly everyone in the Household is considered to be "Family" via membership.

Frankly, though, I have to admit that I find it difficult at best to consider some of these people (and I use the term "people" here rather loosely in a few cases!) to be part of my extended family of choice.  I didn't chose them.  I didn't even have a say in the choosing process when they were given entrance into my Family.  Granted, they didn't have a say in the choosing of ME, either - but I was there before a lot of them were, so I was simply part of the package deal that they signed on for, like it or lump it.  The ones that I really despise the most are conniving, manipulative, backstabbing, emotionally abusive, two faced domineering control freaks who have no compunction about lying or cheating to get what they want, typically to a personality politics end - everything that I hate in my still living Relatives that made me cut them forcibly out of my life.

Right now, I'm considering sending a few more folks to the chopping block - folks who are only nominally family, who act more like relatives, and who - quite bluntly - I would rather not have to deal with any longer.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stop the World, I wanna get Off!

Get your mind out of the gutter, I don't mean anything at all sexual by that title!  There now, isn't that better?  I thought it would be.  Anyway, on to tonight's mad musings.  This is a long one, because I have a lot to get out of my head and written down - so if you're short on time, or simply don't like relatively long reads, I suggest either skipping this one, or reading it when you have ample time to digest all of it's contents and ramifications.

I am, without a doubt, one of the world's Worst money managers.  Almost singularly amongst my friends, I can't manage money to save my soul, much less save a few pennies here and there.  If you were to look at my finances over the past 20 years, you would scratch your head and start asking if I took my financial management training at the hands of the big banks that got government bailouts earlier this year.  Yes, it's That kind of bad.  Sadly, since I'm strictly small time rather than a mega corporation whose funds got "mismanaged" into the CEO's pocket, I don't qualify for government bailouts springing from taxpayers' wallets.

Oh no, I have to try and bail Myself out of the hole that never seems to get any shallower.

And therein lies the problem.

In some respects, I'm at a distinct disadvantage (to myself, at least) when it comes to sucking up, pulling myself up by the bootstraps, and gettin' it done.  I spent all of my childhood and teen years relying on my parents, and rarely being denied what I wanted - and Never being denied what I Needed.  In my early adulthood, I prided myself on not accepting any more help from my parents than was absolutely necessary in order to assure that my children had what They needed, even if I had to frequently deny them what they Wanted in order to see to the first part.  I did remarkably well during De's early childhood and teens, when the entirety of my household budget was approximately $500 a month, from her SSI.   Only looking back, I've come to the realization that I never really worried about it, on the occasions when I would indulge myself rather than being strictly responsible - because mom and dad were always there, and always willing to pick up the pieces for me or be my bailout when push came to shove.  Always, in the back part of my brain, I was aware of the fact that I "could" fail - almost with impunity - because my folks would always be there to make up the difference, help me out, and see to it that Somehow both ends met in the middle even when they shouldn't have.  I took it for granted.  It was simply a fact of life.  For all my pride in not Asking for help, I always knew that I 'could' if I needed to. And for all my pride in not asking for it, and not Expecting it - I still relied on it always Being There and Being Available if I DID happen to seriously need it.

That was then.

Now things are a damn sight different than they were while I was growing up, and while I was raising Deirdra, my oldest (now 25 year old) daughter.  Mom has been dead for 10 years, and her ashes occupy a space in one of the curio cabinets, waiting for dad's to join them.  My maternal grandfather - another source of "it will always be there" help, and not-so-subtle financial bolstering through the years - has been dead and buried for 15 years now, since 1997.  Dad has been in a nursing home for the majority of the past 6 years due to stroke, his parents are both deceased and my maternal grandmother (The Bat) is still pissed off at me that I didn't turn all the money over to her when I sold my old house back in December of 2004. 

I don't have my backup systems any longer - but somewhere deep in my subconscious, they are still there, and if I just close my eyes and think hard enough, one of them will step out of the shadows and suddenly everything will be OK again.  The bailout will be there, things will return to "normal," and it will suddenly be off my back to make an earnest attempt at being both responsible and self reliant.

This is especially true when it comes to daddy.  Even after all these years, and all the headaches, kvetching, griping, and bitchy snarling I've done concerning dad "dumping" everything in my lap when he had his stroke, there is a portion of me that still clings to the belief that if I just wait and have enough faith, he'll suddenly recover and everything will go back to the way it was prior to his strokes.  Consciously, I know this is simply not the case, and is never going to happen.  During my more rational, less emotionally charged moments, I tell myself repeatedly that it isn't going to happen, and that I have Got to make some changes in the way I do certain things to account for this FACT in my life, regardless of how distasteful it is to me.  In some of my Less rational, more emotional moments, I mentally rail at the old man, cursing him for not being here NOW - when I "most" need him to pick up the pieces for me like he always did.  And then I'll spend a few minutes cursing him for picking up the pieces so often in the past, and feeding that subconscious sense of dependence on his help.  And then I'll waffle back and forth for a while between blaming him and mom for all my shortcomings, faults, and flaws ("Why did you let me get away with this? Why didn't you train me better?  Hell, Why Didn't You Beat The Stupid Out Of Me?") to feeling guilty for having even mentally blamed them for a few minutes, to reminding myself that I need to simply suck it up and make the changes that need to be made rather than whining about them.

What all of that brings me to is the present, and my current situation and the thought processes that have been taking place in the past few weeks.  Finances aren't great at the moment, and it's all wrapped up in a combination of things - some of which I could have controlled (at least to an extent) and some of which I couldn't have regardless of whether I had attempted to do so or not.

When my grandfather died in '97, my grandmother couldn't bear living in their home any longer, and it subsequently became mine.  I learned a few things during that period - one of the main things being that while I make a good tenant, I don't make a particularly good home owner.  I don't like dealing with the maintenance issues that come with owning a home - I would much rather leave those to someone else to contend with, especially on a financial level.  Owning a house isn't cheap by any stretch of the imagination, even when it's a paid off inherited house.  Anything and everything that goes wrong has to be dealt with - by you - out of pocket. 

It hasn't gotten any easier in the intervening 7 years since I sold that house - in fact, the prices of replacing worn out or broken necessities (like hot water tanks and roofs) has gotten significantly higher.  Property taxes have increased every year, insurance costs have increased disproportionately, the city has gotten a lot more hassle prone on lawn maintenance issues, and I've gotten no younger or healthier or more prone to dealing with things like mowing when being out in the sunlight for long periods of time makes me ill for several days afterward.

When dad had his stroke, the paperwork was already in place making me his Power of Attorney, his Health Proxy, and the successor Trustee for the family Trust which he and mom had set up just prior to her death.  What that meant on a Practical level is that everything got dumped squarely in my lap, bypassing my older but significantly less capable brother.  That paperwork put me in charge of dealing with Everything - doctors, insurance issues, dad's former employer, all financial matters (remember me saying at the beginning of this just how Bad I am as a financial manager??) managing all his property, seeing to his care, and making all the decisions whether I wanted them or not for the duration of dad's life, however long that happens to be.

What it meant in real world terms is that I suddenly found myself inheriting another house which I was ill-prepared but obligated to attempt to maintain and preferably improve; a lot of headaches dealing with insurance companies about his long term care insurance; dealing with doctors concerning the best course of care to sustain not only dad's length of life but the quality thereof, while abiding by his written wishes in certain particulars, and dealing with attempting to keep my now out of control older sibling half way under control. 

The last of those proved to be an impossibility.  I'm going to leave it at that.

The insurance issues and doctors didn't ever really resolve themselves.  The insurance got cut off when that critical paperwork got purposely "mislaid" by my brother.  The doctors are still dealing with daddy, via the nursing home, and will continue to do so until he finally expires - I simply don't attempt to keep up with what they're doing any longer, other than to remind them every now and then that they aren't allowed to use certain methods or equipment even if that's all that will keep him alive. 

The finances were taken out of my hands by the state when I suffered a nervous breakdown due to the stress of all the rest of it, a couple of years ago.  While the PoA was reinstated once I was released by the psychiatrist, it was made plain to me that any attempt on my part to access any of dad's funds for any reason - even maintaining dad's property - would be met with hostility by the state and I could count on the probability of charges being brought against me for "attempted fraud" and "gross negligence" and "mismanagement."  That stress induced breakdown, and subsequent loss of ability to access any of dad's funds in order to maintain the rest of dad's assets, has come home to roost at last.

And then there's the issue of Property Taxes.  This is the government's way of telling you that even though you own your home, you don't Really own it, and they're going to charge you for the "privilege" of having a place to live that isn't huddled under a bridge somewhere.  That's right, not only do you get to pay for the house, and all it's maintenance, and it's lawn care, and everything in it - you get to pay the government for the privilege of living in the home that you bought and paid for, decorated, furnished, maintain, and take care of!  Oh yeah - and if you don't pay their legalized extortion for using what you already paid for, every year, they're going to steal it from you and sell it to someone else!  And you aren't allowed to do anything to stop them, other than paying whatever amount they deem is "required" in that legalized extortion.  And just like a loan shark backed by the Mob, you can count on the amount to go up disproportionately if you don't have their money when they say it's due.  Although unlike the Mob, they'll "only" steal it from you for not paying their extortion, rather than stealing it from you And breaking your legs.

When all the hoopla came about back in 2007 and 2008 between my brother and myself, one of the pieces of paperwork that he took to the habit of hiding was the bill from the county treasurer concerning the property taxes due on the house.  Which meant that the taxes didn't get paid that year.  In the intervening years, I was without any source of income for a large chunk of that time.  Which means they didn't get paid in 2009 either.  Or 2010, or 2011.  Have I mentioned that property taxes aren't cheap?  Even if they are cheaper here in Oklahoma than they are out on the east or west coasts - they still aren't cheap.  Have I mentioned that if that form of legal extortion isn't paid on time, the government hits you with disproportionately high penalties, to drive the amount even higher and less cheap?

2 months ago, I got a letter from the county treasurer, informing me that none of the property taxes have been paid on the property since 2008.  Along with a bill, in dad's name, for approximately $5000 to catch it all up from then to now.  And the notification, included in the letter/bill, that I had until June 11th to catch up at least $1100 of said bill - the portion of it covering 2008, and it's late fees and penalties - or the house would be sold at auction by the state to cover that tax bill.  I received this letter less than a month after finally getting my old electric bill paid off so that I finally had electricity in the house again after nearly 2 years.

I'm in a bit of a quandry concerning the whole thing. 

I'm not fond of moving.  I hate the packing up, and getting settled into a new place.  I detest having to go through all the accumulated "stuff" and deciding what to keep and what to throw away and what to simply give away to whoever will take it.  I had zero plans on ever moving again, unless it was after daddy finally died and I had sold this place and I was moving out of Oklahoma never to return.  I've lived in this house, off and on, for 38 out of 46 years of my life.  My childhood was spent here.  My teen years, with all their angst and anxiety, were spent here.  The formative years of my children's lives were spent either here, or at least with my parents still living here.  A large part of my memories of growing up, forming friendships, and learning about life are centered Here.  The house was to be a largish chunk of my inheritance, and my children's inheritance after me if I kept it after daddy died.

It is...... difficult, at best..... to let go of all that and move on. At the same time, I have to consider a few things on the practical side. 

I have failed - spectacularly and miserably - to save the necessary funds to get the bill paid during the 2 months since I received the notice.  My attempt to get a room  mate as a financial backup plan, while well intentioned, was also a singular failure - the would be room mate never paid her rent the first time it was due, and skipped out while I wasn't home when the rent came due a second time.  While my employer (Wal-Mart) has a grant fund for associates who have serious critical financial problems to contend with, they have very specific guidelines as to what that grant fund will and won't help with - and one of the things it specifically Won't help with is (you guessed it) any sort of tax related issue.  So that option is not open to me to solve this (Though it will be open to me to help me get deposits paid and get moved into a new place once the house has been sold out from under me. Go Figure!)  I can't simply go access dad's funds - they're being managed by an accounting firm put in place by the state Department of Human Services while I was out of things from the breakdown.  While I thought They were dealing with the taxes, they were apparently told that the taxes were My problem.  Either way, they aren't going to cough up the funds to keep the house from going on the auction block unless some sot of major miracle happens.  Also in the catagory of "major 11th hour miracle happening" would be myself or one of my closest friends winning some major cash via the lottery, and being able to pay it all off that way.  Or of course being informed within the next 5 to 6 days that dad has died, and the insurance will be settled in time for me to pay everything off that way.  The house is falling apart, and will require Thousands of dollars of investment to repair everything that needs repairing, just for it to be considered truly livable again rather than woefully substandard.  The roof alone is going to cost $5000; the plumbing issues are going to cost another $5k to $7k; leveling the foundation via jacking it up on one side will cost about $2500; rewiring to bring it up to code is another $10k; replacing the central heat/air unit is another $3500.  So I'm looking at about $22K worth of repairs needed on the place even if I managed not to get it taken by the state in the meantime.

My choices are not simple. 

Option 1: I can continue to fight to try and save the house.  It has a high likelihood of failure.  The currently due utility bills will have to be allowed to simply sit, probably getting those utilities turned off at least temporarily.  Since one of those is the electricity, and I fought for 15 months to even Have electricity, I'm not inclined to let it get shut back off now even for a few hours.  It also means not getting dog or cat food to keep the pets fed, and not getting any people food for myself - instead making due on what is currently in the kitchen and/or hitting the local food bank in order to keep myself fed.  Foodstamps aka SNAP is not an option for that, because according to the state, I make too much money per month to need any sort of assistance, and like the ACNT fund at work they won't help out when paying taxes is what causes the problem that you need help with.  It means continuing to live in a house without functional hot water for at least another 2 months, because to pay the bill, I can't spend the money that I would otherwise have in 1 paycheck to replace the tank.  It means continuing to have an only partially functioning kitchen due to plumbing issues, and can't do anything about the roof, the electrical issues, replacing the central AC.  It means having to go through this all over again Next spring in order to bring it one more year up to date , unless dad has died or I've miraculously won the lottery in the  meantime.

Option 2: I let the state take the house.  I start looking now for a cheap apartment somewhere in this area.  (Fortunately, there are several decent and reasonably priced apartment complexes within a 3 mile radius of here - it's simply finding one that I can afford without a room mate, because I'm DONE trying to deal with That sort of thing.) I find new homes for both Blue (my pup) and Sheva (the rottie that I've been "babysitting" for someone else who was supposedly looking for someplace of her own to live where there is room for a large breed dog.)  An apartment is way to small for me, 3 cats, and 2 dogs, especially when both dogs are large breeds that need a lot of room.  I start going through my stuff, packing up what I'm going to move with me, and throwing away what's broken, and sorting everything else into piles of "last minute garage sale" and "donate to goodwill."  I lose a large chunk of my inheritance, but also lose the stress that said inheritance has been inducing for several years now.  No more property tax worries.  No more lawn maintenance issues.  No more having to pay out of pocket to deal with other maintenance issues like plumbing or ac units going out or water heaters going on the fritz.  An immediate reduction in the number of utility bills I have to deal with - no water/sewer/garbage bill in an apartment, and no gas bill either - but replacing those with a bill at the first of each month for Rent which I haven't had to worry about since 1997 other than a 10 month span during 2005 while I was living out of state.  (That's right, other than that brief period 7 years ago, I haven't had to contend with keeping rent paid for the past 14 Years since my younger daughter was born - I'm not exactly still in the habit of worrying about it!)  It means living by a much stricter budget, but in the long run having a lot fewer sudden out of pocket expenses to contend with.

I need to make up my mind post haste, because June 10th (the last day I can effectively go pay the old tax bill) is rather rapidly approaching.  I think I've pretty much decided, but it's still painful to contemplate.  I've given up hoping for a miracle - they don't happen.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Much To Do about Nothing

Lately there's been a lot of hoopla and debate over same sex marriages.  Personally, I'm failing to see where there's a problem.  If the LGBT community really wants to put up with the same sort of legal hassles at breakup that the straight community goes through - I'm all for letting them do so!

Let's face it.  There is no place that we need the government - or some religious nut - Less than we need them sticking their noses into our bedrooms, attempting to dictate our morality or lack thereof.  So long as everyone involved is of legal age to sign a contract for themselves, has sufficient mental capacity to know what they're doing (always questionable, where marriage is concerned) and has no prior legal contracts of the same nature that would preclude them from doing so (bigamy being a crime, after all) then Go For It.

Frankly, I consider marriage to be a grand institution.  Those who want to be married seriously need to be institutionalized. 

If the 2 to 30 day "marriages" of various Acting, Singing, and Sports stars aren't destroying the "sanctity" of the institution, then a loving same gender couple who have been together for a long time certainly aren't going to do it any harm.  Hell, all things considered, those Gay and Lesbian couples are already living a more sanctified, holier, and moral life than any of the so-called icons from Hollywood, Memphis, and MoTown.  Ok, so they happen to share their bed with someone who has the same biological equipment that they were born with.  So what?  If they aren't attempting to sleep with You, or Your Partner, what's the big deal?  And if they Are attempting to sleep with you and/or your partner, and you're game for it - what business is it of mine?  Or the government's?  Or some right wing hell-and-brimstone religious fanatic either, for that matter?

Child raising?  I was a single parent.  My children received discipline, love, guidance, and the necessities of life.  I didn't bother instructing them in a religion, because what I practice is a personal path of spirituality.  They'll choose their own religion as adults, when they can make the decision of what to believe for themselves.  I didn't bother with Morality either, because morals change from one society to the next, and even from one generation to the next within the context of a given society.  I did teach them a strong Ethical code, which isn't emphasised nearly enough any longer, that stressed what I personally consider the nobler virtues - Honesty, Fidelity, Hospitality, Courage, Compassion, Justice, and Personal Responsibility.

As far as I'm concerned, a Gay or Lesbian couple is just as qualified to raise and teach their children as I was.  And in a lot of cases, I'm willing to bet that they are More qualified, because they actually Like children and Want to have/raise them - I know I didn't.

I could care less about the religious objections of those who practice the various Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) because their own religious texts don't specify the "one man, one woman" that they're all screaming about.  Their texts also condone slavery (though on the grounds of right of conquest, not race or gender) genocide (I can't put a number to the various tribes and peoples that were exterminated by the Israelites in the old testament, under the orders of their god) the subjugation of half the human population (the texts were written by a nomadic, war mongering patriarchal society after all, so devaluing women was a matter of course) and polygamy (think about David and his son Soleman and their hundreds of wives!)  No, this particular portion isn't to rag on those who happen to follow and have faith in any of those specific religions.  It's simply meant to point out that the argument that such religions forbid this form of marriage is invalid for a number of good reasons.

Either way - LGBTs - go for it, as far as I'm concerned.  I honestly don't give a flyin rat's fart who you marry, as long as it's not me you're proposing to!