Tuesday, November 22, 2011

...I"m not surprised, just amazed...

In living the balancing act that my life has become, I'm no longer surprised when God provides, but I am always amazed at His timing and the agents He uses.

It's been quite a while since I posted, mainly due to a problem with sitting at the church long enough to compose anything worth reading. Needless to say, since Sept.15, my last post, a number of challenges have presented themselves.

I knew in the summer that having the money to pay my property taxes in early December would be a challenge, since I seemed to never have any money left for savings each month. I also knew that my DMV car registration renewal was also due in early December and that it would be around $160. I got a notice from the county that the value of my house was half what it had been and was hopeful that that might mean a reduction in the taxes due from the $700+, twice a year that it has been. My car registration renewal bill was only $129, which was cause for celebration until I saw that it had to be "smog tested", which cost $50 the last time I had to have it done. Fortunately, I found a coupon online which lowered the smog test to $30, but that didn't solve the other problems.

Coming on the heels of my cousin rescuing me by paying for a new transmission for my car, you might think that I had no worries that God would provide my financial needs. But... whenever God provides, the enemy always shows up to sow fear and doubt for the future... and it really set in when I had a month-long bout of flu-like symptoms, right after getting a flu shot, which my insurance covered...[a nice surprise...] My arthritis has also flared-up and for about a month, I was in a lot of pain.

My cell phone died. I had no choice, if I wanted to keep the only number all my contacts have for me, but to get a new one from Sprint. They set me up with the least expensive "Android"[Samsung Replenish] phone & data plan, assuring me that the $222 bill that would include the phone cost, fees etc. could be "spread out over a couple of months. When I tried to do this after the bill was due, they wouldn't allow any spreading of payments over more than 2 weeks, which helped me, not at all.

I had fashioned a budget from late October, through November & December. I had added up all my income and debts, putting them on a dated ledger page. Before Sprint became nasty, it had barely worked. I didn't have money for groceries, gas or pet supplies, but the property taxes, car reg. renewal and all my utilities were covered.

After I had to pay Sprint $222 all at once, I was screwed.

I knew that God had a plan to provide me with the money I needed, but I often become afraid that I've done something to mess up His plans.For example, on my birthday in late October, the choir gave me a nice card with an unexpected and generous gift of cash. I had used that cash to stock up on non-perishable groceries and dry cat food. Then the Sprint squeeze hit and what I would be "short" was really close to what I had spent. I kept delaying paying the DMV fee[due 12/08/11], hoping for something to happen. It did. I received a message to attend a meeting in Fresno on Dec. with our newly installed Bishop and the current President of DOK for the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. I'm the President-elect, starting in April, 2012.I have to go. I need about $35 for gas, that I don't have, not yet anyway...

I also needed, around Dec. 1, to buy more canned cat food, litter & dog food. Probably about $75 which I didn't have either.

Then at church on Sunday, one of our singers who is an animal lover told me that she wanted to "take over" the cost for food & supplies for my kitties and the dog. I told her what I needed and she promised to bring it next Sunday. Another singer who loves animals had brought me some cat/kitten dry food that she'd gotten for a former tenant's cat. When I brought that food inside the house, MJ greeted me at the door, as did Lucyfur & Sneaky Pie.
They meowed & pestered until I poured the kitten crunchies into their empty bowl.
Feasting lasted for quite some time, followed by face & paw washing, purring and napping. I had bought 3 large bags of their fave crunchies and the bowl hadn't been empty long, but kitten crunchies are like cake, candy & ice cream, all rolled into one for kitties...and they loved it as it was such a special treat.

I had received a notice that my health insurance provider[the school district pays the least expensive HMO cost until I'm 65...2 more years...],had changed the costs of the various plans. The PPO which I'd had for the last 2 years,[no extra cost to me...]was still no extra cost, but the Blue Shield HMO[a much better plan for me as it doesn't have the $3500 p/yr deductibles] was now only a $1.15 p/mo cost to me where it had been $300 cost to me p/mo before. So I waited to be notified of the open enrollment period so I could change my plan.

And waited...

Yesterday, I got a notice from the school district, which mentioned the now closed enrollment period. I called them, then CALPers[health insurance provider], waited only an hour for a call-back and discovered that the enrollment period was over. The person I spoke with was very helpful and gave me the fax number for the enrollment unit, so that I could request a change of program due to not being notified of the open enrollment period. I haven't heard back yet. I must say that the school district always notified us and in the past year, have turned over everything to CALPers that has to do with retirees. The info packet I received said NOTHING about the dates for the open enrollment period and when I read through all the pages, for the third time, a mail-in card for plan booklets fell out. There was one line, in smaller print than this, saying,"...remember the open enrollment period is...

I suppose if I was a CALPers member, I might have memorized their open enrollment dates, but I'm a CALStrs member who merely has their health insurance, THROUGH a school district that micro-managed every aspect of retirees' health coverage, changing the open enrollment dates each year. In other words, what we have here is a failure to communicate and it's not CALPers fault.

So after I tried to sell some jewelery,[$50 for a pair of diamond studs they'd sell for $400... they didn't want my watch at all...] I contacted the music store that has my instruments on consignment. They said they owed me for some bells last year and still haven't paid me. And... as I told someone, I didn't want to leave any stone unturned looking for the cash I needed.

I sat down and crunched the numbers again... for the umpteenth time...

Even with the kitty and dog,"angels" taking up that burden and postponing the purchase of gas until December 1, the day of the trip, I was going to be short on my property taxes[$712.46, due Dec.10] and unable to pay my PGE on time[12/15] because my water/garbage/refuse bill of $101.61 was due Dec.7. and the Social Security payday is on Dec.28[late], leaving me with a short fall of over $120. It goes without saying that there will be no turkey either for Thanksgiving or Christmas at my house this year...

Deciding not to allow fear, despair & depression to take over... to continue to believe even when all hope seemed lost, I went online to pay the car registration renewal bill. There was a surprise. The web site had changed, so I had to register, which I did, confirming e-mail address, etc., etc... Then I checked the menu, clicked on the registration renewal listing and found a "notice"...
All registrations due from June through December 31, 2011 would have a 30 day "grace period" from the due date, without penalty... This was due to a law change that affected mailed notices and a rate change.

My due date was 12/08/11... I could wait until 12/28/11 when my SS check came to pay the renewal, without incurring any late fees at all.

I quickly recalculated my budget without the $129 DMV fee until after the 12/28 SS pension check.

Praise the Lord! The total, after this revised payment schedule showed as $1.30 instead of the -$127.70 amount I had been struggling to deal with.

Who would have ever thought that the Lord could use the State of California, much less the DMV, as an agent of His provision?

I can't wait to see how my gas for the trip is provided...

I may not have any turkey this year, but I sure am thankful !!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

...I'm almost afraid to look

Well, I've been, uh, distracted... so I haven't been here in a while...

My back went out, then I was sick... much of the summer passed in a medicated haze.
Then on August 11, I took MsYBee to the eye doctor in Jerrytown and after I dropped her off but before I got home, the transmission of my car had a major "episode", thunking and stopping suddenly as if I had hit a momentary brick wall. The "drive" indicator was flashing[not good...] and the tach was jumping around like crazy.
I managed to get home and discovered that after turning the motor off, then on again, the drive light no longer flashed.

At this point, I figured that the timing belt I had elected not to replace last April was becoming an issue, but, I had NO money at that time to go get it checked out, so I waited until my pension checks came in, driving as little as possible because when I did, after only a mile or so, the problems returned, scaring me, so I just stayed home.On Sept.1, pension checks in the bank, I went to the dealer. They weren't sure what was wrong, but tried an "inexpensive" solution [$232.34] by replacing the 4th gear switch, hoping it would be that simple. It wasn't. After they tested it, they came back to tell me that the whole transmission was going out and would need to be replaced, to the tune of $4000.00, oh... and now it wouldn't shift into reverse anymore...

I was stunned... $4000 might as well have been $4,000,000... I had no way of getting that much money. So I "limped" home, hazard flashers blinking, not exceeding 35 mph,
being passed by irate drivers with cars that worked and clinching my teeth at each "shift" and the accompanying jolt. Since they had had problems getting it to go in reverse, I had to park on the street so I would be able to move. I knew that God had a plan to provide me with the money to fix my car, no other scenario seemed even feasible,but I had NO idea how He would provide the money.

Then I had a phone call from my cousin. He's 8 years older than I and we have never been close, but he had called once during July because he's researching our genealogy and he had some questions for me. He called back, because he had made plans to visit some distant relatives who lived in the foothills and wondered if I wanted to go. I had told him that I was in Chpt.13 the first time he called, so he understood when I told him that I really had no money for traveling at this point, so he volunteered to pay for the overnight accommodations and travel expenses. Since I knew that he's well off and just wanted company, I agreed. At some point in our conversation, I mentioned my car and we discussed the various possibilities. At this point he offered to lend me the money. I told him that I couldn't afford to pay him back and he said,"Just give me your pink slip and that will do fine for me".

I was almost speechless. We've never been close and I would have never asked him to lend me the money, though he really is quite able, financially. Later that day, I got an email saying,"The check's in the mail". I got it Monday, deposited it Tuesday and am having my car repaired tomorrow[Friday]. Interestingly, my cell phone died the evening that he had called me. I mean, really dead... as in go to the Sprint store and get a new one dead.

Hummm... the phone hangs on long enough to get my cousin's call and provide the money to fix my car, then dies... I go to the Sprint store because there I can be billed for the new phone, which I just got today. Hummmm...

what next...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

...time sure flies when you're "having fun"

...or as my friend Lucyfur would say, "has it been a year already?"

A year of dealing with the culmination of several years of my personal financial woes which now finds me in bankruptcy with no chance of modifying my mortgage and living on a very small fixed income with no job in sight.

I don't want to seem ungrateful, because I'm glad to be finally at a place of resolution, but I must say that I'm glad that the government funding crisis was resolved and I didn't have to find out how I'd do without Social Security. I'm sure that God has me where He wants me and will provide all I need. Now I need to retrain myself to be satisfied with what I have and curb all my desires for that which I cannot afford, which is most everything, "extra"...

It's been a long and peculiar journey so far and now I seem to be becoming more isolated. I can only believe that it's "part of the plan"...

I wonder where I'll be at this time next year?

Friday, July 29, 2011

...remembrances of things past

I normally don't post pictures that show clear shots of faces, but since I'm not going to name anyone pictured, I don't think anyone will mind.

Remembering music made, laughter shared and a bond ordained in heaven and forged in joy... or to paraphrase Shakespeare...
"... he[or she] who sheds his blood[makes music] with me will be my brother[sister]...
and those who were here, will stand taller when this day is mentioned..."

[I did warn you that I was paraphrasing... OK... rewriting... but the sentiment is the same...]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

...good news... and not-so-good news

Any homeowner has dealt with this situation... that your home, being in most cases the most expensive investment you'll ever make, will appreciate and depreciate in value, as the economy ebbs and flows. Since mid 2004, things have been unbelievably unpredictable. By the middle of 2005, my small house had a market value of over $400 K... I paid $85K for it in 1988... it is less than 1200 s.ft., but is in a "really good area". An area known for stable turnover and considered one of the "best" in Mudville. So I refinanced to get out from under an adjustable rate mortgage with a bank that has since gone broke. I was very conservative in my choice of mortgage[30 yr fixed, 6.87%, strong lender] and I didn't "max out" my value, 'cause it made me nervous.

Fast forward to the present,where I am in Chapter 13, discharging several credit cards and the home equity LOC at $84K & 8% over the next 32 months. I was able to keep my home by going the Chapter 13 route. Without it, I would have lost my home to foreclosure and eventually been forced into bankruptcy anyway. I had hoped to be able to modify my 1st mortgage, but I no longer qualify as I am not dead, totally disabled or in foreclosure. This has left me in a very tight financial situation with no savings to fall back on and making each property tax payment an obstacle to overcome, so the notice I received in the mail last week was "good news".

My property values had been
listed as $240K for the last
couple of years.
The only problem was that
at least a year ago, the
"market value" was $120K...

and due to the inflated value,
my property taxes were
about $750, two times a year...
and due to the fact the the state,
county and city are BROKE....
the chances for tax relief by way
of reassessment, seemed dim...

So when I received a new assessment for $120 K in the mail, it was Christmas in July.
Of course, I don't know how this affects my tax bill yet, but it should be lower.
My concern now is if I have to call the police or firemen to come to my home that I can now better afford to keep, will anyone show up in a timely manner... ?

Friday, July 1, 2011

...no news is good news...really ?

One would think that any legal proceedings such as being accepted into Bankruptcy would rate at least a letter from the court acknowledging said state.

Apparently not...

When someone files for bankruptcy, they are required to go through 2 credit counseling sessions online, [not unlike traffic school...], paying a fee & earning "certificates".
[I will not discuss at length, the total lack of value of this kind of punitive busywork, especially at the point in the credit life of the debtor where bankruptcy is the only option, except to say that it reminded me of making misbehaving students write "sentences". Traffic School is actually a far better & more useful experience.]

The first course was done and filed before my paperwork could begin.

On April 4, before my case was filed, I was required to complete the second course & submit my certificate to the lawyers to be filed with my case. I arranged to have a copy of my certificate e-mailed to the lawyer and I called to confirm that they received it. On April 19, I received a request from the court to submit my credit counseling certificate [form 23]. Informing me that if they did not have it on file by my court date, [May 4], my case would be dropped and it would be expensive to re-instate.

I called the lawyer, who assured me that they had filed the certificate and that, "they always send out that form. Just ignore it"... so I did.

time passed...

The "meeting with creditors", aka court date [May 4] came & went. I sat at home waiting... for some notice that my case was accepted into bankruptcy. The 45 day period expired and the only notice I received was a receipt for my 1st payment to the Trustee. [By my court date, I had made 2. Today, I'm mailing #4 of 36. I am actually "ahead" since this payment isn't due until 7/25/11, but it takes about half of my Social Security check for each payment, which must be by money order. I've found an Smart store that has only a $.79 charge for an m.o. under $500 and in order to make sure that I can always get the payment in on time, I have to do it this way.]

But I digress...

On June 19, the court sent me another "form 23", with similar warnings as to the dire consequences for "non-compliance"...

Of course it was late on a Friday afternoon when I opened the letter, so I called the lawyer, explained the situation and received some surprising information.

"Oh, no news is good news from the court... they only contact you if there is a problem with your case... we filed your certificate... just fill-out the form 23 and send us a copy... we'll take care of it..."

Which I did...

On Monday, the lawyers left a voice mail. They had contacted the court and discovered that there was some sort of "glitch" with the computer and quite a few people had received "form 23" notices in error. The court had found the problem and had acknowledged the receipt of my certificates, so all was well...


It would have been really nice to have received a letter from the court, notifying me of the acceptance of my Chapter 13 petition. The sense of relief at the completion of a pretty stressful and terrifying few years would have been welcome.
As it is, I still feel like I'm waiting,  "for the other shoe to fall",  but I suppose that I just have to trust that the worst is behind me and move on.

The HUD counselor just called to "check-up" on my situation.We had put the mortgage modification on hold during the bankruptcy filing period. It seem that the banks are now making it much harder to modify based on "imminent default", which was my qualification. Now, to qualify, one of the mortgage holders has to die, suffer total disability or be months behind on their mortgage. Since I'm not dead, not totally disabled and current on my mortgage, I no longer qualify. This just means that things will remain very tight financially unless I get some sort of extra money each month. But, things have worked out so far... so I'll just continue to trust that God will provide all my needs.

Monday, June 6, 2011

...any day now

it's been a while since I was here... I have been sick on & off since early May and since I don't have internet access at home, it took too much effort to come down to the church while I was sick, just to blog.

Especially since I'm still waiting to hear from the Bankruptcy Court as to the final approval of my Chapter 13 plan. The 45 day period will expire soon as my Creditors meeting with the Trustee was May 4 and the judge is supposed to rule on my case within 45 days, which would be June 18. So I had been hoping to have some news to relay and though it hasn't happened yet, it should happen soon.

In the meantime, I have made my "payments "to the Trustee, which are due on the 25th of the month. I've made 3 so far... I'm trying to stay ahead so I've already mailed the payment due June 25. If the plan is accepted, my final payment will be March 25, 2014. During this time, I'm not allowed to enter into any credit obligations, as if anyone would give me credit anyway, but that's probably a good thing, as I've never done "well" managing credit as my current situation should attest.

As soon as the Chapter 13 is accepted, I'll try again to modify my mortgage. Being "in" bankruptcy may get their attention...

This late spring has been very stormy... quite a bit of unseasonal cool weather and rain... which in the garden, has its good side as well as its down side...

The Johnny Jump-ups, which would normally be toast by now, are flourishing.

In late April, these cherry toms were ripening, I've since eaten them & watched these just setting tomatoes grow and ripen as well.

Here the same plant is today... just covered with ripening fruit, yum...

and some of them are as big as golf balls !

Meanwhile, around in the back yard...

the Mr Stripys are still waiting for the sun...

the Brandywines are growing a bit...

but not like the Beefmaster and Pink Caspian, which were not from 6 packs & got a quicker start.

The Cherry toms in the back are growing...

this Sun Sweet is actually coloring up...

but the few others that are set are quite green...

The critters have left the crook neck squash alone so far and one has set there.

The Blue Lake pole beans are enjoying the cooler weather though...

and have even given my the first bean !

Unfortunately, I didn't get any cherries and the peach tree lost most of its crop to the weather.

But there are apples, "growing"...

and the pomegranate tree is exploding with blooms.

Ever the opportunist, the volunteer hollyhocks from the ranch, have "moved" themselves to a sunnier location and are blooming like crazy.

I'm sure that soon, summer will arrive and we'll be complaining about the heat. But as for me, I'm enjoying the cooler days as long as they last... even if it means that the garden grows slower...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

...ALWAYS read the fine print

Sometimes, being "careful", [OK,OK... anal...] has its advantages.

If I hadn't compulsively forced myself to read all the pages of the Chapter 13 documents I recently signed, I wouldn't have found what might have been a costly error.

I had filled-out l-o-n-g financial disclosure forms for the lawyer and had a long meeting, discussing my answers, line by line. We discussed one problematic entry and I thought that we were "clear" that that monthly deposit by a "holding company" for the school district was merely a reimbursement for the monthly medical insurance premium taken by "the state"health insurance provider from my state teachers pension check, which the "district" will continue to pay, monthly, until I'm 65.
I received no W2,W4 or 1099, since it wasn't considered income, just a benefit agreed upon by the district and the teachers union years ago. I couldn't choose to receive a cash payment if I wanted to. They agreed to pay the "lowest" monthly premium for my medical insurance until I'm 65, period.

When we had a different insurance provider, they sent the check each month for me and all my colleagues under 65, directly to the provider. However, when we changed to the "CALPers" health insurance plan in November, 2009, things became, "complicated"...

Complicated, because my teachers pension is paid by CALSTRS, also a statewide organization. So CALPers insisted that all monthly medical premiums for their insurance paid by current retirees, be deducted from the CALSTRS benefit check,
before the monthly check was mailed or direct deposited. That didn't really bother me but school districts, like my former employer, now had to put aside the premiums they were paying for us into a holding company, which would reimburse us for the amount withheld by CALPers from my monthly CALSTRS pension payment, and the fun began...

Since these premiums were always paid directly to the insurance provider, there was no danger that they might be misunderstood as income. The IRS doesn't even require them to be reported. But apparently, the clerk, whose job it was to transfer all my financial info onto the Chapter 13 forms, had never seen anything like it before.
She reported my gross CALSTRS pension[including the amount deducted], as well as including the "reimbursement amount" each month, ballooning my "annualized income" from $25 K to over $32 K... so I called the lawyer's office.

It took some time for the lawyer on the phone, looking at my papers to understand the problem. I told her that I had had my 2010 taxes done, since we met, and could prove that I didn't make anywhere near $32 K... then she saw the problem. The reimbursement was reported as income, while listing the gross pension amount before taxes, deductions, etc... so they are doing an,"amended financial statement", which I will be going in to sign before my court date on May 4. At that time, any creditors can show up and complain about the settlement, but once the judge accepts the settlement amount, it stays for the 36 months as long as I pay the amount on time each month. At the end of 36 months, all the debt is expunged, although my credit rating will be bad for another 5 years. If I hadn't caught this mistake now, the case might have been contested for a larger settlement, which I can't afford, or the papers might have had to be refiled, which is expensive.

It has been a long, strange & frightening trip... and it's not over yet. I'm SOOO not looking forward to the court date. If creditors show up, it will be unpleasant, to say the least, but I'm told that often, no creditors show and the judge accepts the case into Chapter 13 with no real drama. I could use a little less drama.

More news as it becomes available.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

...overcast, but looking better

I am really enjoying the benefits of making myself prune the roses this year. This "Mr.Lincoln" has really had some nice, deep red blooms.

the fact that I took most of these pictures on an overcast day, helps to intensify the depth of the colors, but makes it harder to get really clear shots.

The buds always have such a promise that the overcast skies help prolong.

When it is very sunny, the buds open so quickly that you can miss them entirely.

These "Cecil Breuners" in the back exploded with the sunny, warm week we had recently and are now mostly "spent", though more buds will come.

I got this nice "salmon" geranium for only $.98 at Port Mudville Nursery. It's a replacement for one I lost to the cold, dry winter we had a couple of years ago.

I also added a "Crimson" dianthus and some white lobelia to the "Crystal Palace" lobelia that has reseeded itself for the last several years. When the summer sun hits both the intense blue of the lobelia and the dianthus, it is spectacular !
I can't wait.

When OSH was having a, "25% off all plants sale" last weekend, I picked-up some petunias, as well as some "Easter Bonnet" salvia, more lobelia & a couple of dianthus. They are waiting for me to put them into containers, but being "festive" in their waiting.

the "Margaritas" surprised me by reappearing, I thought that they were dead.

and this "Bay Laurel" seedling is trying to survive transplantation. It was a volunteer from my tree which did not survive the dry fall & early winter.

While the "Meyer" lemon perfumes the front,

the grapefruit tree is covered with buds...

and the lime tree is already starting to bloom.

The "Virginia Creeper" is covering the southern end of my house quite nicely.

The cherry tree has, "set"...

as has the peach tree, now a framework for the grapevine...

the apple tree is a later bloomer and is just starting to set.

I planted an assortment of bulbs several years ago, but only these returned this year. I think they are "Freesias",[sp?], but I'm not sure. I do, however, enjoy their happy colors amongst the rubble.

Then there are the camellias... both red,

and variegated...

I managed to plant some pole beans without totally crippling myself. The earwigs have already gotten to them, so I put out snail & slug bait. That won't stop the earwigs, but hopefully they'll soon move on to other things...

I found a 6pack of both "Brandywine" and "Mr.Stripey" tomatoes, which is why the plants look so small. They seem to be growing well already and I hope to have some good tomatoes around July.

I did get several larger tomato plants, mostly "Beef steak" types which need more time to mature anyway.

I'm hoping that these 2 "crookneck" squash plants survive.I've already lost 2 zucchini & 2 crookneck sets to snails this spring, so these are surrounded by snail & slug bait. The problem here will be rats when the fruit starts to set.

All the recent rains have really encouraged the wild violets. I'm hoping for blooms, both white and purple, this year.

The violets inside are thriving, however...

I love spring !