A New Major (again)

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The saga of my daughter’s search for a college degree continues with increasing complexity.

Now, after studying American Sign Language for three years, (changing colleges due to the general poor product quality of the prior ASL department), the Interpreter Program has informed my daughter that she cannot continue in their department.  She did not pass the nationally proctored exam (after six months of study in their program), so the department has booted her out. THIS mom is NOT a happy camper.

The irony here is that Daughter received 5 A’s this semester, has a 3.9 GPA, and is a gifted linguist.  She was fluent in Japanese at the age of 17, and majoring in that language through her freshman year (after spending a summer in Japan). Some extenuating circumstances necessitated her departure from her first college, and the subsequent transfer to the Sign Language major. Now, as she looks back on the field where she excelled, we find that there are VERY few schools in this state that offer a major in Japanese.

So, back to square one, essentially.  An additional challenge is that the state of our residence has a maximum on the number of in-state tuition rate hours that any one student can use toward an undergraduate degree. Just one more piece in the new puzzle.

The next step is to talk to a counselor at the new University.

Life continues with its twisted sense of humor.

Selling and Donating Cars

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Last March, ten months ago, I found exactly the car that I was looking for – A red Subaru Forester (see the post A New Car). I bought it the day after it magically appeared on the dealer’s lot close to my new town home (although I had NOT purchased the house yet). It has been the perfect car to meet my needs.

At the time that I bought the Subaru, it made me the proud owner of FOUR cars…the one that I now drive, my daughter’s ancient Mazda Protégé, the little red Mazda 6 that had been my husband’s 60th birthday present to himself, and a vintage Toyota Previa van.

In that ten month period, I had disposed of the Previa by donating it to a local charity. They provided a letter stating that they were able to use it in their exempt purpose, even inviting me to the blessing ceremony, where the keys were handed over to the new owner. The Internal Revenue Service has very specific rules on the deductibility of donated vehicles (See IRS Notice 2005-44). It explains that if the charity resells the vehicle, the donor’s deduction is limited to the actual sales price of the vehicle when it is sold by the charity. However, the donor may claim a deduction of the vehicle’s fair market value if the charity makes a “significant intervening use of the vehicle, such as using it to deliver meals on wheels”.  The difference in the deduction is between $250 or $2000.

AND – on Friday, my brother was able to sell the Mazda 6 to CarMax. One of the great gifts I have received in the last ten months is a series of meetings with two professionals. One is a CPA who has been a friend and colleague for many years.  The second is a Wealth Planner whose clientele include a significant number of widows. Even with my background in finance, I do not know how I could have managed the financial challenges without their continuing sound advice. At our last meeting, I was bemoaning the fact that I had not been able to find a buyer for the Mazda 6.  Both suggested taking the car to Car Max (they had both done that in the past).  I had not even considered that option, thinking that because they were going to resell the car, the price that they offered would be very low.

HERE ARE THE FACTS related to my Mazda 6.  When I purchased the new Subaru, they offered me only $4500 to trade in the Mazda.  Last week at CarMax, I was offered $8000 (and that was ten months later!) So…DO NOT automatically trade in an older car when purchasing a new one! Make sure you at least get a quote from CarMax! They made an offer that was good for seven days.  My brother was selling the car for me. It provided enough time for me to sign the title and send it overnight it to him in another city. Now, strangely enough, when he presented the notarized title, they demanded a Power of Attorney as well (which I also sent by FedEx).  We have an excellent Credit Union in town where I keep my more liquid funds.  I had walked in the first day with the title, and they notarized it for no fee.  The SECOND time I went in, the attorney I had spoken with the day before said, “They don’t need the Power of Attorney!” I just smiled at him and asked him to please provide the document, which he did, again for no fee.  One thing that I have learned over the last ten months is that it is much simpler to provide information which people request than try to convince them that they really don’t need it!

I currently own only TWO cars, instead of FOUR.

Now, if I could just reduce the number of houses from two to one I would be in great shape!

Seven Weeks After the Move

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Now it is about seven weeks since I moved my home from Big City to Small Town – from a 2800 sq. ft. house with full attic storage to a 1500 sq. ft. town home  (with a 2-car garage). We lived in the house for over twenty years, and rarely threw anything away. I take full responsibility for that issue, and would do it differently had I to do it again (and am determined to pare down going forward).

But I also moved quickly because a large town home in a group I had been eyeing for several years (for a mountain get-away) miraculously became available. I knew that it would not remain on the market long, so quickly made an offer, which was accepted.

Another positive synchronicity was that the market value of the “old” house was up 30% over the prior year.  I had known for some time that we needed to down-size, but market-values had been soft, so I delayed selling – the investment in the house represented a good portion of our retirement “nest-egg.”  Then, this Spring, the value went up by almost 40% from the prior year. Obviously, the time was right to sell.

BUT…then there was no time for the slow winnowing through a family’s 30 years of life together.  My sister, when she decided to move to Small Town, had the luxury of taking three years for the clearing process I had to complete in three months.

Of course, the result was that a lot of things were moved that should not have been.  Now there are boxes, and boxes, and boxes…Actually, from a high of about 350, I am down to 75 or so…fifteen of them are Christmas paraphernalia of various types – Christmas China, ornaments, lights, clothes, wreathes – you get the idea.  As I write this, it is December 3.  Tonight I have no desire to winnow through Christmas boxes.  It’s just not going to happen.

The closets are hard…the wedding gown that my sister and I both wore (but is just not my daughter’s style), dresses from recitals, family weddings, t-shirts from vacations and graduation gowns… the ones that are still beautiful, but just out of style, or too small. There are still many of those in my closet that really must be purged – sometime soon.

But no easier are items from the kitchen – platters, bowls, glasses (how many sizes of wine glass do you need, and how many of each??) crock pot, punch bowl, salad bowl, soup tureen- all those lovely large pieces that I intellectually know I will not use again (or can borrow from one of my sisters who live here Small Town).  Truly difficult is acknowledging that all those family moments will happen much less frequently, and last a shorter time…intellectually I know those things, but it does not make the paring down process any easier.

The symbol of it all is the “good china”  that we all registered as young brides-to-be, and collected as friends and family built our “trousseau.”  It filled our china cabinets for years, looking beautiful, and (at least in my case), was used, at most, five times over 42 years of marriage. Now, it is (again) taking up space in a china cabinet (silly me) at least for now. I think I will know that I have gotten over this mountainous bump in my road when I give up the “good china”.

One of my new missions (should I be so blessed), is to teach my grandchildren how to keep those things that they love, and let the rest go. I can count the items I have from my mother on one hand, each highly valued. I will be writing about the process I develop for retention (and release) of all the “excesses” over the next year as I teach myself to “winnow”.  I hope you will all join me and share stories and ideas and resources as I explore this path.

The New Life

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That sounds really dramatic – a new life.

But EVERYTHING is different in the new town, the new house, new car, new Vet, new theater, new friends.
I still stay connected to a few of my old friends, but I was never a social butterfly, and as I look at possibilities for the upcoming years, there seems to be nothing but questions about my immersion into a new community.
Two nonprofit boards have approached me to join, and I have accepted. I just cannot come into a community and not expect to contribute to the organizations that make it work. The two that I have agreed to join are the homeowners association for my little group of town homes, and a regional theater company. I have not decided whether to work for compensation yet. My memory has never been great, but all the challenges of the year have left my cognitive abilities at a woefully inadequate level. I would love to teach piano and college level courses again, but both require more development. The last time I taught a full studio of 30 students it took about three years to build.
A fellow widow that has been providing friendly support since my husband died has been proofing my blog entries, sharing her own experiences, and talking about a continuing education curriculum for widows which will probably be the next challenge to complete. There is a local community college here, and the curriculum continues to take shape. Hopefully, after the holidays, I can find an appropriate group and venue for offering the curriculum. Last week a group of us chatted over dinner, especially about the challenges of widowhood: the feeling of isolation, the lack of a road map for how to deal with the reinventing of a life. They encouraged me, again, to work on the “class”.
But it is hard. Reading (of course) could infinitely defer/delay/derail the process. It is so tempting to just pick up a book and leave your life for a few hours. But then when I close the cover, I am back exactly where I was before.
I need to move forward.

As, a CPA, I am compelled to do it in an ordered, substantive manner. So – there needs to be some type of method of measuring progress. There must be a measurement tool, and a definition of items to measure, with a weighted evaluation scale. Ah, now I think I have my next project. Look out for the Widows Measurement Tool for Social Reintegration (maybe I can find a little more euphemistically acceptable name). That will do for a working title (WMTSR).

Let me know if you have a more creative title or experiences you would like to share!

Moving Forward – LOAN APPROVED

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The locomotive that is my move keeps picking up steam. The first “mini-move” is Saturday.  An excellent local moving company is going to take about sixty boxes and all the “extra” furniture to a near-by storage unit (small tables, bookcases, all the art).  The goal is to create a minimal “canvas” in my house, giving the viewers the opportunity to paint their own new family portrait in its rooms.

Amazingly, after the debacle of the earlier “nonloan,” I received notification yesterday from a local bank (in the area of my new townhome) that my loan has been approved. We have a new closing date in two weeks. I hope my baby grand piano (circa 1924 that is being reconditioned) will be ready two weeks after that (dictating my “primary moving day”). The approval came TWO WEEKS after I walked into that bank manager’s office with the same document package that the Regional Bank had not been able to approve after five weeks.

There is daily activity here. Yesterday the salesman provided a carpeting quote to replace the very tired carpet in the family room. The power-wash and interior painting will happen next week, along with a regrout for our older showers and some help for the yard. The Inspector will be here tomorrow.

Keeping all the above in mind, the best decision I made was hiring the Move Manager. He has taken over the scheduling and supervision of all the subcontractors, leaving me (with invaluable help from family members) to do all the packing, donation runs to the local thrift shop, blogging, and work on the curriculum development for the Widows Way course. It is still extremely difficult, on many levels, but at least now it is manageable.

A Move Manager

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Today I made a major decision.  After going to the mountains and trying to close on “my” town home (and settling on renting for a month instead while the new prospective mortgage bank works through my package of information) I came back to the task of getting my current home on the market for sale.

I started with calendar in hand, identifying all of the pieces that had to come together before listing the property: cleaning out years of clutter (going through years of accumulated clothes, memorabilia, books, DVD’s – not forget the VHS tapes); removing pieces of furniture and boxes to a storage unit to make the house “staging ready” to list as available to sell, and almost daily trips to the Thrift Store to donate items that are resalable. Then getting the house itself ready for prime time: pressure washing, painting (inside and out), a tile man to dress up a shower that needs help, yard clean-up.

Doing all this along with teaching and writing a curriculum for widows suitable for offering at a community college in the non-college curriculum, I rapidly became overwhelmed. Then I started looking for…A Move Manager- someone to organize the preparation and all its moving parts. On the internet I only found senior move managers – people who assisted in moving seniors from their family home to a retirement community – NOT what I needed.

So – I started to write a job description by listing every piece of my preparation pie (see the end of this post for the final product). As the list of necessary skills evolved, I realized that I knew a person who had the required skillset, but had no idea that he would be interested. Retired from a corporate position, we had met when I managed a Thrift Shop. He offered a house watch service for vacationers, including feeding the pets.  In my new single status, he had become a regular as I was required to travel out of town related to the relocation and other family matters.

I forwarded the proposed job description and offered compensation that I hoped would be attractive enough to open the conversation. Today we reached a meeting of the minds.  I have already scheduled painters and the first wave of movers. We did a detailed walk-through where he identified other repairs and that would improve salability (he had over a page of notes) but agreed to my offer, with the caveat that we would review in a week or so to see if the estimated hours were reasonable.

I cannot possible express my sense of relieve as we finished the walk-through this morning.

Onward to the packing boxes.

Move Manager Job Description
Major Move
Be second set of ears for decisions to be made by owner related to move to Burnsville
Schedule Primary Move and negotiate fee
Provide advice on purging for staging and major move
 
Staging
Provide advice on preparation for staging decisions
Supervise interior painting
Staging Move
Supervise preparation for “staging” move to storage unit
Basic Assumptions
Communication with Client will be limited to one major e-mail per day, and one phone call.
Text messages may also be required, but limited to five per day.
A basic time-table will be established which manager and client will be able to adjust,
     but not without approval from the other party.
Compensation

Compensation will be paid after the sale of the

of the primary house.

 
 
 

 

The Non-Close

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Last week I was under a mistaken impression that I was about to close a mortgage loan on a new town home. The close date was set and the loaning bank had been selected through a logical process that included the fact that the bank was the mortgage holder on my “old” house.

However, as the loan package made its way through multiple levels of review, there were continuing questions on every “unusual” transaction.  Now, when your husband has just died , you are establishing retirement income,  you are applying for Social Security, insurance is coming in, you are changing insurance vendors, and your daughter is changing colleges, there are OFTEN unusual transactions.

But the big stumbling block became the fact that my debt to income ratio was too high.

I still have my family home and its mortgage (even though it has been paid down to less than a third of its value). There is the mortgage on the new town home, and I bought a new car (which I borrowed money to finance to get some credit in my name alone).  Therefore the total of those three payments is too high for the regular income I have from retirement and social security.

The “silliness” here is that there are also significant investment holdings which could totally pay ALL of the above loans. 

My frustration with this process was that there are MULTIPLE levels of review, nothing was changing through the process, and that ratio was imminently obvious from the first submission. I was not advised of the cancelation of the close until I had already traveled the five hours to the close location.

The town I am moving to is a small town – the largest part of the attraction after fighting rush hour traffic for many years.  Along with the smaller town is the establishment of personal relationships. The owner of the real estate firm acting as the agent for my new town home knew one of the loan officers at a regional bank, and suggested that I go talk to him. I had brought the loan package I had submitted to the larger banks with me after learning of this relationship.  So, after the introduction, and an interview related to my background and future plans, I left the three inch document stack with him.  A day later, after providing a few more pieces of information, he had run the numbers though his software, and said that he did not see a problem.  I have continued to say that if I need to pay off the car loan to improve the debt to income ratio, I will do so.

I left his office, and started back down the mountain.  Prior to leaving the new banker, I told the loan officer that I was now putting all my eggs in his basket.  From the car, I sent an email cancelling my application for mortgage loan from the prior entity (interestingly, I have received no acknowledgement of that email).  Now it will take another three weeks for this new package to make its way through the system. I have rented the townhome, and have time to plan the location of furniture prior to close. But I sure wish I had the loan in place. On to preparing the old home for sale.