The Cats

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Honestly, the cats are the hardest. There are two – a lovely 13-year-old tabby named Mew (yes, from Pokemon) and one-year-old, coal black, Arya (always underfoot just like her namesake in Game of Thrones).  The cats have kept me sane for the last six months: listening to my frustrated tirades, and sitting in my lap at the end of the long days of packing and sorting and packing and pitching and packing and donating. They also (usually) spend part or some of each night on my bed, but not all, and not always.

But now that the house is on the market to be sold, of course, there can be no sign of the cats when someone comes to view the house.  Fine, I thought.  I will just find a good place to board them for a while. Well, at least in my town, that might be an option for a dog, but there is not an acceptable boarding option for cats.  The ONLY option here that I have discovered (and I have actually tried four so far after extended web searches) is housing in four cubic foot cages.  Sometimes, if there are vacant adjoining cages, I can rent two of those with a door in between. But the 13-pound Mew takes up the whole cage from front to back.  And of the four places where I have boarded them so far, only one of them offers any out-of-cage option at all. At the end of the first day I boarded them the smaller Mew (9 pounds) hissed at me when I reached in to take her home. Now she is more stoic, but still not happy.

Needless to say, they now do NOT like to be put in their carriers.  Mew, sweet girl that she is, has coped with the situation by peeing in the car EVERY time I take her home.  Arya now just objects, mewing loudly most of the trip.

Most depressing so far was yesterday.  I found a website online that was a very high end dog destination.  For the Canines they offer suites, multiple exercise options during the day, swimming pools, playing, grooming…so I visited the site with great optimism and found….four-foot cubes for the cats, with an option to have 15 minutes in the room with a cat tree once a day for their feline guests – for an additional fee, of course.

So my only viable option is keeping the cats at home (they sleep most of the day), and when the call comes that someone wants to view the house, hide all the signs of cats (tree, toys, litter boxes) cage up my beauties in their carriers and go…somewhere.  I haven’t figured that out yet. As long as the weather is nice, going to the park will be fine.

Perhaps another option will present itself.

So it goes.

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.

 
 
 

 

A Great Meeting with the Finance Guys

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Today I had a great meeting with two financial advisers who have been working with me since a month after my husband’s death.  One is a CPA and was a colleague many years ago in my first position in an accounting firm. The other is a younger financial manager interested not only in financial planning, but also in helping clients make wise financial decisions in their lives.

I have presented a financial plan for myself, with the benefit of their knowledge and guidance, and now am charged with developing a curriculum for widows to help with money management. That is my goal for the next month – a community college non-college curriculum targeting new widows, especially those who have had little responsibility for their finances until the death of their spouse.

The text that I will be using is an excellent resource, Moving Forward on your Own by Kathleen M. Rehl (also a widow). The planning tool will be in Microsoft Excel, so no commercial software package will be required. The task is to make the course relevant for all widows, regardless of their financial background.  Even as a CPA, it has been a challenge to corral all the moving pieces into a new model that will provide basic decision-making data, and yet simple enough for periodic updates.

Today, the three of us sat around the table discussing our different methods of basic financial management.  We had three distinct styles: One of us used Quicken, downloading all financial transactions from the bank into the software. The second made most transactions through his credit card, doing the management piece monthly when the credit card statement arrived. I pay my bills through online bill pay, sometimes writing paper checks, and do most day-to-day business by cash (giving myself an allowance every week as a budgeting tool).  As we discussed these three very different styles, we realized that my challenge will be to make the course relevant to all three of these money management styles, including the widow who has basically had no financial responsibility during her marriage.

Wish me luck!!

The Cars

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The letter came Saturday afternoon about 4:00 from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV):

“DMV has received the fees submitted for the issuance of a plate and/or sticker for the vehicle listed above.  However, our records indicate that this vehicle has not been inspected within 90 days of the plate expiration as required…this prohibits the vehicle from being registered until the vehicle has been inspected.

OK – so – Monday morning is inspection time!

Bright and early Monday morning I called our excellent car maintenance shop and ask if I could come in for an “emergency” inspection.  No problem.

Ah, but not so fast!  I forgot to take the letter with me, and when the mechanic entered the information in the DMV system, it said that the car’s inspection was valid for another year.

Not long after my solo life adventure began, I took one of my three cars to this shop (which we had been using for many years) and let them know that this was the one area of our marriage that my husband had managed completely by himself.  I did not have to track on any maintenance issues at all.  My husband did everything from tires to oil changes. Therefore, I had NO IDEA what the car needed (well, somewhere in my deepest darkest memories I remember my dad telling me to get oil changes every 3000 miles).

When one of the two female owners told me this, she also asked, “Is it possible that the letter is for the other Mazda?” Ah, yes, my daughter’s (much) older car – not my husband’s little red sportster. Such insights are one of the many advantages in taking ALL of your cars to the same mechanic all of the time…even for oil changes…which I had already decided to do earlier.  All the records in one place, someone checking for routine needs on a regular basis.

So…..I get to go back this afternoon with the other Mazda (and the letter) and see if I can become “legal” again.

 The Lawyer and Avoiding the Estate Account

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My husband and I were frugal throughout our careers, and always contributed to any plan that offered an employer contribution. He was a community college instructor, I worked with nonprofit organizations. We anticipated both of us living to the age of 80 (and beyond), so we saved our money anticipating 20 to 30 more years with income only from his teacher retirement, Social Security, and our savings. We have accumulated an amount that I assumed would throw me into an Estate Account requirement (for those who don’t know, if the deceased spouse has accrued more than $30,000 in separate assets, the surviving spouse generally must establish an Estate Account).

I applied to the IRS for a Tax ID number for said account. However, thanks to the guidance of my lawyer, that number will not be needed. Fortunately, we had set up all our financial assets (investment account and checking/savings accounts) as joint with right of survivorship, so all of the assets passed to me, avoiding the Estate.  The joint accounts also did not count toward the $30,000 “year’s allowance” for widows in my conservative Southern state.

In our state, the house also passes to the surviving spouse, not counting toward the “allowance” (providing husband and wife purchased the house as a couple). What I have left are three cars, my husband’s last paycheck (written after his death) and a few other small odds and ends.  I will have to take a trip to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, with a Death Certificate, to transfer title of two of our cars to my name – still not meeting the $30,000 threshold (the cars are quite ancient with very low market values).

This is a MUCH less arduous process than I initially anticipated – thinking I would have to set up an Estate checking account, leave it open for a year to satisfy claims against the Estate, and make a public declaration.

I also have a great lawyer: a young woman who is generous and efficient with her time, even returning part of the initial fees she collected as “not utilized”.

There is yet another benefit of our relationship.  The second week after my husband died I had the substantive meeting with her (please note that I called her at 9:00 AM the morning after he died for specific guidance on anything that needed to be done immediately, which she provided, graciously.  It was Sunday morning). My late-twenty-something niece was visiting, so she accompanied me to the meeting with the lawyer.  My niece is in one of the longer-term arrangements common to young people.  She and her boyfriend co-habit an apartment, but there is absolutely no legal commitment/relationship between the two. When we left the meeting with our lawyer, her first comment was “now I see why people get married.” An astute observation.

The Big International Bank

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I have finally decided to fire the Big International Bank.

I have too many bank accounts, and my needs have changed. For a couple of years I have kept my accounts opened at the Big International Bank (henceforth “BIB”), thinking that perhaps I would need that flexibility again, but today have decided that I can let it go.

My favorite BIB interaction happened when I was traveling in Alaska a couple of years ago.  At 4AM my BIB banker called because they had been bought out, and my bookkeeper (NOT in Alaska) had attempted to complete a transaction that did not meet the new conglomerate’s criteria. As politely as possible, I first told my banker friend that I really did enjoy waking at 4AM, and yes, please do give my bookkeeper the access she needed to complete the transaction.

Last summer another BIB moment came when I called my BIB to tell them that I was taking their credit card to Europe. Instead of thanking me for the information, they asked to speak to my husband so that he could verify as the primary account holder—even though I was the one who opened the accounts, and was indeed the only person who ever talked to them about our finances!  I (not very politely) informed him that I would NOT ask my husband to come to the telephone. Nor would I be taking his card to Europe with me nor, indeed, ever using it again! Even though I am now the de facto Primary Account Holder, my card and my money will be l housed in a less male-centric environment.

In stark contrast, yesterday my daughter and I spent the better part of an hour opening a new account for her at the State Employees Credit Union (so she could close her BIB account). It was a delightful experience – and not a word was said about my lack of a y chromosome.  I cannot use their credit card in Europe, unfortunately… but I have found that need met through other means.

The Handyman and the House

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After a couple of months alone in the house, its interjections of needed repairs have surfaced about ten items.

One of the joys of my recent, “mostly at home” status has been a chance to meet and talk with people who have wide-ranging interests.  Service providers necessary for living alone come and go because I can’t do everything in the house by myself, especially the things that my husband used to deal with—plumbing, carpentry, yard upkeep, etc.   Thankfully, a friend recommended a “handy man” for my list of a dozen needed repairs.

On his first visit, “Handy” was able to check off several things: an exterior door that would not latch (”Did you know someone tried to break in here?”); a drooping cabinet door.  The “fancy” lighting installed by a marginally competent contractor during a major kitchen overhaul is a more complex problem – it appears that there are issues with the fixtures themselves (under counter and track lights). This, along with the plumbing challenges, introduced a needed trip to the hardware store. Another great advantage of my new status is more willingness to say NO to some tasks.  The hardware store was one of my “no’s”. Handy will make that trip on his own, so the completion was postponed until next week.

The most important part of the half repair day was a reversal of the feeling that “things really might not be sustainable” to “this will all have a solution eventually”.

All of this excitement is jumbled in with the housing decision – huge, cluttered house, needs painting, large yard to maintain…isolated in a big city subdivision with lawn moats yielding little to no interaction with neighbors – vs. moving close to family in a much smaller town, smaller house, close knit community. That will come eventually.  I have no idea when yet.

But for now it’s The House And Me… and Handy.