The End of 2011

Hello all, I wanted to comment briefly on what 2011 has meant for us, Cheryl and my mother and I, and the rest of our family as well.  As you all probably know, Cheryl and I lost our house in Colorado this past year.  We had been struggling to make it through after I was laid off in April of 2009.  We actually kept trying to hang onto the Condominium that Cheryl had purchased prior to our wedding in 2000.  Unfortunately, that condo became our money pit.  We had problems in there, one after another starting with a flood in 2007, and followed by 3 more floods from the upstairs unit in close succession in the 2 years following.  Finally, we let the place go and let the bank have it.  We had gone too far into debt, consumer debt in order to try and “creatively” finance things in order to hang onto that place.

We had made the decision not to cash out our IRA’s and retirement monies in order to try and pay for repairs and such, we figured in the long run it wasn’t worth sacrificing our future just to try and hang onto some place that obviously had rotten plumbing.  I can’t tell you all exactly how much money we “lost” trying to keep that condo, it just goes up as an object lesson for all of us at this point, but somewhere between $15k – $20k is what I estimate we lost.  It’s a more or less number simply because of the fact that we had writeoff all those years we had that place, and you get some of it back since the write off offsets your income so your tax burden is less with the government.  But, that only winds up being off the top, and it’s a percentage, so it really yielded little over the years we had that place.  We started going into debt as early as 2002 when I was laid off from and we used credit cards to live off for those 18 months I was unemployed back then (we had little to no savings going into that layoff).

So, more object lessons for us in that too.  The bottom line is, first we lost the condo which in reality was our boat anchor, but then in turn, after a 4 month interview process with an organization in mid-2010 following which I did not get the job, we finally threw in the towel.  The straw that broke the Camel’s back was really when Cheryl lost her job last fall as well.  That became for us the watershed moment when we realized that the Lord had closed the doors for us in Denver and we were supposed to move to California, move in with my mother and help take care of her.  It became the point in time where we no longer tried to frantically come up with the money each month to pay our mortgage.  Rather, we decided (unlike so many Americans) to keep our IRA’s and retirement monies intact, and abandon the house and let the bank have it back.

We had so much credit card and consumer debt from trying to hang onto both properties that we were just drowning at the time, and had become for all intents and purposes – insolvent.  We had few assets left, and what we had we mostly sold in order to get through the next few difficult months.

It really is something how these things come about, how the decisions get made.  We had started praying back in 2007 after my mother had 2 surgeries and radiation for Breast Cancer.  We saw her that fall when we went on a cruise together to celebrate her 80th birthday.  She took us on that cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean to visit Rome, Greece, Turkey and parts of the former Yugoslavia (Dubrovnik).  It was a great trip, but it was easy for us to see that mom’s health had been severely compromised by the surgeries and the radiation.  She was so far knocked down by it that we thought we’d lose her that year.  But, she bounced back, and even regained some of her short term memory faculties.  The neurological damage from the anesthesia was probably the worst blow of all for mom to have to deal with.  It was hard for us too seeing her suddenly with symptoms that can only be described or diagnosed as Alzheimer’s.  She had no memory difficulties prior to the surgeries and radiation.

So, all those things became part of the decision making process for us, ultimately leading to our moving out here the first part of 2011.  We sold what we could, one of our cars, one of my motorcycles, mom gave us some money to help us move, so we bought a trailer and loaded it up and drove out here to California with our bedroom furniture, a few other items as well as our 1950 Chevy, and my other motorcycle.  Certain things were not negotiable in the move!  I wasn’t leaving our old Chevy behind, and my motorcycle became my number one means of transportation now.  We still have our Tahoe as well, that’s how we pulled our trailer out here, but given the rotten gas mileage and the lack of any E-85 (Ethanol) stations out here in California, we let it sit in the driveway most of the time.  We burned just one tank of gas in it this entire past year.  Instead, we drive mom’s Toyota Camry most of the time.  She had it for 6 years and it had 21k miles on it when we got here.

After getting our stuff moved in, we started looking around for how to fit our things in this old house.  The house, you may recall, is the house I grew up in.  Mom has been here over 50 years now, and not much has really changed.  Many things were not working well, the electrical had never been upgraded and so on.  It does have a breaker panel, which is good since the house was built in the 1950’s and they were still using fuse panels back then.  But, I found that everything had 2-wire outlets, and in researching that I found that none of our expensive electronic gear would be protected – at all – unless I converted all those wall plugs to 3-wire (grounded) outlets.  So, I did my research, conducted some tests and set about upgrading them one-by-one.  It worked great because they did at least use conduit on each outlet from the outlet all the way back to the breaker box which was grounded, so in effect the entire system was able to be converted without rewiring anything but the outlet boxes themselves!  Some I even converted to have GFI type outlets for safety, so that was kind of a very cheap upgrade for the house that totally modernized it and made things safer for all of us.  There still are not enough of them to go around, there’s not even one outlet on every wall if you can believe that, but we’re getting by.

Next, we started trying to convert some of the watering system on the grounds around the house.  The house itself is modest size (2,000sf) but the lot is huge – especially by Manhattan Beach standards.  So, there is a lot of grounds to water, which mom has always spent inordinate amounts of time watering.  She had this routine where she would start early in the a.m. and get around to all the planters on the sides of the house and the two lawns (front and back) after about 3 – 3.5 hours of continuous watering.  While it’s not all exactly a waste of effort, it’s an amazing amount of effort for an old lady to need to exert in order to keep her plants green.  So, we creatively started trying to come up with solutions, but we really didn’t get very far there.  We are going to have to convert more sprinklers to automatic and invest in some PVC pipe and new sprinklers to cover much of the rest of it.  Some of it can be converted to drip irrigation, and some can be converted to sprinklers with PVC pipe, we won’t waste time digging and burying pipe, because this house will not survive long after my mother is gone.

I feel I should explain why the house won’t survive my mother by long.  This neighborhood, in Manhattan Beach is filled with what are comically referred to as “McMansions.”  The lots are not large like in Beverly Hills, but still the people insist on putting in 6,000sf – 10,000sf palatial estates that fill these little beach lots nearly from corner to corner.  Let me do a rough computation for you, the average lot here is about 110×40 so you have only roughly 4,000sf to work with.  Considering you can only use about 85-88% of it (I think the city allows that much to be covered, and then you probably have to have an easement for sidewalks) you wind up with about 3700sf usable.  Then, you go 2 stories and a basement and you wind up with 7,000sf or more depending.  It’s kind of insane.  Then folks will put all kinds of fancy decoration on them (columns, porches, patios, decks, etc…) so they look French, like something off the Riviera or something.  It’s pretty amazing actually.  Many of them look like gaudy palaces that don’t belong in Southern California, but they are here all the same.  Then, naturally after all that work, architecture and such, they demand excessive prices for these places.

It’s sad enough that we don’t like to think about it or contemplate how quickly this place will be bull-dozed as soon as my mother is gone.  But, she’s still here today, so there’s nothing to worry about, right?

As things turned out, we arrived here in January, just after Christmas 2010 actually.  I dropped Cheryl and our furniture off and then went back to Denver to clean out the rest of our house, and get our Chevy and my motorcycle into the trailer.  The old Chevy didn’t even have all the suspension on it when we decided to move.  I only had some of the parts to finish the suspension so I had to quickly order the rest of the parts and get started getting it put back together.  It had been in a thousand pieces for years, I had started tearing it apart in about 2003 because of rust and hadn’t gotten around to finishing it.  Now it rolls again and it has all 4 wheels converted to disc brakes, and the front suspension has been converted to a Mustang II double A-arm with rack-and-pinion steering.  I even got the steering hooked up prior to getting the car into the trailer to move to California!

It was a pretty amazing amount of work to get done in such a short period actually.  I got the brake master cylinder and pedal installed as well, and it’s fully ready to have brake lines manufactured and installed.  I have some homework to do on that first, I need to identify all the fittings I will need as well as get the correct brake line to work with my tube bending and flaring tools.  I got the tools, that was the first step.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to work on the old Chevy since we got here.  It’s sat for those 11 months so far since we rolled it out of the trailer into the garage.  It got a flat too, and I just two weeks ago finally bought a new floor jack (and another set of jack stands) so I can lift it up, get that wheel off and get the tire repaired, or get a couple new tires (much better idea!).  I bought some used tires to get it rolling again so it could get here.  I need new tires for it, trouble is, it sat for so many years the old tires were rotten, and I had to get something cheap just to get it here.  Having run out of money at the time, used tires were the only option.  They worked good enough to get it here, and they only cost installation.

We were here just a couple months when mom fell and broke her hip in March.  We praised the Lord and still do for His mercy in getting us here just when we needed to be here!  Our God is a God of “Just in time!”  He is always there just when you need Him, and He arranged things so we would be here right when we needed to be here for mom.  When she would need us the most that is.  Her break was not terribly bad, she didn’t break the pelvis fortunately, just the femur, and only the head of the femur (the acetabulum) was broken from the femur itself.  The break was not totally evident on X-rays either, since there was no dislocation, it only showed up on a Cat-Scan.  The doctors recommended surgery which was very difficult for us to contemplate.  My sister and I had already agreed mom would have no more surgeries as those had been the cause of her mental troubles, her “Neurological” difficulties mentioned earlier.  But, the doctor in the ER told me that without the surgery her chances of survival were minimal as she would have to spend nearly 6 weeks flat on her back in a hospital bed.  And everyone knows the one place you don’t want to be when you’re sick is a hospital!  Especially when you’re older, you can pick up so many secondary infections from staying in a hospital that was even more awful to think about.  So we agreed to the surgery.

The Orthopedic surgeon turned out to be a real gem.  This guy said he’d get it done in 45 minutes, and we believe it was actually that quick.  He made a small incision, shot four pins into the femur to stabilize and immobilize the acetabulum and he was done: Bing bang boom!  It was healed too (essentially), from the moment he put those pins in it.  Mom actually walked on it that night at the hospital.  I stayed with her each of the 4 nights she was in the hospital as I knew it would be better for her if she woke up and I was there with her.  The last time she had been in hospital, she woke and had no idea where she was or why she was there, and she hit a nurse, so this time at least I figured I could help with that by staying with her through each night.  It worked, except for that first night, but following that episode they put a bed alarm on her that would go off to let us all know when she climbed out of bed.

The good news is, it healed (the bones knit and all), after a few weeks stay in a nursing home for rest and rehabilitation.  She walks on it today just fine.  Maybe she has a limp, maybe a slight lean to her walk that wasn’t there before, but she can walk on it.  She is not as strong as she was before so for Christmas we got her a “Hugo” or rolling walker.  The Hugo is not like the ordinary walkers that just have wheels on the front.  The Hugo has wheels all around, and brakes, locking brakes and a seat.  The Hugo can be used for permanent help for the aged in order to help them be mobile.  As long as the person is strong enough to stand and walk a few steps, the Hugo is useful.

So mom is set we hope for going on into 2012 in style.

Now, as for Cheryl and I, this is how we’ve been doing.  As I said, we got here in January.  We started pretty much right away trying to figure out our new church.  We let a couple weeks go by where we didn’t make it to church, but by about the last week of February, we were ready to try out the local Free Methodist church in Long Beach.  I really like the Pastor down there, his name is Larry Walkemeyer and I had met him some years back when he came and spoke to our Men’s Retreat at Horn Creek in Colorado.  He’s a very down to earth Pastor, and I like his style.  But, Cheryl felt it was too far to drive, and after coming back to the church that first afternoon for their “Society” meeting (a meeting of the body of the church to vote on important issues) and seeing how poorly attended it was (a sign that there’s not a whole lot of involvement) we decided to try another church.  We drove by Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach several times before Cheryl finally said to me “What about that church?”  I told her it had been around since the 1970’s and the building was an old bowling alley.  Other than that, I really knew little about the place.

Today, we call Hope Chapel home.  It’s become our new home and it is filled with all kinds of wonderful folks.  We met people in the Vietnam ministry right away, and I thought to get involved so I started helping with the Church’s web site.  Cheryl tried a few things and eventually wound up helping with the teen ( Jr. High) girls.  She’s enjoying it and is having some success getting the girls to open up and be “real” with her.  She tried getting on with a local tutoring agency, but the volume of tutoring in this area with the younger kids is very minimal, and her skill set is not geared towards tutoring older kids (Jr. and Sr. High School age).  I went to Men’s Retreat in June or July  (don’t remember which exactly) and met John Kindt.  John helped get me a contract to build an iPhone application for the company where he was working at the time.  That application is now finished and the company wants me to come to work for them full time after the first of the year.  Praise the Lord!

So things are definitely looking better than they were last year at this time, in terms of we have a new home church, that gives us stability in our lives which we need most.  Then, we both have things to keep us busy doing the Lord’s work, and I have a new income to keep providing for us.  It’s an amazing thing to find a job, any job in this down economy.  So, we continue to count our blessings and praise God for His goodness and provision.  He truly has been with us every step of the way these past couple years.  He makes it so that decisions like we were faced with are not made on our own.  We lost a condo and a house, but those are little things compared to the goodness of knowing Jesus.

Today we have hope.  We never lost it through all this, but we were sorely tested at many points.  We have made plenty of mistakes, and I have lost my cool many times myself, and so has Cheryl.  The point is that it’s easier to go with what The Lord has chosen as the path for your life than it is to continue to fight against Him and His will.  We can “Kick against the goads” as Paul found, but it only leads to heartache and disappointment.  We are more hopeful now we think than we were last year at this time.  Life is not really better, but it’s always better to know you are square in God’s will for your lives and are where He wants you to be.

With that, we look forward to a new and better 2012.  Although it would be difficult to beat 2011 for some of the things that happened, some of the new friendships we’ve made, finding a new church home and so on.  If I haven’t said it enough, we are very blessed, and glad to be here serving mom and helping her to live out the rest of her life in the home she’s known and loved for these past 50 years.  She doesn’t want to go anywhere else, and it’s our blessing to her to be able to keep her here as long as we possibly can.  Thank you Lord for your provision and your care in our lives.  We bless your holy and righteous name Jesus!


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