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Archive for May, 2007

Refried refi

After years of hearing the slogan “when banks compete, you win!” on radio commercials, I took the bait and filled out the form on Lendingtree.com. That was Saturday morning.

Tuesday morning I got a call from a very enthusiastic senior broker from Heartland Finance who insisted he was the best and assured me he would do anything to get my business. And he certainly proved himself in getting me a great new mortgage–almost. Everything checked out. Lower, fixed interest rate, lower payments, and a generous cash out at closing. It was absolutely beautiful.

There was just one small problem. I live in a manufactured home–a fancy trailer. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s a really nice little house. But legally, it’s very difficult to finance. Sometime after my husband and I bought this place Freddie Mac decided it was not going to buy mortgages for manufactured homes. Freddie Mac is the federal program that ultimately buys all the mortgages. So, if a bank lends out money on a manufactured home, that bank has to keep the mortgage until the homeowner sells or refinances. Banks do not like to hang onto their mortgages. They would rather sell them off so they can have more money to lend to other homeowners. It’s actually rather interesting how money itself can get bought and sold. Let’s say you have a 100,000 dollar mortgage and you’re making monthly payments. Over 30 years, you will end up paying around 200,000 dollars on that 100,000 dollar loan. So you’d think the bank would want to keep your loan around and gradually soak you, the borrower, over the next thirty years. But actually, the bank would rather have the money right now, and to get some cash, the bank will sell your 100,000 dollar mortgage for 85,000 dollars. The buyer of your loan might keep it around for a year or so, then it sells it off for a little less–naturally the price goes down as the principal gets paid down–and so it goes, until Freddie Mac buys it. And I think Freddie Mac mortgages are then sold to individual investors who buy mortgages, or pieces of mortgages, for a guaranteed interest return similar to buying US Savings bonds.

Freddie Mac doesn’t want my mortgage, so the banks don’t either. Now, it’s back to the drawing board. I spoke to another broker, this one from Ark Companies, and he told me the FHA program is one of the few that does finance manufactured homes and that is where I should be looking. Funny, how only a federal program will rescue distressed manufactured home owners from the ravages of the federal program that has made it so much more difficult to be that type of homeowner. But this is the government, after all. If program A causes problems, why, just fund program B to solve them.

All is certainly not lost. I am still getting calls from mortgage companies all over the place who just can’t wait to put their hat in the ring to get my loan. I wonder what they’ll say when I tell them the dirty little secret that my home is a M— home. Maybe what they’ll be competing over is who can hang up the phone the fastest. I’ve refinanced more than once for various reasons and it seems that each time I inquire the business gets more and more cutthroat and desperate. I knew the tendency to outsource to other countries was getting to be a real problem a couple years ago when I started getting phone calls from India and Sri Lanka about refinancing my home. When it comes to something as major as a mortgage, my policy is to deal with people based in the same country. Also, I prefer to deal with the same individual through the entire refinancing process. There are a lot of people in the mortgage business, and they are all trying hard to woo prospective borrowers. So, in that sense you could say it’s a borrower’s market.

So, just because it didn’t work out the first time doesn’t mean I’m taking no for an answer. I’m going to keep inquiring until I either get the new mortgage I want, or decide to make do with the current one for another six months or so. A lot could change by then. Freddie Mac could have a change of heart. The interest rates could drop again. My home could suddenly appraise sky high. Any of those factors could substantially change the game.

Manufactured or not, my house is still a roof over my head and it sure beats renting. Around here rent costs more than mortgage payments. My next house will be stick-built. And I hope to get to the point where I own it free and clear well before retirement age because quite frankly, I’d rather be the one buying someone’s 100,000 dollar mortgage for 85,000 dollars than the one who’s paying 200,000 dollars for it.

But until then, I’m messed up in Colorado, livin’ on a refried refi.

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There are some politics I would as soon not be involved in. I never wanted to be a birth activist. I just want to birth my babies in peace. Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice. Just like making love in Orwell’s 1984, birthing anywhere other than a hospital (something I did recently) is a political act in today’s climate.

I was around nine or ten when I first heard about birth by C-section. I remember being told that once a woman delivered by C-section, all her babies ever after had to be born by C-section. Fortunately, that is not true, at least not in the physical sense. It’s called a vaginal birth after ceasarean or VBAC. Right off the bat I can name five women I know personally who have had a VBAC. It’s something many women want and will go miles out of their way to get.

If you happened to live within a hundred miles of Simi Valley, CA, you could have a VBAC by hiring Marcia McCulley to be your midwife. The only practitioner in a 200 mile radius to “allow” her clients to have VBACs, mothers-to-be came to her from all over California and even from other states. I know of one woman who drove 110 miles one way for all her prenatal appointments so she could have her baby vaginally rather than get cut open again. And she got what she wanted too. In fact, Marcia McCulley enjoyed a 100% success rate on VBACs for two years. I guess with that kind of track record it just got to be too difficult for the obstetricians at the hospital across the street to convince their patients that VBACs were either impossible or dangerous.

So, the OB group at the Simi Valley Hospital filed some complaints and got both the Medical Board of California and the Board of Registered Nursing to get her license suspended pending hearings. Basically, Marcia McCulley’s practice is shut down for the time being. So, where are all the mothers-to-be in the area wanting VBACs to go? Well, they can either have an unassisted birth or perhaps they could move to a remote location and call on a midwife like Deva Burgess to attend their births. In other words, because of the actions taken against Marcia McCulley, their options are even more severely limited than they were to begin with. The most likely path they’ll take is to go to the hospital and resign themselves to another C-section. Some of them might even believe it’s ultimately for the best. How very sad.

And this isn’t just limited to California.  There’s a midwife in Iowa named Melanie Moore who is being charged with practicing medicine without a license (HT:  The Mommy Blawg), a sort of catch-all accusation traditional medicine practitioners get when someone doesn’t like what they are doing.  My midwife could be next.

This witch hunt against midwives is something that all of us, no matter what our childbirth preferences are, need to be concerned about.  This isn’t about a bunch of hippie mommas giving birth out in nature (though I really have nothing against that).  It’s about the quality of care every mother and baby receive no matter where she gives birth.  Even if you prefer to give birth inside a hospital, do you really want to entrust your care to an obstetrician who claims with a straight face that a VBAC is impossible or dangerous when the midwife across the street has been successfully helping women do it for several years?  Will you and your baby really be safer because the OB attending your birth made it his business to get that midwife shut down on trumped up charges?

The hospitals and medical boards are trying to shut down the competition.  If they succeed, then they can get away with providing birthing women even more substandard care than they already offer.  That’s why all reproductive women and those who love them need to be concerned about the fate of midwives.  This is why I am becoming a birth activist.

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A carpool!

When gas prices in my area jumped over the three dollar mark I got this sinking feeling in my stomach. I paid the bills for the month, then looked at what was left. “Honey, you can’t afford to drive to work this month,” I bleakly told my husband. He nodded, but of course, he still continues to drive to work while the price of gas creeps up.

Several times over the past few years I’ve attempted to arrange for my husband to carpool for his thirty mile commute. I have been unsuccessful until late this morning. We were walking home from church and stopped to talk to a friend who lives near the church. The subject of her husband’s new job came up. “Oh, where does he work?” I asked. It turns out he works a couple miles away from where Erik works, and his hours are the same as Erik’s. The two commuters got to talking and they are going to drive together four days a week!

I am so happy about this. Finally, a carpool! We can spend more of our hard-earned money feeding ourselves rather than our vehicles.

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I can’t afford to get writer’s block.  Literally.  Time at the computer is a precious commodity for me as I am the proud mother of two young active daughters.  If I’m lucky, they might both nap at the same time… for about ten minutes.  And that’s the time I have to get a rough draft of my next project banged out, or put in a few revisions on an older work, or compose that oh-so-important cover letter to that next publisher on my list.  Ten minutes during the day and however many hours I choose to work late into the night hoping my munchkins sleep through.

I have more projects lined up for myself than I will have the time to even begin for a long time.  There is a space in my mind that is always thinking about what I want to write next.  I might be changing a diaper while working out how to condense that picture book manuscript I read to the group last night.  I might be whipping up a batch of sauerkraut while mentally prioritizing just what will get written with the next ten minutes of time (whenever that happens).  Or, I may be telling my three-year-old a made-up story for the tenth time and start thinking “Gee, I think that’s picture book material.”

When that opportunity comes to write, I hit it hard.  It’s not a marathon, it’s a sprint.  I’ve been imagining this for a long time now, so it just flows. In ten minutes a bit more of what’s inside comes to life.  Then, I hear a cry from another room, I reluctantly hit the “save” icon, then go and mother my child.  That space in my mind continues to “write.”  I am engaged in a game of Candyland while contemplating what to fix for dinner.

Focus and integration.  These are the tools of my fledgling writing career.  When I’m physically writing it’s the only thing I’m doing, and I’m doing it as fast as I can.  The rest of the time I’m thinking about it at some level.  Even more importantly, what I write flows out of my life.  I’m writing stories for children like my daughters.  By the time I write it, I’ve either told it several times, or I’ve experienced it.  Like the overnight success that really took ten years, it’s amazing what can be written in a few minutes here and there when it’s been there in my mind for days.

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Car seat insanity

I have long wondered about the common decision many parents take of limiting their family size to two or three children.  This is a change from the Biblical times where men and women competed with each other over who could produce the most children.

I have two daughters, and the younger one has already changed from the baby bucket style car seat to a rear-facing convertible.  My older daughter has outgrown most types of convertible car seats.  She is now ready for a booster seat.  But far from settling the issue, there is a myriad of choices of booster car seats out there—everything from a five-point harness seat to a backless seat that holds the child in using only the vehicle safety belt.

When L outgrew her convertible seat, or to be precise, when E absolutely would not fit in her baby bucket any longer and needed to move into L’s convertible seat, I took a quick look at the car seat section of Wal-Mart and found that legally speaking, the simple booster with no back was all L would need.  It was a good price, so I picked one up.

It didn’t take long for me to begin to feel uneasy about L’s booster seat.  If she fell asleep in it, she could slump almost completely over to the point where the safety belt wouldn’t do her much good if she really needed it.  About that time, a good friend of mine was on TV because she and her son had been in a nasty car wreck and they attribute his survival without so much as a scratch to his booster seat.  That’s when it hit me that there’s a lot more than meets the eye with the car seat business.  My friend being on TV sparked some email discussion in my Mom’s group.  Needless to say, some of the other moms were extremely knowledgeable about the safest way to transport their precious children.

I decided to purchase a Britax car seat for both of my girls.  It was a good thing I thought of this at tax time because those car seats are quite pricey.  They exceed American safety standards, and as I discovered when I installed them, they come with some nice features that make them a bit more convenient to work with.  They are also extremely comfortable for the child—the Cadillac of car seats.

The Britax Decathlon, the logical choice for E, works pretty much like the convertible seat it is replacing, only it can handle a child up to 65 pounds.  The Regent, the one I wanted for L, however, needed to be tethered in order to be usable to its top capacity of an 80 pound child.  So, before I could order it, I needed to know if I could modify my vehicle to tether a car seat.  I spent one day on the phone tracking that down, and found a shop that specializes in vehicle ad-ons to do the work.  Once I got the tether bolts put in I ordered the car seats.

They came in within days of placing my order.  Then it was time to install them.  The Decathlon arrived first, so I installed it first.  It may be a Britax, the Cadillac of car seats, but it is still a car seat.  That means wrestling it in is a more accurate description than installing it.  I bundled the girls up and let them play outside while I wrestled.  Once I got it installed properly, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere.  E would be snug as a bug in that thing and well protected.  Then came the Regent.  It wouldn’t fit in the middle because it is so huge.  After all, it can accommodate up to an 80 pound child.  So I had to take out the Decathlon, wrestle in the Regent in its place, then re-wrestle in the Decathlon right next to it.  Again I bundled up the girls and took them outside, and that worked great until E came to me completely soaked.  It had rained recently and E had crawled into a super saturated sandbox.  So I had to take her inside and change her.  By then L complained of being cold and wanted to come in.  I turned on a movie for them to watch while I finished the wrestling outside.

The Decathlon went in the middle seat pressing against the Regent.  I guess since I’d already installed it once I knew what to expect.  The seats are now side by side pressing against each other, barely fitting into their allotted space.  The empty seat to the side, the one that’s supposed to lean forward to allow someone to get into the seat in the way back won’t lean forward properly because it’s blocked by the Decathlon.  Oh well, it’s not often we need access to that way in the back seat anyway.  Still, it’s annoying because the whole point of trying to get one seat into the middle was to preserve that access.  The car seats are in, they are tethered, and they are not going anywhere.  And don’t ask me to take them out anytime soon either.

And now I know why couples limit their family size.  There’s only so much car seat wrestling a sane adult can do before saying “Alright already.  Enough is enough!”  They didn’t have car seats back in the Bible days.

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