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Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Fall backwards

I hate when this happens:  I stay up too late on the eve of the fall clock change, and wake up in the dark to attend an early Mass, only to realize that I could have slept an extra hour as the Mass starts an hour later.  Luckily I’ll just feel the effects of sleeping in tomorrow instead.

I’m not sure how effective the changes made to daylight savings time by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 have been in actually saving energy.  I don’t see how changing the clocks makes much difference in the end, and it probably cost lots of money to study and implement the proposed changes.  But there are two things I’m grateful for concerning the change.

On Friday evening, my husband and I took our daughters trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.  Not only was it a pleasant, balmy evening, but it was light!  Ever since I’ve had a child–and my oldest daughter’s first trick-or-treating adventure occurred when she was still newborn–I’ve noticed that the fall backwards time occurred the Sunday before Halloween and that never made sense to me.  It assured that all the fairies, princesses, animals, ghosts, Harry Potter characters, and sometimes presidential candidates would all be walking the streets in pictch dark and in most places, freezing.  Finally, someone got smart and postponed the time change by a week, and the streets of our small town were filled with happy and warm trick-or-treaters making their rounds.  We ventured a little farther than usual, so it was dark by the time we returned home, but it certainly didn’t start off that way.

The other thing I’m thankful for is that the fall time period is shorter.  If I could have it my way I’d just leave the clocks on daylight savings time all year because I’d much rather wake up in the dark than be driving home from work at 5pm in the dark.  I would prefer to preserve my daylight hours in the evening.  However, no one ever consults with  me on these decisions.  Still, at least they shortened the evening dark time by several weeks.

In this tense time before the election you have to count your blessings, right?  This year, if you vote after work, you’ll still be voting in the dark, but at least you got to take your kids out trick-or-treating while it was still light.

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There’s a movement within the home school movement that emphasizes completely child-lead learning.  No curriculum, no textbooks (unless the child wants one), and from what I can understand, no structure beyond the normal routines of the family.  This approach to education is called unschooling.

I’ve gone back and forth over how I feel about unschooling.  I’ve seen both my daughters spontaneously learn what they needed to know as they grew from baby to toddler to (in L’s case) preschooler.  It seems logical that they would naturally continue that learning.  A neighbor of mine home schools and a number of time I’ve been at her house, she was nagging her children to get their work done (or start it) and there was the general sense that if she wasn’t hovering over them they’d just laze around all day and watch TV or engage in some other mindnumbing activity.  That’s the fear a lot of parents have about unschooling, that if someone isn’t breathing down their children’s necks, their children will just be blobs.

I’m not worried that my children will be blobs if I don’t direct their learning.  What I do worry about is will they learn everything they need to know.  And that’s when I have to ask myself just what is the “everything they need to know?”

That’s a pretty complicated question.  I remember being in junior high and the common whiny question we liked to ask the teacher was “When are we ever going to use this?”  It was a pretty regular refrain.  The teacher would either supply some lame answer or tell us to quit whining and start working on our homework.  What did I know about the real world as a child?  How was I supposed to know just what I’d need as an adult and what I’d wind up forgetting how to do?  A drill I really hated in school was diagraming sentences.  I had this English teacher from 6th grade through 9th grade who delighted in diagramming sentences.  I remember taking home anywhere from ten to twenty sentences and having to use a ruler to neatly show the different parts in their proper places.  I’m sure I wondered when I was ever going to use that skill.  I mean, who writes a sentence with all the modifiers in slanted lines underneath?

Once I changed schools beginning my sophomore year I never diagrammed another sentence.  If you asked me to diagram a sentence today I’m not sure I could do it.  Yet today I’m very thankful that I was compelled to diagram as many sentences as I was.  I credit that exercise more than anything else for my ability to write ever since.  I’ve written copy for newspapers both in my first couple years of college and now as a not-so-young mother of two.  Most of the time my copy has needed very little editing.  I’ve kept journals at various junctures in my life and it’s been possible because getting my thoughts down in writing has been a fairly effortless process.  My junior year in college my English composition teacher told me several times he liked my writing.  This teacher has himself published several poetry books.  Come to think of it, my writing has been affirmed by just about everyone who’s had anything to say about it except for that English teacher who made me diagram so many sentences.  Well, her and a really weird one in high school.

So what do I do when my daughters are around eleven or twelve and I want them to diagram sentences because I now see the value of it but maybe they don’t?  Do I wait a year or two and see if they spontaneously develop a desire to delve deeply into the workings of sentences?  Or do I make them do it for their own good?  Is it possible that I am the only one in that school who truly benefitted from that exercise?  I mean, maybe it was good for me because I have always been destined to be a writer.  Maybe no one else cares.  But even people who don’t enjoy writing blog posts, journal entries, articles for magazines, and a novel in their spare time still have to write just to communicate.  So, I’m pretty sure most everyone in my class diagramming sentences and hating every minute of it is better off today for it.

I always go back in my mind to this experience of diagramming sentences when I ponder the merits of unschooling.  I know my children will learn a lot on their own, but will they get the growth from doing something of value that seems boring and tedious at the time even when they don’t want to?  Or is that a false dichotomy?  Maybe there is a way to make sentence diagramming, not to mention long division and other school exercises, something exciting and interesting, something that every child would want to do.

That’s what I want to find out.  Learning is something that can be fun and exciting.  To be perfectly honest, I have learned and retained so much more since leaving college and my full time job than I think I’ve learned in all my seven years of higher education.  I learned how to take full advantage of my library card, and when I got an interest in a subject, I simply checked out books about it and read voraciously.  The first subject had to do with finances.  In all my many and varied school subjects, I somehow missed the one about how to manage my own money.  I did learn a fair amount of that from my parents, but even they left out a lot of stuff I’d need to know once I got married.  Somehow, the everything I needed to know wasn’t covered in my formal education, and I survived.  I just put myself (and my husband) through a self-directed crash course and six years later we’re still doing OK in that department, and we also have much to learn.

Then there’s the matter of stuff I learned in school that is no longer applicable or that I have since come to learn has another side to it and may not even be true.  I remember the Food Pyramid being a fundamental tenet of health class.  Well, today, not eveyone subcribes to the Food Pyramid as the definitive guide for human nutrition.  I also learned that vaccinations were the most important way to ward off disease.  I now know that vaccination status actually ranks pretty far down on the list of effective preventative measures.  In junior high I learned that genetic engineering was a horrible evil of society because it was tampering with God’s creation.  Then I majored in agriculture where genetic engineering was something I did in genetics lab, and over the course of my studies determined that it wasn’t evil.  Now I’m rethinking that view and wondering if maybe it is evil after all, though for rather different reasoning.

When it comes right down to it, much of what we learn is opinion and subject to change.  There are some fundamentals, like faith in God, the ability to read, basic math, and grammar (yes, even grammar does change, but pretty slowly compared to say, computer programming).  I’m sure there are some that I am forgetting.  But beyond those fundamentals, everything else is subject to change.  Either new research will come along to clarify old theories, or they will be proven erroneous.  And the process of debunking old and false notions has historically been a messy one.

I’m not sure what method of schooling I will pursue with my children–I expect I’ll be experimenting with various methods and approaches.  I do hope that my children learn the fundamentals, and that I always remember there is way more out there to learn than could possibly be crammed into a school program.  I expect over time I will gravitate towards more child-lead learning.  I can see myself heading that way already, because frankly, it’s easier.  But I imagine that will be interspersed with me being more insistent than usual that my children learn a particular academic skill.

Like maybe knowing when it’s time to quit blogging and go to bed…

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Is it the house or the stuff?

The past three weeks I’ve been working with L on a preschool program.  It’s been lots of fun, but seems to require about three hours of planning for every hour and a half of teaching.  Needless to say, I got behind on the housework and served my family macaroni and cheese more than I’m comfortable with.  I learned that you can still “do school” when the house is a mess.  That’s good to know because if I waited around until I got the house cleaned, L might still be missing out on preschool.

I have two responses when life gets overwhelming.  First I try to escape.  I read books, I find any excuse to check my email.  I get lethargic.  Then I look around at the house and all the stuff sitting on shelves (and on the floor) that I haven’t needed since I don’t know when and decide that it’s time to declutter.  My husband and I are both loath to part with our possessions so I’ve found a way to at least get them out of our house.  We pack them in boxes and stack them up in an outside shed.  The boxes are all numbered and the contents inventoried.  That way if we want to retrieve an item, it’s a matter of looking it up on the computer.  In fact, except for the hassle of having to go get the box, it probably will be easier to find said item now than it was when the item was in our house in a pile somewhere.  If the item is a book and I want it, I go online and request it from the library.  Let someone else do the retrieving.

I just finished packing up seven or eight boxes and the house looks nicer.  I figure I will be boxing things up until the house reaches a point where it more or less keeps itself clean.  That will be the magical point where everything has an easy to reach place and can be easily put away.  If things are too difficult to put away, they tend to stay out of place ad infinitum.  Erik and I have an ongoing friendly argument over whether our house is poorly designed for actually living in (his opinion) or whether it’s just that we have too much stuff (my opinion except when I’m feeling lazy in which case it’s more convenient to blame the house).  Our house is small by wealthy American standards (1300 square feet), and when it’s messy, four people make it seem very crowded.  Erik’s right in that some of the features of the house make certain things difficult.  The kitchen opens directly to the outside so all the mud and dirt gets tracked right into the kitchen.  The living room is not far from the front entrance either so dirt gets tracked in there too.  The front door and the front closet open up such that the doors touch when they are both opened, making the front entrance claustrophobic.  The house also has some really nice features that give it the sense of greater space–lots of windows and slightly vaulted ceilings really open things up.  The master bedroom and bathroom are quite roomy, even bordering on luxurious.

I’ve tried various furniture arrangements and have found that all that openness can be closed right up with the wrong furniture arrangement, or too much furniture.  Sometimes even a little extra piece can really mess up the open effect.  One of the articles I wrote for the Coloradoan was about home staging, and that was an eye opener.  “Less is more” is not just a cute truism, it’s a credo when it comes to showing your home.   Barbara Schwarz, who coined the term “staging” in reference to a home for sale, talks about how she lives in her own staged home.  Once you experience living in a staged home that you quickly sell, maybe you’re not as eager to unpack all your boxes in the new house.  Maybe you really don’t need all that stuff.  We’re not anywhere near selling our home, but why not work towards staging it?  Why should I wait until it’s on the market to make it look nice?  And anyway, the more junk I can get rid of now, the easier an eventual move will be.

I’m not in any way attached to my current home.  In the fullness of time we hope to move into something bigger and better.  A third or fourth child might make this place truly too small.  But I am enjoying the challenge of making this home work for us.  It’s getting easier to see the less stuff I have around blocking my view.  When I’m trying something new in the kitchen (right now my thing is sprouting every grain I can), I fantasize about the features that would make it truly convenient, then get to work on making it happen in the kitchen I have.  Sure it gets awkward, but it happens.

When I was a child I lived with my family in a rented house for eight years.  My mom thought it was too small and mentioned that many times during those eight years.  Then we moved to a really big house and I think my mom loved it, but I was already living in the college dorms.  It wasn’t too long afterward that my parents relocated and now they live in a small house and once again I hear the litany of the too small house.  So I guess I have a certain resistance towards blaming the house for being too small or too poorly designed.  I’d rather spend that energy learning how to best use the space even if I am also dreaming about the day we’ll move to something bigger.  Erik, on the other hand, grew up in a house that really did have problems (a fixer upper that still isn’t finished), and his mom was pretty stoic about it–figured living in a house without finished interior walls was a situation God had put her in to make her a better person.  So I guess Erik has a certain resistance to being too accepting of an imperfect home.   We find our own subtle ways to rebel against our upbringing.

Last weekend I toured a few really beautiful spacious homes and told my dear husband I was coveting those super wide entryways, those spacious kitchens, those huge basements, and even those walk-in closets that could fit a bed inside.  This weekend I set to work boxing up more stuff so that I could recreate in our little house something of the vastness of those parade homes.  The fact that I can even approach an impression of that kind of spaciousness in 1300 square feet tells me some thought had to have gone into the design.  It really is a great home for what it is.  It just was meant for people to live in, not to be used as storage space.  I do hope that we get to the point where we are living in it to its full potential (at least on the inside) before we move out.

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Not so lost

Here’s one for the “men who won’t ask for directions” category.

I did an internship in Hermosillo, Mexico the summer following my junior year in college.  I met a professor at the university who had agreed to drive me to another professor’s home, where I would be staying.  We set off in his car and drove.  And drove and drove and drove.  When I started noticing familiar landmarks I asked the professor if he was having trouble finding the place.  He admitted that he was.  It wasn’t quite where he remembered it.  We drove around some more.

“Do we have a map we can look at?” I ventured.

“Oh no,” he replied.  “We are not so lost that we need a map!”

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I’ve never considered myself an environmentalist.  In fact, I’m more of a laissez-faire capitalist.  I may be wrong on this, but my understanding is that recycling doesn’t make much economic sense.  If it were economical, people would be doing it privately and getting rich off it.  So, I haven’t been one to separate out glass from cans from newspaper from the rest of the trash.  It just all goes into the dumpster.

I’ve also held the belief until recently that business corporations were inherently ethical and wanted what was best for their customers and for people in general.  Yes, they wanted to make a profit, but they were willing to do what was right even if it cost them financially.

Finally, I’ve believed that milk was milk, beef was beef, eggs were eggs and tomatoes were tomatoes no matter how they were produced.  It turns out this is not true.  A grass-fed cow will produce fundamentally different milk than a grain and soy-fed cow.  Pasteurization and homogenization further and unfavorably change the milk.  Pastured hens lay eggs far higher in omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed hens.  A tomato produced in soil rich in organic matter, specifically humus, has a higher nutritional value than a tomato grown in depleted soil and artificial fertilizer.

Knowing this might not have had any effect on me before I had children.  But now I think a lot about what they are putting into their rapidly growing bodies.  I want them to be eating the very best there is.  I stopped buying milk from the store and signed up for a raw milk cow-share program.  Next month I will be switching to a cow-share program where the cows are grass-fed.  A vegetable garden seemed like too much work.  But we put one in this year because we knew that we could produce better quality vegetables than what was available at the store and now that matters.  I started keeping bees, so we could start eating our very own raw honey.  I’d like to keep laying hens, but that’s not allowed where we live.

I really enjoy keeping critters and having them work for me.  It started with me culturing the raw milk and using the whey to ferment all manner of grains and vegetables following recipes in Nourishing Traditions.  All these lacto-bacteria were working for me.  Then I moved up to honey bees.  I have a thriving hive that is now just beginning to produce honey that I will harvest.

A few days ago we acquired another critter:  red wiggler earthworms.  Their job:  kitchen waste recycling.  A few months ago my husband started another traditional composting system.  Well, we don’t generate enough kitchen waste to produce the kind of volume that will properly heat up and turn into humus.  A little at a time may work in some locales, but not in super dry Colorado.  At least we couldn’t get it to work.  It worked great as a housefly breeding ground, though, and I got so sick of the houseflies coming into our home in such large numbers.  I wanted to put a moratorium on composting.

That made Erik sad because to him it was a real tragedy to just throw away all that potential compost generated in the kitchen.  It’s hard enough to grow anything in this soil and it’s in such dire need of organic matter.  But I couldn’t live with the flies.

We’d both heard about worm composting before and so last week I did some Internet surfing and made a phone call to a local worm/compost dealer.  I also read Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, which tells you everything you need to know to get started.  I got the crash course on worm composting.  We visited the worm guy and bought an old styrofoam cooler filled with worms and compost.  Today I separated the compost from the worms and started them on some fresh bedding and food (kitchen waste), and now we have an honest to goodness indoor worm composting bin.

It turns out worms need an incredible amount of paper bedding to balance out the food scraps.  I found some newspaper and old non-glossy catalogs to tear up.  So the worms will also compost my paper waste, which is probably the largest volume of stuff I put in my garbage containers.  It’s better than I’d originally thought.  Not only are we recycling our food waste, but also our paper waste.

It’s really gratifying to contemplate living in a less wasteful manner.  As a society, we throw an incredible amount of stuff away.  It goes to the landfill and there are all kinds of issues with that.  With worm composting, I can turn all that waste into humus, something my garden (and entire backyard, for that matter) desperately needs.  I don’t need to throw away such a valuable resource anymore.  And house flies generally aren’t an issue with worm composting.

I don’t have any huge belief about keeping things out of landfills, although I do participate in programs that seek to do just that.  I participate in those programs not because I care about the environment but because those programs benefit me and my family.  Worm composting for me is about enriching my family’s food supply through enriching our soil.  There’s a direct benefit to me.  It’s nice to know it also benefits the environment in general.

So I’m still pretty much a capitalist.  I’m not about to turn into an environmentalist who’s worried sick over global warming.  Though I like the idea of global worming.  Still, I believe in responsible living and in taking care of the resources I have to the best of my ability.  I believe that this kind of stewardship doesn’t just benefit the earth in the long run.  It also benefits me and the people around me in the short term.  I can still do something I know is good for me and know it’s going to help others.  I think this is what trickle down economics is touted as doing, and I think would do if the people at the top were more enlightened on even what their own best interests truly were.  For those with a conscience I would think making a buck without hurting anyone, without wasting valuable resources and without polluting would be in their best interest.  If they put their minds to it, they could still make boatloads of such bucks.

Maybe CEOs and other corporate big wigs should all keep a worm bin in their office.  It could be inspirational to them.  It’s thinking outside the box, though not to worry, the worms will happily stay in the box as long as you feed them.

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Refi Revisited

After reading a comment to my previous post from a mortgage broker, I asked Ken Ryan from Ark Funding Group to clarify what I thought I heard him say about Freddie Mac no longer buying mortgages for manufactured housing. It turns out it’s not quite as cut and dry as I implied in the post.

First of all, I’m a customer, not an expert. Any readers who are looking at getting a mortgage of any kind need to consult with knowledgeable people and do their own research to make a decision that’s best for them. I am not one of those knowledgeable people. But with each refinance I’ve been involved in, I’ve picked up a bit more information. Here’s the deal with manufactured housing loans, as I understand it. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don’t have a policy to not buy those loans. However, Fannie Mae has been known to refuse to pick up manufactured housing loans at the auction. Perhaps Freddie Mac too, but Ryan said specifically Fannie Mae. So, this means that if you are a bank with a manufactured housing loan, you might bring it to the auction expecting Fannie Mae to buy it. Fannie Mae may have even told you it would buy that loan. But in the back of your mind you know that Fannie Mae might bail out on you and leave you holding that loan. If you needed the cash right then, not being able to sell your loan could spell trouble. For many lenders, that is more risk than they are willing to take, so they won’t touch a manufactured home. Other lenders will take the risk, but they hedge it some by passing on a higher interest rate to the customer or they limit the loan to value ratio for that loan.

My best option at this point is an FHA loan, and despite interest rates having taken yet another jump upward, I have a fixed rate loan locked in at 7%. If all goes well, my husband and I will close at the end of the month. I asked Ryan who buys the FHA loans, and he said FHA does. It’s a completely different program than Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

So anyway, that’s the situation with manufactured housing as I understand it so far. Again, I’m not an expert and don’t really want to be. I’m simply hoping to become a satisfied customer.

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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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