2011: Better Days Ahead?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Well, here it is: the comprehensive “catch-up” posting I promised in my last Journal entry. I won’t be reporting everything that happened since the last Oo’s Writings post, since that was a year ago, and life gets complicated, so that would make this posting unbearably lengthy. But I’ll hit the highlights and speculate on what may lie ahead; that will provide quite enough reading, thank you.


Finances on the Mend… Slowly

As a further effort to bring our bills under control, we applied for a home loan modification last February under the Making Home Affordable program instituted by the Obama administration. There was a lot of red tape: we had to submit our income and other information monthly, or whenever they asked for it. Initially we were told that the process could take up to three or four months, but they strung us out until mid-October, even declining us at one point due to what turned out to be the bank’s own mistake. Meanwhile, another department at the same bank commenced collection activity; at one point we were receiving phone calls about short-selling the house to avoid foreclosure!

I had read that only 12% to 15% of applicants are approved for a permanent modification, so our chances looked very slim, but we stayed with the program and were finally approved in mid-October. Then we had to submit the first month’s payment in advance, so we had to borrow from family and friends and then repay them when the payment would normally be due. After that, it took over two months for the bank to straighten out our account and finalize the new loan, but it’s over now, and our monthly mortgage payment has been reduced by over 15%, which helps us quite a bit. For the first time ever, we have a balanced budget with a tiny surplus which is helping us catch up our other bills. It looks like our financially darkest years are finally over.


My Music Progress

I (Charlie) am still singing and playing keyboard for Open Mic Night at Mocha Moment, a local coffeehouse, twice a month. In addition, I play and sing at Rock Haven nursing home once a month when our church group puts on a Praise Time service. These have been ongoing for a while.

On August 11, 2010, I took part in a “Janesville’s Got Talent Show” at the Janesville Senior Center. It was open to everyone; a couple of tap-dancing kids placed first. I sang two original songs, “My Place” and “I’m the Umm.” Wendi put on a mask to be the Ummamum. The audience loved both songs, and I tied for third place with a lady who rocked the house; I thought she should have won first place! It was a fun night.

Also present that night were the Riverside Ramblers, a group from the Senior Center. A couple of months later, their keyboard player left the group, and they asked me to play keyboard for them. Wendi and I had our first practice with them on October 11; I play keyboard, and she sings.

I have not given up on releasing new CDs. I’m starting with a remix of my 2007 album, Umm… After months of fiddling, I’ve produced remixes of three songs from that album; I mastered them in early January, and they sound oh so much better than the 2007 versions! I hope to release the new version of the album, including a track that was never finished in time for the 2007 release, sometime in the spring of 2011. The new album will be entitled I’m the Umm and will be done under a stage name yet to be announced (only 10 people know about it so far).

I have also been busy writing new songs, which I have yet to record (I have accompaniment for “My Place” though). Hopefully I will produce an album of hymns next (after I’m the Umm), then others will follow. I also plan to perform my music in some other venues this year.


Wendi’s Health and Activities

Wendi made amazing progress in 2010. She lost 34 pounds between April 5 and November 2. Then she underwent surgery; it was a stomach wrap, formally called a Nissen fundoplication, to help her GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease, or acid reflux). They also fixed a hiatal hernia with that surgery. She recovered well and has since lost several more pounds. Her diabetes is now well controlled. She looks much more vibrant and walks more, though her rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia still flare up and strike her down occasionally. Most of the time she stays in good spirits despite the down times, which is commendable.

Wendi volunteers at Mercy Hospital and has two other volunteer jobs where she works with the developmentally disabled. In addition, she sings with the Riverside Ramblers, mentioned above.


The Holidays: Great News!

Our son, Joe, is in his third year at Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota. It was there that he met his girlfriend, Elizabeth Ulbrech of Winona, Minnesota. They began dating on March 20, 2010.

Joe and Beth came down to our house for Christmas; they were here from December 22 until December 31. We all had a great time (except when I got food poisoning at the Chinese buffet on Christmas Eve). The visit was much like a family reunion: Joe’s friends, Alex and Josh, spent some time here. Normally we see them quite seldom.

But the real highlight of the season came late on Christmas Day. Joe sneaked out late in the afternoon and staged 116 candles in the snow. After dark, he persuaded Elizabeth to go outside “for some fresh air.” Then he lit the candles to spell out the words “Will You Marry Me?” Finally he asked her the question verbally; without hesitation, she answered “Yes!” Then he put a ring on her finger. They were now officially engaged!

At this point, they don’t have a wedding date set. The plan so far is for sometime late in the summer of 2011.

Chrissy Lawrence, a dear friend who boarded with us on two different occasions, came to visit for part of Christmas Day. She also rang in the New Year with us with Domino’s pizza and a Doctor Who marathon on BBC America.


2010 Throws a Final Curve Ball

Earlier in the year, we had a power steering leak in our 1996 Pontiac Grand Am. People who looked at it thought it was the steering rack that was leaking, so I added power steering fluid whenever it got low. Finally I was adding fluid every time I drove the car. Another guy looked at it and discovered that it was the main pressure hose that was leaking, not the rack. He replaced that for me, at nominal cost, as a favor, and the problem was solved. Bye bye leaks… until the afternoon of December 30.

As I pulled out of a parking stall at the clinic, I was horrified to hear the familiar moaning sound, indicating that the power steering fluid was low. The moaning only lasted about five seconds; then the car shimmied going down the street, and when I made the next turn, the steering wheel was very difficult to turn. Fortunately I wasn’t far from home. We made a brief stop at the pharmacy, which was on the way home, then wrestled the poor beast home and parked it.

A friend from our church looked at our car the next afternoon. He couldn’t see where the power steering leak was coming from, but the stuff he added disappeared quickly. He went to the gas station across the street and bought a quart of the stuff and poured it in. Soon I knew where the fluid was going: it was running out under the dash, inside the car! We figured this meant a serious leak, most likely the steering rack itself, which could be quite expensive to fix, and of course we have only a little money, so we prepared to possibly be out of a car until our tax refund comes in February.

Fast forward to January 6, 2011. Another mechanic, recommended to me by a friend, looked at the vehicle. It only took a couple of minutes for him to figure out what was wrong. “All of your lines are intact,” he said after checking the hoses, “and I see a pool of fluid at the bottom of the rack. It looks like one of the lower seals is blown.” The only reasonable remedy is to replace the rack. He called me back later with an estimate of only $350 on parts and labor. This will hurt us, of course, but at least it’s doable. We’ll be making payment arrangements on a few bills this month, and after doing our best with them, we’ll use some of our tax refund to catch up again and probably put some away for future emergencies like this.

The car repair is set to be done January 12 and 13.