complaints, money, rants

An hour I’ll never get back…

A couple of weeks ago, the security on my USAA debit card was breached. There were a couple of fraudulent charges made, which I immediately reported. Because of the security breach, I had to get a new debit card. And because I live abroad, it took approximately two weeks to get the new card. In the meantime, I was relying on my credit cards to make purchases.

Three days ago, I got an alert from USAA to activate my card, which I couldn’t do, because it hadn’t yet arrived. But when I did get the card yesterday, I immediately went on USAA’s Web site and activated it. It was pretty funny, too, because as soon as I activated the card, I got an urgent alert in my inbox letting me know that the card was activated. Then, there was a follow up alert, letting me know that the card was activated and urging me to contact them immediately if I didn’t initiate this action. I deleted the second message and went on with my day.

Again, since I haven’t had my debit card, I’ve been using my credit card to buy things. I don’t like using my credit cards, because I once had a very high balance and it took me ages to get out of debt. When I do use credit cards, I tend to pay them off immediately. I usually only use credit for large purchases or travel expenses that require the extra protection that comes with using credit cards. I was looking forward to not using credit this morning, when I decided to buy some dog food for Noyzi. I have bought dog food for Noyzi using my old debit card a whole bunch of times. It was a run of the mill charge from a vendor I use all the time. I put in the new debit card’s information, clicked on “pay”, and sure enough, USAA immediately declined the transaction.

Off I went to USAA.com, where I went looking to see if my new card was listed. I’ve learned that when USAA turns off a card, it won’t show up if you go to the block/unblock card page. Sure enough, the new card, which was supposed to be active as of yesterday, did not appear on that page. So rather than call USAA and listen to their highly annoying hold music, I decided to engage chat. I figured it would take less time, since it’s the wee hours of the morning in the United States as I write this.

I used USAA’s chat function for the first time two weeks ago today, and found it somewhat less annoying than calling them. Plus, I am still pretty traumatized from my most recent USAA call, which involved talking to a man who was very rude to me. Granted, I was rude back, but my rudeness was borne out of extreme frustration, concern, and annoyance over trying to use my money. His rudeness seemed to be more because he didn’t like his job, didn’t like talking to a woman who wasn’t “keeping sweet”, and lacked a concept of customer service. Given how upset I was after that last phone call, I figured chat was the better option. When I used the chat two weeks ago, I noticed that the queues weren’t too long, probably because most of America is sleeping right now.

This morning, when I initially requested to chat, I was number 18 in line. It took about 45 minutes or so before I was finally at position 1. Then, Miranda T. came online. She advised that it would take two to four minutes to pull up my account. It took about seven minutes. Then, after another minute or two, she told me that there was a security alert on the card. She asked if my attempted transaction this morning was valid. I answered that it was. Several more minutes passed with no acknowledgement from Miranda, so I reiterated that the transaction was one I attempted to initiate. Another couple of minutes passed, and Miranda finally told me that she turned on the card and it was good to go.

I looked at the clock. I was engaged in this process for about an hour at a time of day when online traffic should have been pretty low. It was still the wee hours of the morning in the US. I decided to tweet, and didn’t even tweet at USAA. But they responded anyway, with apologies and an invite to send them a direct message. I thanked them, told them I was “good”, and quipped that it only took an hour. Seriously… a lot of people, lately, have been saying that they’ve been on hold with USAA for hours, or waiting hours for chat to initiate. To the Twitter responder’s credit, they did at least realize that I was being slightly facetious. And they said that USAA was “working on” shortening the queues. Does that mean hiring more “high quality” employees like the guy who was so rude to me two weeks ago?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten repeated false security alerts from USAA on valid transactions, which have required me to contact them multiple times. It’s honestly a crap shoot as to whether or not my card will be accepted on any given transaction. Every time I talk to their representatives, they apologize, but then it happens again. I complain, and then they call me and apologize, but nothing gets permanently fixed. It’s crazy that every transaction requires entering multiple security codes and assurances that I’m not being defrauded by anyone. But then when there’s actual fraud on the card, I get crickets…

Now… my question is… next time I try to use this new card, am I going to get another security alert as my card is declined? Will I have to spend another hour (or more) waiting for someone to chat with me about the problem? Or worse, will I have to call them and listen to their hold music from Hell for hours while I wait for them to turn on the card? I really hope we can make some changes soon… and get much better customer service. We have already refinanced our car loan with another financial institution, and as I write this, the pay off check is on its way to USAA.

I just think it’s crazy that in spite of all the erroneous fraud and security alerts USAA has enacted over the last couple of years, the one time there is actual fraud, they don’t engage that system and I have to deal with their fraud department. They randomly flag charges from retailers I’ve purchased from repeatedly and am geographically close to, but they ignore charges from US based food vendors whose Web sites I can’t even access without a VPN.

Then, I have to spend two weeks using my credit card because my debit card was compromised, and I have to wait for a new one to get to me. When I finally get the card and activate it, they send me two urgent alerts making sure it was me who activated the card– from my supposedly secure account, no less. And then, when I finally try to use the card for the first time, I immediately get a fraud alert, causing me to have to waste an hour waiting for help.

This isn’t a good look for USAA. They didn’t used to suck. What a shame. What good are new debit cards if they don’t work, even after I have TWICE confirmed that I have the card and need to use it?

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dogs, ethics, Ex, money

The road to wealth doesn’t require “rocket fuel”…

It hasn’t been the best week for finance in the United States. Bill and I don’t have a lot of wealth, but I have been diligently investing money for about ten years. While it’s not anything that would make us wealthy, it’s a tidy sum that neither of us ever thought we’d have. It’s distressing to see our stock portfolio lose value so quickly… but experience has taught me that the stocks will eventually go up again. And even if they don’t, the lower prices just mean that our money will buy more shares when the next automatic draft goes through.

I never thought a falling stock market would ever be one of my problems. I never expected to have enough money to invest. I came into our marriage with a lot of consumer debt and hefty school loans. Bill had a foreclosure and a bankruptcy, plus was paying Ex tons of child support. Meanwhile, she was denying him access to his daughters and his former stepson, for whom he was also paying support. I’ve written a lot about that situation, and how unfair it was… and how damaging and hurtful it was– to Bill, to me, and to his children. Before the divorce, Bill had enjoyed a loving relationship with his daughters and his ex stepson. Ex decided that it was better to demonize Bill than do the right thing by her children.

After the divorce, Bill was wrongly characterized as a woman-hating, cheating, abusive monster. Ex did everything she could to delete him from his children’s memories and make them hate their dad– half of their DNA that she willingly used to fertilize her ripe eggs. Once they were born and their marriage eventually disintegrated, she tried to come off as mother of the year, conveniently ignoring that she apparently has horrible taste in men… having had two failed marriages and forced her eldest three children to reject their fathers because they were “bad” people. Of course, that’s a bunch of hogwash. Ex’s first two husbands were perfectly satisfactory fathers and husbands. She’s just a liar.

Well… maybe I shouldn’t write about this… but I’m going to anyway, because it’s Sunday and I don’t have any other burning topics in mind. And because she makes me want to puke. Also, I have a feeling Alexis will get a kick out of it, and Alexis is probably my most loyal reader.

One thing I have learned over the past nineteen years of marriage is that the road to wealth doesn’t require “rocket fuel”. When I write that, I mean that the vast majority of people don’t become wealthy because they fall for a “get rich quick” scheme. According to a Yahoo! Finance article, the five steps that will lead a person to wealth are:

  1. Avoid (and Pay Down) Debt. Debt is not necessarily bad in all instances, but it is something to be avoided most of the time. …
  2. Spend Intentionally and Minimize Costs. …
  3. Invest as Much as Possible in a Diversified Portfolio. …
  4. Work on Your Career. …
  5. Find Extra Work.

One of Bill’s biggest complaints about his first marriage was that there was never enough money, even though he worked very hard. Ex had a very rigid idea of where and how she wanted to live. But she wasn’t willing to work with Bill to make it happen. So, for most of their marriage, he was the sole breadwinner. He foolishly let her handle their finances, and she spent money they didn’t have on stupid things. She did things like purchase furniture and carpeting for their “money pit” house when Bill didn’t have steady or well-paid employment. She hired people to landscape the house she decided she had to have because it looked like one she’d once seen in a snow globe. She used money she got in an accident settlement to buy truly useless crap– sometimes with the excuse that she intended to sell it on eBay once its value appreciated. One time, she even bought two cars without Bill’s input– other than his money, that is. She bought a brand new van and a Miata and delivered the Miata to Bill when he was working. She did this completely on her own, without consulting Bill.

Consequently, when I met Bill, he was the not so proud owner of several high interest, low limit credit cards, including an Aspire Card (at that time, it was a Providian Card, but it later became Aspire). Aspire, if you don’t know, is a credit card for people who have terrible credit ratings.

I have never had bad credit, but I was never in the habit of saving or investing, and I’ve never been great at making money. And graduate school was expensive, and I had to take out loans to finance it. I did have graduate assistantship positions, which knocked a lot of off the cost of my tuition. But I lived alone, and had to pay my living costs. When I finished school in 2002, which is also the year we married, I was pretty broke.

For the first few years of our marriage, Bill and I basically treaded water to keep our finances stable. But then, Bill got the call to go to Iraq, and I was left to handle the money. I decided that while he was gone, I was going to do what I could to improve our situation. I started by paying slightly more than the minimum on my student loans. It was just an extra $20 a month at first, but as time passed, I paid more. My loans were paid off in 2018, nine years ahead of time. I also paid off all of Bill’s shitty credit cards with high interest rates and low limits. A year after I did that, USAA offered to let him have a credit card again, after he lost it thanks to the bankruptcy he went through with Ex. He also qualified for a much cheaper car loan, so we refinanced our loan for the vehicle we had at the time. Then I paid it off ahead of time. I did the same with my car, which is now 13 years old and has been paid off for eight years.

Since we’ve been married, Bill has finished two master’s degrees courtesy of the Army. He does good work at his job, and is paid accordingly. We don’t worry about money anymore. I have every expectation that he will never again experience financial hardships– at least not the kind he did with Ex, which was mostly brought on by very stupid and wrong-headed financial decisions.

So what does this have to do with Ex? Well, once again, it appears that she’s trying to appear to be someone and something she’s not. Like, for instance, she’s trying to look like a responsible and caring mother. For the past few months, Ex has been announcing her intentions to get a service dog for her youngest child, who has autism and is, according to Ex, non-verbal. Service dogs are expensive, and require a lot of care. Moreover, Ex doesn’t have the greatest track record in taking care of living things like dogs… and her own children. That’s usually left up to other people, like Bill when they were married, and Bill’s older daughter now.

Every time I see her mention on social media wanting a service dog, I am reminded of the fate of the poor elderly poodle she inherited when her father died. That dog knew and loved Bill. She moved #3 into the home when Bill went back into the Army. One day, #3, who was at that time just shacking up with Ex and not yet married to her, got very angry and kicked the dog so hard that she lost an eye. Bill was told about this incident by one of the children, and I later confirmed it when I looked up #3 on Arizona’s public court page. Ex denied that it happened, but there it was, in black and white, #3’s animal cruelty charge. #3 is still married to Ex, but now she’s talking about wanting another dog in their home to be a “companion” to her teenaged son with autism.

How is Ex going to finance this goal? Does she plan to get a job? Is she paying down debts? Evidently not… according to her public social media. Instead of getting the money through practical and assured means, she’s decided to enter a sweepstakes sponsored by Rocket Mortgages. I’ve also seen her tweeting celebrities for help in reaching this goal. Now… I highly doubt that Ex will ever get her hands on a service dog. Her big ideas are usually overcome by events. I’m not sure why she’s so hot on the idea of a service dog now, anyway.

Reminds me of Publisher’s Clearing House.
“That’s what I used to think!”
Or American Family Publishers

Maybe it’s because older daughter is, perhaps, finally making some noises about leaving Ex’s home and living life on her own terms. I would love to hope that’s true, since older daughter is 30 years old and has more than done her time being Ex’s slave. Ex has already used her daughters in many ways, to include forcing them to give her the proceeds of student loans to finance her household expenses. I would love to see older daughter get out on her own. Maybe that will happen someday, but it probably won’t happen before the youngest kid is an adult.

But… to look at Ex’s social media accounts, she’s just the world’s most caring and loving mother. I don’t know how many people are buying her bullshit. I do think, however, that she has no business getting a service dog. I hope any agency considering giving her son a dog will do some research. I highly doubt she’s any better with money or relationships than she was 20 years ago. At best, the service dog will turn into just one more thing older daughter has to take care of. But if Ex happens to win, I take comfort in realizing that she’s probably more likely to spend the money on herself than buy an expensive dog for her son. That’s been her habit so far.

So ends today’s Ex related rant… And yes, I understand that it’s not my business what Ex does. Except that I am a dog lover, and it upsets me to think that an innocent dog might share a home with a man who once got so angry that he kicked an elderly poodle’s eye out… and a woman who is abusive on every possible level. That poor dog would just wind up being another slave in Ex’s wheel of discontent.

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family, LDS, love, marriage

Discovering you’re wife #4…

Yesterday, someone wrote an off topic post on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard. Or, she’d labeled it as OT. Personally, I didn’t think it was an off topic post at all. I’m sure a lot of people who are ex members of the LDS church can relate to the ultimate breach of trust and lack of respect she describes with this post.

I was aware of my husband’s previous marriage. What I didn’t know, until I recently discovered it, is that I’m actually wife #4, not #2, I thought. We discussed previous relationships before we got married, but he referred to them as relationships, not marriages. I also pulled out our marriage license application where you have to declare which marriage this is…he wrote “second”.

When asked why he did this, he replied, “it was along time ago, the marriages were so short, I thought you may not marry me, you didn’t ask”.

I’m really struggling with this. It feels kinda like discovering hidden church stuff all over again.

This lady’s post was up for several hours before someone responded to it. I happened to be that person. My comment to her was this:

I don’t blame you for being upset. I would wonder what else I wasn’t told in that situation. It’s a breach of trust.

I could have written more, but I was on my iPad and it’s a pain to type on the iPad. Also, I really just wanted her to feel heard and validated without having to wade through too much. Her instincts are correct. Her husband lied to her, and that’s a major betrayal. I’m not an ex Mormon, but Bill is. When we met, he claimed to be a devout church believer. However, we met in a place not typically frequented by church types. After awhile, I realized he was trying to convince himself that he was a believer. He wanted to save his first marriage– felt it was his duty to try to save it, even though it was a relationship built on bullshit. Those kinds of relationships pretty much never last.

A couple of hours later, another nevermo regular poster also replied. She agreed with me. Then, came the somewhat inappropriate responses from men. One guy wrote:

“Everyone with the ability to speak ‘edits’ their life story.”

That may be true… but glossing over two previous marriages is a bit extreme, in my view, even if they were super short and “meaningless”. At the very least, it means that her spouse once had little regard for the institution of marriage. He obviously didn’t take it seriously a couple of times in his life. I would have a hard time regaining trust for my husband if it turned out he’d hidden something this significant. I also think it says something when the spouse who lies by omission says something like “I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me if you knew the whole truth about me.” Cover ups are almost always worse than the truth. At least if you tell someone the truth, they have the ability to decide for themselves about the right thing to do .

I’m interested in the whole story… even the ugly parts. Sometimes, the ugly parts make the story more compelling.

Consider this. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time, you know that I love my husband with all my heart. This year, we will have been happily married for 19 years. But if I’d relied only on my common sense, I never would have married him. He had a lot of baggage that would have sent a lot of women packing. Here’s a list of his “shortcomings” from those early days, over twenty years ago.

  • He had bad credit. He and Ex had gone through both a foreclosure and a bankruptcy. After getting to know him, I realized that Bill wasn’t the one with the problem handling money. But if I had been exercising common sense, I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him because of his financial issues.
  • He was broke. After his divorce, Bill was paying over half his salary to Ex in child support and alimony. It was really tough going for awhile, but I realized it was a time limited issue. And, based on our lifestyle, you can see that I was right.
  • His ex wife was (and still is) legitimately “crazy”. Those of you who have followed my blogs probably already know how crazy. She has no compunction about making insane demands on people and smearing them to others. She withheld visitation with the kids from Bill and completely alienated them after he married me. I strongly suspect she has a character disorder.
  • He’d had a vasectomy. Bill is not only my first husband; he’s also the only man I’ve ever been intimate with. I wanted to have children, and he’d already had them with Ex, who then asked him to have a vasectomy. He obliged. However, he was willing to have it reversed for me. That was enough for me, even though I never managed to have children. Now, I realize maybe not having children was a good thing, given how complicated his situation with Ex and their kids has been.
  • He was involved in a “weird” religion. Not everyone thinks Mormonism is “weird”, but coming from the South, where most people are Protestants, it was certainly different to me. Fortunately, Bill wasn’t that committed to Mormonism, nor did he feel compelled to convert me. If he had, our relationship probably would not have worked. I can tell you right now, I would never willingly be involved in a faith that dictates what undergarments I wear or what beverages I choose to drink. Other people’s mileages vary, of course.
  • I met him on the Internet in a chat room! I might as well have met him in a bar!

So why has our relationship worked, given all of these “obvious” shortcomings? It’s worked because Bill was completely honest with me. Three months after we started chatting, he sent me a long email explaining everything, even though he worried that I might reject him. Also, he stayed platonic in his conversations with me until he was legally divorced. He even wore his wedding ring until his split was official. We didn’t meet in person until about a year after his divorce was official. Even after the divorce was official, he wasn’t inappropriate with me. I realized that he was a decent, honest person and I could trust him. He also eventually learned that he could trust me, despite what he’d been through in his first marriage.

It took about five years before Bill completely trusted me with finances. He finally gave me access to his bank account when he deployed to Iraq and I had to handle the household bills. While he was gone, I made a point of paying off all of the horrible, high interest credit cards he had because he’d trusted his ex wife to pay the bills and she hadn’t. A year later, USAA, which had taken a loss in his bankruptcy, granted him a new credit card. PenFed let him refinance a car loan, saving us hundreds of dollars. He’s never missed paying a bill the whole time we’ve been together. He now has an excellent credit score.

When Bill goes on business trips, he is incredibly reliable about contacting me. In fact, it’s almost annoying… I’ll be watching a movie or something and he’ll want to chat. But I appreciate it, because I know he’s thinking of me and is faithful. I don’t worry about him fucking around when he goes TDY. He is extremely respectful and faithful, and I knew he was when he was still married to his ex wife. Meanwhile, she was shacking up with her now third husband in the house Bill was paying for and she later let go into foreclosure. I was certain he was trustworthy when I met him, and so far, he’s proven me right.

Over the years, Bill has been incredibly brave about telling me pretty much everything about his life, even some things that are completely embarrassing and potentially humiliating. And he has had quite a life… and a lot of weird stuff has happened to him. He could write a book. Every day, I’m amazed at how balanced, reliable, and decent he is, despite everything that has happened in his past. He could have chosen not to tell me about the embarrassing things in his past and risked being rejected by me. But, it turns out I was willing to trust my instincts, rather than common sense. I knew he was the best kind of person, and I was right. It would devastate me if he’d hidden something as major as prior marriages, no matter how short. It would mean he didn’t trust me, and that would make me wonder if I should be trusting him.

I don’t think strong relationships start with deception, either outright untruths or lies by omission. When I married Bill, I was taking on a new relative. That means he’s family… family I CHOSE. I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to make someone a family member if he didn’t trust me enough to tell me the whole truth about who he is. Likewise, I would expect my partner to know everything there is to know about me. But I also realize that I have been extremely lucky. Bill is an honest person who doesn’t hide skeletons in the closet. I am also an honest person. We told each other the truth. A person who can’t handle hearing the whole truth about serious issues before agreeing to marriage is probably not the best candidate to be husband or wife.

A good example of times when honesty is NOT the best policy…

Now… it’s true that I do believe in being completely honest about the major things, like prior marriages, criminal history, health situations, and finances. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s always a good thing to be completely honest about everything. Like, for instance, if Bill thinks my ass looks especially dumpy one day, he doesn’t have to be honest about that and tell me so! That would hurt my feelings unnecessarily, especially since there’s nothing I can immediately do about having a dumpy ass. Fortunately, he’s not the type of guy who is overly hung up on looks. 😉

But yes… if I found out that I was wife #4, rather than wife #2, I would be very hurt and feel betrayed. I think it would be difficult to trust a partner who hid something major like that from me. And I would not think too highly of someone who tried to brush it off by saying the marriages were short or insignificant and, therefore, unworthy of being mentioned. Marriage, to me, is a huge deal. The fact that someone got married twice, but doesn’t see them as significant is a huge red flag, in my opinion. I have a lot of empathy for the lady on RfM who is making this discovery now. I wish her luck and strength. She might even feel like she doesn’t even know this man anymore.

At least at this point, Bill and I are a team. We work together to achieve common goals. He supports what I do, and I support what he does. We trust each other, and, for the most part, we’re completely honest. We don’t hide things. Like… I can say whatever is on my mind and, for the most part, Bill doesn’t judge me for them. The same goes for Bill. Because I think we both know that neither of us wants the other person to be hurt. That being said, though, I also think I hit the husband lottery. Bill is an unusually mature and respectful person. Most people aren’t like him, including myself. I never forget that, and I try not to abuse it.

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musings

Reclaiming The Giving Tree: here is where the story ends…

A little mood music… I just like how it sounds, and the title fits.

Back in January 2018, on my old blog, I wrote a post about how my husband, Bill, hates Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book, The Giving Tree. People are usually surprised whenever I mention that Bill doesn’t like that book. The Giving Tree is a poignant story about a marvelous, loving, giving tree who provides so much to a selfish, thoughtless little boy who grows up never appreciating the gifts the tree bestows on him, even when he’s an old man. A lot of people love it and think it’s a beautiful story. For Bill, it represents a bad time in his life that he’d sooner forget.

I was familiar with the story before I met Bill. As a child, I liked Shel Silverstein’s books, and as a music lover, I enjoyed the lyrics he wrote for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. I never had any personal reasons to dislike The Giving Tree until Bill told me about how his ex wife, in a classic moment of projection, accused Bill of being like the boy in The Giving Tree, always taking from her and leaving nothing behind. Ex had an unfortunate propensity of using children’s literature to make her points. Consequently, Bill has significant issues with Silverstein’s classic, as well as several books by Dr. Seuss. It’s a real pity, although entirely understandable.

I included this in my older post about The Giving Tree. I am also posting it here, for those who don’t want to go there.

Having known Bill for almost twenty years, sixteen of which I’ve spent as his second wife, I know that if anything, Bill was the “tree” in their relationship. Hell, he’s probably the “tree” in our relationship, too. He truly is a very selfless, thoughtful, considerate, empathetic person. Sometimes, his kindness works to his disadvantage, although I do my best to appreciate all he does for me.

When Bill and I met, he was at the beginning stages of recovering from the financial ravages of his first marriage. He lived in a super cheap efficiency apartment on about $600 a month, $200 of which went to pay his rent. Ex had claimed most of his paycheck and had done her best to ruin his credit. Unfortunately, he was so beaten down by his years with her that he put up little resistance to her unreasonable demands. Consequently, at age 35, Bill was living like a recent college graduate. So was I, since I was in graduate school. In retrospect, it was a good time for us to come together, since we were both at similar crossroads. One of my uncles noticed how good Bill was and told me I should do my best to look after him. I have taken that advice, which, along with my late grandmother’s advice to marry him, is probably among the best I’ve ever received.

Bill ate a lot of beans and rice in those days, and slept on a futon at a time when his career should have been taking off. His nightly chats with me were probably 90% of his entertainment. He experienced bankruptcy and foreclosure and had joined a church that demanded 10% percent of his gross income for tithing. He was BROKE– financially, spiritually, and emotionally– although he still had his health. One could say that much like the tree in The Giving Tree, Bill was left a dried up stump… with maybe a single struggling branch that was still marginally viable.

We got married in 2002. The first few years of our marriage were fun, but kind of stressful due to our lean finances. I was looking for work and he was paying child support for three kids, one of whom wasn’t even his legal responsibility (his bio dad was pushed out of the picture and quit paying). Still, we made it through those years. I remember one sunny Saturday morning in early 2005, we were sitting at the card table that served as our dining room set. I told Bill that this was a temporary condition and that I could see us living a good life. It would take awhile, but we’d get there. Then we ate our pancakes on our wedding china and probably had sex, since it was free.

Later that year, I scored a freelance writing gig that paid pretty well. I bought us a dining room table, chairs, and a couch and a loveseat. The table is in storage and has been replaced by a German Eckbank Gruppe. The couch and the loveseat are here with us in Germany, and they have been well loved, especially by our dogs. I think when it’s time to leave, we’ll be leaving them here.

We’ve come a really long way since 2005. Just as I predicted, things got a lot better for us. In 2006, we bought a new RAV 4, financing it through Toyota Finance Corporation. It was an expensive loan, although I had used Toyota to finance my first car. I later refinanced my first car through Pentagon Federal Credit Union. One of the best gifts I received when I graduated college in 1994 was a savings account at PenFed. One of my sisters started it for me. Ever since then, I’ve kept it going, and used some of their other products. I saved significant money when I refinanced my car loan with them. I also used PenFed when it was time to finance my grad school education, although those loans got sold a couple of times.

In 2007, Bill went to Iraq, which resulted in extra pay. I took the opportunity to retire all of the debt on the high interest credit cards he was carrying. I started paying down my credit cards and my student loans. When he came back six months later, his cards were paid off and I was ahead on my debts. We moved to Germany the first time, where we were able to get further ahead due to tax laws and money for utilities we didn’t need, but were allowed to keep. We used it to pay off more debt. Eventually, USAA, which had taken a loss when Bill declared bankruptcy, decided to trust him again. He’s now rebuilt his credit so that it’s almost as good as mine is, and I have never had any significant financial disasters.

One night in 2008, I noticed that PenFed was offering cheap rates for refinancing loans. I pitched the idea to Bill that we should try to refinance the loan on our 2006 RAV 4. Bill was reluctant, because he didn’t think they’d approve his application. He’d been through the shame of financial disaster and his credit rating was still improving. He didn’t want to hear the word “no”. I reminded him that my credit rating was excellent and I had already paid off a car loan with PenFed. He could be a co-signer for a loan in my name. After a few minutes of cajoling, Bill and I Skyped PenFed from Germany. Two minutes into our call, they agreed to refinance our high interest car loan. It would save us about $150 a month. I will never forget the look of gratitude on Bill’s face that PenFed trusted him. He was on his way back… the dried up stump’s one surviving branch had sprouted a couple of leaves and they were turning green!

In 2009, as we were leaving Germany, we decided to order a Mini Cooper for me to drive. By that time, two of the children he’d been supporting had become adults, so we had an extra $1700 a month. Since we’d been paying PenFed for a year, they trusted us with another car loan, again at a very favorable rate. The loan was in my name, with Bill as a co-signer. Eventually, I got my Mini, and in 2011, the last kid came of age. We used the extra money to shave down the loans and both cars were paid for ahead of time. We had a few more twigs greening on our tree!

In 2014, Bill retired from the Army. We worried about what he would do after he left the military. He was turning 50, and though he looks young for his age, he’s definitely not a whippersnapper anymore. He had a couple of interviews at companies that clearly wanted someone younger and cheaper on the payroll. Fortunately, the timing was just right for us to come back to Germany, and Bill happened to run into a contact who was able to help him get his resume in front of the right people. It turned out he was just the man they were looking for, and on my 42nd birthday, Bill got a job offer.

It was expensive to move here, mainly owing to skimpy relocation package his first company offered. Still, we were successful in our bid to move. Once again, we worked hard to pay off debt and eventually got to the point at which we had very little. I was socking away money in investments and savings accounts. For the first time ever, we had money saved in multiple locations. The green limb had branched out into a few new green limbs. The “tree” was getting taller, stronger, and healthier. The dried up stump was being overcome by renewed growth. It was quickly rotting into the Earth as our new tree grew more robust.

In 2017, Bill started working for a new company that paid him better. We had several months of extra money that allowed me to throw huge payments at my student loans. They were retired nine years early. Then, just as I had visions of saving up lots of money for our own house someday, we had to move. That was a setback, since the new house costs a lot more rent and moves are always expensive. However, in the long run, the move has proven beneficial to Bill’s career, and I am much happier in our new house. Now, it’s time to buy a new vehicle and send our trusty RAV 4 on to its next owner. Our old RAV 4 will probably end up in Africa. Supposedly, for cars as old as that one, Africa is the most common ending point.

This morning, as we were enjoying breakfast, Bill was talking about the new car he ordered yesterday. It’s a beautiful Volvo and we will be going to Sweden to pick it up. Yes, we are financing it. Maybe it would be better not to, although Bill prefers to buy new cars rather than used ones. Used cars are cheaper, but you always know where new cars have been. Since Bill isn’t the handiest guy in the world, that’s a selling point. We’ll probably keep the new car for a long time. My Mini is now ten years old and we aren’t ready to part with it. This time, Bill got a substantial car loan offer without my help. The offer was a lot more than what we’ll need, and Bill was very excited that they trusted him with that much of a loan. It’s so nice that he was finally able to make a full financial recovery. He’ll probably use about half of the loan amount USAA offered.

Somehow, over fresh strawberries and hot coffee, we got on the subject of The Giving Tree. Bill was reminded of how he’d been left so depleted in 1999, when he and his ex wife split up. He thought he was finished. I said, “All you needed was some fertilizer in the form of a little shit like me!” I think one of the reasons Bill and I get along so well is because he laughs at my ribald jokes. That, and he does listen to and respect me, most of the time, anyway.

Although things can always change, we’ve made a real commitment to work together for common, positive goals. In 2002, it seemed like it would take forever to become financially solvent. Yes, for a few years, life was tougher, although conditions gradually improved. We made decisions that would help the tree regrow into its former glory. I’m not just talking about finances, either. I’m also referring to health and happiness. In a way, maybe this story is less like The Giving Tree and more like the Christmas Tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Bill is fortunate because he chose a career that offers a lot of opportunities. He took advantage of educational benefits and, despite having once been sucked dry, didn’t become completely bitter and shriveled. He made better choices, learned about trusting the right people, and started standing up for himself against thieves and bullies. Everything is different now… everything is better. Even the “bitter fruit” from that old tree has ripened into the form of one previously alienated daughter who has reconnected with her dad and is sharing her life. Hopefully, someday, the other daughter will come around. Maybe, just maybe, Bill will also stop hating The Giving Tree, too. Especially since we’ve changed the ending!

I’m looking forward to our trip to Sweden. I don’t know exactly when it will occur. I suspect it will be in July or August. We did manage to get to Sweden in 2009, just as we were about to leave Germany the first time. Unfortunately, it was via a short Baltic cruise, and we barely got to see the port and the airport in Stockholm before we had to fly back to Germany so Bill could attend a conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I remember those weeks as being a lot of fun as I visited a bunch of countries in one last blast before we moved back to the States. We probably won’t get to see Stockholm on this trip, but we will drive through Denmark and northern Germany to bring home our new vehicle.

I have a tendency to be negative, cranky, and even downright bitchy at times. I do still suffer from anxiety and depression. But there’s another side of me that’s positive and “evergreen”. Things often work out, particularly if you keep the right mindset and work for change. Small changes, long range vision, and good decisions can lead to growth in all aspects of life.

At the risk of sounding corny, I just want to say that even when things seem totally shitty, small, positive changes, good decisions and mutual cooperation, and a little love, luck, and fertilizer can breathe new life into what once seemed like a lost cause. Bill’s “tree” is back and thriving, and we’re both reaping the benefits, without taking anything for granted. So maybe Shel Silverstein taught us a valuable lesson after all…

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