Recession Mama

{April 29, 2009}   Economic Growing Pains

 BY: Heather B.

We’re a relatively young country, so we still have a LOT of growing up to do.  I’m not saying we’re a bunch of babies, so don’t get all riled up. I’m just pointing out that we’re evolving… and learning some hard lessons. Unfortunately, we’re having some “growing pains” right now.  But you’ve been there before right?   Just whip out a family photo album and follow

Everybody and everything has changed over the years. My mom no longer wears bell bottoms in a size zero… My sister has lost the glasses.. and I’m not that naturally blond anymore.

Everybody and Everything is changing in this recession too.  Some for the better, others for the worst. But chances are your thoughts, behavior and habits are a little different.

Some of my changes have been more pleasant than others over the years. I started out alright. Sorta cute in a way. Blond whispy hair, blue eyes and an eager smile. But I could be a total nightmare. I could throw what my dad called “a wallass fit.”  (that’s a made-up term for one big temper tantrum)


I was also good at embarrassing my parents.

 Example… An exchange between me and a grocery store clerk that went to our church. (small town. everyone knows everyone)

Grocery store clerk: “Is this food for your cat?”

4-year-old me: “Yes.”

Grocery store clerk: “What’s his name?”

4-year-old me: “His name is Tiger, but daddy calls him “that son-of-a-bitch.”

Grocery store clerk: “Oh. How nice.”

I was young… I didn’t know any better.

Besides who could get mad at this sweet little face?


Things have been looking pretty “sweet” in the US for many, many years. On the outside, we look pretty good. Young, rambunctious, real go getters. Sure we’ve had our problems. But countries still run to America for help. The economy was usually growing  and people were spending money like a kid in a candy store. But we’re growing out of that “cute phase.”  So we just can’t  say or do anything we want to anymore. (Boo!) We should know better.

The Awkward Years

WOW! I went from a decent looking kid to awkward and skinny in just a few years. I like to call this the 4th grade Funk. My grandmother chopped off my hair because she thought it would be “easier to fix.” But I just looked like a boy in girly glasses. Check out those teeth! You could compare them to the current housing market… they’re right in your face… but you can’t afford to look at ’em.




As you can imagine, I was teased often. “Hey string bean. Where are your bumps?” (bumps were boobs)

I was a little goofy, but I always had one thing going for me– MOXIE! I could run faster than most of the boys AND beat them up too, so I had a little “playground cred.”  I was scrappy and determined. I think most Americans are the same. Isn’t that what this nation was built on? We’re just having an awkward phase right now… we’ll grow out of it! We just have to keep our heads in the game. No matter how clumsy we look.


The Learning Years

I know, I know, this dress is hideous. But it illustrates a point. It’s just a testament to what happens when you make a bad decision. My date wasn’t a great decision either, but he had a really cool truck with chrome rims and a thumping stereo.  And who wants to show up to the prom in an old clunker anyway. I had to work for my grandmother to pay for that dress. I mowed her lawn for months and drove her poodle “Gofer”  to Sonic everyday for a hamburger patty.

 I think you could compare this sequined nightmare to the stock market…  A good investment at the time (you think)… embarrassing loss of money later.



From now on, I think I’ll go with the “safe” investments (if there is such a thing) and not splurge on silly things. Got it! Lesson learned.


The Formidable Years 

Yes. I was a cheerleader in college. But don’t judge. It helped pay for my school. It also taught me many lessons about trusting others and facing my fears.


My stunt partner and I spent hours trying to master this extension. It’s was really scary at first.   Toss to hands, then up to the sky. I really wanted to “stick it” but I kept falling. It was so frustrating. Finally, I just let go of the fear and decided to trust him.  We finally got it!(Too bad I forgot to smile in the picture.)

Maybe in this next phase of the recession you can let go of some fears, and try something new. Don’t worry mamas and papas. You can do it with some good ‘ole determination!  Just don’t forget to smile once in a while. Remember there IS some satisfaction in the struggle. You’ll be back on top soon.




{April 29, 2009}   …Are We There Yet?

–by Carla


I’m looking out the window right now and I’m actually really enjoying this rainy weather. Seriously. It’s probably a Texas thing. “Will it just rain or will a tornado come out of the sky and force me into my closet?” Always keepin’ you on your toes, Texas weather. Then a thought hit me. Well a few thoughts, really. First I thought, “Our backyard looks really beautiful”. Everything is green and things are starting to warm up out there which means pool season is just about here. My next thought was “Ok, I’m tired of the rain…bring on the sun”. Call it a short attention span, call it my totally undiagnosed ADD, but I am over this rain (which is supposed to stick around all week. Lovely). And with that short attention span…how can I possibly weather the financial storm we’re in right now? It’s been 4 and 1/2 months since I was laid off and my attitude about our new, trimmed down lifestyle is still pretty upbeat, but how long is that going to last? I actually worried about that today…because I’m a woman and we worry…it’s what we do…while doing everything else. So I started looking around for answers as to when the recession will end and more to the point, when I will be able to re-hire my housekeeper.  Well….

Hmmmm, that’s not so upbeat. But I can deal with that. Then news of the swine flu starts spreading like, well, swine flu and things just got a little worse:


All I need is a little information on when this is all going to wrap up. That way I can program my little brain like an alarm clock, suffer through get through the next few/several months as best as I can with a giant smile on my face…counting down the days to when I can call Suzanne up and say “So, can you make it on Thursday just like old times?” I keep putting off mopping the floor because in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “It’ll end soon. Don’t mop now, Suzanne will be here to help you any day now.” Pathetic. I know. Yet there’s the mop, mocking me 24 hours a day…


This all feels a little familiar to me. I’m going to make a confession that will no doubt make me sound spoiled AND rotten. Here goes: This feels a little like being grounded. Remember that feeling? Mom and Dad wouldn’t let you watch TV for a week, or they’d snatch the car keys from you for 2 weeks. You made due for the time being…you stayed inside, didn’t go anywhere…maybe you read a few more books or thumbed through a few magazines…but you killed time. You told your little brain that “this will end…you’ll be getting the car back in 6 days, 20 hours and 7 minutes”…and it felt really good knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Oh and you learned a lesson and stopped doing whatever it was that you were doing that got you grounded in the first place. Then one day ..BOOM…you got your keys back…hopped in the car and you were off like a prom dress.

And yes, I do realize that my current economic reality is directly linked to my actions of a spender versus a saver. I get it. I’m grounded. Thankfully, I can come and go as I please and don’t have to check in with Mom and Dad. But I’m starting to think that the recession isn’t going to end “just like that”….in the snap of a finger. I’m guessing that this new, trimmed down lifestyle will just become my actual lifestyle. That’s perfectly fine, too. I would just like to know which way to program the old brain here.

The great news is that there are ways to stay happy in tough economic times. We get it straight from a few happiness researchers.

And knowing that there are happiness researchers out there working hard to figure out how to make us happy at a time like this, well that right there just plain makes me happy. At least they’re not studying up on the bad habits of the ho-fish…

By Heather

I’m not depressed, but I could be if I allowed the headlines sink into my brain. Swine flu, massive layoffs, deadly earthquakes and tornadoes, home foreclosures and economic crisis worldwide.

Whew! I already feel the need to pour myself a tall vodka and soda with lime and pull the covers over my head. But who has the time.

Mamas and papas… I could get myself completely worked up about everything. It’s so frightening to think that we’re actually facing the possibility of a pandemic and financial ruin. What’s next? The end of the world!

I need a good Scarlett O’Hara bitch slap about now.

Stop freaking and keep living…. I tell myself. We’re doing just fine.

I was doing just fine until I received a note from my son’s upscale pre-school warning parents about head lice in the classroom.

(pausing to scratch my head)

What? Head lice! There’s actual head lice in my son’s class! Doesn’t the pricey tuition guarantee this won’t happen?

(pausing to scratch my head even harder)

Look… I know that can happen to anyone, anywhere. But I don’t want to be that anyone. So I’m launching war on the little buggers even though we don’t have it (hopefully we won’t either)

I’ve purchased over $100 worth of shampoo, conditioner and gel to scare those critters away. The whole family has had a good scrubbing. The sheets and pillows scalded too. Even my son’s stuffed Tiger named “Tiger” has been washed and dried in high heat.

Blue Tiger

Blue Tiger

“Tiger smells like flowers mommy,” he says while burying his head into mine.

(more itching…slight panic)

Now all I need is a hunk of dark chocolate and a good show to calm me down. But frankly I’m a little worried about snuggling into the couch.

What if there’s lice in there? Eewww.

I know it’s a little overboard. But this is how I operate. Freak… ask questions later.

Thoughts of burning our mattress have crossed my mind too since the kids slept with us Sunday night. But purchasing a new one isn’t really in the budget. So I will deal.

Speaking of Sunday night.. that led up to “one of those days” on Monday.

You know what I’m talking about… days when everything goes wrong and it feels like the universe is against you?

Maybe it started with leaving your coffee on top of the car and driving off. Perhaps a flat tire on the side of the road. Forgetting your wallet. Dropping your phone in a cup of water and frying it (I’ve actually done this twice!) Or perhaps realizing you’ve shaved only one leg and have spinach stuck in your teeth while you’re on a date.

Well I didn’t even get one leg shaved on Monday. Nothing was going right. And before the day was over… I would have to spend money I really didn’t want to spend.

It started the night before when the storms rolled in. That’s when my son and daughter climbed into to bed with us… and a freaked out dog soon followed. (Ally’s terrified of storms. I once found her curled up in a laundry basket during a storm.)

Ally feeling humiliated at Halloween

Ally feeling humiliated at Halloween

I was sandwiched in between the kids on the bed. Ally was right in the mix. Another dog was snoring on the floor. My husband snuck off to the guest room for a good night’s sleep. (lucky)

The children took turns kicking me all night… while Ally switched from sleeping on my legs, to my stomach, to my head. That threw my allergies into overdrive. I stayed up sneezing, itching and rubbing my burning eyes. Just as well. I was having a hard time sleeping anyway. I was thinking about the possibilty that my kids could have lice. And here we all were snug as bugs in a rug.

(seriously… can’t… stop… itching)

Just as I had fallen asleep… my daughter pushed her nose against mine and yelled through gritted teeth.

“I want pancakes and chocky milk.”

So much for sleep.

Then the phone buzzes. It’s the renter sending a text message.

The oven is beeping and flashing an error code so I unplugged it. Can you send someone over?

It’s a WALL oven. How do you unplug a wall oven without pulling it out of the wall! Dollar signs start swimming in my head. I call the repair guy and tell the renter to check the breaker box.

Probably just a power issue I text back, but am secretly afraid of how much this will cost.

Next the painter arrives at our house, says hello and then asks;

“What’s with the tree in the yard?”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s what I mean.” He points to the tree.

“It fell over.”



Perfect! The 20 foot tree is now lying on its side and on top of newly planted flowers.

I phone the landscaper and beg him to save the tree because I don’t want to buy a new one. More money wasted.

Another text from the renter comes in.

“Can the repair guys check the dishwasher too? It smells like smoke when I turn it on.”


This keeps getting better.

By afternoon, we head to school. I turn on the SUV. The gas light comes on, as does the maitenence light. Lovely…

Can anyone say cha-ching!

At this point, I might as well hit a cash machine, throw money up in the air and twirl around.

Another text from the renter.

Everything is fine. It was just the power. The repair said it was working.

Things are looking up.

That is… until I pick up my son from school. Two notes are stapled to his bag. One is a warning about swine flu … another about an outbreak of strep throat and more cases of head lice.

Hey mommy. Tiger had fun at school today.” my son says as I continue reading the notes.

What? You took him?” as I rub my eyes and itch my head.

Parents: Please have your children refrain from bringing stuffed animals in school bags as they could be exposed to communicable diseases.


“Give me Tiger!” I say as I continue to rub my burning eyes.

Parents: Also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as germs can more easily enter your body through these areas.


I’m definitely going to need that vodka and soda now.


By Katy

You may have heard the term “Recessionista” thrown around lately. It’s a combination of the words “fashionista” and “recession.” In Los Angeles, hot mamas still have to get their shopping on, but they’re doing it in a much more budget-savvy way — seeking out sample sales, swapping clothes with their BFF’s (Best Friends Forever, if you’re not up on your girly lingo), joining designer handbag-of-the-month clubs, and looking in their own closets and re-vamping what’s already in there (with maybe a cheaper change of accessories.) I’ve always considered myself a bit of a “Recessionista,” even when there wasn’t a recession, to speak of.

To this day, my favorite bargain was a 100% silk, Italian made, Miu Miu cheongsam-like top I had seen in the actual designer’s store on Melrose, that same season, for thousands of dollars. I bought it for maybe $75 at a second-hand store, and I could not believe my luck when I spotted it that fateful day in 2003. My friends Lynn and Sarah were with me, and I think they heard me shrieking with delight and astonishment across the entire store. It was in pristine condition. Someone must have needed the money desperately, I thought.

2003 Miu Miu

2003 Miu Miu

These days, I haven’t shopped much except for a dress I bought recently for my engagement photos. And I actually paid full price for it because it was so last minute. (When people tell you never to shop for groceries on an empty stomach, I think the same idea applies to shopping for clothes. Never shop for clothes at the last minute when you desperately need something because you may blow your budget.) Well, I’ve been regretting the purchase every single day because I, honestly, hate buying anything for full price. I bought this BCBG Max Azria dress in a petite the morning of my engagement photo shoot because the dress I ordered from Bloomingdale’s was on back order (and no one called to tell me). I had thought originally that I’d try and return it after the shoot, but they put tags on the OUTSIDE of the dress nowadays to ensure that doesn’t happen.


Sorry, Fiance! You've been outted, but I had to show the dress and you're in every shot.

I spent $246 on the dress, and what really gets to me is…it’s made in China!!! If I wanted a dress that’s made in China, I would’ve just gone to Target, K-Mart, or even Wal-Mart. I didn’t need to spend $246 on a “designer” dress that was possibly made in a sweatshop in China. OK, OK…don’t write me hate letters. I don’t know if it was really made in a sweatshop. But I just don’t understand designers who have to take their clothes to Chinese workers. If I’m going to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a dress that you designed, I would like it to be made right here in the U.S.A. On the other hand, I bought it at a department store that, I understand (on very good authority) is hurting for business in this economy right now. So…maybe it’s a good thing? What do you think?

Hey mamas and papas it’s Heather B. We’ve all lost a job at one time or another so we know EXACTLY what it’s like to be in the weeds. My friend Liz is no different. She’s stuck in some serious bamboo and can’t find her way out. She’s a hardworking, fabulous gal! But so far employers haven’t noticed that yet (jerks) She’s lost out on another job. This is where we pick up her story (after the jump). Read the rest of this entry »

{April 25, 2009}   “My Cheap Dad”

By Katy

I was inspired by Carla’s post on where we get our financial sense. I have common sense, I have hopefully some sense of reality, but financial sense? I’m not sure that’s part of the recessive gene pool. If so, I am definitely swimming in the shallow end. But let me first go wayyy back…back when I was a very, very little girl and everyone said I looked like my dad…


Well, unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of my dad to show you. But trust me…this is sort of a cuter little girl version of him. Now, when I got older, everyone said I looked just like my mom, which made me happier (since I am a girl…I really didn’t want to resemble my father, who is a man). As for learning from my parents’ financial acumen, well…you tell me how much you’ll learn.

First, my mother. My brother has always said, quite seriously, that the two of us were born in a mall. My dad says he’d be a much richer man today, if it wasn’t for her and her old LOVE of shopping. She would take us to the mall, even when we were sick and home from school! (Cool, right? Well, not if you’re running a fever and could care less about looking at ladies’ shoes.) Nowadays, she’s not such a bigger shopper. Instead, I think her retail therapy has turned into a fitness fanaticism. I admire the way she’s turned it around for herself though, and boy, do I wish I had her amazingly toned arms!

Now back to my dad. I was always joking, that someday, I wanted to produce a TV sitcom, called “My Cheap Dad.” When I told him this idea, he was actually super thrilled! He bragged to his co-workers that his daughter wanted to write a TV show all about his CHEAPNESS! Obviously, the man revels in the 100 ways he likes to hold onto a buck. Let me just give you a few examples…when I was still living at home (and that really wasn’t that long ago), he would follow me around the house. As soon as I left a room, he would turn off the lights. OK you’re saying to yourself, what’s wrong with that? We should be conserving energy. Should we also turn off the lights when I just left the bedroom for two seconds to grab a towel or hairbrush from the bathroom? And should he turn off ALL of the lights when I was still sitting in the living room?!? Um, hello? I’m still in here…sitting in the dark now. And what’s ironic is, today, he would be considered a forward-thinking “environmentalist.”

Next, forget about going to restaurants with my dad! He believes that a $5/person meal is an average priced meal, and that anything that costs $10/person or more is a super fancy, highly expensive restaurant. Um, I truly believe the man is still living in the 1970’s. And when I say $10 or more…I really just mean $10. He doesn’t really do “more.” And the tipping scenario…oh I think I’m going to get in trouble for this one. Remember how, on “Friends,” Rachel’s dad was a tight tipper? And how, when Ross tried to leave more money, her dad got super angry and accused Ross of thinking he was cheap? Well, that’s exactly my dad. His idea of a good tip is 10% for lunch and maybe 15% for dinner. At Chinese restaurants, it’s worse. I think it may be a couple of a bucks for lunch (no matter what our check comes out to be), and maybe 10% for dinner. His favorite dinner-time restaurants are mostly buffets, especially the ones where he gets the senior discount (not sure if he always qualifies) and also he has a fistful of…coupons. He loves buffets mainly because you get to eat as much as you want, and he only has to tip a couple of bucks, even at dinner. But let’s just get something clear. If you’re not a big eater, like my mother or even myself, he does not like to take you to his favorite restaurants because well frankly, my dear, we did not eat our damned worth!

I could go on, but I’ll spare you all of the details and hope that someday, I will have a TV sitcom called, “My Cheap Dad,” so you could really see how cheap he truly is. I think he got his “cheapness” from his mother. But to really think about it, I don’t think I could call her “cheap.” She has money. After all, my father grew up with a chauffeur and a nanny. But my Nana is actually someone who values money over people. She is someone that this recession is shaking its fists at (with full force)! She has actually said, out loud, that she wants to be buried with all of her money! Well, good luck with that dream!

So…to go back to the point at the beginning of my story, where I told you that I was definitely swimming in the shallow end, financially, I think you can finally see my point.

{April 24, 2009}   The Stingy Giver

By Carla

Who do you take after in the looks department? You’ve probably heard a million times, “You look just like your father”, or “You have your Uncle Ted’s nose”. And who do you take after in other ways? “You have your grandfather’s temper”…or…”You have your mom’s mannerisms”. Now answer this: Who do you take after financially? THAT’s the question I’m trying to answer for myself right now. So come along with me on this winding little road trip down memory lane….or however you say it. (I never get sayings right because growing up, Mom’s English was so terrible that it was like growing up with a mom version of Ricky Ricardo. Ma, sorry if that “burns you up a wall”…you’ll just have to “Let the ducks roll off your back”, ok?)

So I finally went in for a haircut and color last week (waiting 6 months for a trim = a gigantic mistake) and my stylist and I were chatting, getting caught up on things and it was then that she told me she was about to buy her first home. This mama really has her stuff together and I’m so proud of her for it. She’s in her 20s, maybe 8 years younger than me and she’s buying her own home. She also has money saved in IRAs, other accounts and investments she was telling me about and then it hit me…I had another V8 moment. THAT could have been me. What the heck was I thinking in my 20s? I could have purchased a home. After all, I was living just about rent free in my Dad’s rental property. I had a good paying job with benefits. At that time in my life, I was single and carefree with only a cat (and later a few dogs) to care for. But even back then, I blew it as fast as I made it. 

How the heck did this all happen? I have to keep asking myself that question these days because it is really boggling my mind. I mean, growing up, we had everything we wanted. Dad and Mom were great with money. They made my brother and I work for little perks around the house, like our own phone lines (remember when you were finally allowed to have your “own line”?). I did chores every week for my allowance…Mom put me on toilet duty (smart move, Ma), my brother did his thing.

Even though I grew up with money, (and by “with money” I don’t mean Trump money, or anywhere close. It just means that we always had what we wanted and we had nice things and traveled often and my brother and I attended private schools) I wasn’t spoiled. Or was I? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. 

We never worried about money when I was growing up…it was always there…so maybe as an adult I carried with me the belief that money would always magically “be there” no matter what. But it’s nothing my parents instilled in me. After all, they went out of their way to teach me about money. Dad took me to the bank when I turned 16 and I opened my first checking account. After all, I was working on the weekends as a checker at Drug Emporium…BEFORE they had price scanners, thankyouverymuch…and I needed a place to stash all my massive earnings. (I still have the very first thing I purchased with my very first ever paycheck: A Fendi wallet…and yes, I realize I was doomed from the get-go) Back to the bank: I remember it like it was yesterday. The look on the bank clerk’s face was unforgettable after he pulled up Dad’s financial information (since Dad was co-signing) and realized that we owned our home outright, same with our cars, and we had no credit card debt. I didn’t see the big deal at the time. I thought everyone lived like that.

Not once growing up or even in my 20s did I entertain the thought that one day I would be out of work, pinching pennies and waiting 6 months to get a haircut. Not in my wildest dreams. Money was always there for us growing up.

"A picture says" something or's not important now...

"A picture says" something or's not important now...

Not only were Mom and Dad really smart with money when I was growing up, so were my grandparents…on both sides. Mom’s mom, or Sette (grandmother in Arabic), who passed recently, taught me more about saving money than anyone else in my life. Even though my grandfather owned his own business in downtown Mexico City, it never seemed that money went to her head. After all, anyone who can stop to hug a tree isn’t really caught up in the rat race and impressed with worldly goods.

But things get a little more complex when I think about Dad’s mom, “Grandma”. She and Grandpa were successful Dallas business owners who also owned real estate in and around downtown Dallas. Grandma was feisty and bold and a tad eccentric. She was a product of the Great Depression. Dad said she was a “Depression baby”. (Don’t be confused by this. Grandma was in her 40s and Grandpa was well into his 50s when Dad came along) 


Anyhow, living through the Great Depression made quite an impact on Dad’s mom. She would go out of her way to buy the wilting head of lettuce at the grocery store because it was “on special”, but two minutes later she was paying my tuition at a private, all girls high school, or writing a check for $15,000 for my first car when I turned 16. (I still have that check…)

"Will my hair fit in this car?"

"Will my hair fit in this car?"

We would go to a restaurant and Grandma would insist on not leaving a tip because she was stingy like that, so Mom and Dad would make me or my brother sneak back to the table after we all got up…and drop a few bucks. But two minutes later, she was cutting a check for the five of us to travel across Europe by rail for two weeks. She was stingy. But she was a giver. And then it hit me: (and only very recently..while lunching with one of my favorite mamas)  I, too, am a stingy giver. I love to give to others. I love picking out things for a girlfriends’ birthday, or a baby shower or something, but I do not enjoy spending money on myself…not on everyday items. Shopping for new clothes drives me insane. All I can think about is how much money this is costing me. But about this time last year when I was still riding the gravy train, I treated myself to a brand new, gorgeous timepiece (when you spend more than $1,000, they stop calling them watches) and didn’t feel a lick of guilt. It was my gift to me for turning 35. Where was this all coming from? Who knows…but I can tell you that when I check the time now, I feel pretty dumb. Same goes with the $250 Fendi sunglasses I bought during a girls’ weekend in Vegas a few years back. I feel like an idiot when I whip those out after a trip to the grocery store where I paid with my state-issued unemployment benefits debit card. I get it. I really do.

They say behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. I hope the silver lining in this whole economic meltdown is a wake-up call. In many ways it came too late for me, but many others will be able to benefit from my financial mistakes and those of millions of other Americans. 

I think I have money issues. Do I?

It’s going to be very helpful to me to sort through this financial mess in my brain.

—Despite all of this, I am quite proud to call myself a stingy giver.

{April 22, 2009}   Recession Rubble in the Bubble

By Heather B.

Hey Mamas and Papas!

Meet my two new best friends, Ruben and Ruben Jr. They’re standing in a 1940’s bathroom, that suffered a 60’s makeover, and now must survive a 21st century upgrade.

They look happy right?

Ruben and Ruben Jr.

Ruben and Ruben Jr.

Maybe. The Rubens ARE glad to be working… especially in this economy. But they’re a little dizzy after receiving directions from me. Or maybe it’s the Big Bird inspired lattice patterned wallpaper ( with matching floor) I dunno. But we all have a mild case of vertigo and our eyes are burning from the demolition dust.

“Can we put the toilet over there?” “Can we move this door frame and knock out that wall?” I say.

“We can do whatever you want.” The Rubens reply.

“What if we put the bathtub where the old closet used to be and build a shower over here?”

The Rubens nod their heads in agreement. “Maybe.” They say.

One of them begins to measure.

I wave my arms around in an imaginary shower and try to determine if an actual human could scrub up… and rinse off… in this tiny little space without suffering a severe attack of claustrophobia.

“Nope. That won’t work.” I say.

The Rubens agree and we all stare at the rubble on the floor and the empty spaces on the walls.

This is my HGTV education at work y’all. Ain’t it scary?

I’ve learned a lot of tricks by working with a designer over the years and I’ve “fixed up” homes before, but this one is different. The project is big, the budget is small and the pay-off is a MUST.

This recession has left my little real estate plan in ruins. And now instead of owning one home… I’m stuck with THREE. THREE. How on earth did this happen?

It was easier than you think.

Rewind to February of 2008. The housing market was good. In fact, it was great in the area where we live. Some people call it “the bubble” because home values have always been strong and there’s a good school system to boot.

Despite having an amazing home already, we decided to build. We soon found a “tear down” home on a great lot. We got it. (that made house #2)

We’ll just take our time building. No need to hurry we thought. But by August we discovered that our dream home had already been built and was for sale.

Wow! We’ll save so much frustration and money if we just buy this instead of building. So we put in an offer.

We actually got into a bidding battle over our “build” site (house #2), so we thought we’d sell it immediately. We also thought house #1 would sell quickly too. So we bought the “dream home” (house #3)

Now we had three homes and two were up for sale. People sniffed around, but were too distracted by the elections and talk of a recession to buy.

Just a few months later the the housing market blew up and our sweet little “bubble” popped like a birthday party balloon.

“Oh CRAP!”

Which brings us to why the Rubens and I are standing in this 40’s fixer-upper and talking about where to put the “crapper.”

“What about a toilet closet?” I ask. “Everybody wants one of those.”

“Hmm. No elbow room,” says big Ruben.

And as if on cue… that’s when the plumber enters and announces that the sewer line is busted and will have to be replaced.

“How much is this going to cost?” I whine.

“I’ll have to run the numbers,” he tells me.

I just want to run the other way and pretend this isn’t happening. But that’s not an option. I’m going to have to face this recession rubble and help clean it up.

Just a side note here. Because all of our money was tied up in properties we didn’t lose much in the stock market when it took a nose dive. That’s the silver lining to this story. Sort of.. We’ve had several home builders who’d like to buy the property but can’t get a loan due to the credit and loan freeze. Ouch!

Scratch… scratch.. bang… bang…ugghh.”

“You okay down there?” I yell through a big hole in the floor and towards a small white light.”

“Yeah,” says an unfamiliar voice.

“Hey there’s a person at the end of that flashlight.” I tell the Rubens.

“Yup. That’s the electrician,” they inform me.

“Oh. I wonder what he’ll find?”

The plan now is to fix up the 40’s mess and lease it until the market turns around.

That’s what we did with the first house. It didn’t sell, so we leased it to a really nice family. It’s been pretty good and we’re thankful the house isn’t sitting empty.

But I can’t believe I’m a landlord.. you know… like Mr. Roper from Three’s Company. Except I’m not that nosey. And I don’t wear moo-moo dresses like his wife. (they do look comfy tho)

I wasn’t planning on this new occupation, but what else can I do? Now instead of saying “I sold that house.” I ask complete strangers if they’re in the market for a new “crib.”

“I’ll give you a great deal!” I tell them.

I also answer text messages like: “The garage door isn’t opening.” “Why is there water coming from the backyard?” “How do you work the built-in coffee maker?”

This is another reason why the Rubens and I are such great friends. They’re my “Schneider” (as in One Day at a Time) Except they don’t swing around a plethora of keys and have greasy hair and say creepy things.

They’re actually quite wonderful.

“Hey that’s looking awesome!” I shout to the Rubens as we examine the knocked-down wall between the yellow kitchen and the former dining… turned family room.

Bringing down the walls

Bringing down the walls

We’ve finished up in the bathroom for the moment. There’s no electricity yet, so it’s getting too dark and dusty to figure anything out. The “crapper” conversation will have to continue tomorrow.

The whole big mess… recession, rubble, renovation and all… will be waiting for us. Unfortunately, so will that Big Bird inspired wallpaper.


{April 22, 2009}   Old Dog, Meet New Trick

By Carla

dogdrawingage4When you’ve done the same thing over and over for nearly a dozen years, you get comfy. You get used to things being a certain way. You’re set. Or so you think.

Just like millions of other hard working, dedicated Americans, I am having to reprogram myself and learn new tricks…and you know what? I LOVE it!

I started at my previous place of employment (a radio station with a news/talk format in Dallas) when I was 24 years old. I started working part time hours and working any shift available. I was a nobody. For the next (almost) 12 years, I worked my way up the ladder doing everything there was to do on the news side of the operation. Learning new aspects of the business was thrilling to me. I loved being associate editor, even though it meant no one respected me because I was the new kid on the block. But I was learning and I loved it. I also loved street reporting because it was a huge challenge and it forced me to think on my feet at all times. I won several awards as a reporter, in fact. I then became editor of a drive-time news program and thrived in that position…winning awards in that capacity as well. And finally, having made it to the anchor chair in the 5th largest market in the U-S at the age of 29…well I felt that the dues I had paid all those years…had finally paid off for me. I anchored for the next six glorious years. (My dear friends who are good at math, there’s your bone) I was set. I had a contract. I was there to stay. Then the layoff four months ago.

I realized right away that I wasn’t trained to do anything other than news…and more specifically, radio news. Sure I could edit (produce) newscasts, I could report and I could anchor, but my business is hurting and no one is hiring right now. Then this wonderful opportunity came along. Be a back-up anchor at what used to be “the competition”, anchoring whenever they need someone to fill-in. It doesn’t pay much and I probably won’t be there very often, but it keeps my name out there and it keeps my brain from fizzling. Not to mention the fact that it’s a wonderful opportunity to work with some extraordinary people.

I went in for training this week. It was the first time in nearly 12 years that I had trained at any place other than my previous employer. I’m laughing at myself now, but here I was….a grown woman…married mother of two…nervously chugging my mocha and shaking and giggling in the car on the way to the new station. “What if I don’t understand their computer system?”, “What if I get lost?”, “Did I pick the right outfit?!” (I’m a girl…what do you expect) All of those questions and a million others were racing through my head on the drive in. After all, I hadn’t worked in SEVEN MONTHS. I couldn’t believe it myself, but it’s true. I went on maternity leave last September and was laid off while still on leave….so I haven’t actually worked in seven months. That’s a first for me. So having to go in for training was a very scary prospect for this old dog. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to be learning new tricks at this point in my career, right? I was supposed to be set…and moving up, up, up, right?


Training was exhilarating and I loved every minute of it. I’m serious. I loved it. I was “getting it”. It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.

Not only did it go far better than I expected, it was a huge boost to this mama’s self esteem. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but hey…it is a little tough on the feelings when you get laid off…and knowing that you’re “wanted” somewhere else, even in a fill-in capacity, well it just plain feels good. And those good feelings seemed to spill over into the rest of my day. This stinky economy needs more good feeling spillage, don’t you think? I’ve made up my mind, I’m hiring my housekeeper back so she can feel good again. KIDDING. It’s a joke. Those are free.  

I go back for more torture training today and a I’ll go back a few more times in the coming weeks to make sure I “get it” and am ready for when they do need me to come in and do the “real deal”.

Whew…! Just another challenge. I love those…but y’all know that.

Move over ego. There’s no room for you here. It’s a new day.

I LOVE music! I absolutely couldn’t live without it. It’s a necessity along with food, water and shelter. When I need to think or just “figure” things out, I grab my IPOD and just start walking. I pound the pavement and breathe in the polluted air. It makes everything come into focus for me. It also inspires me. For example, Lilly Allen’s “LDN” makes me want to ride a bike and wave at people, Earth Wind and Fire’s “September” invites me to roller skate (shoot the duck anyone?) Dandy Warhol’s “Bohemian Like You” gets me to speed walk and Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache” makes me wish I could sing in a bar.
So how does music relate to the recession you ask? Everything! Well, for me anyway. It’s just my little coping mechanism to deal with all of life’s little “monkey wrenches” or the “mean reds” as Holly Golightly says in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling? –Holly Golightly

It’s no surprise that I remember exactly what I was listening to the day I rolled into Dallas. I was broke, jobless, exhausted and uncertain about what I was going to do. I had been living in Arkansas. And when I realized that wasn’t going to work out, I Ieft. I literally packed up my old junkyard car and left in the middle of the night. I didn’t have much of a plan, but I was just suffocating. I couldn’t breathe. So I just turned to my life in Arkansas and said “See ya later.” And I drove off.
I felt better with every mile… every hour on the road. I had made a decision. It was done. No turning back now.

I had been so paralyzed with fear, with indecision, that it felt good to make a choice. My so-called career wasn’t going as planned. I was out of money, and didn’t have an apartment or a home to call my own. I had exhausted all of my other “options.” So, I took a friend’s offer to crash at her apartment in Dallas.

I called my mom along the road and told her I was headed to the big “D.”

“Do you have a job?” she asked.

“Nope. I’m going to stay and a friend’s apartment and look for one.”

“Well good luck and wear your seat belt.” she said
I don’t think she was going for a metaphor with the “seat belt” comment. But it could’ve applied.

It was really going to be a bumpy ride financially and emotionally. But I had no idea how hard it would actually be. That’s the thing with change. It’s usually painful in the beginning. But that’s part of the beauty.
See here’s the music again… That brings to mind Tom Petty.
Gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for a while

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

While driving to my new life in Dallas I blared folk singer Iris DeMent. It gave me some peace to connect with someone else who had struggled. I played “No Time To Cry” over and over.

Here are some of the lyrics:


But now I’m walking and I’m talking doing just what I’m supposed to do
working overtime to make sure that I don’t come unglued
I guess I’m older now and I’ve got no time to cry

The chorus:

I’ve got no time to look back, I’ve got no time to see
the pieces of my heart that have been ripped away from me
and if the feeling starts to coming, I’ve learned to stop ’em fast
`cause I don’t know, if I let them go, they might not wanna pass
And there’s just so many people trying to get me on the phone
and there’s bills to pay, and songs to play, and a house to make a home
I guess I’m older now and I’ve got no time to cry

Oddly, I also found some comfort and strength in Waylon Jennings version of Luckenbach, TX.

So baby let’s sell your diamond ring
Buy some boots and faded jeans and go away
This coat and tie is choking me
In your high society you cry all day
We’ve been so busy keepin’ up with the Jones
Four car garage and we’re still building on
Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love

See even rich folks have problems too!

Lately, I’ve been pulling out my upbeat songs because I need energy for my next big project. It’s directly related to the crumbling housing market. We can’t sell a property for lot value, so we’re going to fix up the home and try to lease it. It’s a major task. Holy demolition Batman!

I’ll have more details and pictures on Thursday. They should help explain why the economy has rekindled my hatred for wallpaper and brass knobs.
Ahhh.. Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” just popped into my head.


et cetera