Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On mortgages

In light of the recent financial implosion, I have found myself thinking more and more... Was I a sub-prime mortgage?

Husband and I bought our condo right as we were getting married. Our landlord had decided he wanted to live in our apartment himself and evicted us (though we thought we had a lease that protected us, he argued that we didn't... it was a mess). Finding ourselves suddenly and unexpected forced out of our apartment with a newly adopted dog, we were sick of getting burned by dishonest landlords. And with a dog in tow, your rental options are ever narrowing. So we decided to see if we could buy a place.

We had been saving for a down payment and we were able to put 10% down, taking out a second mortgage for the other 10%. We paid off the second mortgage in less than a year. We borrowed about $100,000 less than the lender said we were qualified for. We were relatively conservative. And yet, 3 years later with rising food and gas costs, and fixed (NIH scale) incomes, we're definitely on a tight budget.

What if we hadn't been so aggressive in paying off our (high interest) second mortgage? What if we had actually borrowed as much as the lender told us we could afford? We'd be in big trouble right now. Despite our efforts to be to make smart choices, we'd be in a bad spot.

It was very tempting, as we shopped for a place to buy, to look above and beyond our agreed upon price range. Though we told our realtor what we were willing to spend, she was constantly sending us listings that were above our target price range. And they were so much nicer! What's $30,000?

We stayed conservative and bought a place that was at the low end of what we had figured we could spend... but what if we hadn't?

I think of the families whose homes are now in foreclosure, and I know that there but for the grace of (insert deity here)... We made relatively conservative decisions, but I often wonder if we had come asking for a loan 10 years ago, would we have been approved? Were we a high risk loan?

Though we used a reputable lending company, the lender definitely tried to lend us more money than we could have realistically handled. How many families were given a false sense of security when loan officers talked to them about how much they could afford? Predatory lending indeed.

I watched Bill Clinton on The Daily Show the other night. He said that the current mortgage crisis rose from the ashes of the Dot Com bust... speculators had to put their money somewhere, so they started speculating on real estate and development... they needed more customers to create demand and growth, and the lending institutions helped provide them. How much of this was deliberate? How much of it was bad judgment and greed? How much was ignorance? I don't know, but a lot of families are now paying the price.

Most of the financial analysts will blame the poor judgment of the families now in foreclosure, they blame predatory lenders. But what they don't talk about it just how widespread predatory lending practices were. It wasn't just the internet lenders. It was the credit union down the street and the big name national banks.

So what now? I support the idea of a bail out, because if we don't bail out these banks, everyone will suffer. And I mean everyone. I don't support Paulson's version (no oversight is what got us into this mess in the first place), but I do support a bailout plan. And I feel strongly that a moratorium on foreclosures should be part of that plan.

Even if I weren't dealing with my own set of home-related woes, the crumbling financial system and mortgage system is terrifying. If Husband gets a job this year and we put our house on the market next summer, will there be anyone lending to buyers?

It's a pretty frightening time to be a homeowner. Good thing I'm too poor to have anything invested in the stock market.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Trailing spouse gets the shaft

Husband is still deeply entrenched in the writing of his paper (and still doing some "final" experiments for it). He's been working crazy hours trying to get his experiments done, the paper written, and because of this his time with the Bean is way too scarce.

A few nights ago, as we were settling into bed, Husband says casually Maybe I don't want to do this tenure track thing after all. I don't want this to be my schedule for the next ten years.

Of course everyone goes through this kind of thing at every possible decision point in their career. And most postdocs are constantly asking the "is tenure track right for me?" question. Or, if you've already answered that question with a resounding HELL NO, you're wrestling with the even more amorphous question of "what the hell do I do with myself now?"

So I cooed reassuring things in Husband's general direction until we had satisfied ourselves that it wasn't a decision to be made in bed on a weeknight.

But, um, I'm a planner. I cannot handle open-ended, no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel plans. It makes me feel unsettled to not have a plan.

I will support Husband in whatever career path he chooses, but it is driving me f*cking crazy to not have a plan. When will he get his paper out? Who knows! Is he applying for tenure track positions? Who knows! Will we be moving next summer? Who knows! What kind of job can I find if/when we move? Who knows! Can we afford to have a second child? Who knows! Are we facing a future as assistant managers of the local video strore? Who knows!

The life of a trailing spouse. I know, I volunteered for the job. But that doesn't mean it's not really annoying. I can't plan my career until I know what Husband's plans are. And until he knows... I'm up a creek.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Getting the hell outta Dodge

The theme for today was "chucking it all and heading to Mexico."

Husband and I spent the day joking about our newest plan. To leave it all behind: stress at work, Husbands impending job search, our stupid broken condo, our evil neighbors... and just run away to Mexico. The little savings we have should get us there, and once we arrive we'll live in a shack near the beach under the names Paco and Rosa (we haven't decided which one of us will be Rosa). I'm pretty sure the smattering of high school Spanish that I can still recall would allow us to blend right in.

Bean, or Pinto as she will hence forth be called, can run naked on the beach picking up shells and possibly eating them. I figure she doesn't need to wear clothes until she's maybe 5 or so, right? Little Pinto would grow up bilingual. I could have a little vegetable garden, and maybe some chickens. Husband could work as a handyman (he's very handy). It really doesn't sound so bad.

What's your secret escape plan?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Life has seemed frozen in time since the flood. Every day is a terrible day of waiting and praying. Of stress and fear. We're waiting for the HOA to begin the repairs. They have the money from the insurance company, and yet nothing has been done. Almost 8 weeks we've been waiting with concrete subfloors and holes in the walls and duct taped carpets.

The last time I spoke to the president of the HOA, he yelled at me in the parking lot. He told me if I didn't like what the board was doing, I should get a lawyer. So we got one. But it's a slow process, and nothing is happening. So we wait.

We're waiting to see whether the first floor neighbors insurance company will sue us. We can survive this if we don't get sued. If they sue us, put a lien on the house, we'll be sunk. I lay awake at night and worry, but I know it could be months, a year before we know what will happen.

I hate leaving the house because I'm afraid of running into my neighbors. I dread taking the dog out, taking the trash out, checking the mail. I hate being home, and I set our deadbolt against them. Don't ask me why.

Living in a condo is a terrible situation. Your biggest (or in our case, only) investment can be held hostage by some dude with a third grade education and a chip on his shoulder. I regret the day we first laid eyes on this place.

Time seems frozen, but it's not. Bean is growing and changing. She's talking like crazy, she dances and sings gibberish songs. She gives eskimo kisses and real kisses. She tries to ride the dog like a pony. She's a very different girl than she was even two months ago. Last night Husband and I realized that all we have at home are "baby" toys. We promised this weekend to go find her a truck, some blocks, puzzles. Real big kid stuff.

I'm trying my best to focus on Bean, and not on the mess our lives have become. She's changing so fast... if I don't pay attention I'm going to miss it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yes, we are thirteen year old boys

Husband made some off-color joke to me tonight. So to put him in his place, I playfully threatened to put my knee where it counts.

Hey hey! he said. Watch the jewels!

I prefer to call it junk I reply.

One woman's junk is another man's jewels he says.

At which point I promptly kneed him in his junk.

There will be no puns in my house.


Best. T-shirt. Ever.

Today I saw pretty much the best T-shirt ever. A young faculty member on the shuttle, a plain white T with iron-on letters...

Reviewer #2:
I'll see you in the parking lot

I can only imagine that the guy's grad students gifted him this homemade treasure. I think I might commission one for Dr. Isis.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And now for something completely different

Okay, so I've been mulling over this one for awhile, but frankly I was too lazy because it's a somewhat involved post... and let's face it... scientists are lazy. If we weren't totally lazy, why would this exist?

As some of you may remember, I attended a week long scientific conference back in June. As at most scientific conferences, the talks and poster sessions ran rather late into the night (seriously, 11:00 is late for me these days... my toddler wakes up at 6:00!). And, as at most scientific conferences, a good percentage of the attendees would go socialize and talk shop at the bar after the sessions closed.

At the close of the last session, one of the conference organizers (a relatively big name in my little subfield... let's call him Giant Perv) announced that the entertainment for the evening would be a (crappy) DJ spinning (crappy) tunes at the bar.

So I get to the bar with my labmates and a couple of other girls and we get ourselves a couple of beers. After about 10 minutes, Giant Perv walks up to our table and starts trying to get us on the dance floor. I figure he's just worried that the entertainment is a flop (which, um, hello? I'm not dancing to Men At Work). So we beg off saying that we'll dance in a little bit. Giant Perv accepts this and heads over to the next table of hapless grad students.

As soon as Giant Perv leaves the table, one of the women I am with tells a horror story about the last time she came to this conference... apparently Giant Perv likes to hit on grad students and post docs, using the dance floor as his opportunity to grab a little a**. She said that last time she was at this conference, he had literally dragged her onto the dance floor.

When it was time for our second round, one of the grad students and I went up to the bar to order more beers. As we're walking past the dance floor towards the bar, Giant Perv grabs my forearm.

Time for that dance he says. I try to beg off, but he literally isn't taking no for an answer. He's grabbing my forearm for godssake and pulling me onto the dance floor.

What I didn't realize was that by "dance" Giant Perv meant "swing dance". To Shakira.

I did a lot of swing dancing in college, and I'm not half bad. I can rock a pair of three-inch heels and make it look good. Nonetheless, I was not super stoked at the idea of dancing with this guy. But rather than make a scene or yank my arm away, I danced.

As we danced, I felt that old uncomfortable feeling of dancing with a stranger. Where do you look? What do you say? As I prayed for the speakers to explode, I tried to concentrate on where to put my feet.

I'm a terrible follow I said, laughing uncomfortably.

You're not in control here he said. I'm not going to let you tell me what to do.

Um, creepy much?

When the dance was over, he complimented me on my dancing, on my dress, asked me if I wanted a drink. I said no. I was so uncomfortable that I decided to leave the bar altogether.

Why wasn't I able to say no when this guy pulled me onto the dance floor? I didn't want to make a scene, didn't want to alienate this guy. He's in my sub-field. There's a very good chance that he'll be a reviewer on my future paper (for which I have yet to collect data). So I sucked it up, danced with him though I didn't want to. And when he continued to make me uncomfortable, I had to leave.

But in fact, I did say no. He chose to interpret my refusal as coyness instead of discomfort. He chose to continue hitting on me as I was trying to leave.

In every field, there's a guy like Giant Perv. The guy with the reputation for hanging out with all the young, female grad students. Who use conferences as an excuse to flirt with or otherwise harass women who are younger than them. Guys like Giant Perv use the power differential between Established Scientist and Lowly Grad Student (or Groveling Postdoc) to get a little action.

And frankly, guys like Giant Perv can get away with it. What recourse is there, really, when a female student or postdoc is harassed at a conference (or even at their home institution)? There are rarely any consequences for bad actors.

No big take home message here, it just sucks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Good news and bad news

The good news is that the insurance company came back and said they are approving the claim.

The bad news is that our HOA board has become openly hostile to us, and it's unclear how much fighting we're going to have to do to actually be treated fairly when it comes to the insurance payout and repairs.

The good news is that the neighbors' damages will be covered by insurance.

The bad news is that that one of them has told us (rather rudely I'd like to add) that their insurance company is definitely going to sue us.

The good news is I've lost 6 pounds in the last 4 weeks.

The bad news is that I've been getting stress migraines and I'm too nauseous to eat.

The good news is that my friends got together and sent us gift cards for groceries as a little care package. Husband keeps calling them our food stamps.

The bad news is that it turns out there are a lot of people in this world who'd rather spit on you than be a decent human being.

The good news is I could probably fit back into my wedding dress now.