The new year has brought on two big self-realizations. The first is that I am becoming kind of a stress case and the second is that I have really started to neglect my body.
Now, I know how annoying it is when people lamet minor increases in weight. I know I am not morbidly obese or anything. All I am saying is that I am not as physically fit as I once was and each year I become more aware that I am not getting any younger and I need to take better care of my body.
Another fun little discovery I have had in the new year is that I have noticed my stress and anxiety levels are uncomfortably high. I have never been an anxious person and I don’t know if it’s the economy, or some kind of quarter-life crisis that John Mayer warned me about as an adolescent, or maybe it’s some deep rooted emotional problem. Whatever it is, I am not into it. Losing sleep, being on edge and grumpy, I am not a fan.
So in an effort to nip these “problems” in the bud I decided to take some action.
One of the many wonderful things about living in San Francisco is that as long as you have two legs to walk on, you can walk virtually anywhere in the city.
Realizing this, and knowing that a solid 50 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day can work wonders for mental and physical health, I decided to add an extra 20 minutes on to my commute and walk the 2.6 miles to work. So for the last couple of months, I have laced up my old tennis shoes and made the trek from the Richmond district to the Marina where I work.
If you are familiar with the geography of San Francisco then you know that there is a nice little national park between the Richmond district and the Marina. The Presidio has a lot to offer. As a former military base it has an interesting history. As the home to Lucas films, the Walt Disney museum and a number of other startups and nonprofits, there is a fair amount of hustle and bustle so you never really feel alone. And Andy Goldsworthy’s standing art exhibit definitely leaves an impression. Oh yea, and the smell of the Eucalyptus trees on a foggy morning, that never gets old.
So for the better part of the last two months I have been walking through the park. Giving me a chance to clear my head, breath in some fresh air and just be quiet. This is the closest I will probably ever come to meditating but so far, it’s working for me.
And on days when I oversleep, and have to run to catch the bus and am deprived of my 50 minutes of quiet time I can definitely feel the difference, and I am guessing so can everyone who comes into contact with me.
As for my physical health, there have been no real noticeable changes yet. That will probably come when I finally kick my burrito addiction.
I’m not one for new year’s resolutions or “best of” yearly reflections which is good because if I were, this would be about three weeks too late. However, I was sitting in my kitchen this sunny winter morning and it dawned on me that today is January 17th and that almost exactly one year ago, to the day, is when I got a call from my oldest sister giving me the news that my childhood home was going to be auctioned off on the steps of city hall.
This got me thinking.
The last 12 months have been pretty incredible and probably deserve a moment for reflection. This year taught me a lot. Yes, at times it kicked my ass, it broke my heart and it was a lesson that corruption and evil can exist in the world.
But more importantly this year lifted me up. It reminded me what love is. It taught me that community is far more powerful and far more important than greed and corruption will ever be. It reminded me that good things can happen to good people. It reminded me that miracles can in fact happen.
Twelve months ago I could not have imagined how lucky I would feel today. Lucky that I have such a caring, supportive, loving group of friends. Lucky that I have a family that can come together and laugh…or cry…but usually laugh, through some of life’s toughest challenges. Lucky because so many people face far more difficult challenges and are equally deserving and do not have the happy ending that my family and I had.
Sitting in my living room on that cold rainy day last January, I could not have imagined that this would be the story I would be telling one year later. I couldn’t have imagined I would have been able to have one more birthday dinner on Alejandro Drive. I could not have imagined the joy I would feel holding my newborn nephew, or watching my brother marry the love of his life, or seeing my mom being showered with admiration as she retired from a 40 year career in education. I could not have imagined that on Christmas eve I would be sitting around a table with the same friends and family who have been sitting around that table for the last 40 years.
But how lucky I am because here it is January 17th, 2013 and this is the story I am telling. The last 12 months have been pretty remarkable, to say the least. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who made it so.
It’s weird, I feel like I’ve been here before. Sitting alone in my apartment, feeling frustrated and defeated and hopeless, just having hung up the phone with my upset mother.
It’s because I have been here before. This has been some version of my reality for the better part of two years. But I’m tired now. We’re all tired. You’ve strung us along and warn us down. But before we finally throw in the towel, I want to say one last thing.
My family and I have been through a lot in the last couple of years, but I don’t have to tell you that. You know about the school district cutting my mom’s benefits. You know about my dad suffering a stroke. You know about the mountain of bills that piled up as a result. You know all of this because I told you. And for a second, I thought you listened.
You didn’t listen though. You were completely unable to compromise, to meet my parents in the middle, to help out a struggling family whose only crime was wanting to see their children do well. My parents, like so many parents always put their children first. We wanted to go to college and they wanted to help us. They borrowed money when they should have said no. They refinanced their house at an awful time. This doesn’t make them bad people unworthy of your help, it makes them normal, loving, caring parents.
But my parents are more than just good parents. Over the years they have opened their home to people from all walks of life. They have been loving friends and mentors. They are pillars in this community.
And for a moment, I thought you understood that. I thought I heard something in your voice that said you wanted to help. I was wrong. You were unable to work with my parents and lower their mortgage payment.
What happened next is what makes me most mad. My parents, rather than just walking away, did what a responsible homeowner in their situation should do. They did a HAFA short sale. Over the last several months they have been working with a real estate agent to try to sell the house. There were interested buyers and everything was going well up until a couple of weeks ago when a young man knocks on my parents’ door. He tells my parents he just bought their house at auction. Unbeknownst to my parents or to the real estate agent, our home had been sold for a penny over the asking price at what was a seemingly illegal auction on the steps of the Sonoma County Courthouse.
To be clear, I didn’t like it when I thought you were being greedy but I kind of accepted it. After all, what I construe as greed might just be how big business operates. However, what is happening now makes me mad beyond words. At best it is unethical but more than likely it also is totally illegal. What is happening to my parents right now is emblematic of some of the ugliest and most unjust parts of this country.
I am telling you this now because I’m sure you don’t know any of this happened. I am sure that my parents’ story got lost amongst the tens of thousands of other stories of families just like mine all over the country. But I am telling you this because my parents; the life they have lived, the work they have done, the love they have shared are emblematic of some of the best parts of this country. I am telling you this because as a bank that holds the name of this great country, you should do everything you can to take care of the people who make this country so great, my parents included. Bank of America, be a bank that is worthy of its name.
I recently received a notice from you stating that my application for your individual health care plan had been rejected because of my history of ovarian cancer. Thank you for that kind reminder; I had almost forgotten that had happened. But now that you mention it, I’m starting to remember. It was about a month into my first semester of college. I was 19 years old when my doctors discovered a tumor the size of an orange on my left ovary. I do vaguely remember the week I spent in the hospital and the month or so of recovery at home after the surgery. I also remember feeling really lucky that we had caught it so early and that it hadn’t spread and that I didn’t end up having to do chemotherapy. Also, the 6 inch scar down the center of my stomach wasn’t a good enough reminder. I don’t know how, but I did, I almost forgot all about it. So thank you for reminding me.
But here is the thing…that was 5 years ago. In the time since I have fully recovered; I have kept up with all my doctors’ appointments, I have even been given a clean bill of health by my doctor, I traveled around Asia, and I graduated college. I am doing pretty well. One might even say that I am “thriving.” As an organization that encourages people to “Thrive,” it is puzzling to me that you are using my history with ovarian cancer as an excuse to deny me access to health care.
Moreover, it seems weird that you would turn down the $260 a month that I want to give you. A healthy 24 year old woman wants to pay you $260 a month so she can go to her doctor every six months and have him tell her that she is healthy and cancer free. Now, I know it doesn’t compare to the $400 a month you want me to pay you to overlook this little smudge on my record but I’m sorry, I just can’t afford that right now. I just graduated from college; I work in a café, and live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. This won’t always be my reality but until then, can you work with me? I am willing to meet you in the middle. I promise to pay you $260 a month. I will eat better. I will exercise more. Shoot, I will even drink less. And all you have to do is cash my check every month. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.
I understand that it might be little risky. I think they even classify people like me as “high risk.” But let’s take a risk Kaiser, what do you say? You’ll be giving this 24 year old some serious peace of mind.
A fun little fact about me is that I have never been “grounded.” Now, this is not to say that in my twenty three years I haven’t engaged in behavior that warranted a serious “time-out”, because I definitely have. My parents just never needed to ground me because whenever they discovered I had made a poor decision all they would have to do is look at me and say, “I am so disappointed in you.” That was all it took. I sent myself to my room. I am not entirely sure why this strategy worked, but it did. I would always end up making the right decision.
Up until last week no one had disappointed me enough to be the recipient of those six little words of shame. After the hoopla surrounding my letter to Bank of America and their response, I was kind of hoping for a Disney channel ending. I was hoping that by some miracle this multibillion dollar financial institution grew a conscience overnight and decided to make an exception for me and my family and our house.
They didn’t. The offer that my good friend Serene at the CEO’s office was referring to was nothing more than a letter recognizing our concern and assigning us a representative at Bank of America to work with my parents. A representative with whom my parents had already been working, and who was conveniently out of the office for the last two weeks.This was pretty disappointing. I can’t say that it was all the surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.
Taking a lesson from the Maureen and Noel Schmidt Parenting Book, I decided to let Bank of America know just how disappointed I was by their action in hopes that they would see the error of their way and make the right decision. On Monday night I called back the lady at the CEO’s office. She didn’t answer so I left her a voicemail stating exactly why I was disappointed by their “offer” and that I hope they do everything in their power to make sure this has a favorable outcome.
Two days later and I haven’t received a call back from the Bank, not that I really expected one.
In the meantime, the amazing foreclosure counselor from Catholic Charities that my parents have been working with for the last couple of months is continuing to work with the Bank on my parents behalf. My parents are more realistic about how this is going to end and are actively looking for a new place to call home before the impending auction at the end of March.
As for me, I am holding on to my youthful idealism and continue to believe that this will all end well. Ultimately I just want my parents to be able to have a place to live and grow old and retire without constantly worrying. It really doesn’t seem like too much to hope for, right?
January 18th was another day in the life of a recent college graduate. I had the day off work and with the first real rainstorm of the winter pouring down on San Francisco I decided to stay indoors. Sitting alone with my coffee and my space-heater I continued on my search for a full-time job. After hours of prowling the internet looking in vain for employment, the self-loathing was really starting to sink in. Six o’clock rolled around and I was nearly at my wits’ end, when my phone rang. It was my oldest sister. She sounded distraught. She told me that my parent’s last attempt to prolong the foreclosure of their house, my childhood home, had failed. The house was going up for auction tomorrow afternoon and they still had nowhere to live.
The call from my sister coupled with my already crummy day was the final straw. Feeling frustrated, angry, and hopeless, I took a break from writing cover letters and wrote a letter to Bank of America. With no intention of ever showing anyone, I wrote my “strongly worded letter” to the bank.
Fourteen months of frustration, stress, and tears unleashed on to my keyboard. Man, did it feel good to write. It wasn’t until I finished writing the letter that I considered sharing it with anyone besides myself. After all, over the last year my family and I had mostly internalized this struggle and posting it on the internet for my whole world to see seemed a bit terrifying. Temporarily disregarding my apprehensions about making my family’s plight public domain I posted the letter to my blog.
And it seems as though it was a good thing I did. The response was amazing. Within an hour, a handful of friends shared it on Facebook, reposted it on tumblr and re-tweeted on twitter. I was greeted with warm wishes, words of encouragement, and even e-mail addresses for executives at Bank of America. Upon the recommendation of friends, I forwarded my letter to some people at Bank of America as well as some local news outlets. I went to bed Wednesday night feeling equal parts satisfied with having actually sent the letter and astonished by the kind of support I was receiving.
That was just the beginning. I awoke Thursday morning to a message from my mom. She said that the loan counselor from Catholic Charities, in a last minute Hail Mary attempt, called the U.S. Treasury and asked them to intervene and postpone the auction…and they did. The auction would be postponed until March 21st!
Upon hearing the news, people started to rally. Over the next 24 hours my outstanding group of friends and family continued to share my letter and reach out to me and my family. Going to bed Thursday night I was completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love. That alone felt like enough. It reaffirmed what I already knew to be true; that the bank could take our house, but they could not take the love and friendships and memories that had grown in that house or in that community.
On the morning of the 20th, I was walking into work when I got a voice mail. It was from a lady at the CEO and President’s Office at Bank of America. Less than 48 hours after the letter to B of A had been drafted I received a call from the office of the CEO of Bank of America. Seriously.
In shock, I gave myself some time to collect my thoughts. Home from work, I sat in my kitchen trying to muster up the courage to call back this lady. I finally did. The conversation was short and direct. She knew who I was. She told me they received my letter and as a result had drafted some sort of new offer for my parents. Legally she could not disclose the details but said that they would be in contact with my parents and the offer was in the mail. And that was that. Before we hung up, I asked her how she had got a hold of my letter. She said one of the executives received it and made sure it got the CEO’s office.
I don’t know what more will come from this. I am cautiously optimistic. The purposed offer may just be nothing more than the bank providing me some lip service in an attempt to dodge yet another public relations disaster. Who knows? I guess we will just have to wait and see what this next week brings.
Walking through the front door of our house with tears in our eyes after a coach unfairly cut us from a sports team or a teacher treated us badly, my mom would always threaten that she was going to write him or her, a strongly worded letter. My mom and dad, like most parents, hated seeing their children get hurt. They saw the hurt in our eyes and wanted to make everything better.
Well, my siblings and I are all grown up now and we are seeing the same hurt in our parent’s eyes. We saw the hurt in their eyes as they struggled to figure out how to pay for an inflated mortgage payment. We saw the hurt in their eyes when after job loss, a stroke and increasing medical expenses became too much, they could no longer afford their mortgage. Now we see the hurt in their eyes after countless nights of losing sleep, worrying about where they are going to live. Seeing this hurt in their eyes over the last year is what prompted me to write you, Bank of America, a strongly worded letter.
My parents, my four older siblings and I first entered the house on Alejandro Drive in the middle of winter twenty three years ago. In the time since, we have left quite a mark on the house.I am sharing this with you because I want you to really understand what you are getting when you take that house-our home-on Alejandro Drive.
When you enter the house, you will notice the colorful walls and vibrant tiles. We call that my mom’s “mid-life fiesta.” Enjoy that. It was a labor of love. Each colorful tile was made by mom and laid by my dad.
Those bookshelves, that mantel, the fence in the front yard…my dad built those. You are welcome.
When you look at the walls, you will see holes. The holes once held nails, which held some of the finest art you have ever seen. This is not art by Picasso or Van Gogh, but by the Bay Area’s best fiber artist, Oregon’s finest calligrapher and New York City’s best abstract artist. You can’t have the art.
There are bigger holes in the walls of the bedrooms from when our teenage angst got the best of us and we slammed the doors so hard it left a bit a mark. Have fun fixing those.
You might see some screws, way up on the highest ceiling. Those were securing the famous “Schmidt family Christmas mulberry branch” to the wall. This probably warrants a bit of an explanation but quite frankly, you don’t deserve one. Good luck getting them out.
You will notice railings on the walls. Those are a new addition to our house. My brothers built them. They were for my dad, to help him learn to walk again after he suffered a massive stroke last November. You probably remember; it was right around the time when you sent my parents a letter telling them their loan modification had been rejected. We really appreciated that.
There is much more that you will never understand about the true value of this house. It is worth more than whatever monetary value my parents owe you. The dinner parties, the sleepovers, the birthdays, my first steps down the hallway, graduations, weddings, and funerals all happened within those walls but they also happened within each of us and you can’t take those memories.
Tomorrow that house, my childhood home, is going up for auction. I will go to my parents house this weekend and pack up the stuff that my parents have accumulated over the last forty-two years. Forty-two years my parents have lived in that town. They have been teachers, mentors, community organizers, coaches, and so much more. They have given back so much to this community and now you and your corporate greed are kicking them to the curb and letting them fend for themselves. I hope you’re happy with that decision. I hope the money you get for the house is worth the loss that this community is going to feel in my parent’s absence.
For whatever reason all the classes I took this semester held their final exams early, leaving me done for the semester by December 10th. I thought I should probably take advantage of this free time I had before I headed back to California. While my friends in Hong Kong were taking their finals, I decided I would go for a little trip. Initially I was going to go to both Thailand and Cambodia over a nine day period. After a somewhat rocky first day in Bangkok..and by rocky I mean losing my debit card…my one and only way of retrieving money…a mere 30 minutes after arriving in Bangkok and having to have my mom wire me money, I had to re-evaluate my trip a little bit. After a day or two of exploring in and around Bangkok I was kind of worn out on the whole site-seeing thing so I thought I would head south and get a little R&R on one of Thailand’s many beaches. Cambodia would just have to wait for another time.
Word around town was Koh Samet was the best beach within proximity to Bangkok, so I hopped on a bus Monday afternoon and headed toward the ocean. Koh Samet is a little island about a three hour bus ride south east of Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand. The bus takes you as far as Ban Phe, from there it is a 45 min ferry ride to Koh Samet. Not having made any arrangements for accommodation, I talked to a “travel agent” (a dude sitting at a table on the ferry pier with a homemade photo album of the different resorts) who sold me on the idea of getting one of the beach bungalows. It wasn’t too expensive and it was getting late and I was in no mood to walk around the island looking for a place to stay. It was a cute spot, a little family owned place at the quiet end of the beach. The bungalow…well, let’s just say it was no Ritz Carlton. The room consisted of a mattress on the floor and a toilet and a shower head. The faded, mismatched sheets were stained with paint (at least I am hoping it was paint), the door didn’t close all the way, the windows were held together by tape and I could see the ground through the floorboards. Whatever, who am I to complain? I was in a bungalow on the beach in Thailand. My life doesn’t suck.
I was unpacking my things, getting ready to go grab some dinner when I look over and see a cockroach on my bed. Gross. We all know how I feel about cockroaches. I felt kind of bad for the poor little guy though; he was stuck on his back and couldn’t move. I took mercy on him and helped him outside. Returning from dinner I was getting ready for bed when I looked over and saw a lizard/gecko type thing climbing on the wall of my room. Normally I don’t mind geckos but I just couldn’t help imagining it running into my mouth in my sleep. I decided I should sleep with the light on because that would somehow keep these little critters at bay. I know there is actually little to no logic behind that idea, but it was comforting nonetheless. I also thought wrapping myself up in my blanket like a mummy would prevent the various insects who were inhabiting my bungalow from bothering me. Again, no logic but it made me feel better.
The next couple days were spent on the beach, reading a book (for pleasure, not for school—-I haven’t done that in a while), drinking out of coconut (seriously), getting a Thai massage.
A little side note: I really can appreciate a place where your sunscreen costs more than an hour long massage. Sunscreen: 400 Baht (about $13). An hour long, full body Thai massage on the beach: 300 Baht (about $10). Ridiculous.
It was kind of weird to literally have NOTHING to do but sit and read and hang out in warm crystal clear water. No school work to do, no job to worry about, no internet, no TV to watch, just food to eat and a tan to be had. Not a bad way to be. But to be honest, I am not sure I could have done it for more than three days. There is only so much of nothing a person can do before they start to go a little crazy.
Initially I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive about going on a trip alone for nine days. Nine days is kind of a lot of alone time. What if I got lost or stuck or hurt or sick? And wouldn’t I get lonely? Quite the contrary actually, it has proven to be a great adventure. It reaffirmed my love of traveling. It was a nice reminder for me to trust myself and be patient with myself. If I get lost…it’s OK. That’s just part of the adventure…I’ll figure it out.Plus I met some of the most interesting people. Whether it was in the hostel in Bangkok or at a café in Ayutthaya or in a bar on the beach in Koh Samet…I may have been alone but I was definitely never lonely.
In case you were wondering….this is what I look like when riding in a tuk tuk, in Ayutthaya with no idea where I am or where I am going: