The Unexamined Life, Examined

I recently bought a copy of Jenna Kutcher’s new book, How Are You, Really, because it came with bonuses that interested me. The book arrived yesterday, and so far, it’s been a good read.

Unfortunately, I reached a troubling portion. Jenna asks us to take a life inventory, and so many of the questions only have one answer: I don’t know.

I’ve spent so much of my life trying to survive, living with poverty, depression, chronic pain, blindness, autism, trauma, and doing my best to be whatever I thought other people needed me to be so that I would make them happy.

I don’t know myself.

I’ve never really examined my own life or my own self because I was so busy trying to survive. There have been countless times I’ve tried, books I’ve read, but I’ve never made the time to know who I really am outside of the gaze and lenses of others.

I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a sister. I’m a daughter. I’m an aunt. I’m a niece. I’m a cousin. I’m a friend. I’m a former coworker. I’m a customer.

Who am I to me, though? At the end of the day, when I fall into bed exhausted and anxious, listening for my toddler to wake up in the night as she has been for the past few weeks, I haven’t had time to shift those weights of duties and expectations off of myself to think about it.

My body is covered in excess skin and fat, but my soul is starving.

My mother would tell me to read my Bible, but why would I return to something that never really comforted me in the past and still doesn’t comfort me? I remember the mandatory Bible readings and the consequences for trying to get away from them or falling asleep. I remember reading multiple translations on my own, trying to find comfort.

She would also tell me to go back to church, but why would I go back to a place that abandoned me when I needed them most? They didn’t care about me. When my house burned down, they didn’t call to check on any of us. They didn’t offer to help like the community at large did.

Why would I go where people don’t care?

Why would I go where I don’t fit in and don’t belong?

Why would I darken the door of any place that told me that my Naomi died because of my sins?

And so I have made some of you reading uncomfortable.

I have a feeling this whole process is about to get a lot more uncomfortable for all of us.

Hold on to your butts.



In spite of our best efforts, we failed to secure all of the money that our loan company and the seller were asking us to pay up front, so we had to cancel the contract. It was devastating for us, and we also have to process the sorrow that we were unable to help the seller with his goal of being able to retire to the Philippines. We hope that the right person comes along to buy his home so his dream can come true.

As for us, we’re leaving the GoFundMe up, and any monies we receive from it are going into savings so that when we are ready to try again, we have enough money to get the right home for us and our children. We still want to move to Illinois to give our children more opportunities and enable our oldest daughter to be closer to her biological father and his family.

On the bright side, we’ve learned a lot from this experience. Additionally, my brother and his family recently moved to the St. Louis metro (they’re staying with my mother and her husband), and they are very interested in buying a forever home of their own. What we learned from our heartbreak is helping them, too.

While our housing situation is still insecure, we are safe right now, and we plan to try to buy a house again after my husband completes his provisioning and is fully licensed. His pay is supposed to increase, and it should open more doors.

Meanwhile, I’m doing my best to find a way to earn money, even though my eyesight is severely impaired and I am in constant pain and have to take care of our home and children. There’s got to be a way.


The Learning Curve

Since my last post, we were preapproved by Veterans United for an FHA loan of $125000 to buy a house. After a lot of searching and narrowing down, we found a house in an area we hadn’t previously considered that was a little higher than what we had hoped for, but was pretty much perfect for our needs. The owner had taken good care of it and seemed like a decent fellow.

The problems we’re running into now have nothing to do with the seller and everything to do with the purchasing process and the ridiculous rules of certain financial institutions and homebuying. The rules of homebuying are both needlessly complicated and designed to make buying a home extremely difficult for anyone who isn’t flush with cash.

First of all, there’s the down payment. 3.5 of the selling price isn’t bad by any means, but for a family living paycheck to paycheck because rent is so high, we’re responsible for all of the utilities, and gas, food, and toilet paper all cost money, saving anything has been an exercise in futility. Michael does have a 401k, but they aren’t allowing him to withdraw the entire vested amount for some reason that I do not understand. The entire vested amount would cover the down payment and earnest money with some to spare to pay down debt. But noooo, we can’t have that.

And then there’s the earnest money, which I had forgotten was a thing because I have never bought a house before, and the closest I came to homebuying was when my parents were trying to buy a house in Hannibal back in the 80s. (Man, it would be nice to get a house that big for $25000 now!) It’s only $500, but they wanted it two days after the contract was signed, and we were between paychecks. We were able to get that worked out, but it was still a pain.

Next are the closing costs, which suck. The seller agreed to cover $3000 of it, but there’s still roughly $2000 that we need to cough up ourselves. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk probably have more than that stuck in their couch cushions, but I don’t. I’m lucky if I have more than $50 in my checking account after I pay for groceries and toilet paper.

Finally, there are the moving expenses and the cost of getting utilities and internet turned on in our new home. Since teleportation isn’t a thing, we have to pay for a truck, gas, and all the other little expenses that go with getting a household moved from one place to another.

Frankly, the system is designed to keep people poor and renting someone else’s property. I feel angry about this.

I feel very, very angry.

From where I sit, all of the ladders that other people used before us and others like us to climb out of poverty and create a good life for themselves and their families have been pulled away or destroyed outright.

This isn’t fair.

This isn’t right.

The only way that I can find that we can escape poverty now is if we help each other and keep helping each other even after we’ve achieved our goals. The ones at the bottom can lift others up if the ones above pull the others up at the same time. If we all work together, lifting and pulling, we can build an unbreakable ladder of human compassion and mercy to lift each other up so that everyone has the opportunity to reach that good life and help others do the same.

So once again, I am asking you to help us reach that next rung in the ladder so that we can be better positioned to help others rise in turn.

Our GoFundMe is here:

If you would like to help, but you don’t want to use GoFundMe or trust them, you can send donations directly to me here:


CashApp: $LadyCygnet

Venmo: LadyCygnet

Thank you!


Last REITs (or: The Boldest Ask Ever)

In the early hours of April 13, 2019, I experienced something no one should have to experience. The house that my husband and I were renting burned to the ground, taking everything we owned and our three precious cats with it. The wiring was outdated, and rather than going to the expense of having it down, the landlord chose to hire the least expensive electrician he could find to do the work. The electrician did not have his work inspected by the city as he was supposed to. As a result, his poor workmanship caused the house to catch fire at the junction where the house line meets the line from the electric company’s pole.

I thought that the fire was the worst possible thing I could experience renting a home.

I was wrong.

The only home we could get on short notice was managed by a property management company, which was just a front for a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust). REITs exist to make money, and as such, they buy properties en masse, then rent them out. FirstKey Homes was the property management company that initially owned the house we rent, and while I considered a PMC a bit impersonal, at least we knew our local property managers by name and had cordial relationships with them. They felt like decent people doing their best.

Unfortunately, FirstKey chose to sell their properties to another REIT-owned PMC, Prager Property Management. Prager was more hands-off, but we still knew the names of the local property managers, and we had their direct numbers and email addresses when things went wrong.

To our surprise, Prager chose to sell their properties to yet another REIT without telling anyone. We only found out when we weren’t able to log into the rent portal we used to pay rent and sewer and check on maintenance tickets. The phones were disconnected, too. We finally received an email from the new REIT in charge, VineBrook Homes.

VineBrook Homes chose to make themselves virtually inaccessible. We were never given the names of our property managers for the area, much less a way to directly contact them by phone or email. Their only phone number connects one to a call center presumably somewhere in the US, but nowhere near St. Louis. The people who answer the phones are nice, but they have specific scripts they have to stick to, and they have absolutely no power other than to generate tickets, which are pretty much ignored by anyone higher up the food chain.

While a hands-off, impersonal approach may appeal to some renters, it doesn’t appeal to me, especially if there’s a problem.

Which, unfortunately, there was. Out of nowhere, the bathtub fixtures in our only bathroom started giving us electrical shocks. At first, we thought it was just static electricity, but as we eliminated things that might generate static electricity, the shocks continued, sometimes even more intensely than previous incidents. We used a voltmeter, and we discovered that the shocks were coming from them metal bath fixtures themselves, rather than us. Armed with that knowledge, we created a maintenance ticket on their website, expecting to hear back as quickly as we had with the previous owners of the house we rent.

We did not.

I kept on calling and calling and emailing them at both of the email addresses we had been given. It took over a week before they sent maintenance over to check out the problem. I had asked that they call to let me know when they were coming over. They did not, so I was interrupted in the middle of a virtual medical appointment and had to leave it early to show them where the problem was and talk to them about it. They brought out a voltmeter of their own, measured the electricity for themselves, and reassured us that VineBrook would send out an electrician to fix the problem as soon as possible.

They did not.

I kept on calling and getting the run-around. I was promised that a property manager would give me a call back. They never did. I reached out by email. I reached out on Facebook and finally got a responsive person, but nobody called me back. I reached out to my aldermen in desperation, and they connected me with the city building inspector, who offered to investigate if they did not take action to correct the problem.

The evening before I decided to drop the hammer and have the city building inspector come in and take over, I finally got a response from VineBrook Homes by email. They claimed that their maintenance people had not found anything wrong, so they would not be calling an electrician to find out what was causing the issue and repair it. I immediately responded and told them that their own maintenance people told us that there was a measurable electrical current going through the bath fixtures. I also told them that I would be contacting the city building inspector to bring his voltmeter and check the bath fixtures himself.

An hour later, I got a call from an electrician they had contracted to work on their properties here. He told me he would be there at 9am the next day.

And he was! The electrician was a good guy, and he and his apprentice quickly and skillfully found and isolated the circuit and the specific wire that was causing the electric charge to go through our bath fixtures. He was honest with us, and he did what he could that day. He didn’t have the wire that he needed to replace, so he created a workaround for us until he could come back with the correct wire. He marked the circuit responsible for the electrical shocks on our breaker box, and we were able to shut off the breaker to shower and bathe safely until he was able to return with his apprentice to replace the wire.

After this experience, we knew that we had to get away from properties owned by REITs. We had wanted to stay here for another year, because Michael will be fully provisioned and licensed by March 2023, but we were shocked (literally!) and horrified by our experience with VineBrook. We had also heard that other tenants had been less fortunate than us, and some had even lost their homes due to VineBrook’s reluctance to take care of dangerous maintenance situations. They had clearly demonstrated that they cared more about making money than they did about the health and safety of their tenants. They also demonstrated that they didn’t care about building community or relationships with tenants. We still don’t know any of their property managers, much less have their contact information, whereas with both FirstKey Homes and Prager Property Management, we knew our property managers by name and had their email addresses and contact phone numbers. VineBrook is terrible, but we didn’t want to roll the dice with yet another property management corporation, especially when housing demand was so high.

Even though the timing wasn’t perfect, we decided to move forward with our plan to find and buy our forever home. Michael got a couple of references to loan officers from an acquaintance of his, and both of them initially seemed interested in helping us, but one ghosted us after we gave her all of the paperwork she had requested, and the other was extremely condescending and implied we were not worth his time. He also talked about the mortgages he had on his rental properties, so he made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t on the side of scared, hurt tenants looking to get out of the rental cycle.

Because of people like them, we chose to make the biggest, boldest ask we’ve ever asked of anyone. We created a GoFundMe to raise the funds to be able to finally buy our own house outright. I’ve never heard of anyone else trying anything like this, and I knew it was audacious, but I also know that the world is full of good people who like helping others, even if all they can do is share the fundraiser and/or donate a dollar.

The link is here:

If you would like to help, but you don’t want to use GoFundMe or trust them, you can send donations directly to me here:


CashApp: $LadyCygnet

Venmo: LadyCygnet

Thank you!

ETA: A very awesome group of folks through Veterans United are working with us to try to get us a mortgage so we can get into a safe home ASAP. It’s amazing working with people who know us, know our story, and care about helping us get into a safe home. We’re still running the GoFundMe because the more money we can raise, the more we can pay upfront for our home, reducing the monthly mortgage payments and maybe even paying enough that we don’t have to get mortgage insurance. I’m excited and hopeful!