Back in Debt

In July 2013, right after Eugene and I were married, we paid off the remainder of our non-mortgage debt. No more credit card debt, no student loans, no 401(k) loans, nothing. We just had the mortgage on the house that Eugene had bought back in 2005. (We did and do still happily use credit cards to earn frequent flyer miles, but we pay them off every month.)

After our non-mortgage debt was paid off, we piled up money in an emergency fund. Once that was at a level we were happy with, we made a change on how we paid the mortgage. Eugene had refinanced in late 2012, but it was a 30-year mortgage, and we wanted to cut that down to a 15-year mortgage. We didn’t want to pay closing costs, so using some mortgage calculators online I calculated what additional principal payments we would have to make each month to pay off that mortgage by the end of 2027. We started those payments in May 2014.

In October 2014, we re-started funding our retirement accounts. We had stopped funding them while we were getting out of non-mortgage debt and funding our emergency fund. If you’re thinking to yourself that this sounds like Dave Ramsey’s plan, it is, at least up to a certain point.

Things were going well. We had enough money to pay our bills, to put some into retirement funds, and to do fun things with. We figured we’d continue like that for a few more years, and then someday when we no longer have pets we’d move into a new house that was a little smaller, a little less expensive, and more suited to our needs.

One day in early August 2015, we got a phone call with news about a member of Eugene’s family who was in the hospital with a bad prognosis. This was the first time we had to use our emergency fund. I was able to go online and book a flight for Eugene to go home to Canada plus get him a rental car without having to worry about whether we had the money to do it, because we did. We put him on the next flight without worrying about comparing prices. Once he was on the plane, I just transferred some money from savings our savings account into our checking account to use to pay off the credit card bill a few weeks later. Simple.

Thankfully Eugene’s family member’s health improved, and after a few days in Canada, Eugene came home. We talked about how things went using the emergency fund, and we decided to make a few tweaks. It worked well, but now that I’d used it there were some things I wanted to do differently. For one thing, I wanted to have some cash at home. I had time before Eugene got on the plane home to go to the ATM and get cash, but that might not always be the case. So we made that change. I also decided I wanted to keep more money in our local bank’s savings account where I can transfer it online to our checking account and have it available instantly. The rest of our emergency fund is in an online bank, and it takes a few business days to transfer. We ended up adding more money to this account as well.

The more I looked at our budget projections with these changes taken into consideration, the more I realized we needed to make some kind of major change, but I didn’t know what. Then a few days later on August 15, 2016, I was chatting with our friend Jason of Etherkit when he mentioned something in passing that made me give serious thought to the possibility of selling our house and downsizing. Poor Eugene was outside mowing the lawn at the time, so when he came back inside, tired and overheated and wanting nothing more than to cool down and rest, he was greeted by my overly-enthusiastic out-of-nowhere idea for selling our house. I’m not sure how he puts up with me, but God bless him for it. When I get an idea that I’m excited about, that’s all I can think of and talk about.

Over the next week, things fell into place. We did a quick search online to see what house prices were nowadays. There was a townhouse nearby for sale for way under what our budget would be. I considered this enough proof of concept to continue the discussion, and he agreed. Next we looked for existing homes which were more in line with what we wanted, and we found a few of those available in a price range that looked manageable. So far, so good.

I’m familiar with the Environments for Living program for home builders, so I thought I’d try to find an existing home that had been built to those standards a few years ago. It wouldn’t still have the guarantees, but if the house had been built well to start with, that was good enough for me. I thought I remembered that David Weekly Homes was the only EFL builder in Charleston, but I went back to the EFL website to verify that. It turned out there was now another one: Ashton Woods. Since I knew new David Weekly Homes homes were all out of our price range, I went straight to the Ashton Woods site. They had new subdivisions all over the Charleston area, including one way up in Moncks Corner where my godkids used to live back when I lived in Florida. The starting price for homes there was pretty attractive. Eugene and I booked a meeting with them for the following Saturday, August 22, 2015.

We got there more than an hour before our appointment and drove around the small neighborhood. At one point, I stopped and rolled down my window and asked a couple of older men in a front yard what they thought of living in this new neighborhood. One guy answered and told us it was great and shared a lot of information with us. They were really friendly. We drove around a while longer, and then we saw one of those same men down at the other side of the neighborhood. We stopped the car and started talking to him again, and he invited us into his house which we were now in front of. We met his wife, and they gave us a complete tour of their home. They’d been there for three months at that point. It was a different floor plan than we were considering, but it was great to be able to see a finished home. A good 45 or 50 minutes later, we had to pry ourselves away or we weren’t going to be on time for our meeting.

We ended up all but signing a contract that day, and the only reason we didn’t is that we hadn’t brought a checkbook. We had no intentions of buying a house that day! We don’t usually make impulse purchases, but… :-) Our salesman was so eager to make the sale that he met us at church the next day in the church hall while we were cleaning up after serving doughnuts, and we signed the contract there. We chose the lot behind the friendly neighbors. The salesman said the house will be done some time in March, but as you can see, I’m writing this in mid-May.

The order of operations we followed is not what I’d recommend. On August 22, 2015, we decided to buy this new house. On December 24, 2015, we moved from the old house into an apartment. We hired people to do a bunch of work on the old house to get it ready to sell. We listed it at 2pm on February 10, 2016, and had a signed contract with a buyer fewer than 49 hours later on February 12. We closed on the sale of that house on March 22, 2016. If I had it to do again, I’d move out of the house, renovate it, sell it, and only then buy the next one. I’d also go through a real estate agent when buying a new construction home. That would’ve made the process smoother. By the way, if you are in the Charleston area and you’re looking for a real estate agent, I highly recommend the agent who sold our old house, Melanie DeHaven. She is fantastic.

For the past month and a half, we’ve been completely debt free — mortgage and otherwise. It’s a great feeling, and I don’t want us to be away from that for too long. It’s NICE not owing anybody anything.

Today we closed on the sale of our new home. OUR new home. I am exhausted and ecstatic. Those of you who know me know how far I’ve come in the past 10-11 years. My life is more amazing now than I ever could have imagined then. I am immensely grateful. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be married to Eugene and to get to be a stay at home wife. I’m looking forward to turning this new house into our home and getting to know our new side of town.




Achievement unlocked: Forty laps around the sun

Today I complete my 40th lap around the sun and turn 40 years old.

Ten years ago I realized that I’d thought I’d never live to see 30, but then I did, and it was the beginning of the most incredible decade. I’m very excited about turning 40 today, and I can’t wait to see what this decade has in store for me.

I’m missing Mom a lot right now, but by chance I have a recording of her wishing me a happy birthday from 2012, only a month and a half before she died. My home phone then (and now) was an internet phone, and voice mails are saved as .wav files. When I married Eugene and cleared out my maiden name email address before moving over to my married name email address, I came across a handful of messages that I hadn’t deleted. One of them happened to be a birthday greeting. I’m grateful that worked out the way it did.

It’s only a few seconds long, but I put it up on YouTube so that I could link to it here.

Thanks, Mom. I miss you and love you.

The Communion of Saints

Pope Francis on the communion of saints, October 30, 2013:

“It is a spiritual union that comes from baptism, and is not broken by death, but, thanks to the risen Christ, is destined to find its fulfillment in eternal life. There is a profound and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world — including us — and those who have crossed the threshold of death into eternity. All the baptized here on earth, the souls in purgatory, and all the saints who are already in heaven form one big family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in the prayer of intercession.”

Eugene’s close friend Theresa Peters died on May 19, 2013, at the age of 36. I’m sorry to say that I hadn’t yet met her.

From the day of her funeral, I have associated Theresa with St. Thérèse of Lisieux and with yellow flowers. The prayer cards at her funeral Mass referenced St. Thérèse, affectionately known as The Little Flower. St. Thérèse said that she would spend her Heaven doing good on Earth and showering us with roses.

Theresa’s obituary noted her request for flowers:

In lieu of donations, Theresa requests flowers. Being a Cystic Fibrosis and transplant patient, Theresa was never allowed to have flowers, so she would want them in her celebration of life.

As Eugene blogged, she got a lot of them. It was beautiful. Her family had no way of taking home so many dozens and dozens of flower arrangements, so they asked us all to take one home with us. The one we had sent was already claimed, so Eugene chose another one to come home with us. It had yellow roses in it. From that point on for me, yellow flowers became synonymous to me not with Saint Thérèse the Little Flower, but with Theresa, the Littler Flower.


Eugene wasn’t brought up with a belief in God or with prayer as part of his life, but he attends Mass with me, and we make a point to go to early morning Mass on Theresa’s death anniversary before he goes to work. I’ve taught him about intercessory prayer, that we can pray and offer our sufferings and sacrifices here on earth for souls in purgatory. I’ve explained that we light candles as a way to symbolize that, like the smoke from the candle, our prayers are continually being offered to God. Eugene lit a candle for Theresa in 2014 and 2015 on the anniversary of her death.

This past May, the anniversary of her death was a Tuesday, which for me is my regular day to spend an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel. I had been planning to offer all my prayers that day for Theresa anyway, but when I got to the chapel, I noticed that that week’s flowers were yellow roses. Are you here? I asked her.

As I prayed, I believe God allowed her to speak to me, and she told me that she was okay; she was in Heaven now.

Me: How do I know this is from you and from God and not just something I want to hear?

Theresa: You’re going to meet the pope.

The message was clear as day. “You’re going to meet the pope,” where “you” was referring to me and Eugene. Now we already had booked a trip to Rome in November-December 2015, but meeting the pope isn’t exactly something easy to do. Again I asked how I could know that this is from God and not just something my brain is concocting.

She answered me again with a very specific prediction, but I immediately (but temporarily) forgot that one. I spent my hour in the chapel in a dumbfounded stupor, trying not to shake and to cry, and trying in vain to make sense of the messages Theresa and God were giving me.

I left the chapel and made a quick stop at the grocery store before heading home. The whole time I was driving I was speaking (out loud now) to God and Theresa, trying to understand. I believe at one point I may have said that they’re going to have to give me more of a sign, because I fear that I’m just wishing this to happen and not really hearing it from Heaven.

In the parking lot of the grocery store, I stopped to let a woman cross in front of my car. In her shopping cart was a large bouquet of yellow flowers. I started to cry. As I turned the corner to park the car, I saw another bouquet of yellow flowers on a car. Okay, I got it. It’s from you. You’re telling me that you’re in Heaven, and you’re giving me these as signs that the message is real and that it’s from you. So, we’re going to meet the pope? Hmmmm.

I told Eugene about all of this when he got home from work. Eugene might write about his reaction, but my impression of it was that with his secular cynicism he figured my brain was just coming up with nice thoughts that we wanted to be true. The next day when he got home from work and brought the mail in, there was a letter from the tribunal stating that his declaration of nullity had been granted and it was final. It was only then that I remembered what Theresa had told me the day before which I had immediately forgotten: You’re going to get good news from the tribunal. I can’t blame Eugene for being skeptical about that one since I didn’t mention it until it already happened. I think my reaction was something to the effect of, “Oh, yeah, Theresa said we were going to get that.” But really, she had told me.

When I told a good friend about all of this a few days later, she asked me if we were going to try to meet the pope or if we were just going to let it happen. I told her the chances that Pope Francis would seek me out were pretty slim, so we were going to try to make it happen. The best way I could think of was to have our civil marriage convalidated a little sooner than I thought would be possible and time it such that we’re considered newlyweds on our trip to Rome so that we could sit in the newlywed section of the general audience.

A lot of things had to happen for the timing to work out right, but thanks to my parish priest and the priest who traveled from out of town to witness our marriage, we married each other in the Roman Catholic Church five months to the day after that day in the chapel.

photo courtesy of Gian Paolo Porcu

Our convalidation, photo courtesy of Gian Paolo Porcu

This put our church wedding date within the required eight weeks of the Wednesday general audience with Pope Francis that we were hoping to attend on December 2 in Rome. I sent off the ticket request to the Prefecture of the Papal Household, complete with a copy of our wedding certificate showing the date, and then we waited.

We never heard back.

Undeterred, we packed my wedding dress, Eugene’s suit, and Theresa’s rosary which we had gotten from her parents, and we flew to Rome. We managed to get general admission tickets to the audience a few days after we arrived, so at least we had a backup plan even if the newlywed section didn’t work out.

We went to the pope’s tailor and bought a zucchetto for him.

un zucchetto per il papa

un zucchetto per il papa

Then the day before the audience, we went with our wedding certificate to see if we could still get a ticket to the newlywed section. The Swiss Guard (who had an excellent grasp of the English language) explained that for “freshly married” all we had to do was arrive in our wedding attire and show the wedding date on the certificate to the guard that morning, and we’d be allowed in.

It worked exactly as he said it would.

(I want to note that just in case you want to try this, do try to go through channels and get tickets ahead of time. There was practically nobody at the audience that week because of the cold weather and the very recent terror attacks in Paris. I think at other times of the year it wouldn’t have been this simple, and I don’t want anybody to be disappointed if it doesn’t work as easily for them.)

Because we had seats in a section so far in the front, we weren’t able to see any of the popemobiling before the audience began. We did have a good view directly to Pope Francis during the audience, though the angle of the sun made it difficult to see anything at times.


At the end of the audience, Pope Francis gives his apostolic blessing to all of us there, and he extends that blessing to our friends and family back home. He also blesses any religious articles we have brought for that purpose. We had with us quite a few rosaries that friends had given us to have blessed, plus I’d bought a several dozen medals and prayer cards to have blessed.

Once the audience has concluded, the newlyweds line up and are escorted to the center section, directly behind where Pope Francis had been sitting. In the past, I’ve seen pictures of how each newlywed couple is allowed to approach the pope and have a few seconds with him before moving on so that the next couple may approach. It was different this day, perhaps because of the concerns of terrorism. We were behind the rail like the other sections of pilgrims were, but Pope Francis made a point of connecting with each of us before moving on.

We had left our backpack full of religious articles behind, and we had brought with us only the zucchetto and two items to be personally blessed. In my left hand I held my necklace with two medals (St. Monica, who is my reminder to be a good example, and Eugene’s St. Thérèse medal) and Theresa’s rosary in its case which had an image of St. Peter’s on it.

When Pope Francis got to the place we were, we were behind two other couples, so none of the official Vatican photos captured both of our faces in the same photo, but it doesn’t matter. Pope Francis — the Vicar of Christ on Earth — reached out his right hand to touch me. He put his hand on my hand which was holding the items I hoped he would bless for me. He made the sign of the cross over them. And then he put his hand back on mine, as if to make a point of touching each of the medals, the rosary, and its case, so there would be no doubt that he had touched them. He squeezed my hand. Pope Francis, the successor of Peter, held my hand.

I had practiced my Italian before the trip, and I had a prayer request to ask him, but I completely forgot it. I didn’t forget how to say it in Italian. I just forgot that I wanted to speak to him. He looked me in the eyes, truly locked eyes with me, and all I could think in that moment was that Theresa was in heaven.

Eugene spoke up — in Italian! — and offered the box with the zucchetto to Pope Francis. Un zucchetto! Pope Francis, much to the delight of us and everybody around us, took off his zucchetto with his left hand, took ours from Eugene with his right hand, put it on his head, and then removed it and returned it to the box as he put his own zucchetto back on his head. It’s a tradition that when you offer the pope a zucchetto, you receive back a zucchetto worn by him. So now that’s exactly what we have: a zucchetto worn by Pope Francis.

At that point I did manage to find my voice, and I spoke to him in Italian: Grazie mille, Papa Francesco. (Thank you very much, Pope Francis.)

Pope Francis reaches for my hand

Pope Francis reaches for my hand


Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross over Theresa's rosary and our two medals

Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross over Theresa’s rosary and our two medals


Pope Francis reaches for the zucchetto Eugene is offering him

Pope Francis reaches for the zucchetto Eugene is offering him


Pope Francis removes his zucchetto to put ours on his head

Pope Francis removes his zucchetto to put ours on his head


Pope Francis briefly wears the zucchetto we bought him before returning it to us

Pope Francis briefly wears the zucchetto we bought him before returning it to us


Do you believe that God allowed Theresa to speak to my heart, to tell me that she is in Heaven, to tell me things that would happen as a way of proving the messages were from God?

I believe.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, 

the communion of Saints, 

the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.