Saturday, November 28, 2009

Shopping for a new minivan

It's getting to be time to get rid of the Windstar, she's starting to nickel and dime us with repairs (and being a 2001 with 152K miles, is not worth a whole lot and probably won't last much longer anyway). The main problems are ones that are difficult to diagnose - both warning brake lights on the dash come on for no reason at random times, the back windows may or may not open (and if you get them open, they may not close), the number lock keypad doesn't work, the keyless beeper doesn't always unlock the doors, and 7 times out of 10, when you start the van, the windshield wipers cycle. Most of this has been a problem ever since we bought the van, and the dealer hasn't been able to diagnose what is causing it, so they can't fix it (and I'm not throwing any more money at diagnostic attempts when it's costing $80 an hour, and is going to cost the same to fix it, plus whatever the needed parts may cost).
So DH and I have been out looking at minivans. Now, the Windstar was a good one, other than the electrical problems (and so was my Grand Caravan, till it had electrical problems). So far, most of the minivans we've looked at - Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Kia, Honda, Toyota, Dodge - are all about the same. They're all easy to get in and out of, they all get about the same gas mileage (anywhere from 16/18 mpg city to 23/25 mpg hwy and I'm not going to quibble over a couple of miles difference), and all of them have pretty comfortable seating. All of the newer ones (anything 2007 and after) have front and rear heat/air. The only ones I've seen that have the Stow'N'Go seating tho, are the Kia Sedona and the Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth minivans (and I really like the idea of the Stow'N'Go).
One drawback is that I will need to get seatbelt extenders with whichever one we decide to go with. Seems they've decided to shorten seatbelts. The seatbelt in my '97 Grand Caravan fit with room to spare, but in the 2008 I drove yesterday, it was tight (yeah, it fastened, but I had no room to move, and if I was ever in an accident, the damned thing would probably decapitate me). The Kia was the same way. But seatbelt extenders are usually free, and that's a small thing.
I think we've narrowed our choices down to the Kia Sedona or the Dodge Grand Caravan. I've driven both of them (DH won't drive them, he calls minivans "chickmobiles", and only drives his 4WD F150). The Kia, well, just let me say that I would definitely need to use the cruise control on the highway at all times. It accelerates quite well (yeah, it and would get away from me if I wasn't careful. Of course, the Dodge was the same way, so that doesn't really go in to making the decision on which one we buy.
We're looking at how many miles are on each one, how much warranty is left on each one, the best price on each one, and what we can get on trade-in for the Windstar from each dealer. A lot will also depend on which one our bank will finance for us, too.
So, what does this have to do with FA/SA? Being a fat person, especially a fat person with arthritis who finds it next to impossible to get in and out of cars, I thought it would be informative for other people with similar difficulties to know what I've learned in my minivan shopping.
Granted, I prefer Dodges, I've had a lot of them in my car-owning history and they've always been good vehicles (and my dad likes them too, and that's a big influence on me). My son just bought a Kia Optima and recommended that I look at their minivans (he loves the Optima), so that's why I looked at the Sedona (yeah, I do tend to listen to my son when it comes to vehicles, he's not steered me wrong on the ones I've bought that he recommended). As always, YMMV, but if you're looking for a minivan that will fit someone up to 350 pounds and 5' 8" tall, the 2007 and newer Dodge and Kia minivans do it admirably (with the addition of a seatbelt extender).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

We got a Wii, and the bowling is a blast!!!!!!

I spent 6 hours yesterday hooking it up and trying to get it to work on our TV, which is not easy when you don't have the original remote (DH went on a cleaning rampage and threw out all the universal remotes that had quit working and the original remote for the TV was in that lot). I finally found the website for help, I suggest not using the url they put in the manual but shortening it to (they said to use and that doesn't exist when you type it in). So anyway, I ended up having to run the Wii through the VCR and then we have to put a movie in, play a few seconds of it, stop the movie, and then we can play the Wii. Pain in the ass, but my son said he'll fix that the next time he comes up here (probably at Christmas).
DH came home from work, we ate dinner, and he wanted to try it out (we bought the WiiSports). So we bowled 5 games before he decided it was time to quit and get ready for bed (he has to work today and tomorrow). Now, my son and his wife can sit down and bowl, but I found out that doesn't work for me, and it doesn't work for DH either, so both of us were taking turns standing between the recliner and the loveseat, in front of the TV, bowling (he said not to tell anyone, but I beat him 2 of the 3 games and it was my first time ever bowling with the Wii, he had bowled with my son and DIL on theirs). Don't let anyone tell you that bowling on the Wii isn't exercise. If you're standing up to do it, and you take at least one step forward when you release the ball (like I do), it's exercise. I wasn't breathing hard or anything like that, and I was having a lot of fun, but I was sweating and the house wasn't that warm. Today, my back is sore, and my bad knee is giving me fits, but that's not going to keep me from bowling again tonight when DH gets home from work and we're done with dinner.
I don't know if we'll ever play any of the other games that are on the disc (though DH did say he thought I might beat him at tennis, so we may end up trying that). Even if we don't play any of the other games, it's worth it just for the fun we have with the bowling. And DH saw another Wii game that he'd like to have - it's the one where you're shooting chickens, comes with a gun (there's a deer-hunting one as well). I agreed with him that the chicken one looked like fun, so that might be next on our list of things to get for entertainment at home............

Friday, November 20, 2009

Loan modification, finally!!! And a warning....

We've only been trying since August of 2008 to get a loan modification on the mortgage on DH's house. DH has an ARM, that was supposed to be set at 9% when he refinanced in 2006 (3 months before we got married). When he went to sign the papers, they had upped the rate to 10.55%. He didn't want to sign, but didn't have much choice, as he had credit card companies that were hounding him and threatening to garnish wages, etc (credit cards he didn't know he had, his ex-wife got them in his name, ran them up, and when she left, he was stuck holding the bag). So he signed. The rate was fixed for 2 years with an option to refinance.
Well, y'all know what happened to the housing market in 2008. His house, that had been appraised at 125K (and I have no fucking clue how they came up with that appraisal for a one bedroom, 1 bathroom house with no central heat/air), was no longer worth that (tax appraisal was 66.5K). Mortgage company kept calling and asking if we were ready for the rate to reset and our payments to go up, and if we didn't want that, they were willing to lock us in for 5 years at our current rate and payment (the payment was almost $1200 a month, including escrow for taxes and insurance). We told them no way were we willing to lock in at the current rate, but if they were willing to lower it, we would talk. Nope, they didn't want to talk. And that continued.
Then we got a call from someone who said he could help us negotiate a loan modification. We talked, and eventually, he couldn't help us, because we were "under water" on the mortgage (owed more than the house was worth). But, he knew of a company who could help us (and that should have been a huge warning flag). He said he was going with a company called Green Credit Solutions, who had lawyers working on loan modifications for people who weren't able to get their lenders to work with them. A couple of his family members were also signing up, and so were a lot of his other customers. Cost was $3,495 and if GCS wasn't able to get a loan mod for you, you got $2,945 of it back (yeah, right). So we came up with the money, filled out the paperwork, sent all of the documentation they required, and thought we were on our way to a loan modification.
Well, between August of 2008, when we first started talking with Sean and GCS,and July of 2009 when we quit hearing from GCS, we had 8 different negotiators who had worked on our loan modification. Now they did apply for at least one loan modification that I know of, because our lender told us we had been denied. Something about DH made too much money (but that was because they were counting my income, and they weren't supposed to, since I'm not on the mortgage, and I wasn't going to be on the new one either). At that point, one of the negotiators said he wasn't supposed to tell us this, but that if we quit making payments on the house, our lender might be more willing to negotiate a loan modification. Up until then, DH had had the payments on the mortgage taken out of the checking account automatically every month. So, in November of 2008, he decided that he would stop the automatic withdrawal and we went to the bank and did that, went home and called the lender, told them the AWD had been stopped. In December, the lender tried to do an AWD, it was refused, and I had sent them a check. The bank also refused to cash our check because they thought we had stopped all payments to the lender, not just the AWD. So when the check bounced (and I caught it right away, because I balance our checkbook online every week), I called the bank to see why they had refused payment on the check. Bank said oops, our mistake, tell the lender to send the check back through and we will pay it.
So I called the lender, explained what had happened, and was told the check would be sent back through. Problem solved, right? Guess again.
So January comes around. I send in the mortgage payment check, with a note in the memo line that it's the payment for Jan 09. Then the calls start coming about when are we going to make January's payment. I told them we made it. That they needed to send back through the check I wrote for December's payment and gave them the check number. They said they couldn't do that, that we needed to send them another check for December's payment. I said, fine, send me back the check I wrote for December and I'll send you another check. Can't do that, they said, we take an electronic image and destroy the check. So send me some kind of assurance that you aren't going to resubmit that check for payment. Can't do that, they said. Then piss up a rope for your payment, I said. I'm not sending you another check so you can have two checks for the same month's payment and be able to cash both of them, and I'm not paying for a stop payment on the one, when you charged us a bounced check fee for the AWD not being paid when you knew we had stopped that.
February rolls around, I send them a check for the mortgage. Check clears the bank, and they try to do an AWD. And they charge us a bounce fee for the AWD failing. I call and chew ass. Then I fax them a letter stating that the AWD has been stopped, with copies of paperwork from the bank.
Lender calls every day, 3 to 4 times a day, either wanting to know if we're going to make the missed payment (which is in the savings account), or if we want to lock in at our current rate and payment for the next 5 years. It gets to the point where I know all the phone numbers they use, and when those numbers show up on caller id, I don't even bother to answer the phone. DH won't talk to them at all, he gets too mad (like I don'
Finally, we decide that GCS isn't going to do us any good, and we stop making mortgage payments on the house (they go into the savings account). When the lender calls, we tell them "Either give us a decent loan modification or take the house, we don't care. We don't have any kids, so we don't have to worry about schools or anything like that. We're not so invested in this house that we have to stay here, we can move, and we will." They piss and moan and delay and belly-ache and say there's nothing they can do. They've had an online appraisal of the house done and that comes out at 80K. I start laughing. They want to know what is so funny. I tell them there is no central heat/air in the house, that there is one wall furnace in the hallway to heat the whole downstairs, there are 2 electric baseboard heaters for the upstairs, and there's no heat at all in the basement. The valuation for taxes has gone down to 60K, and they'd be lucky to get 45K for the house, if they could sell it at all (there are houses in this town that have been for sale for more than a year and they're all better than this one). The only thing this house has going for it is its location (across the street from the lake/park, closest neighbor is across the street, and one across the American Legion parking lot). We told them it would take them 6 months to get us out of the house (so they would have lost a year's worth of house payments (14K), then the house would sit empty for who knows how long while they had to pay property taxes on it and lose more house payments, and then take a loss if and when they finally sold it).
So we got a phone call a couple of weeks ago, telling us we had been approved for a loan modification. Our rate went from 10.55% to 3.375% and is locked in for 5 years. Our mortgage payment went from $1157.28 a month to $620.69. We got the papers to go over (and sign) on the 11th. They had to be back by 20th (luckily they sent them next-day UPS and included a return label for us to use and there is a UPS pick-up box here in town). They recommended that we have a lawyer go over them with us, so we did. We signed them, got them notarized, and sent them back with the certified check for the escrow deposit (and I wrote down the UPS tracking number, and checked on it, they got the paperwork back yesterday).
So it pays to be a bitch sometimes, and believe me, I was a bitch with DH's lender. I just wish I could find the assholes who ran the scam called GCS. They would not even want to meet Helga, let alone PsychoBitch from Hell. I guess we'll just have to chalk that money up to experience, and let it go, but damn, that burns my hide, especially since I did research them and they seemed to be a legitimate company. Now, doing more research on them since their website has disappeared and their phone lines are disconnected, I find out they've fucked over a lot of people. DH and I are lucky, in that we didn't lose the house, and we managed to get the loan modification on our own, but there are a lot of people out there who relied on GCS who weren't so lucky. All we lost was $3,495 - they lost that and their homes.

Carpal tunnel surgery upcoming

Well, I finally got the results from the EMG test done on my right arm. I do have carpal tunnel, the nerve is pinched in my wrist and the neuroligist recommends surgery to fix it before any damage is done to the nerve. At least the numbness is just in my hand now, and isn't in my arm, shoulder, neck, and head anymore. I am wearing a wrist brace at night, and it seems to help some, but the numbness in my hand doesn't ever go completely away. Unfortunately, I can't have the surgery done right away as DH is scheduled on Dec 14th for a complete knee replacement (his left knee is bone-on-bone and he's in a lot of pain that ibuprofen and extra strength tylenol combined don't even touch). So I'll probably get that done in February, after DH is mostly healed, but before he goes back to work (so he can take care of me, since I'm right-handed and won't be able to use that hand much for a couple of weeks).
His doctor at the VA says that, at 53 (almost 54), he's really too young for a knee replacement, but the orthopedic surgeon we saw yesterday said that since the cortisone shots and SynVisc shots didn't work, and pain meds don't help, that replacement is the only thing left to do in order to lessen the pain. Evidently, replacement doesn't always totally get rid of the pain, but most of the time, it does. DH is willing to go for it, he says anything is better than what he's dealing with right now.
The surgery isn't going to be done at the VA, they aren't doing any new surgeries because they are so far behind, so we had to find a civilian hospital to do it. Luckily, there's one in Alexandria (only 25 miles away) and the surgeon who will be doing the knee replacement trained at the VA in Minneapolis (small
Looks like DH will be off work for about 8 weeks. He has some pre-surgery exercises to do to strengthen the muscles around the knee, and then he'll probably have to go to the VA at St Cloud a couple of times a week for physical therapy after the replacement. We have a meeting about knee replacements to attend next week, an informational type thing, where they tell us what to expect in more detail, and what medications he needs to stop taking and how long before the surgery he needs to stop taking them.
We may end up paying for a couple of his visits to the surgeon, since the VA says they're only paying for one visit before surgery, the surgery itself, and one visit afterward. According to the scheduling nurse, after the surgery, there will be a visit to remove the staples (two weeks post-op), then a visit 4 weeks post-op, and another one 12 weeks post-op (and another one after a year has passed). I don't think the VA is going to want to pay for those last 3 visits, but I don't see how a PA or an ortho doc at the VA is going to be able to do the follow-up when they aren't ones who did the surgery. But, like DH says, if we have to pay for the visits, so be it, we'll find the money somewhere (probably will come out of the money we're saving on the house payment since we finally got the loan modification on the house, which is a whole 'nother post).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hooray for expanded mobility!!!

I finally got my Rollator walker last week. This means that I can now shop in places that don't have electric carts (like some malls, and most stores). It also means that when DH wants to go to the local toy shows, pancake breakfasts, and Pioneer Power shows, we can actually go because I'll have the walker to lean on (and when my back cramps and I can't walk anymore, it has a seat so I can sit until the cramping goes away). I won't have to worry about standing in lines forever anymore (and let me tell you, the pancake breakfasts around here have some of the longest lines I've ever seen).
This is a picture of it:

I ordered it from, it was originally priced at $595, I got it for $163.62 (and didn't have to pay any shipping and handling, got it 4 days after I ordered it). It has a weight capacity of 400 lbs, so it's well worth the money (and was mostly assembled, just had to install the handles with the brakes, the basket, and the back rest).
I know I'm probably going to get looks from people when they see me using it, since I'm a fat woman - "Oh noes, she's fat and using a walker, what a lazy fat fatty mcfatterson she is." (same shit when I use the electric carts at WallyWorld). But ya know what, I don't care. They don't live with the pain I have, they don't know anything about it (and I don't talk about it much in the meatworld), and if this is going to widen my horizons and let me get out more and do more with DH, then I'm all for it.
Hell, I can actually go shopping with him at Menard's now, since Menard's doesn't have those electric carts, and the one wheelchair they have sure as hell doesn't fit my fat ass (it might fit my D-I-L, who is 5' 10" and 150 lbs). I'll be able to spend more time shopping in individual stores because I'll have a place to sit when my back starts hurting because I've been standing for too long - which may not be a good idea, more time to shop means more time to spend money......
We even have a bike/walking trail that runs past our house that DH and I will finally be able to use in the summer time now (can't use it in the winter time, it's a snowmobile trail then, and those snowmobiles zoom by, even here in town).
I am so looking forward to finally being able to get out and about more than I have been. This Rollator walker is going to open up my life so much, I can't even think of all the ways it's going to help.