Friday, October 29, 2010

Misc. Friday Thoughts

It’s been about three weeks since Older Son announced his engagement and things have calmed down a bit since the initial excitement.

He and his fiancé have made a lot of progress. They have set a date, June 18. They will be getting married at the church in Nashville they have been attending for the past year or so and they have a venue booked for the reception. So all systems appear to be go.

I told my future daughter-in-law I would have to come up with a blog name for her and I think for now I’ll go with the very original “Future Daughter-in-Law” or “FDIL” for short.

FDIL is a no-nonsense type, which I think is a big reason Older Son fell in love with her. She’s easy going and not easily frazzled. She will be a beautiful bride and they will have a lovely wedding but I can tell she’s going to enjoy it and not get into a dither over it all.

She, Older Son, Younger Son and I drove up to Lexington, KY a couple weeks ago, a week after the engagement announcement, for the Auburn-Kentucky game. Older Son drove most of the way and Younger Son rode up front with him.

FDIL and I rode in the back and she had a little stack of bridal magazines she was flipping through. “Just to get ideas,” she said and was folding back pages of things that she liked. I don’t really understand bridal magazines but from what I saw they all look pretty much the same, full of photos of dresses, apparel for attendants, china and silver, etc.

A few days later FDIL was over at the house and had a little notebook (not only is she non-nonsense, she’s also very organized), all about the wedding, including clippings from the aforementioned bridal magazines. She and Wife had fun looking through everything.


We are still heavy into football. Younger Son’s last regular season game is tonight and it’s Senior Night. Before the game he, Wife and I will walk onto the field together as the senior players are presented. We still have the playoffs to go, and we’ve clinched a spot, so the season is not over yet. After tonight, though, it is single elimination -- one loss and we’re out. We’ll see how far it goes from here.

Auburn football has us over the moon with an 8-0 record and a quarterback who is front runner for the Heisman Trophy. Daughter, in her senior year, is having a ball and both sons are beside themselves. Still plenty of the season left, though, and we all know how quickly things can change.

Wife and I even made it to the Tennessee Titans’ game last Sunday. We have had tickets the past couple of years but the boys usually use them. Frankly, I’m not a huge NFL fan anymore, much preferring the color and pageantry of high school and college ball to the contrived entertainment and politics of the pros (OK there’s plenty of that on the high school and college levels too but I’m a little more oblivious to it there). Also don’t like to have to find a parking place and fight the crowd. But it’s still hard not go get behind the home team and every five years or so when I have the opportunity, I’ll make the trek downtown and watch a game.

Last weekend both boys had gone to Auburn for the LSU game on Saturday night and would not make it back by noon Sunday, so we decided to use “their” tickets. (I put “their” in quotes because you know who paid for the tickets!)

Wife and I heard about a great shuttle system which eliminates the necessity of having to find a parking place, which in turn eliminates one of my objections to going. We went to our local minor league ballpark which is about three miles from LP Field where the Titans play. We parked there, paid $10 and boarded a very nice bus that took us right to the gate. When it was over we hopped back on and returned. We hardly had to wait a minute. There are bus lanes marked off on game days so these shuttles are essentially non-stop from the ballpark to stadium and back. The Titans are having a pretty good season too and we saw a good game. I might even go back in five years or so.

You never know what’s going to get a response in the blog world. Most of my posts about business or politics receive polite, yawning comments if any. I even started my most recent entry about mortgage foreclosures with an apology.

But what do you know, six thoughtful, interesting comments from six thoughtful, interesting readers have been posted. In going back and reading my entry, though, I thought I came across a little hard-hearted. Please understand that’s not the case; I was only trying to point out the cold hard facts of the system. A couple of sharp readers pointed out that lenders will (usually) bend over backwards to help someone stay in their home. That’s an excellent point. Most banks do not want to be in the real estate business, nor do they want a defaulted loan on the books.

Along the lines of unexpected comments, I have to wonder if Kelly expected the flood of responses to her recent post about her five pet peeves in which she invited her blog visitors to enter theirs. Kelly has from time to time posted about five “favorites,” everything from books to songs, and has received a number of comments regarding her named topic, but when she wrote about the things we DISLIKE, well, the grumpy commenters came out of the woodwork. Guess we’re a discontented bunch?!


This Tuesday is election day. We have a governor’s race here in Tennessee and the Republican, Bill Haslam, is thought to be a shoo-in, even though we’ve had eight years of a Democrat, Phil Bredesen, in our state capital, in a very Republican state. The thing is, Bredesen, even though a Democrat, is a fiscal conservative and has been immensely popular among our citizenry.

We have some local state and congressional races in surrounding areas (none that affect me but we get the ads) and I am very tired of their very tiresome advertising. Here in Tennessee, many of the candidates seem to think going on TV dressed in camouflage and holding a gun, or standing in front of a church, will get them votes. No comment here, just stating facts. Maybe they’re right. I’m just glad it’s about over and I don’t have to see it or listen to it anymore, or at least not for another couple of years.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Quite a mess

I realize this post will be boring to many who read it and I apologize in advance for that. I try to keep my entries warm and fuzzy and controversy-free but every so often I just have to write a little about business or politics. Check back soon for something more soothing.

You might have heard the latest in the continuing housing crisis. It involves foreclosures. Apparently some of the big holders of mortgages have been a little lax in preparing foreclosure documentation. A lady in Maine with a $75,000 mortgage contacted her local Legal Aid group, a representative of which discovered some errors in the foreclosure documents. It snowballed from there. GMAC, the holder of this mortgage, and other big name financial institutions, have halted foreclosure proceedings in a number of states while foreclosure processes among a number of lenders are investigated. Attorneys General in 50 states have joined in to look into it.

I find this interesting because (a) I have spent the major part of my working life in banking (although now I am mainly involved in the deposit and regulatory world); and (b) earlier in my career in Arkansas practicing law, I used to represent banks and mortgage companies and handled a ton of foreclosures.

It’s not the most tasteful work, I can assure you. When it’s a residential foreclosure, it involves putting people out of their homes. That’s painful.

The flip side is that it’s a legal proceeding and we are a nation of laws. Although it is hard to be a part of a process that causes a person to lose a home, the person chose to be a part of that process and agreed that, if he/she could not pay, the house could be sold to help the lender recover. In the vast majority of cases I handled, by the time it got to the foreclosure sale, the borrowers had already vacated the property, having come to terms with the fact that they couldn’t retain something they could no longer pay for.

The underlying concept is this: a person wants to buy a piece of property. If that person can’t pay cash, he/she has to borrow the money. The lender has to have security, or collateral, for the money lent. So the lender, in addition to receiving a promissory note from the borrower, has the borrower sign a mortgage or, in some states, a deed of trust (essentially the same thing) in return for lending the money.

The mortgage instrument is filed in the county real estate records and becomes a lien on the property until the loan is repaid, at which time the lender releases the mortgage and the lien no longer exists (unless, of course, you fail to pay, in which event the lender is able to exercise its right to foreclose on -- and ultimately sell -- the property).

You know if you have ever purchased a house that, when you go to closing, you sign a stack of documents. Among these are the aforementioned promissory note and mortgage or deed of trust. It is very important, both for borrower and lender, that all of this is done correctly. And you also know that, although you have the opportunity to do so, you don’t read every word of every document you sign (although I, much to the annoyance of my wife, have come close).

My position on this is that your failure to read what you sign is not the lender’s fault. If you don’t read what you’re signing and you think you might not understand, you should at least ask questions about it. Nobody is holding a gun to your head making you sign anything and there’s no time limit on a closing – everybody will stick around as long as necessary so your questions get answered.

That’s why, although I’m a very merciful person, I have a hard time always being sympathetic with people who have taken out loans and then later say they didn’t know what they were signing. And if someone doesn’t understand everything he/she is signing, surely that person has to understand that if the loan is not repaid, the property can be taken away.

So now we have a whole bunch of lenders being accused of maybe not dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” when they started the foreclosure process. As I understand it, thousands of foreclosures are being stopped while this is being investigated. And I guess a lot of folks are getting to stay in houses without paying for them.

While some might see this as some type of justice, I think most of us don’t even begin to understand the ramifications. To begin with, if foreclosures are halted, then that segment of homes on the market will shrink, causing (in my opinion) prices to go up, yet artificially. While that might give a temporary boost to the economy since decreasing real estate values have contributed mightily to the downturn, at some point those properties will return to the market, en masse, which will likely cause values to fall faster than they increased earlier.

In addition, the mortgage world is complicated. A large number of mortgage loans made by banks are immediately sold to investors. They are packaged and/or “securitized” and become part of mortgage-backed securities. You also have the whole government (FHA/HUD) and quasi-government (Fannie and Freddie) entities that have a big piece of the pie as well. Many of these securitized mortgages are parts of pension and retirement plans or other investment instruments. When a loan goes bad, it’s important to the investor, whoever it is, that the loss-recoupment process take place efficiently and promptly.

Even the Obama administration, which has tried fervently to paint itself as the champion of the little guy, is advising against an overall foreclosure moratorium. The president has received good advice that stopping this necessary process could have long-term disastrous effects.

This is not to say that holders of the mortgages should not be held responsible for any misdeeds. They must get their acts together on this. Although sometimes burdensome, the technical requirements for foreclosing on a piece of real estate, which vary from state to state, must be met. And there’s really no excuse. Burdensome and tedious? Yes. Difficult? No.

I suspect that, due to the rise in foreclosures, the culprits in this crisis got careless. They didn’t really review what they were signing. Notaries probably didn’t see folks sign papers. Again, there’s no excuse. Hire more people if you have to, but don’t cut corners.

In the end, however, you still have a promissory note signed by Mr. and Mrs. Jones, saying they will pay “X” every month. If they can’t pay, then they are going to lose their property. Even if it is discovered that the mortgage holders didn’t meet the legal requirements, I cannot imagine there is a court in the land that will say the mortgages are just released and hundreds of thousands of borrowers will get to have their homes free and clear.

No, what will happen is the lender will have to go back and correct the error. Mr. and Mrs. Jones might get to stay in their home a little longer but, in the end, they’re still going to have to pay up if they want to stay there. At least that’s my feeling based on experience. With the number of cases I handled, there were times when there were challenges to the process and there were times when corrections had to be made. That resulted in costly delays but I don’t recall anyone ever getting to just retain a property and have the mortgage released.

It’s a mess, that’s for sure. But it’s a mess that can and should – and hopefully will – be corrected. Last I looked there was still no free lunch.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Race for the Cure

Dear Mama (and yes, all of you NOT from the South, this really is what I called my mother until the day she died),

I meant to write this to you a couple of weeks ago but got a little busy.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that a couple of weeks ago, 14 years after you died of dreaded breast cancer, I ran in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I signed up on Wednesday before the race on Saturday (yes, I still procrastinate) but managed to send out an e-mail telling a few friends, and I raised a couple hundred bucks for this organization that funds research to find a cure.

It wasn't pretty, but I ran the 3.2 miles. I ran with your name on my back, which made me very proud. Before the race I watched the "Survivors' Parade" in which all the (mostly) women who had survived breast cancer one, five, ten, fifteen and twenty-plus years walked by the rest of us as we cheered.

How I wish you could have been part of that parade. You never had a very good day, though, after your diagnosis in April of 1996. When yours was discovered, it had already spread, even though you had been good about having mammograms. You put up a noble fight, but you were gone six months later.

I sure thought of you a lot the day of the race. I'm going to try and do it again next year and maybe raise more money. I hope that maybe some of the money raised will help acquire better equipment that will detect cancer high in the breast tissue where yours was, which went undetected until it was too late.

Again, I didn't set any records, and I was sure huffing and puffing at the finish line. But it sure felt good, and I felt you with me. You still inspire me.

Love you,


Friday, October 8, 2010

Cool things happen

Cool things happen sometimes.

About three years ago I came upon a book called Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. It's the story of a young Evangelical Christian pastor who has a breakdown of sorts. He deals with the breakdown by going to Italy and retracing the steps of St. Francis of Assisi. He becomes a student of the beloved saint and also of practices and rubrics of the Christian faith that go back thousands of years.

To say I loved the book doesn't even begin to describe my feelings. It resonated with me because it confirmed feelings and concerns that had been welling up inside of me, particularly feelings that my view of God and His universe was too small.

About ten years ago -- a number of years before I came upon this book -- I was beginning to feel that I knew a lot about God, but didn't know Him as well as I would like. I began to ask Him how I might know Him better. I soon found myself serving lunch at a downtown homeless shelter. The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus serving the downtrodden and marginalized. He said that when you're serving people like this, you're serving Him.

As I have previously written here, I went on to be on the Board of Directors of the organization where I started serving lunch and am now in a leadership position there. I see Jesus there all the time and I feel that I know Him better (although I still have a long way to go).

As I have gotten to know Him better, I have developed the strong feeling that He and His kingdom are much more vast than I ever imagined.

The main character in Chasing Francis, whose name is Chase, had a similar experience when he went to Italy and began mirroring some of the practices of St. Francis, who was all about serving "the least of these." Chase had been pastoring a "successful" church for many years, but when he went to Italy on this pilgrimage, his life changed in an unalterable way.

I really don't do the book justice here. Not only is it a riveting story; it is also beautifully written. I cannot recommend it enough, for Christian and non-Christian alike.

Since reading the book the first time (I have since re-read it twice and have read parts of it over and over)I have bought at least a dozen copies to give to friends and have recommended it to countless others. Also, as I have often done with books I love, I did a little research on its author.

I learned at the time that Ian Morgan Cron was the pastor of Trinity Church in Greenwich, Connecticut and is an ordained Anglican priest (although Trinity Church is actually non-denominational).

A couple of months ago, after re-reading a part of the book again, I went online to see if there was any new information on the author. I found he had a new website: Also, much to my surprise, I learned that he had recently moved to the Nashville area!

On a whim a few weeks ago, I sent him an e-mail and told him how much I had enjoyed his book and how it had affected me. I also told him I'd love to meet him sometime. I soon received a response, in which he suggested that we meet for coffee. He even gave me a suggested date and time. I responded that I would be there! (I don't drink coffee but, hey, I'm not splitting hairs over that one).

So last week I had the privilege of meeting the author of one of my favorite books of the past several years. He was as interesting and entertaining as I thought he would be. For an hour and a half he graciously allowed me to bombard him with questions and he shared with me how he came to write Chasing Francis. Like me, he is a voracious reader, and gave me a number of new recommendations, including one that he proposed that I read, then discuss with him over lunch.

He is no longer pastoring a church. He is writing and speaking and is in the process of writing another book which is due to be published next spring. He is represented by an agency and publisher here in Nashville.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the written word, especially when it is written as beautifully as it is in Chasing Francis and evokes thought in me the way it has.

To get to meet the writer of those words? Well, it's just way, way cool.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reflections on the Big News


Older Son dropped by the house on a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago. It’s not uncommon for him to come by, but on Friday afternoons he is usually more focused on the weekend than coming to see us. But we were, as always, happy to see him.

I was upstairs working in our bedroom, enjoying the mobility that wireless Internet and my cell phone give me. I could hear him downstairs talking to Daughter who was home for the weekend.

He came up to say hello. I stopped what I was doing and chatted with him for a few minutes. I think I asked about his plans for the weekend but I don’t remember anything particularly significant about the conversation up to that point.

Wife eventually drifted into the room (this would save her having to ask me every detail of everything he said and becoming frustrated when I would not give enough information). The three of us made small talk for a few minutes. Then Older Son went over to close the door.

Wife and I looked at each other quizzically for a half-second before he announced, “I have something to tell y’all. It’s no big deal. Well, it is kind of a big deal . . .” and he proceeded to tell us that he would soon be proposing to his girlfriend of three years. Yes, one might say that’s a rather big deal.

Only he could hardly get the words out because big old tears started welling up in his eyes. Wife immediately embraced him. I went over and joined them in what, when he was just a little guy so many years ago, we would call a “love sandwich.” We were all three crying. (We’re an emotional bunch if you have not already figured that out).

I am not going to tell you most of what he shared with us that afternoon because some things should remain private between parents and their sons or daughters, but I can tell you that I will treasure those moments for as long as I live.

I will also tell you that I have been proud of him many times in his life. But the way he handled all of this -- going and talking to his girlfriend’s father and making his intentions known, planning every detail to make it special for his soon-to-be fiancée; hearing this from him was truly one of my best moments as his dad.

People who drop by here often know what a sentimental schmuck I am when it comes to my family. This is no exception. We are over-the-top excited.


He asked us to keep it a secret for the time being. He said he was still shopping for a ring and it would be about three weeks until he sprang this on his intended. He told his sister and brother. He called his grandparents in Arkansas. He called his girlfriend’s brother and her closest childhood friend. He had already talked to her parents. All have been under a strict gag order and were invited to come celebrate with him at the appropriate time. We have all kept it absolutely mum, which has been extremely difficult (for me anyway).

Having received the invitation from Older Son, most of the aforementioned were gathered at our house this past Saturday afternoon about 5 p.m. when the newly engaged couple arrived. He had just proposed and presented her a ring about an hour earlier and she had delightedly said yes. He had planned the small celebration as a surprise for her. (He was obviously very confident in her response).

Older Son’s new fiancée literally fell on the floor when she came in and saw everyone. She was rendered speechless for about three minutes before she regained composure.

There were blessings, toasts and hugs all around. Wife had, of course, prepared a wonderful buffet spread for everyone to enjoy. Some began talking colors of bridesmaids’ dresses while others found their way to the playroom to watch football. It was a joyous time.

When I have the opportunity, I will explain to Older Son that, while he might be the one who set this in motion, from this point forward he becomes pretty much an accessory. Although he might be asked his opinion about styles of invitations, or china and silver patterns (and if he is smart, he will not have one – an opinion, that is), his work (the proposal) is for the most part done. There will be a date set for sometime next summer and his main job will be to show up. He needs to get used to nodding his head, smiling and saying, “yes.”


Next year will be a busy one for our family as Younger Son graduates from high school, Daughter graduates from college, our daughter-in-law to be (have to come up with a blog name for her) finishes graduate school and we have a wedding.

There will be all kinds of moving out, moving in and moving on, and while the joy will be abundant, I have no doubt that the stress level will at times escalate.

As Wife and I have done so many times over the years, we will need to keep each other grounded. And we will need to remind each other of how very blessed we are.

Here are some photos from Saturday night.

The Happy Couple (Daniel & Krista)

Picture of their picture!

Celebrating with the family
(Front row: David, Daniel, Krista, Krista's mom)
(Back row: Susan, Susan's dad, Susan's mom, Yours Truly, Maggie, Krista's dad)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We're all OOHKAY

Before I started this blog, I participated in a community site called “Pearl Soup.” Kelly introduced me to it and some of my other blog friends listed to the right were contributors as well.

Pearl Soup’s members submit written entries called “pearls” and other members can comment and critique. There are also forums for various discussions.

Unfortunately, I encountered some real weirdos who were part of Pearl Soup (none of those I just mentioned, of course) and one of them even tried to pick fights with me online! Heck, I don’t like to fight with people in person, much less via cyberspace, so I disassociated myself from that community site and started my own blog, over which I have more control.

In December 2007, while I was still participating in Pearl Soup, a pearl popped up from a new member named “oohkay.” This was her initial entry:

I am home from college for the Christmas holidays, once again fulfilling my role as the stereotypical twenty-something daughter. It is a role I generally enjoy, aside from the questions that always seem to leap to the forefront of every conversation I have with any older adult, whether parent or friend:

“When are you graduating?”

“What do you want to do after school?”

And worst of all, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Oh, what a dreaded interrogation. Over the years, even when I have been in a committed and happy relationship, I have always answered this last question with trepidation. Growing up in a wealthy and conservative Southern town, it is often expected that one will find one’s spouse as soon as possible, preferably while still in college. I can’t say I am appalled by the idea. Like many girls, I have been planning every minute detail of my “big day” since the age of four. I know exactly how the cake will taste, what color the bridesmaids’ shoes will be, and most importantly, how my soon-to-be husband’s face will look as I walk down the aisle. Alas, I am a ripe twenty-one years old with no husband to be found. Not a tragedy in my eyes, but close to one in the eyes of many in this Southern town.

I unexpectedly faced this reality during this break. Seeing my college graduation looming closer and closer in the distance, I decided it was time to make a run to the bookstore to prepare to take the GMAT. I have always considered myself a high achiever, a woman who, although she will choose to stay at home with her 2.5 kids and white picket fence, could support the family if necessary. Therefore, I decided to apply to graduate school, and furthermore, I decided it was best that I prepare to be accepted to such a school.

As I scanned the standardized test preparation books, I faced the stark opposite of my reality in the same squared-off nook as myself. A slender, blonde girl, no more than a few years older than me, was pulling wedding planning books off the shelves with her diamond-adorned left hand. She handed each one to her mother as they giggled and glowed over her recent engagement. I immediately felt the sting of jealousy and forced myself to pay attention to the reason I had come to the store. I compared the soft floral covers of the books she was flipping through to the harsh bright colors and complex equations sprawling the covers of my own. Where did I go wrong? Why was I not living every girl’s dream? I could feel my neck tensing with envy.

As I gathered my books to walk away, I glanced at the girl and she gave me a warm, accepting smile. At that moment, God gave me a gentle reminder that His plan far supersedes any plan I might have for my own life. He does not fit His works into the philosophy of a small town. He has phenomenal gifts in store for me.

I walked away feeling proud. I was preparing myself for a brighter future. One that would not only better myself, but one that would be more beneficial in sharing with someone else, should that be in God’s plan for me.

I enjoyed this entry and thought it was well written. I appreciated her very mature perspective. I did not, however, post a comment on it at the time.

Months later Oohkay posted another entry on Pearl Soup in which she referenced something that had happened at Auburn University where, at the time, Older Son was a senior and Daughter a freshman.

I told both Older Son and Daughter about this entry. Older Son replied that he was aware of it, and that it had been penned by a friend of his – one whom I had in fact met, a fellow Auburn student from the suburban Nashville community just south of the one where we live. He had told her about Pearl Soup and had given her the name I used on the site. She had read several of my entries there and decided to join herself.

When I learned Oohkay’s identity, although I did not know her well at the time, I went back and commented on both of her entries. As to the one I have shared here, I assured her, as did several others with the benefit of age, that there would be plenty of time for marriage and she was wise to relax and leave that to her Heavenly Father.

Older Son graduated from Auburn in May 2008 and Oohkay graduated the following August. Both moved back to their respective homes. I have gotten to know Oohkay much better since then. She has continued to be the high achiever she described herself to be in the Pearl Soup entry.

Not long after graduation, as she was working temporary jobs while looking for more permanent employment, her mother was in a terrible auto accident that rendered her unable to walk for about six months.

Oohkay devoted herself fulltime to helping her mother during her lengthy recuperation and to being a support to her dad. Both of her parents have said that they don’t know what they would have done without her during those months. Happily, her mother fully recovered and is doing fine.

In the spring of 2009 Oohkay was accepted into a highly competitive teaching fellows program. She was placed in an at-risk urban elementary school where she is paid a fulltime salary with benefits. She also received a grant for graduate school.

She has been living on her own and supporting herself for some time now. She is teaching during the day, which she loves, and going to grad school at night. She will complete requirements for her Master’s Degree in May.

She obviously knew what she was talking about when she wrote in her Pearl Soup entry that she was preparing herself “for a brighter future.” She is beginning to see some of her dreams come true.

And oh yes, there’s one other detail about Oohkay’s life that’s particularly exciting. It pertains to her other dream, the one that involves “exactly how the cake will taste, what color the bridesmaids’ shoes will be, and most importantly, how (her) soon-to-be husband’s face will look as (she) walk(s) down the aisle.”

It looks as if that dream is coming true as well. I am delighted to report that, just yesterday, Older Son asked Oohkay to be his wife, and she graciously accepted. Sometime next summer Oohkay will become my daughter-in-law.

And I can tell you, unequivocally, that I am completely “oohkay” with that.

(My next post will include highlights of the wonderful engagement celebration that took place at our house last night).