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Maybe my American dream

Yesterday afternoon I felt kind of sad because I don’t have a home of my own — that quintessential American dream of home ownership, is one I just haven’t been able to sustain. I did own and live in my own home briefly when I was married, and one other time as well, but most of the time, most of my life, I’ve rented. And I’ve generally hated it. From rats (real, live ones that Einstein had to catch) to landlords who wouldn’t fix leaking roofs that dumped buckets of rain into my living room … I’ve never liked renting one bit.

And because of that, for most of my life I’ve felt like a woman without a home. Kind of like a man without a country, but worse. Because somehow it seems romantic to be a man wandering the world with just a backpack or something … but to be a woman without a home … just evokes visions of bag ladies dancing in my head. It’s not a good feeling.

So yesterday, I was feeling pretty blue about it all. Just wishing I had my own place, one that I could afford, nothing fancy, but safe and secure and good for me and the cats. Sounds like a simple dream, but it’s one that a lot of people in America can no longer hold on to. It’s a dream a lot of us are having to give up on. Even Suze Orman said recently on her show — home ownership can no longer be the American dream for everyone. And, as a single, self-employed woman, subject to the feast or famine cash flow of a freelancer, the banks set up some pretty high hurdles these days for loans, no matter how good your credit is.

After my lousy-feeling day — where I felt basically like my dream of home ownership was never going to happen, I listened to President Obama’s State of the Union speech and I felt better — more hopeful, more determined to succeed, more conscious of appreciating what I’ve got, instead of always worrying about what I don’t have.

In his State of the Union address, Obama said, “We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient. We can’t win the future with a government of the past,” … his words hit home to me.

Just as I expect my government to be competent and efficient with the resources it has, I, as an individual, and as an American, have to be competent and efficient with mine. I have to be mindful of the bottom line, I have to work smarter, not just harder, and I have to be resourceful in meeting my own needs. I’ve got to find new ways to achieve new things — not just keep doing the same thing that hasn’t gotten me where I need to be.

And when he said, “As contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” I thought, he’s right. There’s no place else I’d rather be than in the United States. As frustrating as my efforts to obtain the financing to buy or build a home for myself over the last year have been, there’s no other country in the world in which I’d more want to live and own a house and call it home.

I know Obama’s speech wasn’t perfect and people spent a lot of time today finding the flaws in his logic and all that. I even took issue with some of his language. But part of the raison d’etre of the SOTU — and a big part of the role of President — is to inspire people … to create the optimism and forward-thinking that will propel our country and our people forward. And on that, if I’m any measure, Obama succeeded.

So maybe I need to rethink my idea of the American dream — maybe the privilege of living in this country should be enough — as it was for so many immigrants who helped found this country and who still come here in droves.

Maybe I’ve got a home after all. Maybe it’s inside of me and all around me. Maybe I’m always going to be a woman with a home — as long as I’ve got my country. Maybe it’s time to rethink the dream and focus on reality … .

And maybe even if you’ve got a lease and a landlord instead of a mortgage or a deed … maybe home really is where the heart is … and if you’re heart’s in the right place … maybe anything is possible.

Posted on January 26th, 2011Comments RSS Feed
11 Responses to Maybe my American dream
  1. As the Buddha said, “Inquire within”

  2. Hi Mary Catherine,

    I have always thought that the idea of owning one’s home, while nice, is impractical for many people. I am not saying that there aren’t bad landlords (and tenants), but when I hear about someone spending thousands of dollars to remove trees, or replace an eighty year old heater, etc., etc., etc., I am glad I have an apartment. Sure, I’d like a fireplace and a balcony, but I live in a nice neighborhood near a State park and close to work.

    Just this morning, as we awoke to 15 inches of snow, my neighbors dug out my car while I cleaned off their mother’s car. That is what America is REALLY about: People caring and helping each other in times of need.

    One other thing you are correct about, be thankful what you DO have. When people ask me how I am doing, I reply: “Upright and employed, it’s all gravy after that.” I am not denying it’s tough, and tougher for single women. But not dwelling on the negative is definitely the way to go.

    Enjoy your “home” and Los Gatos.

  3. Always, wise, that Buddha. Thanks for reading and for commenting, Mick.

  4. I love your thoughts, Howard, thanks for commenting. I agree — people helping people is what’s important. Yesterday I caught part of the Oprah show about happiness and it said one of the biggest indicators and makers of happiness is if you know your neighbors! so good for you. i know a lot of mine too and it makes a huge difference. one woman is a vet tech and when i had a problem with Boomer, she very sweetly came over to take a look at the problem and has always inquired how he’s doing now.
    i also like your response “upright and employed and it’s gravy after that.” good stuff.
    thanks for your uplifting words, Howard! you’re as good as the Prez!

  5. I have a property line of Ligustrum to prune ,kitchen cabinets to replace ,a drywall ceiling needing repair etc etc and property taxes due in the spring !Home ownership is not so wonderful! Wish I could put on my backpack and find another hangout sometimes!

  6. Good points — let’s go backpacking! :)

  7. After 3 houses, and 2 condos, I prefer living on a boat with an exceptional view.. And, if I don’t like the view, I move the boat.

  8. Down payment assistance funding available

    Eligible applicants in Sarasota County seeking to buy their first home but lacking the funds for a down payment have a little-known resource available to help them.

    With $1.2 million in federal and state funding in the Down payment Assistance Program, the Sarasota Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) can assist eligible, first-time homebuyers with the purchase of their home. Eligible applicants can receive up to $20,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance to purchase their first home.

    “With people struggling to achieve the dream of home ownership, this is a wonderful opportunity to help people make their dream a reality,” said Jane Hindall, a program manager with OHCD.

    Among the qualifications for the program, applicants must contribute $2,150 (including prepaid expenses) toward the purchase of the home and attend a free eight-hour homebuyer education course. The purchase price cannot exceed $150,000.

    Funding is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

    For more information or a detailed list of qualifications, call Cherry Haynes at 951-3640 extension 3768 or visit the OHCD website at

  9. Thanks JW — and Hawkeye — I’m going to check this out … thank you so much!!

  10. np, MC…this was just released today

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