Archive for January, 2014

College profiling

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

I appreciate Jennifer jumping in to write my blog last week. As she said, filling out the financial forms that are part of the college application process drained all my creative energy; it was a challenge to see how poor I could make us look and still tell the truth.

If you have had a child apply to college in the past 10 years, then you know the process starts with the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is about 150 questions asking about income, assets, and if you have any cash stuffed under the mattress. Then after you file your tax return, you log back on and all the numbers off your 1040 are plugged into the FAFSA so that colleges can make sure no one has “accidentally” left off a digit or two about how much untaxed income they have.

The numbers on the FAFSA are plugged into a formula that spits out the Expected Family Contribution; that’s the amount the Department of Education thinks parents can contribute to their child’s education. Our EFC for one year of college for Jennifer is $13,000; where they think we can come up with that amount of money without selling a kidney, is a mystery to me.

If the FAFSA is the bones of a family’s financial situation, it’s the CSS Profile that really puts the meat on them. This form, short for College Scholarship Service Profile, is required by four of the eight colleges that Jennifer is applying to. The amount of detail that this form wants to know about our financial status makes the FAFSA look like it could be filled out with a crayon…but get out the ultra fine point mechanical pencil for filling out the CSS Profile. The worksheet for it, which they recommend printing out before entering the answers online, was 20 pages.

The amusing part is that the questions are written as if it is the student who is filling out the form and not the parent. Here’s a sample of one of questions on the CSS Profile:

“Estimate the total amount of your parents’ other taxable income such as alimony received, capital gains (or losses), pensions, annuities, etc. using their 2013 financial documents and 2012 IRS Form 1040, lines 10, 11, 13, 14, 15b, 16b, 19, 20b and 21. To enter a loss, use a minus (-) sign.”

Hey no problem! Every 17 year-old knows how to estimate capital gains and losses.

After completing more than a dozen sections probing into every nook and cranny of ours and Jennifer’s income, expenses and assets including the year, make and model of our cars and whether Jennifer owns any precious and strategic metals – I guess the $1.53 in her piggy bank doesn’t count – I got to the “Explanations/Special Circumstances” section.

In this section, I had 2000 characters in which to add some prose – in a sense flesh out – our financial situation and modest lifestyle. Since everyone fills out this section with the hope that they look needy and that the colleges will pony up money for their child, I can only imagine how much whining parents do to look really desperate.

Tempting as it was, I stopped short of including in my description that (poor us) we don’t have a flat screen TV; that probably wouldn’t help Jennifer get more money.

Guest blogger

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Hello all,

This is Colleen’s daughter, Jennifer, writing to say that unfortunately my mother will be unable to post one of her beloved blogs this week due to the fact that she is desperately in need of some rest.

The reason for this is because in addition to working, cooking and cleaning, she is filling out tax forms – it’s the FAFSA Part Deux – for the incredibly extensive College Board Profile for financial aid. She is doing this so the colleges I am applying to will see just how much we cannot afford their ridiculous tuition rates, grant me oodles of money and I will be able to escape a life in Cotati.

As a small token of my gratitude for her filling out forms that I would in no way be able to understand, I promised to write this explanation to you, readers, so you all would not be too distraught in her absence. This should really be a testament to my mother’s commitment and dedication, that even with her huge number of responsibilities, she values your readership enough to not want to leave you hanging without any sort of update.

Nevertheless rest assured, Colleen will be back next week, ready to go with her vast artillery of easy-to-relate-to and witty observations.

So until we meet again, thanks for reading.

Jennifer Rustad

New year, new challenges

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

“I feel foolish.” I didn’t say it out loud but that thought probably crossed my mind several times a day last week. That’s because I started a new job on January 2 and although there is no expectation from the gals who are training me that I can read their minds and know what to do, it’s hard for me not to feel like a moron when I ask a question that has an obvious answer – or at least I see that the answer was obvious once it’s told to me.

Does anyone start a new job and not go through that awkward stage of having to ask where the paper clips are or finding out that the “hold” button on the phone isn’t in the same place that it was on the phone you’ve used for the past three years? Glad that that person whose call I just disconnected wasn’t a client.

Starting a new job definitely poses a challenge for me – not just in learning new processes – but in learning to manage my expectations of myself. When I was told at the outset that it would take a year to learn this industry, why should I think that I could master it by my sixth day of work?

It’s interesting that I just had a conversation with a friend who was suffering from the same “disease” of impatience with themselves except that their situation isn’t about learning a new job, but is frustration over not being able to bounce back quickly enough after a very significant illness. Both of us, in different circumstances are thinking, “I’ve always been able to do this before, how come not now?”

If I were to give her some advice, it would be to go easy on yourself; you were very, very sick so of course it’s going to take longer to regain your strength and energy. I know it can seem frustrating, but little by little, every day you’re improving. Plus, we’re older now so everything moves a little slower.

And she would remind me that there is really, really a lot to learn in my new job so of course it’s going to take at least a few months before I feel competent. I know it can seem frustrating, but every day you learn a little more and gain more confidence. Plus, we’re not the fresh, young things we once were so don’t expect yourself to be as fast on the uptake as you once were.

Go easy on yourself, remember the reality of who you are and have some patience and faith that things are moving in the right direction…that’s some good advice. I think I’ll listen to it.


Saying goodbye to the Petaluma Visitors Program

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

On December 31, 2013, not only did I say goodbye to another year, but I said goodbye to the wonderful staff, volunteers, and community that I had formed during the three years that I worked at the Petaluma Visitors Program.

I hadn’t planned to change my job situation but around Thanksgiving time, an opportunity arose through a friend to work in a family-owned small business, a world that I am very familiar with and appreciate since Steve and I own a similar type of business. When an opportunity arises in this sputtering economy, it isn’t to be taken lightly.

The past month has been a bittersweet time – while I am looking forward to returning to the business world and the growth that my new job will bring, it has also been hard because I will be leaving so many people who I love and respect. I was grateful that at our Christmas party, I had a chance to express – rather emotionally how much these folks have meant to me. Darn, I hate crying in public.

Here’s what working at the Visitors Program has mean to me:

I worked with staff members who care passionately about the community that they live in; they are not just collecting a paycheck but working tirelessly for the betterment of the city – staying positive when faced with obstacles or going up against just plain cranky, difficult people.

I worked with part-time staff members and volunteers who were extremely skilled and accomplished professionals from all walks of life; yet when they retired from their careers, they chose to work at the Visitors Center, always bringing an attitude of “I’m here to be helpful in whatever way I can,” no matter how often a lost tourist asked how they happened to end up in Petaluma when they wanted to be stay on Highway One.

I worked with board members who showed me a level of commitment to volunteering for an organization that I had never seen before. They weren’t doing it for the prestige or for a potential payback in the form of business or networking; they gave countless hours and put their plentiful skills to work purely because they believed in the mission of the organization.

So although it will take some extra effort on my part, I plan to stay connected with these people and the Petaluma community; relationships like these should be cherished and maintained.