96 – dreaming out loud

What my husband and I do best when we’re together on long drives, as we were this weekend, is dream out loud about what we want five years from now, ten, twenty years. It is one of the things I love most about this relationship, and something I’ve never had in my life before.

good thingsI’ve tried to remember whether the ex- and I thought about the future much. We made some serious missteps both personally and financially that might have been prevented with even one tenth of the discussion that Corey and I indulge in regularly.  Did we dream out loud? I don’t think so… but those 27 years have faded into blurs of gray, with a few high and low points that stick out in my memory.

One of them was one of us–and it could well have been me–saying, “We’re going to die in debt, so we might as well enjoy it while we can.” It was that attitude that put us into a house and credit card debt that we couldn’t afford. Added to my student loan balance, the overall combination was nearly a quarter million in debt when we filed for bankruptcy in 2004.

But this relationship changed that attitude entirely. The first of the big dreams that Corey and I reached for was to pay off all the debt that he and I brought to this marriage. The plan was to completely be out of debt, other than a mortgage, by 2015. We not only accomplished it, we did it a year ahead of time. Due to the enormous blessing of Corey’s work supplying the house where we live, we no longer have a mortgage. There is no “debt-free except…” We owe no one.

So I’m here to tell you, in a way that is neither sappy  nor Disney-esque… dreams can come true. But note the graphic. We worked our butts off for it, and we did not give up when it got tough, and it did more than once.

However, the determination to stay out of debt makes dreams about things like land and houses and RVs a little tougher to reach.  If you really want to not owe anyone, you must defer the expensive dreams long enough to be able to do them without going into debt. As a result, the ten hours of driving and dream-time this weekend ended with “It’s not the right time yet,” and a sigh. And that’s OK. It’s not easy, but it’s OK.

Do I worry about deferring things until it’s too late? Is time a factor? Sure–when you’re nine years older than your husband, and now that cashiers are starting to ask me for my AARP card, you genuinely do understand that time is a finite resource. But the question I always ask myself is whether, if I died tomorrow, I’d rather die debt-free.

And the answer is still yes.

It’s that important.


72 – resolving old debt

Corey and I worked seriously hard over the last five years together to get rid of an awful lot of debt.  Here are some of the moves we made to do so:

  • We used the debt snowball system that Dave Ramsey made popular.  One debt at a time, make minimum payments to everything else, and throw every other dollar at the chosen one to get rid of it. Stop worrying about whether to take the lowest balance, or the highest payment, or the highest interest rate.  Just pick one and get started.
  • However, the completely defaulted credit cards that were hangovers from Corey’s previous marriage ranged from one with a $4,500 balance to one that was more than $15,000.  By the time we married, the debt had been sold to collection agencies three or four times. Every time you see the billing agency change, it means that the debt has been resold for pennies on the original dollar.  So, in other words, that $15,000 debt was probably purchased for a couple grand by the time it got to the 5th sale.  They were more than happy to work with us to pay back a smaller amount.
    • Two big gotchas:
      • If you have defaulted debt like that out there, the biggest mistake you can make is to start making payments to it again–it resets the debt clock, and you are on the hook for the whole amount once more. Don’t pay a dime until it’s time to sit down with them and negotiate.
      • Whatever amount you do not pay of the original debt will be taxed as income by the IRS.  On that $15,000 debt, we paid off $5,000 of it, and $10,000 of it was considered income by the IRS. Not joking–and the fact that it seems like they’re kicking you when you’re down and trying to survive is something you just have to get over.

Why didn’t we go with the consumer credit counseling services? Well, first off, Corey had a bad experience with one them the first time he tried to get out from under his debt load. The theory is that you pay the CCC service one fairly low payment, they talk to all your credit card companies, negotiate lower payments, reduced debt, etc. Evidently, they started making late payments almost immediately, thereby ruining his credit even further. Not saying it happens with all of them, but it did take it off the board for us.

There are lots of choices, and people who know more than we do about getting out of debt.  But it can be done.  And from this perspective, it is SO worth doing.  Good luck.


69 – never been here before

I’m genuinely staggering through this trying to shed all the old baggage I’ve collected.  Not trying to be “Nanner-nanner, I don’t have to work and you do,” about all this. I think, for those of you of my age, this is how people feel when they retire. Except, of course, that retirement implies an income, which I do not have…

Well, I’m here to tell you, this is HARD. I’ve begun to realize that I don’t know how to not be stressed out! I know that sounds stupid–but as my mama used to say, you’d miss a rock in your shoe if you had it in there for thirty years. There are so many things that have just never been part of my way of thinking. For instance:

Haven’t been debt-free since I was 20 years old.  When I married the ex, he came with debt, and we never climbed out. Took 65% of it on when I left him, and Corey came loaded down with all the debt from his previous marriage.  We climbed out of ALL OF IT, together, dollar by dollar, and bought and sold two houses in the process. That debt-free status is the reason why I don’t have to look for a job… and that is also kind of weirding me out.

Never been in a space since I entered the Air Force at 19 years old where I wasn’t working, going to school, or looking for work.  And, not to put too fine a point on it, there were more than a few times when I was doing all three. The very few moments when I wasn’t working or looking for work in the last three decades were when I was in school, first for my bachelor’s, then for my master’s.  And even then, started a partnership the last year and a half of my bachelor’s degree work.

Never had this kind of freedom.  I’m beginning to realize that I’ve been a reactor all my adult life. I’ve accomplished A LOT, but most of it was to the end of making money one way or the other. I didn’t go back to school at the age of 34 because of passion for a specific area of study–although I found it while I was there.  I went to school because I knew that, without a degree, I was going to be, at best, an executive assistant all my working life. Never occurred to me to get out of the race entirely, but that wasn’t a serious option on the pay my ex-husband made in the US Air Force. We work so much and so hard that we don’t look up and ask ourselves why we’re doing it because what’s the point of asking–we have to do it anyway.

Haven’t been able to sleep in for more than a day or two at a time for DECADES.  To genuinely not have to be at someone (or something) else’s scheduling demands is one of the weirder experiences of recent years. Seriously–the only time I have to be on anything resembling a schedule is when I have to keep my eye on rising bread dough. I’m finally beginning to stop panicking when I’m wide awake at 2 a.m., as I am right now. I can go back to bed if I get sleepy, or I can just go make myself another cup of tea.

Never trusted this much. The man asleep in the next room over is the reason that I can do these things and think this stuff and take this time to think and plan. He works HARD–but loves his ever-changing job, and this ever-changing landscape. Such an amazing thing, that he is so happy every time I sleep in of a morning. In the previous five years together, I could count on one hand the mornings he’s woken up with me still there–I’ve been up at four or five a.m. every morning of our six years together.  I still am… but now, I go back to bed. And when his alarm goes off at 7 a.m., I’m there.

And, when my alarm goes off, whenever that may be, if it even goes off at all, it will be time to stop looking back, time to scrape the barnacles off and see what’s underneath. Hopefully not dry rot and foot fungus. Pretty sure that it’s not going to be unicorns off-gassing rainbows either, but one never knows… 😀

lazarus long - creativity


66 – happy husband, happy wife

Yesterday afternoon, I walked up to Corey’s shop with Daysie, and stuck around for the five o’clock Friday, drink a beer and BS about the work week conversation. Enjoyed a couple hours of that, and Daysie got introduced to Corey’s fellow managers.  She’s a sociable little critter, made a good impression. Well, except for the fact that she peed on Corey’s shop floor. Trying not to grin about that, but it was a little funny.

I love seeing Corey happy–and I think part of his happiness is that he does not get met with a litany of MY stressful day the minute he walks in from work. Until last October, Cor had never known me when I was not in a stressful job. He was in stressful work situations as well–and I hope I helped him in those conversations as much as he helped me with mine. He struggled with the same things I struggle with (and everyone else most likely). Not worth naming them–the commonalities are obvious, and the specifics aren’t relevant.

At one level, his work stressors haven’t changed.  What HAS changed is how he deals with the same situations he and I have always dealt with. A situation that would have had him coming home with fists clenched five years ago now earns a shrug and a smile, and the conversation moves on. The stories are the same–it’s just the ending is different.

tuggingI do tend to poke at things to figure out the why, and I don’t think you can overestimate the impact of our being debt-free–we are both eminently employable people, and not afraid to take on any job.  The combination of that with not owing anyone means that any job that either of us is doing now is our choice. It helps you approach everything quite differently when the playing field is level.

Another major factor is that he’s working out of doors most of the time–something that made him enormously happy in his job in Coos Bay, as well. He often worked on the tugboats, throwing lines for the big chip ships as they came in and out of the bay, and the days he was tugging were the days he came home smiling every time.

Whatever the reasons, I’ll spare you the lengthy list, This is a happy place, and the next few years are going to be an adventure of no small proportions. Onward and upward!

60 – silence of the yams

Did you know that sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing?  Oddly enough, I did.  Never actually cooked a yam, but I love sweet potatoes, and seriously, there are things made from sweet potatoes that should be banned in every state. The worst offender is the candied sweet potatoes (often mistakenly called “candied yams,”) that so many people serve at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.  Throwing mini-marshmallows on top of canned and chunked sweet potatoes that have added brown sugar compounds the sticky sweetness in every layer.  It’s also texturally challenging, the final straw  for me.  Not sure why, but it always felt like eating a boneless finger.  Ish.

Half sweet potato, half russet/white potato, mashed with butter, milk, parmesan, salt and pepper.  Oh yes, and some steak.
Half sweet potato, half russet/white potato, mashed with butter, milk, parmesan, salt and pepper. Oh yes, and some steak.

The absolute best way to cook a sweet potato is to wash it and put it on the top rack of a gas grill with the cover closed.  Leave it there about 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to grill your meat or other vegetables. Smaller ones will cook faster, bigger ones need more time.  When it’s done, you can wrap it in foil to keep it hot while everything else gets cooked.  To eat, cut a slit in the peel, or completely remove the peel and add butter and salt to the bright orange flesh, to taste.  That’s all.  Nothing else.

Please raise your right hand and solemnly swear to never candy a sweet potato again.  Ever.  Under pain of having to eat the buggerty things. Yuck.

If it’s too blustery or rainy to grill, you can  also add sweet potatoes to your white potatoes to make mashed.  Peel both kinds, and cut into cubes that are one or two inches on a side.  Add them to a pot of boiling water.  Turn down to a simmer, cook until a fork goes into a chunk of white potato very easily.  Drain the water off the potatoes, then add a little milk, a lot of parmesan cheese, butter, salt, pepper and anything else that you like in your mashed potatoes. Gives mashed potatoes an amazing richness, depth of flavor, and slight sweetness. Very yummy.

I honestly did not start this blog to be a recipe fest–this is just where my mind has been of late.

My layoff in October from my high-pressure, high-stakes job came with a severance pay that enabled us to be finally debt-free. Yesterday, we received the title to the truck, our last debt finally paid. It’s quite an accomplishment.  Both of us have lived with debt our entire adult lives. This job of his, coming with a house, all expenses paid, and a company truck, now gives me the time and the space to decide what’s next for me, with zero pressure to do so. I don’t even know how to act without debt AND without a job.

I’ve found that, for me, the highest purpose of my days has been the care and feeding of my entirely amazing husband.  After a 12- hour day yesterday, he is also working today, Saturday.  Watched him drive off an hour ago, hauling a bulldozer on a flatbed semi-trailer through these single-lane dirt roads, with precipices galore. He’s headed to a site about 30 miles south of the house (and still on the ranch we live on, which always boggles me).  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy–but he loves his job, not least because he has great respect for his boss. It’s something we both have found to be quite rare.

As for me, when I’m not baking bread, sewing, cleaning, cooking, or doing laundry, I’m writing, as you can tell by this blog.  I am also working out, and losing weight (six pounds in the last three weeks) and thinking a lot while I’m getting sweaty.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

29 – looking back

Every year, I put together two lists–one looking back at the year past, one looking forward at the year to come. Looking back is always easy; looking forward is a little harder to put together, especially in an uncertainty-filled life.

So, for the beginning of my lists, I did try to get it in vaguely chronological order…

Looking back on 2013:

  • Started the year at the Hannon reunion near Phoenix, Arizona, recovering from December surgery. Glad to be alive.
  • Finally saw the tip end of the Northwestern US; we drove up and around the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Paid off my student loan that had been hanging over my head since 1995, as well as all other debt. Yeeha!
  • Flew out to Ladies’ Campout in June at Emory Campground on the Hungry Horse Reservoir, just outside Glacier National Park, Montana (whatever happens there stays there–apparently I invented a new word. :))
  • Corey and I were able to explore Tennessee, East, West and Northeast, in July, and got to meet three of the folks that work for me (in Raleigh, NC) and my peer managers (in Atlanta, GA).
  • Bought the House McNugget (2003 Cougar 5th wheel trailer) and remodeled it from the floor up.
  • Sold the Coos Bay house to the Bracelins – such amazing people.
  • Survived pneumonia in August, and survived Cisco long enough to garner severance pay when I was laid off four days before we went completely mobile.
  • Since we could now travel whenever we chose, snagged the chance to see Cor’s sister, stay a week with Barb and Chris, and then see my baby sister for the first time in more than three years.  So good to see her happy.
  • Landed near Bobbi and Patrick, stayed at Baffin Bay for a week–until Corey went to work for a family friend.  Didn’t work out, but did get us back to Fort Stockton.
  • Final payment from Corey’s divorce agreement sent to his ex in November… done!
  • Cor started his new job at the ranch on Dec. 2nd.
  • Survived totaling the Lincoln TownCar on Dec. 9th
  • Moved out to the ranch on Dec. 17
  • Built two large pieces of furniture for the house on the ranch
  • First New Year’s Eve at the ranch.

The year in review, travel-wise…


27 – mixed blessings and budgets

The company that was interested in my qualifications has put a pause on all hiring until the new year.  I am bummed and yet, somehow, incredibly relieved at the same time.  I wonder why?  Ah, that would be because of right now, if nothing changes, I have at least five weeks off. Unpaid, yes…unwelcome? No.

Corey starts his new job on Monday, Dec. 2.  In order to be able to take a deep breath, I had to put together a budget that makes sure that we can do more than survive on his paycheck, we can thrive. The tentative answer is “yes,” but to make sure, I had to go through the exercise below.  I threw numbers into all these categories to see where we ended up.

You’re welcome to use the table below to start your own process, but please note, and I’ll say this over and over… THIS IS NOT ADVICE. Nor do the numbers below reflect our budget, or the budgets of anyone alive or dead.  And no animals were harmed in the making of this budget.  And don’t spill it on your lap, the contents may be hot.

This is an extrapolation that I use each year to sort out what the monthly budget is going to be.  I've filled it with estimated numbers for two wage-earners combined, and three people for groceries, etc.  This bears no resemblance to my budget, number-wise.
This is an extrapolation that I use each year to sort out what the monthly budget is going to be. I’ve filled it with estimated numbers for two wage-earners combined, and three people for groceries, etc. This bears no resemblance to my budget, number-wise.

There are also a ton of things that aren’t included above, like school clothes for the kids, business clothes for the parents, haircuts, oil changes on the vehicles, home insurance or renters insurance, property taxes, income taxes, income tax refunds, and on and on.  Both columns can have dozens of lines that aren’t there now… but for me, there are three key pieces.

Key 1: That bottom left hand number matters.  As long as it’s a positive number, we’re doing OK.  If it is a negative number, I have to adjust my income or my outlay to change it to a positive – for instance, if that was a minus $55 dollars, I could adjust the amount I put into savings to nine percent, and my number would go back into positive.

Key 2: I put into a savings account or somewhere safe the amounts for insurance and other non-monthly bills.  I hate getting slapped by a $600 vehicle insurance bill that I’ve totally forgotten was coming up, or $300 for life insurance that bills once a quarter. I put the amounts away each month that are needed to get those bills paid in full when they show up.

Key 3: The emergency fund is crucial.  This is the part, oddly enough, that was the hardest.  For my own peace of mind, I really needed to have six months of outlay in the savings account to be comfortable.

OK, I’m done now… for anyone who’s attached to the alter egos*, Ethel is sitting next to me poking me with a sharpened elbow to make sure I get this right.  Britni’s eyes glazed over by the second paragraph, and she’s bedazzling something over in the corner. Dexter’s hunting down the turkey for tomorrow. There will be no presidential pardons for the fowl beastie, but the way in which it meets its demise will at least be painless, at my request.   Thanksgiving is the happiest time of the year for Dexter.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Hope it’s filled with family, love and laughter.