127 – mumblings from the mountains

Sitting looking at a smoke-hazed mountain outside my best friend’s back door. It’s beautiful, even in the fire-induced fog. The sun is trying to climb over it–she often doesn’t get actual sun on her house until upwards of 10 a.m. because it lies in the early morning shadow cast by that mountain.

Happy to be here, feeling a sense of accomplishment–a quilt that I worked on for almost a year has been given to the newlyweds, and the bride was my friend’s youngest daughter. The bride and groom are off now to Hawaii. Now a couple days just for us, the vacation we both sorely needed–and a quick visit with son John in Great Falls before we head back to super-heated but not-on-fire West Texas.

attic window quilt
attic window quilt

Got a nice, long visit with Kelsey and Brian and the kids the last week of July, got to know Miss Haley Leann a little bit better, and had tons of fun with Tyler.

Also took on a consulting job shortly before that, getting operations turned around at a restaurant in the 8000+ population town 45 minutes from the ranch. The same folks who own the ranch own the restaurant, and when their general manager asked if I’d take on the challenge, I couldn’t resist. That was July 17, and from there until we flew out to come up here for a week, I’ve been running with my ears laid back. It’s in much better shape now, with tons of help from Kels and Brian as well as Corey, who jumped in with the staff to do the massive cleaning that was the first step to getting the place back on track. It’s a 90-day contract, minus the time here in Montana, so as of October 16, I’ll be back to entrepreneuriality, if that’s a word. And November is NaNoWriMo.

Oh… and we bought a warehouse. 🙂


125 – happy insomniac

Up at 4 a.m. this morning. Promised Corey I’d never say 4:13 again. He finds that kind of precision funny. I would say I don’t know why… but I do, ’cause I find it funny when other people do it, but only when they add vague qualifiers to it, like “almost 4:13.” We are weirdly alike for two people that on the surface are not so much… But that’s probably what makes us work as a couple. At any rate, woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I figured I’d rattle off a few paragraphs.

Not a lot of plans for the weekend, other than to get into town in time to check the mail, pick up some ranch stuff, pick up some grocery stuff… get back home and work on the craft project that I’m up in the middle of–it’s a gift, so my lips are sealed. Am taking pictures.

My only other ambition is to get our van up and listed on a couple of websites. If you know anyone who might be in the market for an extended body 2002 Ford Econoline E350 cargo van, with a 7.3L diesel engine, let us know. It’s in good shape, two brand new tires and two good ones, just passed inspection a few months back. It’s very clean inside because we’re clean freaks. We stripped it down to the metal inside, repainted the inside floor and put it back together again. It does have a ladder rack for the top. The picture below is not a picture of THE van, it’s a picture of A van, same year model, same body type, frame, etc. I’ll replace it when I get a moment to get out and take pictures, if it’s not raining once the sun’s up this morning.

We had planned to kit it out as a weekend camping van, and it has room enough for a 2002-ford-econoline-cargo-van-058-p3queen-size bed in it, but we are just too busy to get it done… and enjoy just exploring the ranch on the rare weekend where we have time to just enjoy the weekend together. Plus, we like sleeping in our own bed now that we’re older. Camping, bluntly, kinda sucks.

But, I digress.

We’ll be listing the van for $6,500. Someone will want it just for the engine, according to my mechanically expert husband, who says it has 3/4 of a million miles of run-time left on it. Don’t know the mileage offhand, but I gather these engines run for decades. I know jack about engines, but know Corey wanted the van because of the engine, with eventual intent to tow a bumper-pull trailer, use the van for extra storage and the trailer for living space.

All I know is, rather than let it sit, someone who can use it ought to be using it. So if you know someone who might be interested, flag me down and let me know.

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.

81 – designing irony

In cprototype1ontact with an old friend in the business, who reached out to me last night to ask if I’d write a continuity/disaster recovery plan for his business.  I gave him a bid, and he’ll be getting back to me soon, one way or the other. I find myself distinctly neutral–oh, I’ll absolutely do it for him; it will take me at most a couple of days and a some research, plus sitting down with them for an hour or two to get the bits of information I have to have. I’ll enjoy it, actually, and it will be the best it can possibly be, and satisfy all governmental and other requirements for the document.

The irony, and of COURSE there is irony–I apparently live at the corner of north irony and southbound mule these days–comes from the fact that the one thing I find myself utterly uninterested in doing these days is writing. Creative writing that is, as opposed to technical writing.  I belong to a writers’ group that would probably actually like to see my face on occasion, whether virtually or otherwise, and since I’m not writing, I don’t go… And no, I don’t count this blog. Not sure what that says about me.

However, what is truly flipping all my creative switches at the moment is design. I’ve dabbled in it some, with designing furniture which my husband built with me and made into reality.  In fact, the purse shown above is hanging on the hall tree we created. The purse is also of my design, and completely of my making. The spurring event was that I actually broke down and bought a grown-up woman’s wallet, and needed something to put it in. I’ve always carried a wallet that would fit in the back pocket of my jeans.  The only time I actually carried a purse was to smuggle a bottle of water and some string cheese into movie theatres… sorry, but I’m NOT paying $4 for a 50-cent bottle of water. Anyway,  the two purses I actually own are both ugly as sin… and when I complained about that, my husband shrugged and said, “So make one.” So I did.

prototype2The ickiest thing about purses is that we drag them everywhere, set them down on floors, bathroom counters, etc., and there’s no way to clean most of them. So the first requirement was that it would have to be washable.  Second one was that, if I got tired of looking at the design, I didn’t want to have to go make or buy another purse, so I really wanted it to be reversible, with a completely different look inside.  So I made it that way.  There are some things I want to add into the design, including integrated pockets for cellphones and/or reading and sunglasses, but that will be on the second one that I’m working on now.

Oh, and I’m in the middle of putting together a queen-sized quilt. When I hit a snag on the purse thing, I go back to the quilt for a bit, which is more straightforward.  The design process… That’s where my mind stays these days. When I’m silent, that’s probably what I’m thinking about.  What’s most fascinating about this to me is that for decades of my life, I’ve refused to carry a purse, even when I probably needed to… now thoughts about their design occupy a fair part of my waking life. Irony…

One of my all-time favorite authors, Spider Robinson, through one his characters, said: “If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron.” And of course, because I apparently cannot escape the concept today… in order to quilt anything well, you better know how to iron.  I’ve probably used an iron and ironing board more in the last few months than I have since I first went in the military and had to iron everything all the way down to my t-shirts.

I’m going to go turn on some loud music and work out and quit thinking about anything except the music and the sweating. I think all this solitude may be making me loopy. Onward and upward, peoples.

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!