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.


111 – mississippi blues

Typing this at 5 a.m., my usual getting-up time, while Corey sleeps in. We’re starting back to Texas today, but making it three easy days – Biloxi to Baytown, Baytown to Kerrville, and then home on Wednesday.  So, we’ll leave when we choose, and enjoy the ride.

In the end, we stayed all four nights in Biloxi. As I said in the previous post, Corey and I hadn’t seen this part of the Gulf–and it is absolutely beautiful. Thirty miles of white sand beaches from Pass Christian (pronounced kriss-tee-ANN, by the way) to Biloxi. Seriously gorgeous.

So, the first day, that’s what we were looking at, mostly. The beaches make up the south border of Highway 90, which runs along the shoreline between the two cities, and through another small town, Gulfport.

Then the next day, we started looking at what makes up the northern side of Highway 90.  And the answer to that was empty lots and realty for sale signs. Hundreds of them, no exaggeration. It slowly dawned on me that what we were seeing was the story that most of the country didn’t really hear–the damage Hurricane Katrina did outside of New Orleans.biloxi

This morning, I went looking for the pictures that I was sure were there. As Katrina made landfall in Mississippi, the massive riverboat casinos became agents of destruction. One of the historic houses, as you can see in the picture above, was pancaked under the Grand Casino riverboat. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour was quoted as saying the Mississippi coastline looked like an American Hiroshima.

Katrina hit August 31, of 2005, nearly ten years ago–so the incredible debris field and all the condemned buildings have long ago been cleaned up. All that’s visible now is one after another steel embossed sign for a historic house… and no house standing behind the sign. Next to that sign is often another that says “For Sale.”

Many, if not most, of the casinos were rebuilt, but Mississippi laws were revised to allow them to be built on land. Another post-Katrina revision that just staggered my imagination was that hurricane command centers must now be constructed at more than 30 feet above sea level.Every command center in southern Mississippi was destroyed by the storm surge that exceeded expectations.  That wall of water was aptly characterized as “our tsunami” by the Mayor of Biloxi.

I had planned to take lots of pictures, and I’ll put up a few, in the end. But we got socked in by fog yesterday, all day long. It was still beautiful–but not exactly camera-friendly.

And I think we will, most likely, be back. Seriously, if I had a couple million to burn, baby, I’d be investing in this town’s future. It’s so beautiful here, and there is much opportunity to be had–but it shouldn’t be done shoddily or cheaply. Buildings need to be solid, hurricane-proof, or at least hurricane resistant! It can be done–but it must be done well.

110 – on the road again

Merry Christmas from Kerrville, here at the crack of dawn. In fact, dawn hasn’t even cracked yet, but I finally gave up trying to sleep in that spring-laden torture chamber of a bed and dragged myself down to the lobby to get some hot water and a cup of tea at about 5 a.m. I honestly thought it was 6 a.m. when I gave up and got up.

A gnome-like person of unknown gender and country of origin was flitting around from one place to another in the mis-labeled “breakfast room.” He or she was kind enough to toddle off and find me some water. I heated it up to lava temperature in the microwave, so hopefully it killed anything that might be living in it.

We spent the night here on our way down to the Gulf Coast. We’re going straight through southeast Texas at high speed (one hopes), then southern Louisiana, and staying in Biloxi, Mississippi for a couple nights.guadalupe

We had planned to go over into Pensacola on Saturday, but it looks like it’s going to be raining. But, then, that’s one of the good things about not actually making plans too far ahead of time. We’ll go where we choose after tomorrow, and decide on the fly. Right now the only plan, per se, is to be back home at the ranch by New Year’s Eve.  Both of us are actually off on January 1, as well, so we’ll just have to see.

This is the first time either of us have seen that part of the Gulf Coast–or as it’s better known in these parts, the Redneck Riviera.  Corey’s been as far as Lake Charles, and I’ve been to New Orleans once–and we may well stop by there on the way back.  Don’t know yet.

Hope your Christmas, however you choose to spend it, is wonderful. We are spending it in the way we love best–on the road, in each other’s company.

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.

95 – retrospection, thy name is… useful

We took the three-day weekend of Labor Day together and went over to Big Bend National Park, hiked a couple miles on Sunday, enjoyed each others’ company. The flowers in the picture were one of many that were in bloom across the park. With all the rain this summer, the whole park was in bloom, especially with the cenizo–the purple flowers in the second picture.  The first picture is yellow trumpetflowers that we saw along the hiking path.

DSCN5606While I was wandering around in my computer files looking for something else while Corey slept in, I ran across my autobiography. I wrote it more than two years ago now, while I was still working for Cisco. Sixty thousand words that were all about me and the various people I’ve been throughout this life.

Much like this blog, it was a little disjointed, kind of all over the place. But here’s the deal…the all-over-the-place-ness that is me has met my match in this man who still tends to see life as an adventure–something to be loved and lived to the fullest.

And, with lots of drive time to discuss what’s next for us, we came to some interesting conclusions. The first time we tried out going mobile, living in a fifth-wheel trailer, the whole intent was for me to be working in the virtual sense, and much of our planning was around how to orient our travel around having an Internet connection throughout the weekdays and then move to the next spot we wanted to go on the weekends.

Cenizo in full blooomGetting laid off from Cisco changed the hell out of that plan.

However, there were a lot of good things about it. Like so much of what we’ve done in the past five years together, though, we did it in a hurry. We started the process in July of last year, and within 90 days or so, we were on the road. And that included stripping the fifth wheel trailer down to the floorboards and renovating it. We learned an awful lot during that whole episode, not least of which is that we actually loved the lifestyle.

However–the next time, we need to take more time. So, basically, we’re looking at 10 to 15 years out this time.  And we want to take it in stages. And we want to do it with a bumper pull trailer instead of a fifth wheel. And we want to get an older van, like an eight-passenger type, to pull the trailer. That would give us the vehicle that we need to get to smaller spaces.

At Big Bend, for instance, we wouldn’t have been able to pull a trailer into the Chisos Basin where we went hiking if it was over 24-feet long. But an eight-passenger van would have made it in just fine, and if it’s been modified for camping, could have been a comfortable way to spend the night, get up early and go hiking, and then head back home.

So, basically, rather than starting from the trailer end of things, we’re thinking about finding a used van and remodeling it using boat-building techniques to add things like a small 12-volt fridge and a propane stove and storage, etc. Then the next thing would be trying it out over the next few years going camping nearby, or visiting family, whatever. If it works for us, then when we’re ready, the next thing would be finding an older bumper-pull trailer and renovating it. And taking our time about it, doing it right, doing it well.

“Taking our time” is a new concept for us. Should be interesting.

It’s possible we’ll think about it so hard that we won’t actually do anything–we could end up talking ourselves out of it completely. But it sure sounds like fun from here.


93 – home

I am finally home. Sitting on the couch with Corey last night was heaven. When he reaches out to put his hand on my arm, I am instantly safe and warm and loved and cherished, and all those things that come with loving and living with this man. DSCN5439

And yet, one of the hardest things I’ve had to do since we’ve been married was to tell the folks that I was working for in Alpine that I just couldn’t live two hours away from my husband. It was so weird to feel guilty about choosing my marriage and my home over my job, but I did. Was my marriage in danger from living so far away? Probably not–we’re both committed in ways that are inscribed pretty much at the cellular level.

I admitted when I told them that I wasn’t going to be able to stay that it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I just didn’t want to be away from him. And I was fully aware that, in the West Texas oilfields, people, mostly men, make that choice every day. The oilfield is never in your backyard–if it was, you wouldn’t have to work, now would you. The oilfield is somewhere else… and spouses and kids don’t get to come along. The choice to go is no choice is at all–if you want to make decent money in West Texas, you’re out in the oil patch.  

Drive through any West Texas town, and the signs are up on the restaurants and the stores, “Help Wanted.” Because everyone who can swing a hammer or follow basic instructions is out either on a drilling or a pulling rig or working or driving for one of the innumerable service companies that support the effort.  And restaurants and stores can’t pay what the oil companies pay.

But I’m not an oilfield worker. So, when an old friend in the high-tech industry came waving a job that would let me have my cake and eat it too–live at the ranch with my husband and work online–I jumped at it.

I need to work; I’ve proved that to myself already. I can design purses pretty well, and design and build furniture fairly well with help, and paint pretty badly and I can do housework until my eyes bleed… but it’s not enough.

I work. It’s part of who I am.  I’m good at it–and I have a deep need to contribute to the welfare of my family in ways that can only be accomplished by working. I tried to believe that it was just the isolation of living at the ranch that was hard on me, not seeing or talking to people. That was probably one element.  But the biggest was simply that I need to work.

So… I’m working. And I’m home. With Corey.

And if I get any happier, I’m going to have to sit on my hands to keep from waving at people. 

86 – beginnings and circles

Writing this in the Days Inn in Junction, Texas, early on a Thursday morning. Once I get my pooky together, I’m headed over near Austin for a web conference… for my new job.  I was hired on the spot at an interview Tuesday morning as managing editor of the Alpine Avalanche. It’s a weekly newspaper owned by Granite Publications. And, to add substance to the notion that what goes around comes around, I worked for them in 1999 and 2000 as managing editor at a different paper, The Madisonville Meteor. I also wrote opinion articles for more than a year and a half for another one of their papers, The Fort Stockton Pioneer in 2009-2010.avalanche

Part of the reason they hired me on the spot is because my amazing publisher and boss while at The Meteor, Hank Hargrave, and the also amazing Pam Bouray, publisher of The Pioneer, gave great references for me, which leaves me both flattered and humbled. Hank is now the owner/publisher of his own newspaper, The Normangee Star, in central Texas (and a new grandpa!). Pam I met when she was the new managing editor for The Pioneer, through Leadership Fort Stockton.  It’s an outstanding business leadership program run by the Chamber of Commerce in Fort Stockton that gets future leaders into one space, takes them through the infrastructure of the town on a three-month, weekly process, then to a retreat in the Hill Country to cement relationships with each other and the Chamber leaders.

Looking at that fast exposition of 15 years of my life–and yeah, I left out a lot–a lot of people might look at it and say that it means I’ve made no progress at all. I mean, it is a closed circle from managing editor back to managing editor, right? But here’s the actual completion of the circle–exactly 15 years ago yesterday, while I was the ME at The Madisonville Meteor, my mother died. I don’t celebrate death-a-versaries, and find those who do a little spooky, but when we lost Mama, the next couple years were honestly the darkest of my life. They set a pattern for me of running that I didn’t really break until I left my first marriage nine years later. All this is 20-20 hindsight, of course… but that I would be back in Texas, working for the same company, on my way to learn more about my new job and the future of that company’s efforts to combine print and web in ways that make sense…

I usually find the term “closure,” as used by shrinks and their ilk, annoying–but that may be because I never actually saw it before.  Do I know how all this is going to turn out? No. If I could tell the future, I’d be buying lottery tickets. Am I excited? Yep, I love beginnings, and always have.  It’s one of the many, many reasons I loved community newspaper work before–there is always something new. Is it all going to be sunshine and roses? No, there are hazards to anything, but at least this time, I’m walking in with my eyes wide open. Keep a good thought for me–if I have a dream where this is concerned, I would like Granite to be the last company I work for before I retire some decades down the road. It’s a small dream, but mine own.

For now… it’s time to get in the shower and get on the road, my chickens; I’ve got places to go, people to see!