Tuesday, November 23, 2010


They turned off our cable (and internet) last Friday.  I've been stringing the cable company along for months, paying only the past due amount.  They have been wonderful about not cutting me off and giving me extra time to pay.  But last week a deadline slipped by me and we were cast into static.

I'll readily admit it:  I'm a TV addict!  I don't sit on the couch and mindlessly stare at the screen in full couch potato mode.  But I do like to have the TV on, even though the programming has gotten worse and worse.  I love the sound of football games (even if I'm not watching or even paying attention).  I love cooking competitions on the Food Channel like Chopped and Iron Chef.  I used to love the History and Discovery Channels until they became total slaves to ratings and quit showing history or documentaries or even Deadliest Catch or Survivorman ("Nakeyman" to us because he always finds a way to take his clothes off!).
And I like my news in the morning and my CSI or Criminal Minds or Without A Trace at night. 

I bookend my wall-to-wall 16-hour days with an hour of TV in the morning and and an hour or so in the evening as I wind up and wind down.  That's about the only down time I take -- and even then I'm multitasking with emails or laundry or tending to kids.

The turning off the cable which, in our modern age of digital signals, means no TV at all.  I've thought about turning off the cable for many months as a way to save money but it was never really a REAL consideration for me.  I just could never even conceive of that reality!  Now I'm living that reality full-time.

We don't have a TV in our little house in Enid and I've never missed it -- probably because there's never been one.  This has given me courage that I can survive!

Luckily, my iPhone fills in a lot of gaps with news and weather and internet so I don't ever feel totally unplugged (unless they unplug my iPhone -- which has happened).

Without TV the house is much quieter.  It's not depressing like I thought it would be.  More reading is going on.  My girls are all voracious readers so reading is not a new phenomenon.  I'm always glad to see them with their nose in a book enjoying a good story.  More movies are being watched.  The last two nights Sara-Grace and I have watched movies together.  This has been wondeful because I LOVE movies but rarely get to watch them.  DVD's are wonderful because when I fall asleep I can just pick up again where I left off the next time I get a chance!

Sara-Grace and I watched "Amelia", the movie about Amelia Earhart with Hilary Swank and Richard Gere.  Sara-Grace is doing a report for school on Amelia Earhart soon so this was research - very enjoyable research!  I'm so impressed with the way she's immersed herself in her subject and really wants to learn all about it -- not just learn the minimum necessary to do the report for school.  This was a beautiful movie!  I was very intriqued with how much Richard Gere reminded me of Mark!  I knew I married a star!

It will probably be awhile before we get the cable back on.  I'm sure there won't be an extra $325 (two months fees plus reconnect fee plus additional deposit) anytime soon.  I've been trying to figure out the whole digital converter box thing but even they are cost prohibitive at $30+ each times 9 TVs (I told you I'm an addict!).  Maybe I can gradually collect converter boxes but it seems silly to invest almost as much in them as it would cost to turn the cable/internet back on.  Maybe I'll just get one or two so we can have our fixes when we're really serious about it.  Maybe it will bring about some togetherness.  Or maybe it will create friction when we have to all agree on one program!  We'll see!

In the meantime, as with most things I've learned recently out of deprivation/necessity, I am realizing how far lessons learned by force go beyond lessons learned by choice.  Over and over again, deprivation has taught me appreciation and gratitude -- not just for what I've lost but, more importantly, for what remains or for what I had all along but never appreciated. 

I have lost my cable TV but I have been left with much in its place:  quiet nights, quiet mornings, books, children with their noses in books, getting to have movies in my life again, and time with my daughter(s).

Once again, deprivation becomes a blessing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Laundry Al Fresco

{Here's an interesting opportunity! Offered here for your perusal and comparative anaylsis is the first version I wrote of my outside washing machine experience (entitled "Old Fashioned Laundry" the first time around-- the version I knew I'd written but couldn't find so I re-wrote it! Re-writes always suck so I think the original version is MUCH better. See what YOU think!}

"Now you're REALLY white trash!" he said as he wiped his hands on his shirt, an amused twinkle in his eye. My ex-husband had just gallantly brought and hooked up a spare, working washing machine so that my household could continue to run and no one would be panty-less!
The only problem is that the washer is in my backyard!
This washer situation will probably prove to be much to the apoplexy of my next door neighbors. They may even have seen it already -- I being unaware of how often or ardently they peek over the fence or run upstairs to their guest root to spy out the window that overlooks my yard.
You see, there are many things my neighbors don't understand. They are in their early 60's. They are financially independent. They only had one child and she is long gone and lives out of state. Basically, they have time and money. I have neither. They don't have jobs, children, dogs, or cats. I have three of each. They have peace. I have stress and persecution.
And, if my neighbors do, indeed, know that I have a working washing machine in my back yard, I'm sure to get a letter from the city before too long as they are always turning me in for some offense or another.

Do they know WHY I have a washer in my yard? Do they care? I'm pretty sure they think I do things just to be tacky and to annoy them!
So, I avoided the washer for the first day or so. Finally, in desperate need of towels, jeans, and undies, I slunk out with an arm full and plunged headlong into my own tackiness.
There! That wasn't so bad!
Soon I found myself in the back yard in my nightgown in the optimistic light of an early summer morning. The summer sun, the morning dew, the gentle breeze, a basket on my hip. This isn't so bad. Many people do laundry in dank basements or cramped closets or public laundromats. I get to hear the birds sing and see the gentle breeze in the trees. Enthusiastic dogs and a curious cat accompanied me. The sweet smell of soap. Bare feet on bare earth. Something deep and pleasent and familiar tugs at my soul. I wonder. It's as if I have a connection, a memory trace deep in my soul to some other time and some other place. Like I've done this in a past life. I have a deep sense of peace in this unfamiliar arrangement. There is a sense of duty and accomplishment, bare feet on the bare earth, connected to the ageless, timeless ritual of laundry. It's as if I can sense a clothesline nearby, the kiss of the sun and wind on the clothes and linens, some sort of solace, respite, or haven from other drudgeries... For how many eons was laundry washed outside compared to how long man (ok, WOMAN!) have had automatic, indoor washing and drying machines?
Maybe, in a past life, I was a "laundress". Maybe I lovingly washed the clothes of my husband and children. Maybe I was just glad to have water and an opportunity for cleanliness (next to Godliness, you know!)
What I know right now is this: (1) I enjoy being plugged in to the ageless, timeless task of doing laundry outside (as long as it's summer!) -- which CAN be just plain pleasant on a nice day. (2) I refuse to be ashamed of resourcefulness. (3) I would rather be one of the humble hard workers than the harsh and judegmental criticizers.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Old-Fashioned Laundry

For the last few months, probably since May or so, my washing machine has been hooked up in my back yard.  Yes, I know, that sounds like the ultimate in trashy.  And it probably is.  But it was also just plain necessary.

The washing machine broke.  Even if we fixed it ourselves, the replacement part was $80.  No one had a spare $80.  If we bought the part, that $80 would have come out of the food or gasoline budget.  So the washer had to remain broken. 

There was also no money to go to the laundrymat.  Once upon a time in the past, we took about 8 loads of laundry to the laundromat and it ended up costing about $50.  Coin-op laundry sounds cheap but it's NOT!

So Matt (my ex-husband, always eager to be the savior and gatherer of glory points) brought us a washing machine that he had sitting around.  He hooked it up with the garden  hose in the back yard because the laundry room is upstairs and very difficult to access and no one wanted to risk life and limb moving one washer down the stairs and another one up the stairs when it would only be temporary and we'd have to do it all again before too long.

So, all summer I did laundy in the back yard.  It was quite an interesting experience.  I actually enjoyed going out barefoot early on a summer morning and putting in laundry.  There's something very grounding about standing on bare earth and doing a timeless task such as laundry.  For eons, women have been washing laundry much closer to the earth than we do today.  In all of time, before electricity and running water and washing machines, washing laundry with one's feet on bare earth and one's hair blowing in the breeze was more the norm than the exception. 

My friend Viky came here from Mexico at the age of 19 or 20 with nothing and speaking no English.  She was one of my renters.  We built our friendship on my very bad Spanish, her great patience and good nature, and the fact that we were pregnant together.  She recounted stories of people dying from snake bites and heat stroke on the trip across the border.  She told me about having no shoes at times during her childhood.  And she spoke of washing clothes in river with her mother as a child.  I never forget that. 

My inconvenient, broken-washer remedy put me in touch with a primal human experience.  I actually enjoyed the earthiness of it -- when I wasn't feeling just plain trashy and pathetic!  I did my share of cringing at the orange extension cord snaking across the yard and in the back door and at the way the spin cycle rattled the porch post and made my mother's garden bell ring like an old-fashioned fire alarm!  I wondered if the neighbors had peaked over the fence at my embarrassing, improvised laundry room.  I wondered if they through I just had low standards or if they had the compassion to know that it was just necessity in a bad situation.

A few weeks ago the dryer broke too.  Instead of hauling heavy, wet laundry up to the dryer (which is definiely not fun!), I commenced to draping wet laundry over outdoor chairs and on the fence.  I learned a lot about what a wonderful whitener and deodorizer sunshine is.  I probably should have put up a clothesline and given myself that part of the old-fashioned laundry experience as well but I just never did.  I'll always remember my grandmother's clothesline and the bag of clothespins that hung from the line.  I've marvelled at different methods of hanging laundry on a clothesline that I've seen here and there from my car:  hanging shirts from the bottom hem instead of putting clothespin bumps in the shoulders, concealing the underwear on the middle clothesline, draping the sheets across several lines in big scallops to keep them off the ground -- all that domestic women's wisdom that has fallen by the wayside as modern conveniences have made such knowledge obsolete.  There was definitely an art to laundry that has been lost to us! 

Yesterday my muse lead me to the laundry room (the inside one).  My muse tends to do that -- she takes me to my work station for the day.  I never know where it will be until I get there but I always get the most done if I listen to her work assignments!  I thought I was just going to get socks but I found my day's work as well!

So I found myself behind the dryers (I have two because the washer takes less time than the dryer and I can get more laundry processed with two -- though usually one is broken) cleaning out backed up lint and trying to redesign the vent system that I've been told is the reason my dryers keep breaking -- the improper ventilation overheats them and the fuses and heat coils burn out (See! I've learned a lot!) -- and laying on the floor worming my arm into the vent that goes through the wall and under the floor to the outside.  In the process, I solved the mystery of the God-awful death smell we had in the laundry room in the spring:  a bird's nest in the vent line.  The one remaining intact egg with the teeny, oozing hole in it smelled worse than I can describe!  But at least it wasn't a dead cat like I had feared because one of our cats had gone missing about then.  Whew!

I scrubbed out vent pipes and swept up enough lint to build a new dog and found a whole 44 cents for my trouble! 

Matt spent the last week on a fairly lucrative construction job so, when he heard what I was up to, he volunteered to go get the parts to fix all the machines!  After $140 ($80 for the washer part and $25 each for the dryer parts) and several hours work, I am delighted to report I now have TWO working washers and THREE working dryers!  Praise the Lord and the laundry gods!  I'll sell one of each -- I can't wait to get the washing machine out of the back yard and the extra (previously broken) dryer out of the playroom -- and that might recoup the cost of the parts.

I cannot tell you how completely THRILLED I am to get to do laundry inside, in my beautiful laundry room, like I live in the 21st century!  It is truly a blessing that I wish I could bestow on every woman throughout time who ever washed laundry in cold water while standing on a dirt floor and hand-wrung it with chapped, red hands and hung it to dry on a cold day where solid, frozen laundry was a possibility.  I am so blessed.  And now I'm going to wash everything in sight!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's Too Quiet!

I hear the word "foreclosure" every day.  On the news or in real life, "foreclosure" is very, very common word these days.  Whenever I hear it, I wonder about the people who lost their houses.  I know there is a person or a whole family behind every foreclosure.  I know they shed tears and spent many an agonizing sleepless night. But they remain invisible. 

I never hear someone say "I lost my house to foreclosure".  So where are all these poor souls who must be going through very dark times?  None of them seem to be talking.  Where did they all go?  I can only assume they are suffering in silence and isolation.  I ache for them.

I have been able to hang on to the house that I live in -- despite teetering on the edge of foreclosure a couple of times in the past year.  Though I have not lost my home, I DO know what foreclosure feels like up close and personal.  I used to be a real estate investor.  I rode the real estate market down with the recession.  I may not have had to pack my belongings but I did lose SEVEN houses by surrendering a deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure.  It was agonizing.  I can't imagine the horror if it had been my home.  I hope I never get the lesson in what that feels like.

I had a conversation about financial strife with an attorney yesterday.  He said to me "I hear stories like this three to five times a day.  Everyone is struggling." 

But no one is talking about it.  We are all just suffering in silence.  We aren't even talking to each other.

THAT is why I write this blog.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Capitalizing on "The Tesakiah Luck"!

I named my second daughter Tesakiah -- Tesakiah Caroline Alexandra Harjo, to be exact and complete!  It's pronounced like Hezakiah from the Bible. 

In case you don't know and are interested, my other daughters are Emily Meredith Cheloteka (She-lote-ka) Harjo and Sara-Grace Isabella Shedachi (She-da-chi) Harjo.  And while I'm over explaining: Tesakiah means "bright star", Cheloteka means "locust" or "sounds of the summer night", and Shedachi means "little sister" in Navajo.

"Tesakiah" is my own variation on a Harjo ancestor's name.  There was a Seminole chief after whom a whole band of the Seminole tribe was named.  His name was Tusakiah Harjo (pronounced Tusa-guy-a, actually).  The name was mentioned frequently in the Harjo family.
When I was about 7 months pregnant, we went on a day trip to Harjo ancestral territory in Seminole County Oklahoma.  We visited the decaying log ruins of one ancestor's home.   We drove by the old family church and stomp dance grounds where each family had a little "summer house" they stayed in for week-long ceremonial gatherings.  In the midst of all this family history,  I pondered the name Tusakiah  and it occurred to me:  I could change the U to an E (Tusakiah to Tesakiah) and we could get "Tess" or "Tessa" out of it for short.  That clenched it.

I LOVED the name!  But I wrestled with whether I should strap a big, long, unusual name on my poor, unsuspecting, little baby.  I soul-searched on it and I just had the strongest feeling that my baby, still unborn, wanted to be a Tesakiah and not Kamillah or Alexandra or Jessica or Allison or Melanie (other names we considered).  And I was right!  Tessa LOVES her name!  Whew!  And I just know that someday there will be lots of great-grandchildren with Tesakiah in their name somewhere who will talk about "Grandma Tesakiah" with awe and romanticized reverence!

The Chinese believe that every name has a certain amount of "chi"  (luck or good fortune) and that all the people who share a particular name divide that name's chi among them.  Therefore, if you are a "John", your chi is massively diluted.  A "Winchester" would have considerably lesser dilution of his chi. 

And then there's Tesakiah.  As far as I know, she is the only Tesakiah on the planet.  She has ALL the Tesakiah chi to herself.  And the theory supports itseslf because she is very, VERY lucky! 

On her 6th birthday, we were hanging out at ToysRUs and she won the in-store drawing for a Cabbage Patch dolls.  That's our favorite example of "the Tesakiah luck".  But there are more.  She's called the winner of the Kentucky Derby a time or two.  She can pull not one but TWO stuffed animals out of those darned claw machines where you put in 50 cents and futilely try to pick up well-wedged-in stuffed animals with a limp-gripping mechanical claw.  Lucky things happen to her all the time.  Luck just seems to follow her. 

Yesterday I took Tessa with me to pair of realtor open houses.  We saw two wonderful vintage houses, had a lovely lunch and a delicious dessert, enjoyed pleasant conversation with other realtors, and put my card in the drawing for a $50 prize.  I do this sort of thing regularly.  A free lunch and a cash drawing will get me to a realtor open house at least once a week.  Plus there are multiple drawings at the monthly realtor board meeting and occasional in-office drawings.  I have never won a thing.  But -- you guessed it --  I had "the Tesakiah luck" with me yesterday and I won the $50 drawing!  Hooray!  Fifty dollars seems like $500 to me about now!  I'm thrilled! 

Now I'm extremely tempted to check Tessa out of school 3 or 4 days a week to go to realtor open houses with me!  Do you think the school would understand that if she's a major household breadwinner?  Or maybe she could pick some lottery numbers for me...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Do I Really Want To Write This?

Do I Really Want To Write This?

I ask myself that most days.  I have for months.  Since the thought bubbled out of my soul that I'm supposed to write about the financial hell I've been living in -- like God told me that's part of the purpose of it all.  Since Mark begged me not to but finally relented because it's just the truth and he respects the writer in me. 

Being a good provider is very, very important to Mark and he IS a good provider.  But both the economy and my financial situation changed drastically soon after we got married.  Nothing is the way we planned or what we expected it would be.  Mark has had to shoulder the burden and try to come up with the difference.  We say we're getting our starving newlywed years now.  We hope that when it's all better we can focus on how we built ourselves from nothing.

In the midst of it all, he loves me enough to set his pride aside and  let me be me.  Which means let me write about things he'd prefer that no one knew about.  Things that I'd prefer no one knew about except that they get processed through my writing. 

I'm a "cards-on-the-table" kind of person.  I always say I have no secrets and I'll tell you MORE than you want to know.  Which is true.  Until now.  I've noticed myself withdrawing over the last year or two and I'm sure many others in similar situations do the same.  I talk to almost no one anymore.  I've let most of my friends drift away.  It's partly out of shame and partly because I just can't stand listening to myself anymore.  I have become a pathetic heap.  I'm honest enough that, when someone asks me "How are you?", I tell them what's on my heart instead of just giving a rote "I'm fine".  Because I'm not fine.  Because the poison of money stress has taken over my life, my house, and my marriage, my heart, and my soul. 

There are several ways I could focus this blog.  I could put the Pollyanna lens on it and only tell you the good things and only show the hopeful moments.  Or I could just completely out myself and make a sidebar listing all my outstanding bills.  Or not.  Or I could strive for a balance.  Mostly I just want to try to be honest about the experience of what we're going through.  Most of all, I want to write the happy ending.  I want to document where we've been and how we got out of it -- something that future generations can refer to to know that this is a normal life experience.  So I guess some uncomfortable honesty is required.  I'll hope not to feel too naked!

In the end, hopefully, this blog will serve to let others of you who are struggling know you're not as alone as I think we all feel.  Because I'm pretty sure that all of the rest of you are naked underneath your clothes too!

Four For The Price Of One

I've been over playing on my FreeSourceFull blog lately and have been neglecting my poor snakey at GreenbackAnaconda.  But he's mean to me so he deserves it!

I just wanted to shed a few random thoughts on money matters without derailing myself by holding out until I can write a masterpiece!  So, here you'll get four mini posts for the price of one.  And the price is already free!  What a deal!

First, to update you on my semester of Auto Mechanics 101:  I killed the whole motor on the Prelude (it's name is Flash 2, by the way).  The only upside to that is that I learned to roll start it because it would die every time I slowed down.  Thanks goodness Fayetteville has lots of hills for rolling down -- though the going up part was extremely challenging due to a terminal loss of power.  So I had what turned out to be a fun challenge trying to drive the Prelude home from the very downhill spot where it had been abandoned all weekend.  Between roll starting down hills and putt-putting up hills at a whole 5 mph, I got it home without the use of a chain and another vehicle.  This felt like a HUGE victory.  Now poor Flash 2 sits in front of the house awaiting an emergency transplant.  Someday.

The good news is that the fuel pump for Bonnie came in.  $30!  The dealership wanted $330 to fix it.  Matt (the ex-husband) installed it for me and now Bonnie runs like an oiled-up rollerskate instead of a rusty roller skate!  And Bonnie really warmed my heart this morning (literally and figuratively) because Bonnie has HEAT and it was 35 degrees this morning!

In other news, and speaking of 35 degrees, I have discovered that with highs in the 70's and lows even as low as 35, I don't need heat or air in the house.  I've had the whole HVAC turned off all week!  It's only been a tad bit chilly -- nothing too uncomfortable.   I haven't had gas service in the house for months so I wouldn't have heat even if I wanted it.  Luckily, the kitchen and one bathroom run on the second water heater which is electric so we have hot water for dishes and one bathtub.  Soon I'll have to figure out how to come up with $400 (that's two, or maybe three, months worth of gas bills from the spring when it was still cold) to get the gas turned back on.

All this makes me want to put up windmills and solar panels and dig a well so I can get completely off the grid!  Wouldn't THAT be amazing?

I have a friend who grew up in another century.  Well, actually, she grew up AS IF she lived in another century because her father was, apparently, born in the wrong century.  Her name is Darlin (yes, that's her name because her daddy thought it would be cute if her four older brothers had to call her Darlin -- they circumvented him and called her "Nay" instead! ).  Darlin grew up with kerosene lanterns, propane heat, and well water on a farm where they raised their own produce and livestock and where her father ran a water-powered sawmill.  She tells the most wonderful Little House On The Prairie stories about forgetting to feed the goat and trying to plant all the seed corn in one hole ("we were transplanting little baby corn plants for days!", she told me, laughing). 

I could so totally become a convert to alternative energy sources and gray water systems and NOT paying utility bills which have become a constant source of stress and sleepless nights for me.  As long as I can have my technology (cable TV, iPhone -- internet, even, I can get at work or free public wifi)!


I'm realizing the chemistry of bank balances.  When the bank balance gets low, REALLY low, or empty, all the toxins come seeping into my blood stream and contaminate every aspect of life.  It's like running a car on the sludge in the bottom of the gas tank (which I do most of the time).  All the yucky stuff is down there at the bottom.  I go to bed with it.  I wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts of bills and balances lurking in the darkness like monsters under the bed.  My first thoughts of the morning are of money stress and, if they aren't, the morning news always finds a way to trigger it with talk of foreclosures and the economy.  The temptation to pull a pillow over my head and refuse to get up and face the day is strong. 

Right now I feel lucky to have about $175.  But I haven't made my $1850 mortgage payment.  I have immediate bills totaling about $1200 plus that $400 I need to turn the gas back on.  $60 will go toward kids' school lunches this week. 

I have 3/4 of a tank of gas in good ole Bonnie who gets 50 miles to the gallon so that's about 300 miles -- no gas money needed for the week!  Whew! 

But I need groceries.  And I'm starting to feel that poison flowing through my veins again.  I go to work (I'm a realtor, if you don't know) but the poison seems to have found its way to the office too because all my prospects have dried up all of the sudden. 

But I have faith that something will come through.  And I look forward to writing about it when it does.  Because I really DO believe that the Lord will provide, somehow.  And I really do wrack my brain day and night to try to be smart enough to overcome this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tying It All Together!

Recently I posted about the aquisition of my free pressure washer and the subsequent pressure washing bonanza I've been on.

Also recently, I posted on my adventures with Bonnie the tuna-can pedal car.

And now I get to neatly tie the two together. With pictures, no less!

Bonnie is many things, but clean was not one of them. Bonnie is functional. Bonnie is fuel-efficient. Bonnie is blue (in color). Bonnie is green (in earth-friendliness). Bonnie is a blessing. But Bonnie was FILTHY! Because Bonnie is a work horse, not a prima dona!

So, Bonnie got a good, thorough scrubbing. And Bonnie got pressure washed. Inside!

Somehow the pressure washing bug borrowed deep into my brain and convinced me that I could figure out how to take the seats out of Bonnie and pressure wash them. Why not? I pressure wash furniture at the car wash regularly. This is only a few bolts and a socket set different from that. Right?

So I huffed and I puffed and I finally got the bolts loose. And the seats weren't that heavy because Bonnie, as previously stated, is a tiny little thing incapable of carrying big, heavy seats. And I sprayed and I washed and I took Before and After pictures because (as you may have noticed and, if you haven't, you eventually WILL!) I LIVE for Before and After pictures. Or, at least, I get great motivation from them. Often, the only thing that gets me started is the promise of great contrast and proof of accomplishment that will be evidenced in photos when I'm done!

Bonnie's front seats. Before on the left. After on the right. We through they were taupe but it turns out they're BLUE!

Bonnie's back seat before.

Bonnie's back seat after.

Hooray for pressure washers!

Auto Mechanics 101

It seems the cosmos always has an education for me! Lately it's been Auto Mechanics 101. Which is exponentially better than the crash course in Cancer and Chemotherapy or the correspondence course in War and Famine, but is not fun nonetheless!

No one ever gave me a syllabus, but, in the past month or so I've learned WAY too much about transmissions!

First the transmission in my beautiful, beloved 2004 Toyota Sienna minivan with only 130,000 miles went out. Tears (as my daughters might text). There is no money to fix it. But, if I'm lucky, I've learned, it might just be the throttle body or the throttle cable instead. Pray for me!

So then Mark let me drive his 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan (he drives the truck most of the time because he's always pulling RVs). I was blessedly only 25 miles out of Enid (on the 250 mile trip back to Fayetteville just as dusk was settling in), when that transmission gave out. Am I transmission jinxed OR WHAT? No money to fix that one either.

So Mark and his sweet mother got together and loaned me Bonnie (see previous post). And, despite her shortcomings (like no power steering or A/C and having to shift gears), Bonnie has been a true blessing! I LOVE getting 47 miles per gallon and, unlike the other cars, Bonnie actually GOES places!

But I got up one morning and Bonnie wouldn't start. Dead battery. Out of the blue.

I jumped the battery and she started up but wouldn't go anywhere. And I completely panicked because that's so very TRANSMISSIONY and I've been traumatized by transmissions lately, as you know! But then she decided to go and I guess I had the parking brake on or something just to freak myself out.

Just to cover my bases, I cleaned off the battery connections (which had voluminous and ominous-looking turquoise chrystals growing on them -- did you know soda pop is a good cleaner for battery connections?). In the process, I noticed a fan belt was missing. Lesson: Alternator Belts. For $9, a replacement was purchased and Bonnie is back up and running!

In the meantime, I was driving Emily's 1988 Honda Prelude that she's trying to sell. And the oil light starts flashing at me. I added oil and the light went off. Whew! No big problem lurking and no blown motor because I neglected to add oil (which is something I would TOTALLY do!). Simple fix but a big deal for me because boys usually do that sort of thing for me!

I have also learned that when Emily's 1995 Firebird makes that horrible sound and loses it's power steering, it needs power steering fluid. The cute teenage boy at Auto Zone even refrained from more than a slight chuckle at having to walk out to the parking lot to show me where to pour it in! For the record, I had figured out where to pour it in. I just didn't want to find out later that I was wrong -- thus getting an additional, unwanted auto mechanics lesson!

So, let's hope the semester of Auto Mechanics is over! But I guess I could also use the lesson on Air Conditioning that Bonnie might teach and the subsequent climate control benefits!

I've decided: I think I might like knowing more about cars than just how to turn on the ignition and how to put in gas. In fact, if I had time on my hands and a good pair of greasy coveralls, I might just wander down to the Vo-Tech and enroll! Really, I would dearly LOVE, someday when I'm somewhere in my early 90's, to have my progeny say about me, "Yeah, Grandma's out in the garage rebuilding a transmission again"! THAT would be cool!

Oh! And, by the way, I have also learned how to remove the seats from a car. But that's the next post!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Labor Day Weekend Labor

Somewhere in the course of Friday it occurred to me: I could spend THREE whole days on my house over Labor Day Weekend! For me, that's a concept akin to what a tropical vacation might be for others. While I'm running around trying to survive and maybe make some money somewhere, somehow, someday, my house gets very neglected. I may be a professional home stager but, as the old saying goes, "the cobbler's children have no shoes"! I can make anyone else's house look spectacular but mine suffers from the curse of familiarity.

I flew out of bed on Saturday morning and went to work! I got out the paint and went after the doors with a big dose of faith. You see, paint isn't in the budget. But I did have, sitting in the cabinet, left over from a renovation we did a few years ago, nine quart-size cans of different test shades of red paint. The winner of that color contest was a shade of cranberry called Apple-A-Day. These were the losers. So I mixed them. And trusted that THIS is the color the doors are cosmically destined to be. I'm still trying to figure out if the cosmos likes me or not. It's either really good or really bad. I guess the test is if people drive by and point and laugh. Or if I can stand it. Someday, when I have money, one coat of the "perfect" shade will cover it and this shade can count as primer (ALL 4-5-6 coats of it!). But I'm dearly hoping that the cosmos has already smiled upon me and chose the right color which I so faithfully trusted it to do!

If you've ever used red paint you know (and if you haven't you don't!) that red paint looks totally HOT PINK when it goes on. It has to dry down to the shade of red it's supposed to be. Recently, the neighborhood was horrified when my neighbor topped-off his months-long renovation with pink. It was just primer but most people didn't know that. And then, the next day, the red went on over the primer and it was even MORE pink! I'm sure my tattletale neighbor seriously considered reporting it -- or maybe they couldn't figure out just whom to report it too! But then it dried and it's all orangey-red and it looks gorgeous. I have painted with red paint for three days and I am SO tired of seeing pink! I don't even know what color it is in the end anymore. I just have to trust the cosmos. Or that perfect shade that will go over the top when I find it.

And then there's the door hardware. We bought this house new in 1995. Brass was the thing then. I was never really a brass person but at least brass was respected and dignified. Now it's just dated (coincidentally, I'm waiting to see WHEN brass comes back and exactly HOW it can be made cool again -- it can't be far off in the cycle of trends!).

I wanted oil-rubbed bronze hardware but the handset alone is $130! It would cost $200 to re-accessorize the door. So I took off the door knocker and the kick plate and sprayed them with a $6.74 can of hammered bronze spray paint. And I think I like it. There is also I door knob and dead bolt that are newly bronze (formerly brass) that have yet to be installed. It will be interesting to see how the doorknob stands up to wear!
I also invested $5 in several cans of 96 cent spray paint. Mother's antique white wicker rocking chairs (my mother was very contemporary but she did invest $125 each in these wonderful old rockers that were always more me than her) are now a sophistocated shade of jet black. And I LOVE them! You can't go wrong with black (or white or pure red, for that matter!).

I kept stepping back and looking and finally decided that something was missing. The cosmic red needed to be tied in a bit more.

Years ago I designed and built wood window boxes for the upstairs bedroom windows. Over the years they gradually rotted and disintegrated until there was only one intact that I saved to use as a pattern (lest I have to design them again).

I don't know what came over me but I found myself making new window boxes yesterday. I think it was because I didn't think about it long enough to talk myself out of it. I prowled around in my scrap wood without even really planning it and found just enough to make four window boxes. They were REALLY ugly before the paint went on (gray weathered wood mixed with chippy white paint mixed with dirt-stained wood mixed with newer wood). But the paint dressed them up! And then I decided that they needed trim so I prowled around again and was painting trim in the dark last night and nailing trim on at 6 a.m. this morning before it was even light. And I think I like them. They might need another strip of molding along the bottom. And they may need to be repainted "the perfect shade" when I find it but I'm glad to have window boxes again after wanting to build new ones for YEARS!
I recently found a miraculous thing while dumpster diving: a pressure washer! The cord was cut near where the plug once was but I put on a new plug (also free because I had it on hand) and it works perfectly! So I pressure washed the front of the house and the front porch and the sidewalk and everything looks SO much cleaner!

And I did something very smart with the window boxes this time. From past experience, I know that I cannot fill my window boxes with soil and plant living things in them. The wood deteriorates more quickly and they're impossible to water on the second story and they end up just being boxes full of dead plants. I have found two types of fake plants that look so real people (even up close) always ask me what kind of plant they are. One is lavender/salvia-looking and the other is greenery that looks to be in the boxwood family. I stuck these fakes in the dirt once when the real plants died and they looked great. But the dirt was a bad thing. This time I nailed a 1"x2" board across the box from end to end, drilled five large holes in it and stuck some fake greenery that I had laying around in it. Not bad. Not the plants I want but those are $100 away so I'll live with these for now.

So, for a grand total of $12 in spray paint (black and bronze), I revamped my house. Painted doors, new window boxes, updated hardware color, refreshed rocking chairs, and CLEAN everything. And no pesky, expensive, momentum-disrupting trips to the hardware store for supplies!

I am very proud and satisfied with all that I accomplished. The thought "I don't have any money to put into this" didn't stop me and, in fact, I used up supplies that had been taking up space and going to waste. I must confess that, in the back of my mind, I'm wondering if I'm fixing the house up to sell when I can't make make the payments or pull it out of foreclosure (again) but I'm just glad it's on it's way to looking nice enough that someone might buy it in time to save me if it comes to that.

Please leave me a comment and rate the paint color on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being hideous and 10 being glorious). And feel free to suggest "the perfect shade"!

Before: "Spruce" green.

After: "The color the cosmos chose"!
(Sorry! I can't get the pictures to go where I want them! Argh!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Their Loss!

It's SO easy to say. The words just roll out: "Just go get a job".

I've heard it. I've said it. Doing it is another thing entirely.

The classifieds are full of jobs -- IF you are bilingual, have a nursing degree, have many years of experience in a specialized field, want to work in some remote place, or can get by on minimum wage. I have literally found NOTHING viable in the classifieds.

I signed up with an employment agency months ago but have never heard anything from them. I guess I'm a little behind on my office software skills. Too bad they don't give points for being a quick learner!

There was one interesting job on Craigslist but it quickly became evident that it was a scam.

And then I found it: the perfect job! "Full time leasing consultant at a busy property management company" and located half a mile from my house! I ran a copy of my resume over immediately. They said they'd call later that day to schedule an interview. They never called. (The ad specified "no calls" so I respected that rather than harrassing them with pathetic "why didn't you hire me" calls.)

Just for the record: I have a Master's degree and a real estate license. I owned and managed rental property for many years. They will not find a more qualified applicant. Or someone more eager to work for them.

I suspect they thought I was over-qualified and wouldn't stay long. Over-qualified doesn't pay the bills. A regular paycheck is a glorious, glorious thing. I think it would have been a long time before I was willing to cut myself off from that brand of security.

Their loss. Ok, and mine too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Tuna Can Pedal Car Odyssey

I'm not sure what I did to anger the transmission gods but they must be REALLY ticked! The transmissions in BOTH of our minivans have gone out in just one month! And there is no hope of fixing or replacing them anytime in the foreseeable future.

This is particularly painful because my 2004 Toyota Sienna should NOT be dead after only 130,000 miles. A hold-over from more prosperous days, I bought it new because I was willing to pay big bucks for side-curtain air bags. In 2004 you could only get them in the Sienna and the $60,000 Volvo SUV. So, I paid $36,000 for my dark blue Sienna. I made five years worth of painful $600-a-month payments which is totally against my principles. And now it's dead.

Ok, I'll admit some fault. I didn't maintain or service it well. But, when you're paying for gas with coins, you kinda can't afford several hundred dollars worth of maintenance costs. Or even an oil change. The last time I took it in for maintenance the final bill was $1150! NOT in the budget lately!

So, my sweet husband and his sweet mother loaned me Bonnie.

Bonnie is a 1995 Ford Aspire. It belonged to my beloved late father-in-law. He obsessed on fuel prices and hated to pay for "petrol" so he LOVED Bonnie because Bonnie is a teeny tiny little thing that gets 47+ miles per gallon!

Bonnie is a zippy shade of metallic eye shadow blue. It's cute in a teeny tiny way. The "Aspire" emblem has fallen off the back so, in the course of wondering what it was I was driving, I conjured up a new name and dubbed it a Ford Gnat! I do like "Aspire" though. Because Bonnie, with all her zippy enthusiasm, clearly does aspire to be something else. I think she aspires to be a Bug (as in Volkswagen)! But she has some serious growing to do to be even that!

This morning I was driving Bonnie when we came upon a two-door Geo Metro driving down the street. We passed it like it was standing still as I cheered, "Laugh at it, Bonnie! Laugh at it!"

My intimate association with Bonnie came a couple of days ago when I drove her the four hours back from my home town. Boy did I get an education!

First, let me explain that my nerves were a little hypersensitive as I was leading my 16-year-old daughter in her "new" car (a really hot-looking 1995 Firebird that she paid for herself) on her first ever 4-hour road trip. The most she's ever driven is an hour our so and I've never let her drive through big cities or anything. So I was pretty anxious.

And then there I am in little Bonnie feeling scared and vulnerable and very, very MORTAL in this little tuna can. No one would be surprised if it was pedal-powered, believe me! I can grasp the entire thickness of the driver's door comfortably in my hand. Try that on your Suburban! As I drove, I felt a keen awareness that I could easily be squished and that being squished would probably HURT!

Bonnie also lacks air conditioning. Well, actually, she has air conditioning, it just doesn't hold coolant so, therefore, it is not cold and, therefore, useless. So, it's the middle of a sunny summer day in August and it's 90-some degrees and I'm driving with the windows open, sweating, getting buffered and beaten up by the wind. There is a distinct hurricane-force wind in my left ear and I can't hear well enough to talk on my cell phone which is how I usually spend long drives so as to take advantage of the uninterrupted expanse of time. And forget listening to the radio (which, Bonnie actually does have, it just doesn't display the correct time or pick up any stations).

So, pummelled by the inside winds, I was also pummelled on the outside by actual meteorological winds in the 40+ mph range. Every time I went under an over pass or across a bridge or passed a semi or came alongside any sort of windblock, I was rocked by the sudden change in wind speed and felt the kind of on-the-verge-of-losing-control that causes one to freeze and pray that the precarious moment passes safely. Which it did, thank God (the real God, the big God, not those hateful transmission gods!)

Bonnie also lacks a properly-functioning speedometer. A label my father-in-law left on the dashboard says, "SPEEDOMETER READS 10MPH SLOWER THAN ACTUAL SPEED". Actually, based on my calculations from the toll booths' automated speed read-outs, it's more like 17-18. Which makes for complicated mathematical calculations while rocketing down the road at a high rate of speed. If the speed limit is X and the speedometer says I'm going Y, then solve for Z as my actual speed. It would be SO much easier to just subtract 10mph! By the end of the drive I would have kissed any highway patrolman that might have pulled me over out of sheer gratitude at being able to ask how fast I actually WAS going. My daughter's car didn't help any in this dilemma because her speedometer is off too (though only by perhaps 5 mph but I wasn't about to let her lead so I could find out!).

So, as I drove out of my hometown for what I hoped was NOT the last time, I felt keenly aware of my current in-the-grips-of-the-financial-Anaconda status. And the jealously began to creep in. Envy bred in my heart as I was passed by shiny, detailed, hermetically-sealed, climate-controlled, leather-lined, surround-sound equipped luxury vehicles. But, you know, I get better gas mileage and am spared the gargantuan car payment and the painful depreciation! And, after the first hour, as my husband always says, I acclaimated. And Bonnie became an extension of me. And I was somehow past caring that people were laughing (or worse yet, PITYING!) me in my little clown car and wondering how I fit my gigantic shoes in it.

I realize now that, in cars, as in many, many financial things, the less fortunate have a whole host of things to worry about and struggle with that others don't even think of. The fortunate just get in the car and drive with a full tank of gas and listen to music and adjust the air and focus on stupid details like that one bug speck on the windshield and know that they could pay the ticket or the tow truck if the need arose. And then there is another category of people who just feel lucky to have wheels underneath them that actually GO. And they have to worry if the coins they spent bought enough gas to get them where they need to go. And if there are enough coins under the seat to get them a few more miles down the road if it didn't? And how far the walk to the gas station might be. And what a gas can would cost? And how they would ever be able to pay for the ticket if they did the speedometer calculation wrong and got pulled over for speeding? And how much more heat can they take. And are the children and the dog in the back seat getting enough air? And will they get there at all? And what if they don't and have to miss a day's pay? And exactly how much ARE those other drivers looking down their noses at me?

I was getting more than an uncomfortable drive. I was getting a lesson, AND a blog post, and a new category of compassion out of the experience that I hope I will not soon forget.

And I learned something else along the way too! Did you know (and I hope you are fortunate, hermetically-sealed, and climate-controlled in your vehicle enough NOT to know!) that, when you drive with your windows open, you can SMELL things? Really! The river smelled like motor oil (unfortunately), the water slide smelled, amazingly, like an array of everything from SPF40 to deep tanning oil, Arkansas smells at times like the earthy livestock aroma of chicken houses, at one point the smell of freshly-sharpened pencils wafted through the air (I can't explain that one but it DID!), a roadside restaurant smelled like hamburgers, and road kill smells like, well, road kill (unless it's a skunk which is self-explanatory)!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


It's come to this! I REALLY WILL buy one brand of butter (ok, margarine, but "butter" is the household vernacular) over another because of a TWO CENT price difference! I am officially a SERIOUS, OCD, Imperial penny pincher!