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.