Friday, August 5, 2011

Raising the Dead

There are so many cliches to describe the phenomenon.  "A blessing in disguise".  "Every cloud has a silver lining".  "It is darkest before the dawn".  It's just that this hopeful concept is so hard to remember when you are cowering in the scary part of the dark before the dawn.  I'm a firm believer in the "larger plan" but I often live deeply rooted in the terror of today's narrow perspective.

I've said often to my daughter, Tessa, when she finds herself in difficult circumstances. "What are you supposed to learn?  Now she says it to me, "Ok, Mom.  What are you supposed to learn?".  Ugh.  You're ruining my pity party, kid!  But she's right (and so was I when I was in the prettier shoes). 

What I've just learned from my recent experience of being "fired" from the realty is that I probably should have shopped around a little more before I chose a realty in the first place.  Or maybe it's just that I was supposed to have trusted the process and had faith that something better would come along for me.  Still, the free-fall is scary and painful and it's hard to have faith and trust as you fly downward and watch things go by on the decent.

Yesterday I met with another realty.  They have better support, better structure, better supervision, better perks, and, essentially, if I choose to join up with them, I get a raise.  Yes, I thought I got fired but, instead, I seem to be getting a raise! 

They pay a starting commission of 70% (that's a 70/30 split with the realty on the buyer or seller agent portion of the total 6% commission on any given transaction, to be specific, if you care).  I was at a 52% rate before. 

Granted, the new realty charges a $78 monthly fee but that is easily compensated for.  $78 a month adds up to $936 a year.  The difference between a 52% commission and a 70% commission on the sale of just one $175,000 sale (the average sale price around here) as the buyer's agent (the buyer's realty gets 2.7% of the total 6% commission on a sale while the seller's realty gets 3.3%) is $945.  An entire year's fees could be covered by just one sale.

Another compensating factor is that realtors with this particular realty can get a 25% discount on their AT&T phone bills.  That would amount to saving $87.50 per month for me -- $9.50 more than the $78 fee.  Either way, it it makes the fee tolerable. 

I haven't decided for sure that I'm going to join up with this realty or even if I'm going to continue in real estate.  I'm pretty sure I will because real estate is something I really want to pursue, it has the potential to pay periodic four-figure commissions what are far more desireable than the dead-end $10-$12 an hour I can make elsewhere, and, as I've said previously, the decision to quit or stay in real estate will be made by ME, not by my former broker. 

A week ago, my real estate career seemed dead.  Now I've essentially gotten a raise, or at least the potential of a raise.  Within a month or two I'm hoping to have the $600 that I need to reinstate my license and pay for everything I need to go back to real estate with this new company. 

My suspicion that I was supposed to be in real estate somewhere else is probably going to turn out to be correct.  I feel as if I have been plucked out of one situation and am about to be plopped down into a better one -- kind of like when you pick up a bug and move it to a safer location for its own good.  The bug doesn't know you're trying to do it a favor by moving it from here to there.  It has to go through the fear of being picked up and not knowing what's going to happen next.  I'm always happy for the bug when it figures out that it's been done a favor.  I guess I'm the bug at the moment.  I am very grateful for the favor.

Stress In A Basket

I've been reading Sarah Ban Breathnach's Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Security.  As you probably remember.  She walks the reader through the steps of dealing with our difficult financial situations as she walks through her own after things didn't go so well with the millions of dollars she earned from her best-seller, Simple Abundance.

In one chapter, she says to gather up you bills into one place from the pile on the kitchen counter or the bag in the closet or wherever they're stashed.  "You are going to collect every bill sent your way and bring them all to the party," she says.  Check.  I have the pile on the counter, the stack in the bench seat, and big basket lurking near my bed for the ready accessibility and convenience of my nightmares.  I know I need to sort through them and throw away the many duplicates.  That will wrangle them all into the one basket.  But I know what's there.  I don't need to open them.  The figures have each worn their own deep path into my brain. 

Not pretty.  I considered going back and taking a prettier picture.  But why?

Then, she says, put the bills into three piles:  Current Bills, Past Due 30-60 Days, and Old Debts.
I have basically two piles:  Bills I Need To Pay This Month (or something will be turned off) and Old Debts. 

Next, she says "Once you have budgeted for the essentials -- food, clothing, shelter, child care, savings, transportation, and insurance -- you will have a good idea of how much money you can put toward debt reduction.  This become the pot of money you dip into to pay the rest of your bills."

SAVINGS?  INSURANCE?  Clearly, Miss Sarah does not understand my situation.  Savings is that thing I'll have someday after my debts are paid.  As for insurance, I have done without health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance, auto insurance, and property insurance for a very long time.  Oh, and that AFLAC policy I'd love to have too (Quack!).  Recently, I was able to get auto insurance again through Mark's business fleet policy.  That provides much relief as the first thing I did when my auto insurance expired last February was back into a car.  That is one of the bills I am now paying on monthly ($50 a month on $1800). 

Next she says "If there is a particular debt that bothers you, then take 1 to 10 percent of the pot and make an honor payment toward the balance owed."  Right.  The only way I would have extra money to put in the "pot" to pay debts with would be if I went without basic utilities, food, or the fuel that gets me to work.  "Ok kids!  Let's not eat this month so we can pay off some bills!"  Sure. 

But then, I must remember Sarah's perspective.  When her financial troubles descended, she had to move out of her castle.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Simple Satisfaction

Mark and I have an arrangement.  He makes the big money and pays the big bills (the mortgage and the cell phone bill, for example, and he's working on building up his business so there will be larger profits in the future).  I make the little money and pay the little bills. 

Mark gets annoyed with me lately because every time he asks me if I need money or he tries to give me money I'll only take $100 (usually about twice a month and only when I absolutely have to take it).  Then he usually tries to force more on me.  He's very good to me.  And there's something about having my husband force a crisp $100 bill into my hand that makes me feel very, very taken care of.  But I'd rather earn it myself.

Recently, I have found myself on an almost comfortable financial plateau, the first brief resting spot on my climb out of the pit.  I am within about $200 of being able to support my household on my own.  Granted, I'm not talking about the mortgage on my house or the mortgage on another property I own and there are debts I owe and bills I can't pay, but it feels SO good to be able to pay for my basic utilities (water, gas, and electric), fuel for my car, food for my family, and small payments on a couple of debts by MYSELF. 

I make a little less than $1000 a month, I am always in fear of losing my house, and I know my day with the IRS is coming, but I can turn on the lights and the TV and the air conditioning, I have hot water and (as of last week) cable TV (HOORAY!), I have enough food to get me though the immediate future (there were times when I was one meal away from that being an issue), and I am chipping away at my debt.  And I do this though my own efforts with just $200 a month in additional help from Mark's profits. 

There is peace and serenity and, yes, even joy in this humble accomplishment.  Six or seven years ago, I bought houses with cash and renovated them with cash and sold them for a pretty good profit.  Now I'm a secretary and I clean houses and I barely scrape by.  There was less satisfaction in that more prestigous accomplishment then than there is now in my current small, humble success at mere survival. 

Of course, I'd rather be renovating houses because I LOVE that creative accomplishment, but I manage to enjoy what I do now and I just trust that I am where I'm supposed to be and I'm being taken to where I'm supposed to go.  There is great peace and satisfaction here.  And I dare to hope as I look ahead.

I've been looking for a book I have to find a quote for this piece.  I finally found the book but now I can't find the quote!  I know it's in there somewhere.  Perhaps, the quote remain ellusive because I'm supposed to read the whole book while looking for it?  Perhaps I'm supposed to recommend it to YOU?  I'll trust the higher order on that one.  The book is The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo, PhD. 

It's pretty beaten up because I carry it around a lot!

The author interviewed older people about what is meaningful and important in life and wrote this book on what he learned.  It is powerful and important.  I recommend it to everyone.  I might hand it out on street corners if I had funds to burn!

The quote I can't find says something to the effect of this:  When looking back over their lives, people tended to remember the times of struggle and poverty the most fondly.  There was great nostalgia for the Great Depression, for example.  I'm beginning to understand this.  I can see how there would be nostalgia for the beginning of the dream.  Because, when you're sitting flat on you butt in the dirt and you have to figure out how to pick yourself up and go on and built a future for yourself, there has to be a certain degree of dreaming and a healthy dose of digging into the stuff that you're really made of. 

Merge all that with the way struggle and scarcity give appreciation for the little things and you have the makings of something that is likely to be looked back upon with fondness.  How many couples have you heard talk about when they were first married and they lived in a little tiny apartment/house and made do with a beginner's pay check and the fruits of their own labor and resourcefulness?  There's a sweetness is that -- in living small and dreaming of bigger.

There's a song about this principle.  It's Trace Adkin's "You're Gonna  Miss This". 

Here's the link to the video if you're interested.  I recommend it. It dispenses a healthy injection of appreciation for where you are, wherever that is  -- even with all the trials and struggles.

"You're gonna miss this. 
You're gonna want this back..
You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast. 
These are some good times. 
So take a good look around. 
You may not know it now, but you're gonna miss this."

I took a good look around.  There is joy in being here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I wrote two blog posts today.  They were both whiney.  Nevermind...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What's Next...

Sorry for the silence.  I kinda got knocked on my butt for a little while there.

Then came more clues.  In one day two people had real estate prospects for me -- one buyer client and one listing.  So I started thinking maybe the point isn't that I'm not supposed to be in real estate but just that I'm supposed to be in real estate somewhere else.

Yesterday I called an old friend.  Charlie was the first person I ever met in Fayetteville.  Seventeen years ago, Charlie was my realtor.  He's still a realtor.  He knows everyone and everyone thinks VERY highly of him.  So guess who I called?  Tomorrow I have an appointment with his realty to see if I might want to work there and to see if they might want to have me in their midst.  I will check out at least two other realties as well before I make a decision.

I have decided one thing for sure:  the decision about whether or not I'm going to stay in real estate will be made by ME and not by my former broker!  I had planned to be with my former company for the next couple of decades.  Seems like maybe I wasn't ready to quit!  So maybe I'll stay at the next realty for those upcoming decades.  I am not a quitter.  I may not be the most successful realtor in town but I'm not done yet! 

Now, for the practicalities:  It will cost me about $600 to update my license dues and get one of the magic widgets that opens the doors on all the houses.  I think that might be possible before too long. 

In the meantime, I've decided to ramp up my staging business, focusing more on home optimizing, curb appeal makeovers, and use-what-you-have room re-dos than on staging empty properties for sale.  Door flyers will be going out soon. 

I'm also on the verge of getting a flea market booth and opening an Etsy store to sell some of my freebie finds and freebie makeovers.  (Shhhh!  Don't tell my buyers that it was all free to start with!)  This will all go hand-in-hand with my Freesourcefull blog ( where you can watch my projects in progress.

For example, here's what I pulled out of the dumpster over the weekend. 



It's the bracket that held a mirror on top of an old highboy dresser.  I know it doesn't look like much now but it will soon be painted (white or red?), will hold a framed chalkboard, and will have an additional shelf at the bottom and maybe some hooks for keys and such -- all made from stuff I have around and all FREE. 

Now I've just GOT to learn to part with my projects!

Now I'm wishing I'd picked up those two cane-backed dining chairs I passed by on the curb the other day...

For those of you who keep telling me I need to do LESS.  Sorry, I've got to do everything I can until something takes in a such as way as to fill up my bank account.  Last week I cleaned two houses.  This week I'm working for a relocation company helping to unpack for a family that just moved to town. I'll continue to work mornings at the church and some evenings at my caregiver job.  I may also look into doing more caregiving and might even get at CNA (certified nursing assistant) credential to make me more valuable in that field.   I'll do whatever I can to get by.  I actually do enjoy all of these different kinds of work.  I learn something everywhere I go!  I'm always curious to see where I'll find myself next.  In the end, the best part is that I WILL find myself!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Clue Number Four SUCKS!

Yesterday was Monday.  And it acted up like an unruly, ill-behaved, rotten little Monday too. 

I left the chuch feeling like my own little mini disaster.  Dropped some balls.  Through some cracks.  Inadvertently caused some unnecessary stress and annoyance.  Even though I really HAD done a pretty good job, all things considered.  Stood at the bottom of the dark sewer hole under that grate that I dropped the balls through and wished I could just make everything perfect always.  Stupid Pollyanna me.

On the way from the church to the realty for my afternoon phone duty hours, my cell phone rang.  It was my broker.  He asked for my resignation.  Because, basically, I suck.  Oh wait!  It's not ME that sucks exactly, it's THE ECONOMY, stupid! 

Regardless, I was asked to leave.  I still can't see how it would cost them anything except photo copies and a few cups of coffee for me to keep trying but apparently my "desk space" was more valuable to them than the space at that empty desk next to mine.  Cleaning my desk out was a pretty dark valley.

I can't help but take it a little personally that my dedication was not respected considering that I'm the only one of last year's crop of real esteate newbies (who didn't become a star realtor's assistant) that's still there regularly.  All the others had to take other jobs.  I did too, but I still managed to be there regularly.  I made a conscious decision early on that I was going to be the one to stick it out.  I planned to work there for the next 20 years. 

Eventually, I would have gotten my feet on the ground and all the dues I've paid would have started to pay off.  And all the real CASH dues I've paid would have ended up bringing returns on the investment.  Many of the clients I've worked with at length over the past 18 months has told me that I'm the best realtor they've ever worked with.  I'm proud to have given them the personal attention that made them feel that way.

I worked hard.  I was positive.  I was pleasant.  I was willing.  I did everything I knew to do.  I went to all the meetings and tours.  I stayed up on the new listings.  Most mornings I was the first person in the office.  I even restocked the toilet paper and refilled the creamer and sugar containers by the coffee pot.  I took as much phone duty as I could get.  I did open houses for other agents anytime I could.  I even brought a $600,000 listing. Several times I had clients find "their" house and make offers.  Only to have the deals fall through.  ALL the deals.

I will admit it.  I have had the kiss of death in real estate.  I even had the sale of a property that I own personally go down in a blaze of crash-and-burn flaming glory.  Everything I touched fell through.  Everything.  Except the two co-lists that were very generously given to me by the star agent.  I think those worked out only because her sparkly golden fairy dust fell on them. 

It's not that I was making a lot of money in real estate.  Ok, it's not like I was making ANY money.  But real estate had the POTENTIAL to bring in money in four-figure increments.  By comparison, the prospect of $10 an hour feels like a rodent cage to me.

This is painful and difficult to write.  But this blog is about being real and being honest.  As much as I would like to crawl under a rock in complete humiliation and never tell anyone about my latest dismal failure, I know that I'm supposed to put on my big girl panties and write about it.  About now, I'm thinking I could do without panties (big girl, granny, sexy, or otherwise).  But I have to go on.  And this blog is about seeing what happens next.  And hoping that's something good and not just another train wreck.  Either way, it's entertaining for YOU!

For today, I'm grateful to be sitting in the quiet haven of the church office letting the last of the pebbles from the land slide find their new places and settle in around me.  It's a little dusty but the air is starting to clear.  The velocity of the free-fall feeling seems to be slowing down a little.  I find myself in that place of hoping not to go splat on a big slab of concrete at the end of all this.  (Lord, please catch me!  Don't let me land messily in the parking lot!)  I still want to grasp at handfuls of air but there is comfort in trusting God or fate or spirit guides or SOMETHING to catch me, somehow, and set me gently on my feet, and give me a gentle nudge in the right direction.  Just wish I knew which way that was!

I ended a previous post ("Clue Number Three") by saying that I was on the lookout for Clue Number Four.  I guess I found it.  It is not what I expected.  Not even remotely.  It SUCKS. 

But the sun came up this morning.  And I got up and I went for my morning walk.  And now I have to figure out what's next.  The signs say that I'm not supposed to be a realtor.  Ugh.  And that I'm supposed to write (because it makes me HAPPY).  And I'm supposed to be creative (because it makes me HAPPY).  And I have cool stuff (that makes me HAPPY) that people want to steal (which makes me UNhappy).  I have no idea how I'll ever make a living at any of this.  I think my spirit guides aren't very good accountants.  But, you know, if they were accountants, they might be pretty dull.  Surely the creativity that makes my heart happy and that makes me want to get up in the morning and go face the world again will be a good thing in the end.  Somehow.  At the very least, I can build a really cool cardboard house when I'm homeless someday!

Referring back to Sarah Ban Breathnach's book Peace and Plenty, she quotes Margery Wilson (20's-era movie star and of one the first successful female self-help authors):

"If you will just look around a bit you will, more than likely, find that the way out of the difficulty lies right under your nose.  You already possess the means of your deliverance."


Granted, I don't have a couple of best-sellers under my belt like Sarah and Margery do, but I live in the same universe, under the same sun and my own semi-warped version of the same God, and I do believe that the same principle can apply to me.  Somehow.  Unfolding like some Agatha Christie novel.  Except probably not so neat and tidy.  Or bloody.  Hopefully. 

I don't have the foggiest idea where I'm going but at least my key ring is one key lighter now.  Maybe I'll start by digging out an old pair of my girls' ruby slippers.  We had lots of those back when my girls were little and Walmart always carried ruby slippers because Walmart knew that every little girl needs ruby slippers.  Big girls do too!


Good Morning!

For all of you who skipped over the link I posted on facebook and thought "Yeah, whatever.  I don't have time for that and I'll bet it's boring.", you can now consider it required reading while I write up today's blog post.

I promise you will enjoy it.

Take you laughs where you can get them.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Don't you hate it when you try to make something better and you make it worse?  Me too!

I just wanted to substitute in a better photo of a dollar bill on to the header.  And then everything went haywire.  But maybe, by the time I'm finished (which will probably involve getting my computer-savvy daughters to help me!) I could end up MUCH better banner instead of one that's just a little better.  I hope!

Please be patient.  Or have a good laugh.  Check back every two minutes to see what new mistake is running rampant!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Clue Number Three

Mark loves a bargain.  Even more than that, Mark loves to haggle.  We buy a lot of furniture for the RV's Mark deals in.  One of our niches is units with no furniture.  Most people don't want to deal with replacing the furniture.  It's fun for us.  I have a pretty serious furniture habit and this gives me a healthy outlet.  And Mark gets to haggle. 

We found a furniture close-out dealer here in Fayetteville.  One of the owners is also named Mark.  Mark and Mark were cut out of the same cloth in more than just name.  Mark and Mark both love to deal and to haggle.

Mark and Mark were haggling over a furniture deal one day.  I had perused every piece in the store and was ready to go and was getting calls from Tessa who was at home sick.  I wandered up to my Mark and said, "Baby, we need to go" and, to the other Mark, "Sorry, I've got a sick child at home".  They both just looked at me, incredulously.  Finally, the other Mark said, "But we're dealing..."  Yes.  Of course.  Forgive my lapse.  Dealing IS more important than sick children. 

This is one of our favorite stories and is oft quoted in our household.

But I digress.

Mark and Mark got together one day and, at the end of the dealing, my Mark came home and surprised me with a gorgeous set of contemporary outdoor wicker furniture.  He bought the whole set (sofa, coffee table, and two ottomans) for $100.  We put it in the yard up by the garage at the top of the driveway.  We enjoyed it regularly.  We admired it regularly.  We enjoyed the satisfaction of having gotten such a bargain on something so rich-looking.  Every time we have a garage sale, everyone wants to buy the outdoor furniture.  Not a chance.

Crappy photo as usual but isn't the furniture pretty?
Here it was being used for a staging job.

Yesterday, I started a major overhaul on the playroom (photos to come eventually on my freesourcefull blog).  The playroom has a balcony that overlooks the driveway.  The balcony is a great place from which to hurl large items that are headed for the trash.  Yesterday I went out on the balcony to hurl said junk into said disposal pattern.  I looked down on a blank spot on the yard where our furniture used to be.  It was gone. 

It took a second to register.  Someone actually walked past the sidewalk, past the picket fence, up the driveway, and took a whole truckload of furniture.  Probably in broad daylight.  They also took two wheels/tires that were extras for Emily's car.  THE NERVE!  That makes me SO MAD!

Being stolen from feels horrible, doesn't it?  I believe that all theives should have things stolen from them so they get for experience the full emotional impact of their selfish actions. 

It took me awhile to calm my anger enough to call the police to make a report.  They told me to make a report online unless I have any suspect information in which case I should call back.  As I write this it occurs to me that a stone masonry company just finished a big patio project at the house next door.  There were three or four guys working there every day for a couple of weeks. They all drive trucks.  And work hard.  And don't make a lot of money.  I really do suspect one of them.

As the evening went on and I digested the theft more and more.  I started thinking about the meaning of it.  I wrote in yesterday's post ("Susan and the Book") about listening to the clues.  I decided that having my furniture stolen is a clue.  It shows me that my stuff is cool enough that other people want to steal it.  Basically: other people want my stuff.  Hmmm... 

Put Clue #1: the velvet roadrunner paintings I left in the dumpster that I found out later I could have sold (see "Dumpster Rejects" post), with Clue #2: the book Peace and Plenty (see "Susan and the Book" post) which says to start with where you are and with what you have and to listen to the clues, with Clue #3: people want my stuff and that thought I've had lately of doing a flea market booth (which I've done before) or an online Etsy store to sell my finds and creations starts to seem highlighted. 

If only I could make a living doing what I love most!  If I could find a way to making writing, blogging, creating, and finding cool junk into a paying profession I would be in true heaven! 

Susan sent me another book years ago.  It was called Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.  I have kept that philosophy in mind while also trying to be prudent in my professions. 

For awhile, I was so very fortunate as to get to buy, renovate, and flip houses.  I LOVED it.  I was doing what I loved and it was reasonably profitable and looking like it was about to snowball in a positive direction.  That was about the time about half a dozen aspects of my world converged in a downward spiral to form the perfect storm that took the business out. 

Try losing 95% of your income and then see if you can hold it all together and keep what you have.  That's where I've been the past few years.  That's how this blog came to be.  But the lesson is that I was about to build that business up to almost respectabaly profitable while doing what I loved.  Maybe I can do it again in another category of "what I love".  Maybe I can even do it better.  But, if it never brings me a single cent, blogging and dumpster diving and making things is still what I live to do.  It's still what I wake up every morning wanting to fill my day with.  It still what makes me feel alive. 

So I've decided to take the theft of my furniture as a compliment.  And an encouragement...  And an opportunity for Mark to get to do some more haggling!

I am now on the lookout for Clue #4!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Susan and the Book

It had been a long, rough day.  All morning at the church.  All afternoon at the realty.  Expecting to spend all evening at my caregiver job.  I was trying to squeeze cooking dinner in between. 

My afternoon at the realty on phone duty had been a waste of time as usual.  I took two phone calls (which is more than the usual zero).  But nothing will come of them. 

My wasted afternoon was punctuated by being called into the closing broker's office where I was informed that, because an old credit card had won a judgement against me, my wages were being garnished.  For the record, the charges on that credit card were not boutique shopping sprees but groceries, utilities, and emergencies like tires and doctor visits.  I had planned to pay the balance eventually but I've been unable to do anything about it (even make the dinkiest payments) for long enough that they sued me.  $5100.  I can't blame them. 

I took the news well.  At first.  I'm getting pretty used to this sort of thing.  It's becoming less dire and more ordinary.

In two weeks I was due to get only my second commission check in my year and half in real estate.  No big loss, I guess.  Except that I was going to use that money to pay my overdue realtor dues and two of the three months I'm overdue on the cabin mortgage, and, in a big splurge, I was going to buy $50 worth of new towels.

The new towels were going to be a very sweet indulgence.  The old ones are ratty.  Each member of the family has chosen a color and I was planning to buy two towels in each color so that everyone could rest secure in the knowlege of having their own towels -- AND, more importantly, could learn a little responsibility in managing and washing their own towels.  Plus, it would immediately identify the culprit when wet towels are found on the floor.  At $4 each, I was planning to buy six pairs at just over $50 total.  Maybe I'll sell something so I still can.  This was important for moral, lesson teaching, and household management reasons.

Towels Heaven
More Towel Heaven

Mark had called during the afternoon to tell me that our latest RV sale had been delayed a week.  Which sets us back a week on already overdue bills and delays the purchase of new inventory for at  least two and a half weeks.  NOT what we needed.  Getting further behind invites catastrophy

I dragged into the house after work (jobs #1 and 2) to cook dinner before going to work again (job #3).  I put on a pot of water and started digging out the kitchen.  Dishes were still piled everywhere -- the residue of my weekend out of town (when I leave town, my ex-husband comes and stays with the kids.  It's just easier on everyone.  Except that he doesn't do dishes.  But that's another set of baggage.) 

As I cleared dishes and debris from the kitchen table I spotted an large envelope under a pile of that mail that I don't open because I can't oblige most of those creditors.  I excavated the envelope expecting it to be for Emily because she orders stuff off the internet periodically.  As soon as I touched it I knew it was a book.  The handwriting on the front was a familiar hieroglyphic -- my birthmother's unique handwriting that many people can't read.  The name on it was mine. 

I opened the envelope and found a thick hardback book with a gorgeous repeated print of small branches of green oak leaves and brown acorns spread on a butter yellow background.  At the center of the oak forest was the title:  Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity by Sarah Ban Breathnach. 

Sarah Ban Breathnach is the author of Simple Abundance (think gratitude journals, the Oprah Winfrey show, and 117 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List).  Susan sent me a copy of Simple Abundance back when it came out.  It may be part of why Sara-Grace has Sara in her name.  Peace and Plenty is the book she wrote (her third) after she lost all her money.  This is the book she wrote to dig herself out.  Which is exactly correlated to the purpose of this blog which was created for me to document how I dig myself out.

Two post-it notes inside, in the same hieroglyphic, said,

Hi Anne -
I hope you have
time to read this if you
haven't yet.  It is both
wise and cheerful

    Much love - Mom

P.S. I used it
for a Journal Ink
and have just left
my Post-its in.

Journal Ink is the journal-writing class she has taught out of her house for about 15 years.  It has a wonderful following and is truly an unequaled bonding, healing, self-exploring exercise.  One of her students even went on to publish a book (I'll add the title in here when I find it).  She also teaches Memoir Writing in the continuing education department at the University of Texas at El Paso.  And she was previously the writer/editor of the children's section of the El Paso newspaper.  Can you tell I'm kind of proud of her?  And that my writing comes genetically?

I flipped through the book, noting the passages that the post-it notes marked.  Then I just sat down on my filthy, neglected kitchen floor and cried. 

I don't cry much.  But this cry was reflexive and from the depths of my soul.  My birthmother, who has always been the earth-bound equivalent of my fairy godmother, knew exactly what I needed.  She always does.  Somehow she always sends me exactly what I need.  Out of the blue.  Just because.  I am so blessed to be the recipient of her maternal love and her great kindness and wisdom.  She is amazing. 

At the perfect moment, she reached into the depths of my despair and gave me a lifeline.  I can't think of another person on this planet that that could more rightfully have come from.  There are not words to capture the magic of it.  No, not magic.  Grace.  Pure grace.

The post-it notes marked Sections with engaging titles like:

"Well-Spent Moments"
"The Thrill of Thrift"
"Keep Calm and Carry On"
"Money - An Education in Ourselves"
"The Glad Game Revisited"
"Starting Where You Are"
"Take Another Look Around"

You will be hearing more about this.  Probably MUCH more. 

I am blessed.  And I am hopeful, in a boyant, soothing way that I haven't been in a very long time. 

So far, my favorite line in the book says, " We need to find inspiration whenever we can, because when we're spiritually tuned in, everything is a clue pointing us in the right direction."

My clues this week have been a pair of velvet roadrunner paintings and a very important book.  I think I'm about to learn a lot.

Sara-Grace and Susan

Tessa and Susan

Family mug shot: (from left) Tessa, Annie, Susan, Noah -- with Sara-Grace in front. March 2009.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lord, Thank-You For The Things That Could Happen But DON'T!

Yesterday I had a pity party.  I was pulled over by the police because my tail lights were out (see story to come) and got two tickets that I can't afford to pay.  The experience was one of those final straws and just did me in.  I crumbled for the rest of the day and brooded as I painted the picket fence in my front yard.

This morning I got up.  The sun was shining.  I had a great outfit all devised in my head before I was even fully awake (thank-you to my subconscious!) and got a rare compliment on it from a stranger before 8 a.m.  The fence was painted.  The front yard is a showcase of living things in full bloom:  the red-violet flowers of the red bud tree, the promising white cherry blossoms, the lush, low-hanging lavender floral clusters on the wisteria vine, the purple flox, perky violet irises.   Everything seemed better.

As I drove up the 540 to duck into the real estate office before going to work at the church, there was a truck in front of me pulling a trailer that was precariously loaded with bicycles and other assorted junk.  I had flashes of a story I saw on TV last night of a 2x4 coming through the window of a car.  The drive was, blessedly, uninjured.  I changed lanes and slowed down and said aloud, "Lord, thank-you for all the things that could happen but DON'T!"  That I simply make it to work alive is a blessing.  So many horrible things can happen in any instant!  One loose 2x4 and it could be over.  Or one could grow up abandoned and in deplorable conditions in a Russian orphanage like the other show I watched on TV last night.

When I got to the office, I carried in the Sunday and Monday newspapers from the front door step.  An article caught my eye:  "Two Die In Fatal Crash" with a picture of a demolished white sedan.  The morbid curiosity in my just had to read the details (this is why I don't take the newspaper:  I will read the obituaries and the stories on car wrecks and murders and skip the rest). 

A northbound truck tried to change lanes, clipped another car, lost control, careened across a wide grass median, and hit the white sedan head-on. Both drivers died. They were just two people going about their Saturday morning business. They never got there.

I might have noticed the tire tracks in the median or the broken bits of demolished vehicles if I hadn't been watching for something to fall off that precariously-loaded trailer. The accident happened right where I started thinking "Thank-you, Lord, for the things that could happen but don't". Right where one of those horrible things had happened just 48 hours before.

I made it to work unscathed. They didn't.

I should take my own advice. I always say to my children, "Everything's ok until someone's dead or dying". I learned that listening to people complain about daily headaches while my mother was dying of cancer.

And, when I'm feeling that God is callously ignoring my prayers, I will do my best to remember all the things that I've been protected from that I never even knew about.

My problems could be so much worse.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I am guilty of blog neglect.  My schedule for today is a good example of why:

take kids to school 7:40-8:15
move furniture 8:15-8:45
work at church 9:00-1:00
work cleaning a house 1:15-3:30
pick up kids 3:30-4:00
work on real estate 4:00-6:00
cook dinner 6:00-6:50
work at cargiver job 7:00-9:00
laundry/dishes/homework/whatever 9:00-?

I have three regular jobs:
church secretary

And three occasional jobs:
RV renovator/upholsterer

Cosmic University has apparently changed my major from Auto Mechanics to Work Ethic!  But I actually do enjoy everything I do and I am very grateful to have work of any kind.  And I continue to look for more.

My high school friend Jeff Messer found the perfect video for me today!  Check it out!  Thanks Jeff!

Wishing you all a productive day!


Friday, March 18, 2011

Saint Patrick's Day

Every year on Saint Patrick's Day those darn leprechauns (yes, I had to go look up how to spell that) come and dye our milk GREEN! 

While festive, this is most unappetizing.  I was very glad to drink the last glass of green milk with my 12-grain toast with sorghum this morning.  Blessedly, the leprechauns had respect for the unopenned gallon of milk in the fridge and saved me from having to get through a whole additional gallon of green milk!  Thank goodness!

The girls always ask me if I was the one that dyed the milk green to which I always respond, "Do I look like a leprechaun?"  This year they concluded that it was not me because the milk was "leprechaun green" rather than "dye green" and we didn't have any green food dye in the house anyway (only blue and yellow).  Why, I ask you, would I dye my own milk green?  I'm the one that has to drink it!

I always struggle to come up with Saint Patrick's day appropriate festivites (green beer not being an option).  Wearing green never seems like quite enough -- like we're all dressed up with no place to go.  So Tessa and I brainstormed for something Irish to have for dinner.  Having no experience with corned beef, we opted for potatoes and cabbage.  This was fortunate because that's about all that was in the fridge.  I had, in my great wisdom, bought a 10 lb. bag of potatoes (for $3.47) and, after many baked potatoes, we still had half left and I always try to have cabbage around because it's massively versatile.

 We ended up making a very delicious scalloped potato and cabbage casserole out of six potatoes, 1/3 of a head of cabbage, the last of the green onions, a white sauce (whipped up out of flour, butter, and milk), and some bread crumbs and cheese sprinkled on top. 

Scalloped Potato and Cabbage Casserole
(By the way, that's a salad plate so it's not the HUGE portion that it looks like if you think its a dinner plate!)

Tessa requested that we have this dish at least once a week.  Even Sara-Grace ate it (I'm not sure she knew there was cabbage in there!).  And Emily ate some too (she usually cooks her own gourmet dinner instead of my lesser fare)!  So this is our new Saint Patrick's Day dish!

What are your Saint Patrick's Day traditions?

Friday, March 4, 2011

New Series: Cheap Healthy Grub -- Lemon Cilantro Hummus

{This is a first in a periodic series on some of the healthy foods that I have conjured up recently.}

Ah, food!  How I love you. What a challenge you have become in recent times!

I’ll admit to having eaten and served a lot of unhealthy cheap food lately. The result is that I’ve come to a place where I crave healthy food. So I’ve been thinking about, looking for, and searching for cheap healthy foods in an effort to have the best of everything!

Grocery shopping on a limited budget quickly becomes a swirling array of multi-layered decisions and a great shuffling of pennies.  Many factors come into play to keep the total on the receipt at the checkout from being higher than the amount of money in the wallet. The budget grocery juggling act includes strategies like: buying smaller packages, buying generics, buying less healthy foods, buying lesser brands, foregoing items until a later date, and opting for cheaper substitutions. 
What ends up happening is that health considerations are sacrificed to the bottom line. My best example of this comes from the bread aisle. That wonderful, hearty 15-grain bread that I love to eat for breakfast with butter and sorghum costs $2.50 for a small loaf. A big, long loaf of generic white “wonder-less” bread costs 98 cents. If you want generic wheat bread (the soft kind that’s only 30% wheat flour and 70% white flour), you’ll pay $1.34. If you want generic whole wheat (all wheat flour), that will cost you $1.54. If I have to choose between buying two loaves of white bread for $1.96 or two loaves of whole wheat for $3.08, I often end up choosing the white because the $1.14 saved can buy something else (like a jar of spaghetti sauce or a package of noodles or two-three oranges or two pounds of bananas).

I think I've finally beaten a path around the grocery store enough to lead you on a little tour of some cheap, healthy grub!

I am starting this series with Lemon Cilantro Hummus.  I eat this almost every day!

Hummus is a traditional Middle Eastern dish made of chick peas (aka garbanzo beans).  It is massively healthy, very delicious, and quite inexpensive. We tend to get competitive over it in our house.  Everyone eats faster and faster because they’re afraid we’ll run out. But it’s easy to make more!   I love that generic garbanzo beans cost only 66 cents a can!

Lemon Cilantro Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans/chick peas (generic $.66 a can)
¼-1/2 cup liquid from the garbanzo beans
1 Tablespoon Tahini ($6 a jar and sometimes hard to find so I often substitute 1 teaspoon of sesame oil)
1 teaspoon olive oil (omit of you're using sesame oil in place of tahini)
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon cumin
Blend in blender until smooth.
Top with lots of chopped cilantro (48 cents a bundle).

Serve with tortilla chips (generic $1.48), pita bread, or veggies (esp. carrots).


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Benevolent Alignment

I have exactly 1 penny in my wallet and nothing in my bank account.  February was a rough month.  Mark couldn't work because of the snow (imagine trying to pull a 35 foot travel trailer in 18" of snow!) and my boss was in the hospital all month.  So, no income for us.

I needed to come up with $60 by yesterday or my water will be turned off and $25 by today or the electric will be turned off in a property I own.  It's expensive to get utilities turned back on, you know.  I've been trusting that the money would turn up somehow.  I just wasn't sure how.

I have some items for sale on Craigslist -- several of which I got for free.  Yesterday I received a text from someone interested in buying one of the items I got for free.  Price: $75.  Water bill paid!  But I was still $10 short on the electric bill.  Then the buyer asked me if I would deliver the item for an extra $10.  Exactly what I needed!  Bills paid! 

God works like that you know.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here I Am, Lord!...Now What?

It is tempting to write fluff today.  In fact, I already have fluff posted for today and written and scheduled to post for tomorrow.

But I am in a swirling dervish and I feel I'm supposed to write about it. 

I am on phone duty at the realty for the next two and a half hours.  I have already done the work that needed doing for today.  It's just me and my computer and time. 

I was going to stuff all the turmoil down into someplace dark and quiet and private.  Then my friend Vanessa's blog post came up this morning (  Vanessa always inspires the honesty in me -- and the copycat.  Hopefully there is still come validity in the things the copycat produces!

Today has been a challenge.

I snuggled up next to that warm man in my bed at 2 a.m. only to have him complain that he was on the edge of the mattress and didn't have enough room.  "You were already THERE when I snuggled up so don't blame ME!", I snapped.  Never mind that child, who had been scared to trembling by the thunderstorm, that I had let into our bed and was taking up all of my side.  I got up and stomped over to the daybed across the room to sleep with the dogs.  Good pathetic drama on my part, I think! 

The morning went just about as badly on about three different topics.  And there are always bills.  And calls about bills.  And fretting about bills.  And sheer, stark terror.

I'm aware that I'm being difficult and unreasonable this morning.  I told Mark I'd talk to him when I get over enjoying being unreasonable quite so much.  I AM trying to spare him!

There IS good news though!  After months of not even getting a response to applications and inquiries for jobs, I got the church secretary job.  HOORAY! 

That announcement makes it sound so easy, like it was a some sort of slam-dunk.  It was not.  I searched for months to no avail.  I inquired about jobs to no avail.  I applied with a temp agency that never called me.  I found my way into a lot of scams.  I lamented.  I wrestled with frustration.  I jousted with dispair.  I prayed.  And I prayed.  And then I fought for the job that I wanted by investing a lot of time on a top-notch cover letter, hand-delivering a resume, cover letter, and flyer samples to a second source, and putting a great deal of fore-thought into my interview.  Plus I think I was just right for the job.  And it for me.  Kinda think God was in on it somehow.  At least I hope so!

I am brimming with excitement about my new job.  I start next Monday.  It is weekday mornings 9:00-1:00 which means I can take the girls to school, maybe squeeze in a quick walk before 9:00, work at the chuch from 9:00-1:00, play realtor from 1:00-3:00, pick the girls up from school, fix dinner, and go to my evening job (if I need more realtor time, the girls can be picked up by their dad). 

I am thrilled to get to be a part of something meaningful and very inspired to try to make Trinity United Methodist Church the best it can be!  Those of you who know of my rather non-standard spirituality can be reassured that they probably won't drop-kick me out the door because I was raised Methodist and know how to be a proper Methodist when I want to be.  That doesn't stop me from being a searcher and a seeker as well.  I am also an annoying deconstructionist (which means I want to know what Bible said in the original Hebrew or Aramaic in which it was written and the implications of each translation since and the social context and the cultural nuances and the political climate and the biography of the writer).  But I'm not against anything in the realm of spirituality except the exclusivity that makes people tell other people they're doing it "wrong".  I believe we all have to find our own connections to the Higher Power. I respect any way that a person might be able to find that connection (as long as no one else gets hurt in the process).

I look forward to watching the workings of the inner mechanisms of a church -- especially one that is in the process of trying to grow leaves and find its niche in the landscape.  I have a million ideas but will rein myself in from being TOO helpful and having TOO many suggestions.  I know my job is to do the clerical work, provide a warm fuzzy welcome mat, and be the useful, pleasant "Alice" (think Brady Bunch) of the church.  I can do that.  Churches do important work and I'm excited to be a cog in that.  I can't wait to be in the middle of it. 

I feel that I am being planted in this church-shaped pot for a reason.  SO many coincidences related to this job make me feel that I have been led there for a purpose.  For example, I didn't know it was a Methodist church when I applied but I was raised Methodist.  My grandfather was a Methodist minister.  He died when I was 4 and I have always wondered about what it was like to be in his profession.  I went to Trinity University -- this is Trinity United Methodist Church.  The church is just 1.3 miles from my house.  The hours are perfect.  The minister looks very much like a dear, departed high school friend whom I miss terribly.  The church is around the corner from two houses I used to own.  It is on Sycamore Street.  I have a very spiritual connection with sycamore trees.  There is something meaningful and divine about them for me.  When I lived in Laguna Beach I had a 250-year-old, Mother-Earth sort of sycamore tree in my yard.  The massive trunk measured 11 feet in circumferance.  I adored it and have had a soft and squishy spot for all sycamore trees ever since!  They are my favorites.  They speak to my soul.   I feel like the trees, among all the other signs, have whispered in my ear and pointed the way to tell me that this is the place for me!

There are other things too.  I'm not usually one to spout hymns.  They don't usually speak to me.  But the hymns we sang at yesterday's service were both meaningful to me.  The first was "Here I Am, Lord".  Well, yes, here I am!  One line in the song is "I will go Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart".  That would kind of be my job, wouldn't it?  I wouldn't be very good at the job if I didn't have my heart in it and a committment to the people there.  The other hymn was "What A Friend We Have In Jesus".  Coincidentally, I read, in the past week, an article about the poet who wrote the words to this song.  It was in the form of a letter to his mother.  The amazing thing about it was that he wrote such hopeful, peaceful, trusting words and sentiments after losing TWO fiances.  His first fiance drowned the night before the wedding and his second fiance fell ill and died of pneumonia shortly before they were to be married.  And still he wrote: "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!".

I have prayed many a 3 a.m. prayer for a job and for help from above in my financial struggles.  It seems my prayers about a job have led me to a job in a place of prayer!  There's something cosmic to that, I think. 

I was very excited and very confident about the job until I left the first interview and saw the next applicant waiting to be interviewed.  Then I got all insecure and self-conscious and spent the rest of the day obsessing on every word I had said in the interview.  I wasn't sure what I would do with myself if I didn't get the job.  Now that the job is mine, I am nervous.  I haven't been tied to a desk in a very long time.  I have always had flexibity in my schedule (not that I made the best use of my freedom).  I won't be able to travel with Mark anymore (not that I have been able to go with him in months).  And, I am nervous about the money.  The pay isn't that good but it's certainly better than nothing.  It will help to get me by. 

I find myself trusting that I have been led to and given this position for a reason, that it is where I am supposed to be.  I know that it will be meaningful and that I will learn volumes that I have yet to even imagine.  I trust that "the Lord will provide" for the rest.  The church job, because of it's schedule, will allow me time to continue in real estate instead of getting a full-time job (which I couldn't do anyway).  Hopefully, the real estate will supplement intermittently enough to allow me to continue in the church job.  Hopefully I can make a difference and be an asset to the church while being able to pay my bills and dig myself out this slimy, ink-black pit I find myself in as well!  I anticipate a certain symbiosis.

I look forward to writing about the things I am about to learn.  I am itchy to know what they might be.   I know they must unfold in their own time.  In the meantime, I think I might go shopping for church lady hats!  And pointy glasses with rhinestones.  And maybe one of those little chains that clip to the top of a cardigan sweater.  Or not.  Blessedly, I think Trinity is hipper than all that!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Meet Gary!

This is Gary.  He is a 1993 Geo Storm.  He is of the same great vintage as my firstborn, my 17-year-old, Emily, -- 1993. 

Gary is a Geo Storm so he is named after broadcaster and meterologist Gary England who is the voice of our childhood tornado warning memories.  If you watch closely, he's on the TV in the background in the first scene of the movie Twister.  Gary England is still on TV in Oklahoma City.  He is absolutely the best meterologist in the country.  So we named the car after him.  It was just a given. 

You may remember me writing about Bonnie.  Bonnie went home to Mark's mother after a loooonnnnggg loan (bless you Ruth!).  Gary is Bonnie's replacement. 

I adore Gary.  I have the $30,000 car in that doesn't run sitting like a monument to immobility in my driveway (dead transmission).  And I have the $300 car that actually GOES places!  Thank goodness for Gary.  Actually, thank MARK for Gary!

There is something very romantic about Gary for me.  That cute boy from my 8th grade English class, went out and found me a car!  If you'd told me that in the 8th grade I would have positively swooned!  He accomplished the impossible and found a $300 car that runs and has heat and air!  Gary's not flashy and he has some age spots (like peeling paint and cracks in the windshield, dashboard, and door liners) but he's mine until I can get a new transmission in my regular car and that is a blessed, glorious thing!

I enjoy and marvel at the gadgets on Gary that do work:  the speedometer, the odometer, the gas gauge (sometimes).  I don't bother to sweat the things that don't:  the radio, the driver's door keyhole, the dashboard lights.  It's a mobile lesson in great appreciation of the little things!

Mark constantly apologizes that Gary isn't something better.  He doesn't seem to get that I am SO touched that he gave me Gary and SO appreciative of Gary just as he is! 

We came into our marriage in our 40's and with all our own stuff -- house, cars, children.  But we seem to have been given a way to have all those sweet young newlywed moments anyway: our first house (our little rental on Taylor Street in Enid), our first car (Gary).  I think the odds are slim on our first child (together)because I just turned 45 but we still hope anyway! 

We have been cursed with my financial challenges but simultaneously blessed to be getting to build a life together from scratch -- just like we would have it we'd married at 18 (like we should have)!  There is something sweet and simple and sacred about our simple, humble little newlywed trappings.  I'm not sure I'd trade them for riches if I could!  And, when we dig ourselves out of MY financial mess, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that we built our castle ourselves -- together!

We have a motto in our marriage:  we got married because we wanted to be "in it together" -- for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.  That's what the vows are for  That's what the promise is for.  That's committment.  That's marriage.  That's LIFE!  We are SO lucky to get to live it together -- and to drive Gary around in the process.  Even if Emily is horrified to be seen in my beloved "clunker" that's as old as she is!  She has definitely aged better!

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Just Go Get A Job!"

I can't tell you how often in recent times someone has said to me "Just go get a job!" 

"Just" is a very cruel word.  "Just" proves that you are oversimplifying a situation.  "Just" screams that you have no idea what you are talking about.  "Just" ignores massive complexities and complicated circumstances.  In the vast majority of situations, use of the word "just" pretty much negates everything that comes after it.

But people keep telling me to "Just go get a job!"  As if it had never occurred to me.  As if I haven't tried.  As if there are lots of jobs out there.  As if there is no competition for the few viable jobs that are available.

Once upon a time I was the one person in the office with the most computer experience and the only one who could fix the copy machine.  Now my computer skills are outdated.  Forget that I'm a quick learner, I can't seem to get a chance to prove that!

Then there's that Master's degree that I'm very proud of but that makes me seem overqualified for everything.  Employers seem to assume that my Master's degree means I would get bored and quit in five minutes.  I was kind of hoping it said I'm smart, dedicated, and have a history of sticking things out -- things like SEVEN years of college!  I'm on the verge of taking it off my resume.  Probably should.

Let me take you along on a tour of yesterday's Sunday job ads!

Newspaper delivery routes -- requires me to split-shift what little sleep I get and to leave my children home alone at 2 or 3 a.m.

Maintenance and Housekeeping -- in Eureka Springs!

Termite and Pest Control Technician -- That would really stir up my childhood chemical phobia!  And what traces of chemicals would I be taking home to my household and my children?

Low Slope Roofing Foreman -- yeah, right!

Carpet Cleaning Technician -- ugh!

Car Mart Service Manager -- I tell you most of what I know about engines when I turn the key in the ignition!

Animal Caretaker for Springdale Animal Services -- I have animal issues.  I would either take all the unwanted strays home, cry all the time, or have to be hospitalized because I would be so distraught!

Freelance Writer -- Wow!  That's ME!  I'm a writer!  But the fine print requires "at least two published samples".  I haven't been published since high school! : (

Door-to-Door Sales -- I would PAY not to do this job!  I can't think of anything worse!

Firefighter/EMT -- Ditto!  I want to hide if anyone needs a band-aid!

Sports Reporter -- How many baskets did the Pigs score in their last football match?

Street Department Maintenance Worker -- Think they'd let me drive a bull dozer?

Salesperson for retail garden center "with knowledge of horticulture" -- I have a black thumb.  I forget that thing about water.

Registered Nurse.

Lisenced Physical Therapist.

Certified Dental Assistant.

Master Plumber.

Bilingual Translator.

Mobile Phlebotomist.

Experienced Collector for automotive finance company -- I bet those deadbeats would really be scared of little ole ME!

OTR Driver -- Can you see me driving a big rig and leaving my kids home alone all week?

Administrative Support "must relocate" -- Really?

Jobs in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Oklahoma, Missouri!

Jobs that require dependable transportation  -- See my previous posts on all my car troubles!

Factory jobs for minimum wage -- not worth my time!

Apartment Manager "live-in, on site" -- Haven't lost my house yet!

Home Medical Equipment Service Technician "must be able to lift 120 lbs" -- 120 pounds?!

And my favorite:
Nucular Power Trainee!  -- I could glow in the dark!

And then there's:
Ozark Guidance
Mental Health Professionals - Master's degree in Psychology, Social Work or Counseling.

But the only position for an unlicenced "paraprofessional" is 8-5 in Bentonville. I would be gone from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.   And who would take the girls to and from school?  We live too close to Sara-Grace's school to qualify for bus service and to far to walk.  Emily can drive but often her car doesn't run.  Plus someone would surely kill someone else in my absence!  And what if someone had to stay home sick?

The mechanics of finding jobs are changing. Used to be all jobs were in the classifieds. Now life is much more immediate. No one wants to wait for the Sunday paper. Craigslist has been touted as the place to look.

But on Craigslist all the listings want a resume before they even tell you the name of the company and what the job is. If a company isn't proud enough of their name to state it in the ad, I want no part of them!

Most of the jobs I have inquired about that I found on Craigslist have turned out to be scams. I can't tell you how many suspicious letters I've gotten written in broken English and cheerfully describing illogical-sounding duties. I swear the one I got this morning is a front for Japanese mob processing stolen electronics.

Even the jobs that sound like they might, blessedly, involve a benevolent combination of convenient location, flexible hours, sufficient pay, a pleasant employer, work I could stand doing, and an absence of prohibitive required certifications, turn out not to be viable. Either they turn out to be scams or I never get any sort of response. I've become wary of sending me resume out because there seem to be very few honest people on the other end.

I DID find two listings that seem viable:

Office Clerk needed.  Computer input.  General office duties.  20-24 flexible hrs/wk.  Fayetteville.  Fax resume.

PT Church Secretary Position in Fayetteville.  Computer and general office skills required.

I'll let you know how these go!

Do me a favor -- be careful how you use the word "just"!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


There are two kinds of criminals:  the kind that do something bad and the kind that are just poor.  More on this later! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“Why do you write about how poor you are?”

“Why do you write about how poor you are?”

I was asked this question recently. At first, I let it shame me. But, as the question, and the venom with which it was asked, have lingered in my mind, some of my own truths have bubbled to the surface. I’d like to share those truths.

We are not our wallets or our bank balances. I am not ashamed of either because neither defines me. I am proud of who I am and what I can accomplish and the ways I find to survive despite what the numbers might indicate to someone who defines merit with dollar signs and decimal points.

I started my blog out of a desire to be genuine -- to write about what’s real, to process my own experience, and to voice something that many people are going through (or have gone through or will go through in the future). There is no need to struggle in shame and silence.

When I think about The Great Depression, I think about how people survived and about how the country eventually pulled itself out. I don’t think poorly of those who went through it. I respect their courage and strength and survival.

I would also like to assert that there is no shame in good, honest work. Period. I have great respect for anyone who gets up and goes to work and gives it their best effort – no matter how menial or low-paying the job might be. I’d much rather work and earn my own way than sit around, spoiled, and have everything handed to me. In the end, having it given to you doesn’t feel good.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter how I got to where I am. What’s important is how I get out.

I wanted to write a rags-to-riches story from the beginning (though I don’t need riches but I do intend to work my way to financial security). I wanted to capture the depths of the despair, to write about how I found directions, detail the steps I took that led me out of it, and to celebrate the victory achieved in the end.

I write about how poor I am because I don’t intend to stay this way. Because, after I’ve dug my way out, I want there to be a chronicle left for my children and their children (and anyone else who cares or might benefit) that tells about how we all go through difficult times, that there IS a way out, and that this is a universal life experience that most of us will go through at one time or another.

The most important thing I’ve learned: I can be miserable and walk around all day every day ruminating on my misery. Or not. I choose NOT! It’s about living in the now. It’s about rising above. Tomorrow will come anyway and we will all die in the end so why make myself miserable when I can choose not to be? In turn, I am more productive and more successful at bringing about positive change and I am able to enjoy each day if I am not consumed with my own misery. This is a HUGE and incredibly valuable life lesson that I would never have learned without this time of struggle. Very Zen!

My blog is not about how poor I am. My blog is about creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and optimism. Those are some of the best states of being that I know. If a little financial strife is the catalyst for these things, then I welcome it. I have been pushed by circumstance to be more of all of these. Isn’t this a phenomenon that occurs over and over in life – that challenges push us toward growth? I embrace that growth and the situations and experiences that create it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Exonerating My Husband

The problem with writing a blog about money is that doing so tends to inadvertently implicate one’s husband.

For the record, I want it to be known that our financial situation should only reflect on Mark positively. MY dire financial state has nearly taken us both out but it is mine alone in its origin.

To properly orient you to my financial situation, I would have to tell a tale that goes back over 100 years and involves many characters and multiple plot twists. That would be too complicated to write (I’ve tried!) and too exhausting to read (you wouldn’t want to!). I will mercifully spare you.

Suffice it to say, Mark and I agreed to a 50/50 split when we married. I was to pay for my house, cabin, car, and children. He was to pay the household bills. We agreed to contribute equally to the spending money.

Then the bottom fell out of my financial world. My previously secure income completely ceased. As in ZERO! Try losing most or all of your income and then try to hold on to everything you have!

Mark graciously stepped in to try to fill the gap in an impossible situation. He has worked day and night to help me. He has done without in huge ways. We have had to live in different states for most of our marriage. My situation has been a huge burden on him and one that many a lesser man would have walked away from. If it weren’t for Mark, I would have lost everything.

Mark is the hero in this story. Don’t anyone dare think anything else!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I Am Looked After

Over the last two years, as I have tried to scrape by after losing about 90% of my income, I have been blessed to be shown over and over that I am "looked after" (as my dear mother-in-law always says and fiercely believes about herself -- and she's right)! 

Yes, there are bills I haven't been able to pay.  Yes, I will be working for a long time to dig myself out.  But, in the thick of it all, when it really comes down to it, most of the time, something has come through at the last moment to make sure I have what I need (insert Rolling Stones background music here: "You can't always get what you want. You can't always get what you want.  But if you try sometimes, you might find, YOU GET WHAT YOU NE-E-EED!"). 

Somehow something always seems to fall out of the clear blue sky and land right in my lap.  I often picture my dearly departed mother and grandparents gathered above me on a cloud, preparing these care packages for me for just that moment when I most need them -- perhaps with little invisible parachutes to insure a gentle delivery!

Earlier this year, we didn't have gas service for about five months.  I know that sounds massively dire, but one of our two water heaters is electric and that water heater supplies the kitchen and one bathroom so we had hot water for dishes and bathing.  And we didn't need heat during those warm months so we didn't really suffer (except for not being able to use the whirlpool bathtub which, of course, is dire, massive suffering at its worst!).  We were able to get the gas turned back on just in the nick of time -- mere days before the weather turned cold enough to require heat.

Yesterday I had immediate shut-off notices on three utility bills.  I had already negotiated extensions and gone to through all the borrowed time.  Having these utilities shut off would have incurred additional expenses to get them turned back on plus additional fees and deposit on top of that -- thus compounding the problem.  The bills just simply HAD to be paid IMMEDIATELY!  But I had no money.

There was a $104 water bill, a $143 electric bill, and a $26 electric bill for the cabin totaling $273.  And there were four coins in my wallet (I had $35 in my bank account but it was food and gas money for the week and was, therefore, sacred and untouchable so that doesn't figure into the equation).

Almost magically, within 24 hours, I sold a TV cabinet to a friend whom I knew wanted it ($125), received a paycheck from my second job ($120), and was compensated for helping out another realtor while she was out of town ($25).  Total = $270!  Three dollars away from exactly what I needed!  Whew!  Bills paid! 

Last week I had $300.70 in my bank account. The emergency services at the vet that were necessary to save our dog's life and had to be paid up front were $300.20. I walked away with 50 cents and a live dog!
Squeaked by again!

It amazes me how often this happens.  Enough money comes in to just cover impending expenses -- like the cosmos knows and has it all arranged or something!  We just have to sit down here on earth and wait to see how it all unfolds! 

Though I don't enjoy having my bank account cleaned out completely, at least the dust, crumbs, and cobwebs get swept out regularly with the powerful vacuum that takes out all the money!  And I get the very touching privilege and honor of seeing that I am, indeed, somehow, in some complicated and mysterious way, "looked after" and that the Lord DOES provide -- though just not exactly on my terms, on my timetable, or in lottery-sized proportions (darn it)!  But I appreciate it massively anyway!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Domino Effect

In my driveway sits a shrine to my former life.  Sad, dormant, neglected.  My 2004 Toyota Sienna sits idle and forlorn, gathering dust, leaves, bird droppings, and wandering trails of cat foot prints.

Heated leather seats, quad captain's chairs, side curtain air bags (the whole reason I bought the car in the first place), kickin' stereo, CD player, tinted windows, digital compass, outside thermometer, double lighted vanity mirrors, SEVENTEEN DRINK HOLDERS (the other reason I bought the car)!  I'm sure there are amenities that I don't even remember.  OOH!  POWER DOORS!  How I adore the power doors!  I have completely failed to teach my kids how to operate car doors themselves because I always hit the button on the key fob before they even get to the car!  We are SO spoiled!  After seven years with my Sienna, the thrill of the power doors has still not worn off!  I remain completely tickled by them.

As I write this, I realize that today is "Sierra Sienna's" 7th birthday. 

It was snowy and dark on the evening of January 4th, 2004 when I first met her in a frigid parking lot where the transport company unloaded her onto the icy pavement on the evening of her trip from Arizona (had to order from Arizona to get that beautiful dark blue color!). 

Over the next few days I spent an arguably unhealthy amount of time sitting in the car in front of the house listening to music on the stereo and reading the owner's manual to learn how to use all the bells and whistles.  My daughters would wander out to visit me periodically, stay awhile, and then wander back inside -- probably wondering if mom was out in the car looking for the screw she had lost!

I ran out and bought rubber floor mats to protect the pristine carpeting (putting the carpet mats away for safekeeping).  I bought organizers for the backs of the seats, an organizer for the jumper cables and other stuff like that that needs to ride around in the back, an organizer for CD's, a case for the registration and insurance verification papers, and a turbo ice scraper.  I stocked my beautiful new car with kits: a first aid kit, an road emergency kit, an office kit, a sewing kit, a care-care kit, and the most important thing to carry around in you car because you'll use it daily: a pair of scissors!  I had everything I needed!  I was good to go!

The smell of the leather, the bells and whistles, the seventeen drink holders, the CLEAN! It was well-equipped heaven on wheels!  Ahhhhh....

That was seven years ago.  Today.  And today is a very different reality. 

"What happened?," you ask?  Let me tell you a very sad story.

My ex-husband and I owed $385 in personal property taxes.  The deadline came and went.  We didn't have the money.  Neither of us.  So they put our name in the newspaper as delinquent tax payers.  Big whoop!  I wasn't too worried about the public shaming.  I only know one person who reads those notices and she likes me anyway!

Last January (2010), my license plate came due for renewal.  At the time, I didn't even have the $25 for the renewal stickers.  When I finally came up with that money, I found out that I had to pay the personal property taxes before I could renew the tags.  $385.  Didn't have it. 

But one must still go to work and one must still take the kids to school.  So I drove with expired plates. 

I'm a mom in a mini-van.   I drive safely.  I always wear my seatbelt.   I don't attract too much law enforcement attention. I didn't get my first ticket for the expired plates until May.  In June I got a second one -- even though I cried and told my whole sad sob story and the officer felt really bad about giving it to me.  I think he would have let me off if he hadn't already typed my offense into his in-car computer and had Big Brother watching over his shoulder. 

After that, I parked my car and started driving Mark's mini van -- a very nice black 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan.  Not my car, but still nice wheels.  I felt very cared for driving Mark's car.  He drove the work truck.  We were good.

In August, I had Mark's van stuffed full of staging furniture and needed to transport children so I took my van for a drive.  Until suddenly it wouldn't drive.  The transmission had gone out.  Dead. Kaput. Broken. 

There are only 130,000 miles on the Sienna but I will admit to neglecting the maintenance.  The last time I took it in for service, it cost $1100.00 (WHEN did I have $1100 sitting around to put into my car?  THAT was a very different life!).  I'd been ignoring idiot lights for a very long time (what could they know after all -- they're "idiot" lights!).  There was nothing I could do.  Car repairs were beyond my means.  I didn't have money for even an oil change.  I prayed the tires would last.  I knew a breakdown would be catastrophic.  Maybe I made the mistake of saying that out loud where demons and evil spirits could hear me and get ideas! 

So I limped Sierra Sienna home (she still had first and second gears, barely) and parked her and went back to driving Mark's van.  Until his van quit on me too.  TWO transmissions in one month!  And transmissions are expensive, in case you didn't know.  My rotten, rotten luck!

So then my dear Mark put me in his mother's little 1995 Ford Aspire, "Bonnie", which has great gas mileage but that's about it in terms of perks -- other than that it GOES!  (See my piece on "The Tin Can Peddle Car" for an elaboration on Bonnie!)  I've been driving Bonnie since August and I am very, very grateful to have Bonnie and her 47 miles per gallon and her just plain simple mobility.  But I'm terrified that Bonnie will die beneath me and my mother-in-law will never forgive me!

I still can't afford to replace the transmission in my Sienna.  Even with my ex-husband willing to find a used transmission and put it in for free, there has not been $375 available.  And, even then, I know owe another year's personal property taxes on tope of that original $385. 

But Bonnie HAS gotten a new fuel pump, two new alternator belts, and a new tire out of the deal -- just to keep her running!

To add injury to injury, while the Sienna was sitting idle in the driveway, a gallon jug of water that I had left in "the way back", sprang a leak and drained onto the carpet and under the rubber mat in the rear cargo area.  In the summer heat.  In a closed-up car.  With all those mold spores taking their summer travels on humidity vectors.  The result is a very nasty, noxious mold that makes me deathly ill in five minutes and seems impervious to bleach, borax, and vinegar. 

So now there's a new transmission, personal property taxes, license plate renewal fees, the expense of renewing the insurance, AND the cost of replacement carpet between me and getting my old mode of transportation back.  And, even then, the mold may just be everywhere and impossible to eradicate.  But that's a nightmare for another day...!

So, that's the whole long sad story of how one thing after another after another that have convened to leave Sierra Sienna sitting in the driveway (where, by the way, the basketball goal, the metal rose arbor, and a cabinet have all been blown over by stong winds right onto my once-beautiful, but now somewhat dented car!)

As for those traffic fines, I requested community service and will be working 24 hours ($10 per hour) at a local thrift store to work off my $240 in fines.  Little do they know that thrift stores are my heaven!  Maybe there is some mercy in the universe after all!