New Dream: Slum Lording.

I had never spent much time wishing to be a slum lord. Actually, no time would be more accurate. That is until 4 days ago. I saw an apartment building on “the strip” of my town listed for $75K. 3 units- each 3 bedrooms, about 1000 square feet with off street parking and walk out basements. Two units are currently rented for $750 a month and one unit was just sitting there empty, waiting for my family to move in! I am going to be a building manager, people!!! The best land lord this side of some river. I’m picking out paint colors and planning to refinish hardwood floors. THEN, the Quicken man just shot me down. That was harsh (and very short lived…)! Just as I was firming up my (mental) plans, they ground to halt. Apparently, 3 bedroom apartment buildings are classified as “investment properties” and do not therefore qualify for the first time home buyer program. I erroneously assumed that if I was going to live in one of the units for the minimum required length of time (one year), that it would qualify. I actually had let myself slip down the rabbit hole far enough to plan to change the building rules to exclude the use of the backyard. That way, at the end of the 12 months, I could build my tiny home in the backyard and rent out all three units. Solid plan. Shot down. Bumming. People seem able to take my ideas away from me as soon as I generate then. This could get me down, yes it could. I could actually sink into a deep depression and need medication. Thankfully, I am like the unsinkable Molly Brown. I’m like cream, always rise to the top. One chapter ends, I write another. Novel ends, I turn it into a series. Yes, with in moments I came up with plan 1,658. By a camper of course! Duh!!! Just buy a camper! I swear I heard the angels sing (more likely the lazy drone of fall insects, but whatever). I think, lets buy a gutted camper (read- super cheap) and rebuild it like those ones in the blogs I read. So I haul the husband and children an hour away to look at one. No go. The hubs cannot see my vision. Undaunted, I find another craigslist ad and put my kids back in the car and head an hour in the opposite direction. This time, I can generate no vision for this terribly overpriced and rotted out caravan. My three year old told the owner that his camper was not pretty. It was that bad, even a three year old could tell. Again, I could allow myself to succumb to the crushing disappointment. But, undaunted I press on!!! One more ad. This time only 20 minutes away. Buckle in my kids, who no longer ever want to see a camper let alone live in one. They refuse to even go in this one. On the other hand, my husband and I just looked in the door and we just know. We just know that this is the one. I don’t even need to go inside, I don’t need to ask any questions. It was love at first sight. I love it like I loved my Mallard. My husband loves it more that the Mallard. We bought it. That was step one. Step two: Figure out how in the world to transport this 36′ long hunk of awesome. Step 3: Find a place to transport it to. Step 4: Build bunk beds in it for the kids and install a wood stove. If you want to ask me what my plan is, I say, “Slow down! One step at a time! Sheesh, everyone is always in such a hurry!”
PS. I assure you that the irony is not lost on me. In the span of 4 days, I was going to be a slum lord and went to look at a 3000 square foot “investment property”. I then planned to renovate a gutted camper into an awesome off grid, rain collecting, eco trailer. After discarding that vision, I went an bought an enormous, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing 288 square foot pent house! Again, I say, just be patient. If you aren’t living one of your dream lives today, just go to sleep. Dream something different. If that doesn’t pan out, take a nap. If you generate dreams relentlessly, you are bound to end up living your dreams over and over again. Don’t get hung up on one dream. That could be foolish and result in the need for medication. Keep dreaming people. Keep dreaming.

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The Price of Education

Don’t worry, I have no intentions of spouting forth ill-informed pro’s and con’s of higher education!  No, I do not! However, I AM going to tackle a chronic situation many of us have created in our own homes and family circles by the sharing of truths and ideals with our young children.  Picture this true scenario that played out at my local grocery store:

“We need olive oil, let’s go grab some oil and then we can head to the pet shop.  Come on kids, lets go!” says mom.  With many happy hops and jumps and carts driven without valid licenses we make our way to the impressive array of olive oil choices.  I have an agenda as usual.  To save money for a family vacation in this lifetime!  I turn to the big value cans of oil from my early 20’s, this is going to save me so much money!!!  I reach for one labelled as extra virgin with an Italian flag printed on the can.  Its on sale for $10.99, that includes the entire can, a vat you could say, full of evoo!!! My husband shifts his feet uncomfortably, my kids are dreamily examining bags of mini marshmallows.  I hesitate as I reached for the cart, noticing the look on his face.  “What?” I ask impatiently.  “It’s extra virgin, and it’s on sale!” A long pause….. “Is it cold-pressed?” the husband inquires.  “I don’t know, it’s extra virgin 100% pure olive oil.  That is what it says on the can.” I reply.  He takes the can from me.  I know I have lost so my gaze switches to the glass bottle selection, scanning for sale flags.  “This is actually refined oil and olive oil.  That’s what the ingredient list says.  That means it is chemically refined and produced.  They use…” he begins.  I cut him off, “I know what that means. How about that one?”  Jadon has now noticed the conversation and he walks over and picks up the exact bottle of olive oil that we buy every time.  He says, “Can we just get the regular olive oil, mom?”  Cynthia trots over and looks around at the oil and grabs another of the same.  She says, “Can we get the regular kind, mom?”  I sigh, “I was just hoping to save some money.  How do we all feel about organic versus non-organic?”  Jadon looks uncomfortable for a minute, “I prefer organic, but I don’t want to tell you to spend every dollar you have….. Let’s just get the cheaper one.”  Cynthia says, “Let’s get the regular oil, mom.  This one.”  We bought the regular.  

Why you ask, why blog about this?  Well, this was our last stop in the grocery store.  We had to go through the same frustrating dilemma at each step of the way.  From apples to pasta to canned tomatoes to oil.  Did we save any money, absolutely! But not today.  In health care for sure, but what does this have to do with the cost of education???  We have spent countless hours educating ourselves on the production of food. We have debated, vacillated, and yes, even anguished over food.  We have explained our choices to ourselves and to our children.  Why?  Because our kids want a burger at McDonald’s just like other kids.  They want soda and ice cream and cupcakes with sprinkles on them, individual pudding cups…  I have not found anyway to explain to them why we say no other than to teach them.  I educated myself about GMO’s and transfats and feedlot meats and pesticides and herbicides, and yup, you guessed it. They were there. They hear me think out loud, they watch the documentaries. They now have opinions. If you choose to educate yourself and your family, prepare to get called out when you are short on grocery money and trying to take a shortcut.

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Night Light Philosophy.

Every night, when the lights go out (and sometimes before) I begin to hear little noises…. And see shadows darting by. Yes. I have mice. Not the pet kind that strange people PAY for at the pet store. Wild ones. They come from unknown lands. And they scamper about, resisting the urge to investigate dabs of peanut butter I casually leave out. Gift offerings we will call them. Thank you gifts perhaps. “Thank you for romping around my 200 year old house, carrying on a timeless tradition.” What is the solution??? Snap traps, don’t work. Live traps, empty. Boxer on standby, I think they have an arrangement of some sort. Dryer sheets under the stove, I think they use them to do their own laundry. Get a cat? Ummm, another dirty critter romping about my house? Pooping in a box and creating fur babies and hair balls??? No. That was a loud NO!!! I have been contemplating ordering that survival sling shot I’ve been wanting for a long time. Fear that I will bean myself as the pellet ricochets off the front of my oven stops me everytime, seems risky to life and limb. It is time to get downright creative. They just might be livestock. We eat mostly organic foods, our dog eats overpriced wild bison and sweet potatoes, and they also enjoy a selection of seeds and grains in our pigeon food. Although my family thinks my talking about wood chucks and raccoons with a culinary slant is strange, according to my research they are traditional table toppers, not to mention hats, scarves, coats, and decorations. I like meat. Mice are made of meat. Seems logical to suppose I am doing a great job as a mouse rancher. And baby, its round up time!!! I have been doing some preliminary research, looking up recipes and the like, and I am not the only person who looks at them as a food source. Check out this well written piece: http://www.seriouseats.com/2008/03/eating-mice-can-be-rather-nice.html On the other hand, with a 9 year old boy who eats eggs by the half dozen only to start looking for more, how many mice would it take to make a meal??? This conversation has come full circle for me now. I can see no practical value at this time in mouse ranching, or would it be mice ranching…. Hmmmm, sounds weird. It is time for a bit of night light philosophizing. My favorite time of night. Have you ever read the book Feldman Fieldmouse by Nathaniel Benchley and Hilary Knight? It is unfortunately out of print but you can pick up a copy on amazon for pennies. It is an awesome story. Feldman is a mouse of dreams, he dreams of organizing a huge mass of mice to join together in the light of the full moon to dance with wild abandon. He and his nephew Fendell pull it off. Feldman unfortunately is eaten during his dancing delirium, but you may get swept up in the moment like my kids and I did and find it terribly romantic and exciting. You may never look at mice the same again, especially in the light of the full moon, or during a bit of night light philosophizing! Really, when you boil it all down, kids are messy, dogs are messy, and the mice are by nature obsessive cleaners (think Cinderella, duh!). They are doing me a favor. Thank you mice.

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Adult ADD strikes at night!

No, I have never been tested and diagnosed with ADD, lol! It is just an easier and shorter way to describe an overactive mind that likes to be fully engaged and busy and working, and solving, and inventing all the time. Even though I am living one of my dream lives (subject of a previous post), I find the tasks of sorting laundry and washing people’s hair and cooking eggs and grocery shopping and listening to reading lessons leaves lots of spare room in the ole head for *thinking*. I do truly envy the ability that a few people have of focusing exclusively on the task at hand and using all of their trains of thought to get it done in a timely fashion. Like right this minute for instance, I am enjoying listening to Chopin along with my nice hot tea, and squirming around very close to me is my daughter who needs to fall asleep. She is in her bed, right next to mine….. If I were to shut down the thinker and pretend to sleep while snuggling her, she likely would be asleep. I don’t have time for that people!!! Instead (don’t worry super parents, her head is on my arm. I am half snuggling her) I am plotting out how to turn my 900 square foot apartment into a very large tiny home. “Hmmmmmmmmmm…” you say with your left eyebrow raised quizzically. A 900 square foot tiny house, whatever. My husband (whom I love insanely by the way) doesn’t feel convinced that a tiny home will work so much for him while we are a family of four. He says we are a family of 5 if you count our big Boxer Max. He thinks we would be crowded and won’t have room for coats, talk about crazy!!! Dogs don’t need coats!!! Yeah, ok then. So I have been looking at all the beautiful pictures of tiny houses that I dream of living in and picking out the things I can have in my apartment! Compromise, right?!? Composting toilet, alcohol burning range and oven, a beautiful nook to store every beautiful thing we don’t downsize out the door, custom designed trash and recycling bins, multifunctional hand built furniture, solar power, solar hot water heater, nice floors, beautiful art actually on the walls in frames….. So many things! Oh, and a murphy bed, not because I don’t have room for a regular bed but just because I want one. I found a hardware kit to buy so we can build our own! And, I would really like a wood stove designed for cooking on, maybe even a fancy one with a built in oven!!! How awesome would that be??? Since I don’t actually know anything about building houses of any stature, I think an accessory building project is in order. Our town manager says as long as it is less than 100 square feet and no more than 35 feet tall, I do not need a permit. So, I am thinking of a 3 story 10 x 10 with storage lofts. Would that even stand up? Or would it just fall over like a good game of jenga? What do you think, if you could incorporate tiny house innovation into your current acreage, what would you add or subtract???

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Life Recapped.

DSCF2177In the flurry of recent changes, I haven’t taken much time for tea with The Earl of late. Change is good, but change is overwhelming too. In the matter of a few months, we have turned our schedules and priorities on their heads. Turned them upside down. Made a one eighty. Tossed convention out the door. Made some bold moves. Ok!!! You get the point, right? Over the summer, we decided to work harder to get out of debt faster than the minimum payments will allow. As a homeschooling family on a single income, we just don’t have that much wiggle room in the ole budget to pay down much of anything. So, my husband picked up some side work to add to the 6 days he already works regularly. He works 6:30 to 3:00 at his day job Monday to Friday and then 6 or 7 hours on Sunday afternoon. Add to that washing the windows at our local hospital and all their associated buildings, filling in for a friend cleaning a school at night, and stripping and rewaxing a floor. We sold some things too. All told, many weeks he worked about 80 hours. We saw him for maybe half an hour or an hour a day. I did not choose to meet The Earl to chat during all these shenanigans. I chose to aim for survival and we did just that. During this time of upheaval and stress, I participated in an E-course on downsizing. We did greatly reduce our possessions, although we have more layers to peel back and clean up. Throughout this time of horror, my children and I thought we would die without our guy around. It was truly horrible. With the big window job finally done, sitting at the table staring at our finances with that big fat paycheck in hand, all I could think of was how can I buy my husbands time back for myself and our children??? In the end, we did reduce our debt, but we stashed part of that money. And we bought him back. Yes, you read that right. We bought him back. This is our first week having him back, and while it is an adjustment, it is an awesome one. I began the downsizing course desperate for a tiny house of my own and ended it buying my husbands time and energy back instead. He is still working 6 days a week. But now he leaves at 5pm and gets home around 11pm most days. He brought me coffee in bed this morning. He helped our son with his reading today. He helped him begin building a wooden box to hold his treasures. He made our daughter breakfast and showed her how to plane wood. And debt? Whatever. It will get paid in time. Some extra work now and then will be ok. Not sure that the extra money will go right to the debt though. Maybe it will buy a piece of land. Maybe it will take us on an adventure. Who knows. I do know for certain that time is the most precious thing we have right now. Time with our children while they are here in our care. We can never buy that back. In the end, I am learning to downsize future regrets and to supersize life where ever we end up. Stay tuned. I’m just getting started.

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*Life Revisited*

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Sometimes I just really need some salamander time to figure out the deeper things in life.  How can you worry when holding such a beautiful delicate creature and spending some quiet moments kneeling in his world?

Be a visitor.

Breathe deeply.

Bring the wonder of it all home with you.

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Abundance

What is abundance?  Food.  Plenty of food.  Not a wasteful, gluttonous amount; but plenty.  Nobody is going to go hungry today!  After experiencing gut wrenching poverty for the first time in my American life, the first thing that I think of is food.  House?  Bills paid?  Nice clothes?  Shiny car?  Nope, food.  The rest feels like details.  Maybe the next time I experience serious economic problems I will see it through the eyes of a person who has no shelter and I will feel differently.  I will think of having solid walls around me to keep me safe and warm.  Experiencing poverty changed my family deeply, irreversibly I believe.  For one thing, I worry about food.  My husband worries about work.  He is just starting to recover enough to be able to contemplate different work.  That fear is there, lurking below the surface.  What if I lose a job and cannot find a new one?  I am surely not knocking steady, full-time employment.  It has a lot of pleasant benefits.  Affordable(ish) health care, paid vacation time, guaranteed paycheck on the first and fifteenth of each month, sick time, an occasional pizza, retirement fund.  You get the picture, it is a pretty good deal.  But at what price?  I do have relative food security, I have an abundance of food.  But, my husband works 6 days a week.  The regular 40 hour job doesn’t quite generate enough on its own so it must be supplemented.  We have two young kids, I am responsible for their health and well being as well as of their education.  Do they have an abundance?  They do not have an abundance of their Dad, or of time spent as a complete family.  I have even less of an abundance of their Dad.  Right now for instance, he is sound asleep.  Went to bed with the kids.  Why? Because all he has is an abundance of hours of work.  He worked from 6:30 this morning till a bit after 6 this evening and the morning alarm will ring soon.  Is this really the American dream that people move here looking for?  Really?  By the time he can retire and be home, our kids will be long gone with kids of their own.  That is time that you simply cannot make up.  I propose a rebellion.  A rebellion against the status quo.  Against the standard American life.  It is pretty distasteful, just like the standard American diet.  I suggest we rebel against how many square feet of home we are told will make us be/look successful and happy, against the advertisement that keeps telling me I need to drive a Sienna in order to keep my kids safe, and a rebellion against vicarious living through pinterest.  That if I am not building light tables and doing hours of super-awesome crafty projects with my kids all day long I am a worthless parent.   I propose that we stand up and acknowledge that we understand how skewed the standard life we are spoon fed from a young age is.  Look it in the eye and reject it.  We are extraordinary people after all, we deserve extraordinary lives filled with abundance.  An abundance of food, family, friends, fun.  Relationships and experiences are what make our lives meaningful.  Forget about how it will look to your peers.  Forget what the Jones’ might say about you.  Revel in an abundant life.

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