Monday, December 29, 2014

Hallettsville, Texas

Lovely little Hallettsville is very festive for the holidays!  By day....

And by night.  There is also music being played in the tower.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Recycled bench


Stoli would like to show you my new bench.  There is a 10X10 covered deck space out back - like a square gazebo.  All sides are wide open.  On one side, I built this bench.  I just used two 10 foot 2X6s that had been previously used in a concrete project on someone's home.  I topped those off with 30 pieces of 2X4s from leftover jobs around the ranch.  Cut them all to the same length and sanded the edges.  I have plans for two more sides of this gazebo space.  The space should be much more sociable soon!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cool Cat

I don't always steal all of the pillows....
but when I do, you think it's cute and take my picture.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ranch Progress

This place has gone through so much change.  The clean up process is never ending, but so much better than when I first got here in March 2013.  With ten acres, there are always dead trees, scraggly thorny weeds or building maintenance.  I feels good to take care of things and relax by the fire pit in the evening.
Ahhhhhh....  wine by the fire.
The horses have moved off of the property and closer to where their owner lives.  This is excellent for the owner's time and family life.  She can spend more time riding and less time driving.  This does change the situation here on the ranch, but not necessarily in a negative way.  I have restructured the financial plan to accommodate this change.  I have already begun a structured scheduling and work plan for the year 2015.  December has been a trial run of that plan and things are looking very good!

Friends are welcome to visit and even stay awhile.  There is work or relaxation to be done all the time.  I now have a private guestroom complete with queen sized bed and a set of bunk beds.  Bring your friends, kids, and enjoy a little time away from the TV.  I also have a closet full of crafts that I gladly and freely share!!

Stoli welcoming you to relax and stay awhile.
This year, friends visited and helped with some of the things that needed a bit of extra strength or specific expertise, like wiring.  Other friends visited for a relaxing brainstorming self-employed-women's retreat.  Another group of friends came out for a four day craft-a-thon.  We crafted until we couldn't see straight - it was great!

45 foot HC container will be my house!!!
The new container is here and plans are in place to see some building done this year (VERY EXCITING!)  Bench swings and hammocks are in place.  There is a tiny tree frog living in the bathroom.  Life is GOOOOOOD!!!
Mel, a 1.25 inch green tree frog, in the bathroom catching tiny bugs at the nightlight.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I don't have a microwave

I don't have a microwave.  I don't want one.  If I had one, I would eat the following:

Popcorn with REAL butter, sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper.
Photo courtesy of http://www.diet-blog.com/07/61_calorie_popcorn_recipe.php
Baked potatoes with more STUFF than potato.
Photo courtesy of http://www.sodahead.com/fun/baked-potato-yay-or-nay/question-2118817/
Microwavable frozen macaroni and cheese.
Photo courtesy of http://archives.quarrygirl.com/2010/02/11/amys-mac-and-cheese-with-daiya-frozen-dinner-heaven/

The end.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Techno-personalization

To personalize something is to make it (more) personal.  In today's world of technology, personalizing cards, for example, may be making the card personal or it may be making the card LESS personal.

I received a Christmas card from my insurance agent at Texas Farm Bureau.  Very lovely, very sweet, very nice.  The card had my name on the front, er, rather, it had "Green Family" on the front.  This, my friends, proves that this card took absolutely no time or thought.  There is no Green FAMILY.  In this technologically filled world, how can the folks who created this sort of program not include a field for whether this person is a family or single individual.  Because this is my INSURANCE agent, she should know this!  The fact that I am a single person is on my insurance information.  Couldn't the technology geniuses that run this card creating software include that detail?
We all know when we are getting a card that is real and when we are getting a card that is mass produced and printed and sent probably without a single human eye or finger ever touching it.  When a company attempts to make this card appear personal, it's not really any better.
Quite pretty.  A lovely design.
How many clients does my agent have?  I sent out 75 Christmas cards this year each with a handwritten note, often no more than "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year," but many of my cards included longer notes and all included my very own handwritten signature and all were addressed by hand.  This task took me approximately 6 hours.  I will admit that for someone who is already working forty hours a week, to add this task seems rather like adding a day to your week, but maybe that effort would be worth it.
I only have one heart, thanks...  and this card just blew a chill through the room.
I went to this insurance company because there is an actual real-life office only a few miles from my home with actual real-life humans in the office.  In other words, I chose this company because it seems to provide a more personal service than the company I used before with a certain lizard as its mascot.  I am actually willing to pay a little bit more to have a real-life person handling my affairs.  However, this card (and a couple of other examples) prove that there is no personal service when it comes to insurance.  This will be remembered when it comes time to renew my policies. I might as well save some money and go with the obviously impersonal big company.
Dear Service Providers,
Consider simple cards for your agents to physically write the client's/customer's name and to physically sign themselves.  That's it.  Simple as that.  You can still pre-print the envelopes, just personalize your correspondence in a REAL way.  Even a simple connection is better than a fake one.
Sincerely,
Abby

Friday, December 12, 2014

Roommates

I come home from a few days of hard work in Austin, and what do I find?  My roommate is drinking my beer.  From the looks of things, this isn't his first of the evening.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Time Management

Self-employment requires several independent skills.  One of the most important skills is being able to manage your own time.  No one is going to give you a list of tasks and duties to complete each day. No one will make a plan for long term goals.

In the music business, bringing something new to your audience is critical.  Musicians must build all the time.  No time is really down time.  But it is very easy to put off that new song or CD idea when you know you have a month until the next gig.

A friend of mine recently told me that she gets up an hour before the rest of her family just so she can have one quiet hour to do her crafts, otherwise she never gets anything done.  The first hour of my day is usually wasted.  I don't have the energy, the brain power, the caffeine to process things, so I waste the time surfing the internet and then another hour is usually wasted just trying to figure out what I SHOULD be doing.  What if I tried a crafting hour first thing in the morning like my friend?  I was frustrated with the lost hours and the lost goals and the lack of focus.  I had tried scheduling my day with very little success....  but this craft hour rang in my brain as something different.  Rather than trying to schedule real work which required brain power, what about warming up with a craft AND staying off of the time-sucking-computer.

8AM  Crafts and Coffee
9AM  Music - Songs and Bouzouki skills
10AM  Breakfast  - Sometime in this hour, 10 minutes on Mandolin
11AM  Writing - poetry and book chapters
Noon  10 minute Fiddle & a walk to the mailbox
12:30  Irish lessons
1PM  Lunch & Computer biz
2PM  Blog
3PM  Property work (mostly outdoor)
5PM  Dinner & dishes
6PM  Clean-up, prep tomorrow's craft & schedule

Each task has a line so that I can plan the specifics the evening before...  much like a kindergarten teacher.  I check things off as I do them.... much like a kindergarten teacher.  And I get a sticker if I do everything...  much like any 40 year old time-management genius.

I decided the tasks based on what I feel is truly important right now.  I keep saying I want to work on this and that, but I never get around to it.  Either make time, or shut up!  Ten minutes a day devoted to anything can make a huge impact over time.

An important detail to note:  I do not allow myself extra time.  When time is up, time is up.  I don't want to steal from my other goals and I don't want to burn out on that goal.  An interesting side effect has occurred.  My brain stays with it all.  I look forward to working on that unfinished thing tomorrow.  I am humming songs that are in the works all day long.  Rather than a feeling of denial, stopping at the given time is having a very positive effect.

My goals are not things that can be accomplished all in one week.  For example if I wanted to learn ten new songs, I couldn't just cram down ten songs in one week.  It takes a chomp each day for a couple of months to achieve that sort of goal.  The only way to achieve these long term goals is to schedule and make specific time for them.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Easy perfect margarita

Don't make this rocket science.  It's not.
Ingredients: Tequila, orange liqueur, lime, glass, ice, salt optional.
Tequila:  Anything above the total crappy cheap stuff will be just fine.
Orange Liqueur: Triple Sec, Orange or Blue Curacao, this is your sweetener.
Lime: Find a smooth skin decent sized lime.  Smooth skinned limes are juicier.

If you have a lime juicer, good for you, fancy pants!  Otherwise quarter them.

Squeeze every drop of juice out of that lime!

Add equal parts tequila and orange liqueur until it's not too sour.
The end.  Drink.  Enjoy.  You're welcome.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wine Cork recycling

I decided to give my cork trivet project some color with some glass beads.  I used a heavy copper wire that I had left over from a home electrical project.  It is heavy gauge wire, so I had to search for beads with big enough holes. 
Cork Trivet with Glass Beads
Materials: 12 corks approximately the same size.  20 glass or ceramic beads 1/4-3/8 inch wide.  8 beads for the exterior any size.  Drill with extended length 1/8 inch drill bit.  Stable wooden surface and clamp.  Wire holding pliers.  Wire cutters.

Step one:  Drill holes longways and crossways in 12 corks.  To do this, I clamped each cork to a wooden table.  Carefully eyeball and drill.  Use a piece of your wire to clean out what you just drilled and to make sure the wire will pass.

Where the wires go.

Step two:  Cut four pieces of wire approximately 8 inches long.  These are for the four center passes shown in pink.  Pass each wire through crossways cork, bead, crossways cork, bead, lengthwise cork, bead, and crossways cork.  Your wires will cross.  You may need wire pliers to press the wire through.

Step three:  Cut four pieces of wire approximately 6 inches long.  These are for the four outer sides shown in yellow.  Pass each wire lengthwise cork, bead, lengthwise cork, bead.  Do this to all four sides.

Step four:  On the outer sides, one end of your wire will need to be bent in a u shape.  Pull the other end of the wire so that your u shape catches the cross wire which has the bead and continue to pull until the u is firmly stable in the cork and holding the cross wire.  Do this to all four corners.

Step five:  There should be 4 wires sticking out at the corners.  Bend the corner wire around and back toward the bead at the corner.  Do this to all four corners.

Step six:  Add a bead to one of your center wires (pink lines) and bend the wire back into a loop.  Pull the wire from the other end so that your loop is firmly and safely in the bead.  Do this to ONE END of each of those four interior (pink) wires.

Step seven:  Add a bead to the other end of one of the unfinished wires.  Estimate the amount a wire you will need to loop the wire back to the bead.  Cut the wire and loop the wire back to the bead.  Do this to the remaining wires.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I don't date

I do not date.  No matter what your definition of the word "date" is, I don't do it.

After a relationship into which I had put every ounce of trust and respect ended, I began examining what was really important.  My trust was destroyed.  My faith that humans could be true and honest was destroyed while the stereotypes we hear about men were magnified before my very eyes.

When I was in college, I worked at a Blockbuster Music store.  Young persons who chose to wear certain baggy pants and often smelled of pot smoke were targeted by management as probable shoplifters.  We would be assigned a target.  I HATED this.  I hated the idea that a particular image brought with it a reputation, a stereotype that made stores suspicious.  One day I was assigned a young man who absolutely reeked of smoke and included the entire droopy pants aesthetic.  I was so annoyed with this assignment.  I followed him at a distance and straightened shelves as I went.  As I came around the next corner, there he was slouched down shoving CDs into his pants.  I wanted to punch the crap out of him.  I wanted to grab him and shake him by the shoulders.  This asshat just lived up to exactly what Corporate America expected him to do.  I was so mad at him for all the times I stood up for him and his fellow baggy pants brothers.  How could he go and prove me wrong and prove all of them right?!?!?  And all I said was, "Excuse me, I see you're shoving some CDs down your pants.  Maybe we should talk about this in the back room."  The police came.  They probably sent him home with his mother.

The thing is, I believe in people.  I believe in trusting people.  I believe in innocent until proven guilty, and I expect the person to come to the guilt rather than the truth being forced out.  Unlike this short example, the relationship involved a person I loved, a person who claimed to love me, but by his dishonesty risked my physical health without my permission.

Now, my world of trust is destroyed.  I can't believe in people.  I can't trust someone's direct words, promises, "love."  Even saying that, I know that's not true.  Trust is in my DNA.  Therefore, I'll stick with friends.  Friends are easy to trust.  The stakes aren't as high.  If one lies to me, it's not like they are risking my physical health for me.  My body is mine to risk.  Honesty is the only way that both persons can choose what is healthy and right for them.

Before you say, "you'll get over it" or "men aren't ALL like that," I AM over it and I know not all men are like that.  My life is good and happy and full of friends.  It's amazing what happens when you remove the idea of sex and relationships from a man's objective.  I have better, deeper, more awesome male friends than I have ever had.  No more longing looks, bullshit flirtations, compliments that mean nothing.  Men treat me like a human being now.  They talk to me in a way that they know they can because there is no gain or loss with me.  This restores my faith in human beings and in men specifically.  Maybe, someday, one of these dear friends will be the right match for what we both need in a partner.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

40 years old

Good morning, world!  I made it!  I lived to be 40!

I *LOVE* making lists, so what do I have to say at 40?  These are things I have learned and attempt to uphold every day.  I'm not perfect at all of them all of the time, but I always come back to these truths and goals.
  • The world is big enough for EVERYONE to do what they do.  Even an artist who isn't up to your personal standard still deserves to be heard.  Their art does not steal from yours.  It's ok to encourage everyone.
  • Be honest with yourself and with others.  If you aren't honest about who you are, how can anyone love the real you?
  • If it's been done before, YOU can also do it.  Do whatever you dream of doing.
  • If it hasn't been done before, show the world it can be done.  The world needs inspiration.
  • People will nay-say.  Tell them to shut up and find better friends.
  • Be nice to people.  You can not know what they might be going through.  You might need kindness sometime.
  • Worry is not a sign of love.  Worry is a waste of energy and worry thinks you aren't intelligent enough to take care of yourself.  Do not let people worry for you.  Let them know that you have a brain and you will make the best choices for yourself every step of the way.  Let them think nice thoughts, pray, or whatever seems appropriate, positive, and helpful.  Worry is never helpful.  'If a problem is fixable, there is no need to worry.  If it's not fixable, there is no help in worrying.' paraphrased Dalai Lama
  • Do not envy.  Nobody is out there doing anything you can't do.  Prioritize, save, move in the direction you want to go.  
  • Be grateful.  Outside of work and legal agreements, no one owes you a single thing - not one single thing.  If someone grants you a smile, holds a door, gives you a cookie, buys you a beer, be overjoyed with gratitude. 
  • Send things in the mail.  Thank you notes, random cards, postcards, tiny presents.  It takes quite a bit of effort to go to the post office and make this happen, but getting something besides junk mail is priceless.  Be the happiness in the mailbox.
  • Write positive online reviews and send positive letters/emails to businesses about good things that their employees are doing.  We all need praise in a world of complaints.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Doctor!

For the first time in my life, I called and made an appointment to see a doctor.  I announced this on facebook.  Lots of "wow" and "lucky" comments.  We should all have a doctor.  My cat has a doctor.  Until January this year, I was uninsured.  I simply could not and can not afford $300 per month.  I have 5 health complaints.  One is 16 years old, one is 11 years old, one is 6 years old, another is 4 years old, and another is only 3 years old.  I am scheduled to discuss the 11 year old problem.  It could be almost nothing, some strange lymph node problem or it could be, well, some strange lymph node problem that is more than nothing.  It could require a simple prescription or a series of tests.  It could require a follow up exam or a trip to a specialist.  The point here is the unknown.  The point is, I can move my arm, so I can continue to work even if the pain keeps me from sleeping.  The point is, this could have been solved 11 years ago if I wasn't afraid of the unknown, the potential cost, the potential "pre-existing condition" on my file.  But what if the problem is more serious?  It could be, and I couldn't afford that last year.

I am most certainly lucky.  Any acute problem I have ever had was solved at the minor emergency clinic or wasn't causing impending death, so I couldn't take the above mentioned risk of expense.  Now that I have insurance, I have had to learn to wade through a system that doesn't actually want me to use it.  I made four phone calls this morning just to make one appointment.  The website for Blue Cross Blue Shield asks questions, and claims the answers are on my member card.  Let me assure you, they are not.  There are no doctors in my network anywhere close to my home.  I have to travel to Austin or Houston, so I chose Houston.  I have more friends with ultra flexible schedules and spare bedrooms there than in Austin.  It will cost me $35 in gas to go to the doctor, plus the co-pay of $30 for ordinary doctor and $50 for a specialist if my complaint is approved.  I have been paying for insurance since January and only just now decided that my time and money were stable enough to call and make an appointment.  I make most of my income August thru November - now is the time for extra expenses.

I am definitely lucky that nothing severe has ever happened to me.  I am also lucky that I don't have to miss work to go see a doctor.  I'm self-employed, so I can arrange my schedule and not miss out on hourly income.  Also lucky that my work has me travelling in and out of the Houston area for the next two months.  I am seriously lucky to be making a living that allows me to eat and basically enjoy life.  I'm not in danger of starving, yet the fear of financial death has kept me from the doctor's office.  Maybe I'm crazy for choosing to ignore pains and skin issues in favor of ignorant financial stability.  If I can't afford the biggest treatments (cancer), I'd rather live out my days not knowing....  and if an ailment doesn't require the biggest treatments, I'll probably be fine anyway.  Now that I have insurance and one of my problems escalated recently, I'll go see what is going on.  If it's nothing, $65 is peace of mind - I can afford $65 right now.  If it is something, I'm insured with a deductible I can pay and we'll just figure it all out.

In the end, you could say I have been gambling with my health.  I am lucky, maybe....  or maybe this will all be much more complicated and expensive than it would have been if I had been able to go to the doctor at the time of the onset.  This is why uninsured people end up in the emergency room.  This is, in the end, more expensive, more stressful, and less healthy than being able to see a doctor when you first need a doctor.  Prevention and catching problems early is cheaper for everyone.  If a person is uninsured, it is a good bet that they can not afford the emergency room bill.  We tax payers either pay that expensive emergency room bill or the less expensive prevention and early stage problems via government programs, insurance premiums, and absorbed bankruptcy debt.  One way or another we all pay, it's only a matter of choosing which way and whether we spend less for prevention and early detection or more in the form of bankruptcy and unpaid emergency room bills.  Making affordable health care accessible to everyone is, in the long run, cheaper and healthier for all humans.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

7 Days Left

In celebration of the last 7 days before I turn 40, I have decided to do one youthful thing and one grown-up thing each day.

October 4
Because I'm old: I will panic with the realization that my family will be here soon and I'm writing this blog instead of cleaning up...  but really, as a person with a growing sense of wisdom, who really cares?!?!
Because I'm young: I will welcome not only my parents, but my grandmother too.  I am lucky to have both of my grandmothers alive and well in my life.  One grandmother will be here soon, my other grandmother will continue to beat me at scrabble online.

October 5
Because I'm old: I will organize my vitamins in one of those daily vitamin organizers.
Because I'm young: I will take note that at least they aren't PRESCRIPTION!

October 6
Because I'm old:  I will enjoy my morning coffee sitting on my front porch watching the sun come up.
Because I'm young: I will enjoy a traditional Dad-style breakfast.  He'll be here, so maybe he'll even cook it.  For as long as I've known, he has cooked for the masses even if it's only our family in attendance.  I will always be 10 years old when my dad cooks.

October 7
Because I'm old: I will sit on the sofa and enjoy my peaceful empty house after everyone leaves.
Because I'm young:  I will open presents before my birthday!  This is done in honor of my mother's equally impatient nature when it comes to presents.  When it comes to presents, we should all stay 10 years old!!!

October 8
Because I'm old: I value gratitude.  I will write thank you notes to 10 people.  So many people have done so many kind things for me, but I will limit this task to ten in order to keep it joyful rather than a chore.
Because I'm young:  I will draw in crayon a picture for each of my thank you cards.

October 9
Because I'm old:  I will go to bed early.  Tomorrow will be a long day.
Because I'm young:  I will pack the car to go to camp!

October 10
Because I'm old:  I will have a margarita with my friends.
Because I'm young:  We will all eat CAKE!

October 11
My birthday!!!  Being old or young is what you make it.  I feel wiser and therefore more efficient about my choices - why waste time, just do it.  Yet, I am still on a road of growth and discovery.  Life is good.  Life is a journey.  Stay young, grow old.  It's all the same, really.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Which Way?

I feel like I am living several lives at once right now and it is becoming clear that those lives are thinner than I would like to live - I am sacrificing bits of each area in order to devote time and money to another rather than focusing on any one thing.  I have my music life.  I have major goals including several CD ideas and projects I would like to coordinate with others.  I have my property where I would like to share green building style ideas.  This is money dependent as it does not draw income.  I can only build as my own income allows, so things are slow but somewhat steady.  I also have my organizing business which is very important to me.  I love organizing and the more I do it, the more I see it as a mental health service.  For most of my clients, it seems simple enough, just organize the stuff, but when you see the relief at seeing the finished product, you know the mind has also been changed.  A weight has been lifted and I LOVE that.
Being self-employed means going with the flow, working when there is work to be done and saving so that when there is no work, you can still eat.  Having multiple sources of incomes can help even things out, but if one or two businesses grow so much that you have to cut back on work that you love, it gets just as tiring as fighting to grow a business to support you in the beginning.  While I do not make any income from my property, it is still very much a job.
As I travelled and sang for the last 5 weeks, I received word from the owner of the horses that lived on my property that the owner would be moving them closer to home, Houston.  This is completely reasonable and more than one person (including myself) told her she should do this from the beginning.  She has been driving out to my property to spend just a couple of hours with her horses every single weekend for a year.  My property is two hours away each direction.  And still, during the entire planning process, she refused to look at the possibility of boarding close to home and insisted on looking for property with me.
I am thrilled that her dream is made more possible by having the horses closer to home.  I am also thrilled to have this property.  The only problem is that the horses were part of the point of living out here in the boonies.  They were also part of the financial plan eventually.
I'm not saying I want to cancel my plans with the property or sell the property, but I need to be free to make choices about my life as things shift.  I have a constantly brewing list of ideas.  If one sort of dies down so another can rise, that's ok, right?  I don't like letting good ideas fizzle down and I guess that's why I'm writing today.  Usually, I just let go of a mediocre or not-so-good idea and that's just fine.  It's harder to let things rise and fall if ALL of the ideas are good and close to your heart.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Once the Musical

Holli and I went to see Once.  I loved the movie and being an folk musician with a focus in Irish traditional music, we decided this would be the one to see.  The show starts with a very casual "session" feel.  Members of the audience can wander up if they like.  Members of the cast played tunes in a circle, therefore, some of them had their backs to the audience.  While I could certainly tell that some of the musicians were not well versed in Irish style, they were good and I did appreciate the shout out to the way a session works - music for the sake of music, not necessarily for the sake of the audience.
I love the storyline because it is not your typical boy meets girl, boy or girl conquers the other, and they live happily ever after.  In this story, girl meets boy.  There is certainly love, but even greater than love is their respect.  In the end, love and music has mattered more than happy endings which makes for the greatest love, that love which includes respect.
In this production, Broadway does have a presence, as it should.  There is choreography and a bit of over-dramatization, and some tongue-in-cheek accent usage.  The choreographed numbers added what you expect to pay to see on Broadway.  The biggest negative I have is the accents.  Surely, in the big city of New York, there are Irish persons an actor can listen to and hire for coaching.  The greatest positive was the addition of some of the characters adding a bit of breadth to the overall scene that the main story is woven rather than the way the story is portrayed in the movie.  You can only know of what I speak if you see the show and the movie.
Overall, I loved it.  I enjoyed seeing a live performance, a live Broadway production cast with people who have made their way through the masses to perform this show.  It was a treat.
One badly shot photo to prove I was there!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Transportation

Holli took me on a subway.  I don't know how long it would take me to get used to the many different routes that go here and there.  232 MILES worth of travel.  The first underground sections were put into use in 1904.  Those numbers blow my mind.  Every time we turned a corner or I thought about how old the tunnel was, just wow.
Felt a bit like a gopher in a series of tunnels.
The Staten Island Ferry is a staple for resident commuters and tourists. Even though we were there on a pretty gloomy day, these photos explain the appeal.  You can't see NYC without seeing the Statue of Liberty or the city sky line.



Just one more thing.  After exiting the ferry, I walked from there all the way up to Columbus circle.  Go ahead, look that up.  It took me hours and I walked / hiked fast.  I love city hiking.  Everywhere you look there is something interesting to see.  NYC did not disappoint.

I don't even remember what door frame this was...


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Cloisters

Yesterday, I woke up to my first morning in NYC.  I slept amazingly well.  Holli's flat is on the first floor on the street side.  There was some noise but none that was too startling.  There is a huge streetlamp which kept the room fairly well lit, but that also did not seem to bother me.  Maybe it was my bed buddy that kept me peaceful and safe:
Jack-Dawg smiles just like I do in the morning!
Alan and I met for brunch at a sweet cafe with outdoor seating behind the restaurant.  If you didn't know that seating was there, you would never find it.  We walked down a narrow hall past the kitchen and out onto a lovely patio.  Alan ate a normal person brunch.  I ate pasta.
By foot, we went to the cloisters which wasn't very far by bird standards, but by creatures-with-feet standards, we had to hike up a monster "hill."  The trees and hills were an unexpected site for this city with a reputation for concrete.  The cloisters at the top of the hill is a Medieval tourist's dream.  Every other item caused me to say "wow."  Alan probably thought I had some sort of low vocabulary tourette syndrome.  It was truly amazing.
Ah!  So THAT's how you play that thing.
Sing it!
Of course, I looked for the music things. I took about a million photos.  At the end, there was a small coffee shop where we sat down with a couple who were in town for the birth of their granddaughter.  They had to get out of the house and chose this fantastic destination.  If I make it back to NYC, I will visit the Cloisters again.

Monday, September 08, 2014

New York City

I have never been to New York City.  I drove through NYC once to get up to Connecticut, but I did not stop except for the toll booths. This year, I was determined to go to the big city.  I have turned down the opportunity for many years.  I have friends who live there who know their way around, but I just could not bring myself to navigate driving into a city with such an insane reputation.  This year I was driving a Smart car.  This is both fantastic and a bit scary.  I can fit into traffic and park much easier than in anything larger, however, if I misjudge and get hit, the damage will be complete.
I made a plan.  I would drive into town on Sunday evening when traffic would be a little calmer.  This turned out to be good.  It was, in fact, calmer, but that did not solve all the problems. I had my phone GPS set to Holli's house.  I drove up the interstate from Maryland.  Then the interstate began peeling off.  I did not know what exit I would be needing or how long the "local" lanes would go.  I gave up trying to have the perfect drive and went with letting the GPS re-route me if it had to.  As I expected, I missed my exit as I was in the through lanes at the time.  The GPS re-routed me and I just kept following directions the best I could.  I did finally, magically arrive at Holli's street.  The street was busy but obviously calmer that it would be at 8AM.  There was no where to park. Many vehicles were double parked with hazards flashing.  I called Holli and she made a few suggestions, but there were no parking places to be found.  She called our friend Alan who lives about 6 blocks away.  He looked outside and saw several spots directly across the street.  I drove over there and parked.  There were openings because cars were not allowed to park there in the morning.  Alan took my keys so that he could move my car in the morning when other places would be open as people went to work.  I walked the six blocks to Holli's and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The rest of my week would be on foot or public transportation.  I made it!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Ted's Bulletin

Oh, Key Lime Pie Adult Milkshake....
When I travel, I am very interested in local flavors.  Ted's Bulletin was an absolute treat.  Our waiter was a delight, one of those that I wish I remembered his name.  First on my agenda was an adult milkshake.  I chose Key Lime Pie which had rum in it and was absolutely amazing.  Second on the agenda was a beer cheese dip served with soft pretzel sticks.  I was not shy with the cheese, but I still ran out of pretzel.  The waiter said it was a new item so he begged a few more pretzel sticks for me.  Lastly, I took home some of their famous homemade poptarts.  I got blueberry cheesecake and it was quite a nice breakfast treat the next morning.  I would definitely return although something tells me this place could get packed at busy times.  Good thing I kind of like 4:00 meals.
Poptarts for later consumption.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Library of Congress

My friend Kelli got me hooked on tours of the Library of Congress.  This building is just spectacular.  There is something to look at and notice in absolutely every inch of wall, ceiling, and floor...  and that doesn't even include the books!

Tours are free and tour guides collect their tourists at a specific starting point.  Find the help desk, sit through a short video and take a tour.  The reason I like to go every year is that each guide has different knowledge, expertise and focus.  They all love this place and most of them have a sense of humor and really enjoy pointing out the details.

EVERY inch of this place is amazing.
I have no explanation for this turtle spitting at a naked woman riding horses...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Manor House is Happy

I repossessed a house in Manor, TX.  I got it back in horrible shape, but it could have been worse.  I cleaned it up and sold it for cheap.  I don't have time or resources to split my time.  The girl who bought it has a father and brothers who work in construction.  The very first week she owned it, they leveled the house.  They added new beams and piers and lifted it about 9 inches.

Original unlevel 710 square foot home.

Leveling....  the house originally only had 3 beams, they added 2, replaced the others and had to place piers for the 2 new beams.

Completely redone exterior and front door and windows.

This WAS the car port!  Now enclosed for an extra 200 square feet of living space.

I am impressed.  I'm guessing they will be moved in by Christmas.  Way to go!!!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The newly single

So, you find yourself newly-divorced or recently single from a long term or seriously heart-invested relationship.  There is no measure by which any of us can be judged.  No one can say one is worthy of certain grief while another is not.  Everyone has reasons for having loved; everyone has reasons for moving on.  There are no requirements, and there should not be any judgments.  Of course, we all know there ARE judgments and standards to which others feel we should adhere.

Oh, you were only married for 3 years?  You don't know pain.
You're thinking of divorce?  Imagine the things you will miss.

Break-ups of any sort are highly personal and rarely taken lightly by the parties involved....  and they are no one's business.  Keep your judgments to yourself.

Oh, you're dating so soon after divorce?  Don't you think you should wait?
Oh, you're dating so soon after divorce?  Well, good for you.
Oh, you're dating so soon after divorce?  Didn't you learn anything from that horrible heartbreak?
Oh, you're dating so soon after divorce?  [Insert judgmental positive or negative comment here]

Everyone has their opinion about your love life, even you.

I learned a few things along the way.

1.  Being judged in the middle of your own break-up crisis is not fun.  Break-ups make a person feel very very sad and lonely.  When you add to that the judgment of outsiders, you add loneliness, alienation, sadness.  Don't let friends judge you or tell you what you should or should not do.  And god forbid, do not let them tell you what you should have done - the past has passed.  Some people love and support you by being judgmental.  Find the friends who ask thoughtful questions and allow you to answer and explore your own thoughts.

2.  Breaking-up is losing an investment you made.  You put time, love and energy into a relationship, and now you feel broke.  Somehow, that investment is lost.  It doesn't matter who did what, or who was the leader in ending it, there is loss.  Yes, you feel lonely and sad.  That means you loved.

3.  Because you feel lonely and sad, you may want to solve that by finding a new partner as quickly as possible.  By my choice and by not being chosen, I managed to outlast that feeling.  I encourage everyone to try it.

4.  Feeling sad and lonely is extremely uncomfortable.  It is the place that wonderful music and art is created.  YOU can be that music and art if you sit back and take time to know yourself better.

5.  Taking time to know yourself, to learn what did or did not work, looking deep inside to discover what you were denying can help you become a better, stronger person that can contribute to the world alone or can contribute to a relationship in a more complete way.

6.  Needing another person for the sake of filling a void is addiction.  Fill the void with an activity, with love for yourself...  then if you find a person along the way, they will be icing, not just a wound patch, which can fester and re-infect if you haven't healed from the original wound.

7.  Give yourself time to truly heal.  It's no one's business if that takes one week or 15 years.  Be true to yourself, honest to yourself, and gentle with yourself.  If you don't truly know yourself, how can you expect anyone to love the true you?

8.  Make a list of what really matters in your life and how someone else may be able to contribute.  Then stand up for those things.  Don't say, close enough.  If it was important enough to write down, you are important enough to deserve what really matters.

9.  Sex is just not that important.  There, I said it.  It matters in different amounts to different people.  I encourage everyone to get past the addictive feeling that sex is the holy grail of humanity.  Needy sex is not sexy anyway.  See 5 and 6.  There is more to life than chasing sex.  The world needs you, whole, healthy, loving you.

10.  Forget everything I have said here and live your life the way YOU want to live.  My lessons won't be the same as your lessons.  Write your own damn list....  seriously, write.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

501(c)3

I did it.  I went through the process from start to finish of gathering information, writing bylaws, answering all questions and providing written documentation to the IRS to be labeled 501(c)3.  I was advised to have lawyers or accountants do it for me.  I looked into spending $3000 for an organization to walk me through the process.  I almost caved and did it.  But something kept telling me to continuing plowing.  An accountant informed me that the forms deliberately try to trick people.  I read and reread and re-answered every question.  I took my answers and forms to my board members and asked for their approval.  They stood behind me.  Experts thought I was being foolish.

I received the first IRS letter letting me know that they had received my packet and that they would let me know if further information was needed (and it usually is).

The next letter I received was full acceptance.  All of my work, all of my words, all of my written descriptions, all of my budgets and plans had been approved by the IRS.  June 25, 2014.

In December 2013, I decided that this organization would be better off as a private endeavor.  "My" board supported me as I weighed the pros and cons of non-profit vs. nonprofitable money-sucking sole-proprietorship.  The two things that make the non-profit organization not work for me are 1. All assets of the non-profit must be dissolvable, and 2. I hate begging for money.  What the first means is that my buildings would have to be removeable should I ever move the organization or sell the property or dissolve the organization.  It is OK for me to personally own the land, and even the buildings, but it would not be OK for me to use donations to build permanent structures on my own property.  Therefore, either the organization would need to own the entire property or all buildings would need to be mobile.  The second is as simple as it sounds.  I began writing my end-of-the-year letter for the organization, and I wanted to tell about the progress but I had no desire to beg for money.  When I tried to insert a statement about donations, it sounded forced and irritated or canned....  because it was.  Everyone gets letters begging in December from every organization under the sun and everyone hates it.

Nothing about the plans or services of this organization are changing at all.  The only thing that changes is that this is MY property, and MY HOME with my own timeline as my own finances allow me to build.  Anyone who wishes to contribute time or money can take pride in helping an endeavor that will offer people (for free) a look at possibilities.  I will never charge people to come compare and gather ideas.  My mission in life is to learn and share.  This does not change.

Thank you, IRS for your boost in my own confidence.  I am intelligent and organized.  I have a good idea with a worthy cause.  I will frame your letter and remind you that the organization as a non-profit has already been dissolved.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Poor-Man's Cabin

This type of construction allows you to add on flexibly as your money allows.  My poor-man's-cabin is made of three sheds with a deck walkway between the three.  The entire thing is covered with an extra roof which is an added luxury for a couple of reasons.

First the cabin itself has pros and cons.
Pro: flexible building style.  You can add rooms as money and needs demand.  You don't have to modify the existing structures or foundation, simply add another shed or small building to your collection.  Each shed can be outfitted as high or low end as you desire.  Each building can be built with materials of your choosing or you can buy old used sheds and fix them up.  Your imagination and budget are all you need to deal with.
Cons: You must leave one shed/structure to get to the next.  If it's cold or hot or raining or snowing, you have to leave the comfort of one to get into another.
Pros: You only need to cool or heat the building you are in.  Small window units or space heaters are all you need to cool or heat one area.
Cons:  If you use sheds, the structures are less dependable.  The materials used to make these are not a high quality.  The fact that they are light is handy if you need to re-level, but not good if you are in a high wind area.
Pros:  Because each building is smaller than an entire house, you can level, move, add, remove, plumb, etc, etc individually.  If one is badly damaged, you can sell or give just that part away and replace it and you still have the remaining buildings in the meantime.

If you add an additional roof to your design, you gain shade and protection from rain and other elements.  In Texas, where we battle a very long summer or intense sun and heat, this has been a major lifesaver.

Update 2/27/2016: I have listed the Poor Man's Cabin on AirBnB and visitors are loving it!  Check it out HERE!  

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Suicide

Depression presents in a variety of ways.  This is the story of MY version.

We are all touched by suicide.  Everyone cries out "Why didn't they just talk to me or ask for help?"  Doctors post lists of "warning signs."  People look around at their friends and they are sure all of their friends are either fine or would reach out, so everything goes back to normal.  Until the next one takes his own life.

Warning signs are bullshit.  Stop beating yourself up over not seeing the signs.  Stop expecting to see signs at all.  If someone takes their own life, he or she is beyond reaching out or giving signs.  They are buried in hopelessness and blinded by the cruel voices in their own mind that say there is just no other way.  

WHY don't people ask for help?  Because there is no help to be had!  Imagine waking up feeling as bad as you can ever imagine feeling.  Imagine you ask yourself why you feel this way and your answer is you have absolutely no idea.  There is no specific problem, you're not ill with the flu.  There is no issue.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing for which you could fix or ask for help, you simply feel physically, mentally and emotionally gone.  THIS is depression.  

You feel lonely?  You can identify that and look for solutions.  You are grieving?  You can talk to people about this and manage it.  Everything you try in your business keeps leaving you short at the end of the month?  You can identify that and ask for help or reevaluate the way you live.  School or children or work has you stressed out to the point of hurting your health?  You can identify that and begin looking for solutions.  These are NOT depression!  They can certainly tip the scales that lead to depression, but these issues are themselves solvable.

I have been living with depression off and on for as long as I can remember.  During college, I began sorting through the idea of what is solvable and what it truly dangerous depression.  Each morning, even now, I assess how I feel.  Are my feelings identifiable?  Am I nervous or afraid?  Do I have a big event coming up?  Did someone make me feel uncomfortable?  I address it.  I identify it.  I work though the thing or try to solve the problem.  If it's unidentifiable, I give myself a safe space and cling to the fact that depression is FALSE.  Depression is a real thing, but the hopelessness is not correct.  If you know this and you can cling to it, you will live.  If the depression lasts too long and you lose site of the truth, you could die.  

I have a handful of tools I use to work through identifiable stresses.  1. The hate journal.  I write as fast and as emotionally as I want to.  I do not write sentences.  I write words, phrases, sometimes repetitively, but usually not.  This is for something big.  Something that has upset me and lasts for months or even years.  Eventually, I notice it's harder to come up with phrases.  I'm no longer angry.  And I burn the journal as a letting go of those thoughts.

2. Screaming.  If I don't have the freedom to just scream, I scream into a pillow.  Not wimpy hollers, full on screams from the core of the belly.  In the car works great.  I scream at the person or thing that upset me.  Usually, the first wave leaves my voice and throat feeling raw.  Sometimes, I cry, sometimes I just scream.  

3. To-do Lists and schedules.  If I'm overwhelmed or feeling like I'm not doing the things I need to do, I write a to-do list in the evening for the next day.  I have a master list of things I would like to see done in the next month or two and I pull small steps from that list to be my day's work.  

If it is UNidentifiable, I call this depression which I consider an illness.  These days, my depression lasts for short bursts, a few days at most.  I consider this a success and attribute my success to my daily assessments and my willingness to do the work with the tools above to keep the identifiable things under control.  If my depressed state lasts for more than a week, I consider that a true problem.  Short bursts, I can handle these days.  I have tools for these times too.  1. Stay in bed.  Don't move.  Look around.  Observe sounds and colors and objects.  2. I replace the words "I want to die" with "I want to curl up in a hole." I force myself to realize that the first is not actual truth, the second totally is and that's ok.  As suicidal ideas come into my head, I examine them and dissect them.  I search for truth.  I focus on feelings - the physical feeling of knives cutting flesh, and the feelings of others to find a dead body here.  I FORCE myself to see REALITY.  3. Food is very tricky for me.  I lose the ability to salivate and therefor things like sandwiches are impossible to eat.  Cheese is a great food, yogurt, protein shakes, and fruit also.  I almost always have those available.  Eat.  Eat slowly and deliberately.  4.  If I can go outside, I go outside and sit on the porch observing the trees and birds and notice the air and warmth of the sun.  If I can walk, that's even better, but honestly, not likely.  

When depression would last for long periods, I would walk through life making it look like I was fine.  One of my best covers was/is laughter.  I would usually not go to social events but if I did, my drinking and partying was at full speed.  Because I don't go to social events that often anyway, no one should or would notice my absence nor a change in the way I attended.  At home in the quiet after a party, I was neither better nor worse.  Long lasting depression is dangerous because you can only cling to the above tools for so long.  After a while, living life while feeling like a bulldozer is running you over daily only reinforces the fact that it is hopeless.  And by this time, there is no asking for help because it has become the fabric of your life.  Life is simply hopeless.  This is when the perfectly functional happy looking person takes his own life.

It's not always the recluse or the bullied kid or the banker who just lost every dime.  Do step up and help these people.  But also remember that behind that perfectly normal smile, you have no idea what is swirling in another person's head.  Behind the eyes of the moron who just cut you off in traffic might be someone who is blinded by hopelessness.  Be kind as often as you can be.  You never know what thing will break the spell.  

I have attempted suicide multiple times.  The first time was in the seventh grade.  I lived through days of severe pain silently wishing that the pain would lead to death.  I DID NOT WANT HELP because I did not see a problem to solve, only hopelessness.  When the pain subsided and I was still alive, the depression didn't go away.  I was probably clinically depressed from then until some time after my last attempt in college which should have killed me.  The only reason I lived is because the combination I took made me vomit last week's meals.  I was intensely narcoleptic for a week, but I lived and I was very upset that I lived.

Suicide or attempts at suicide are not a "cry for help."  Depression sees no hope and therefor no help.  I never wanted help.  I wanted out.  It took me realizing that depression's hopeless message is incorrect - the TRUTH is that life is FULL of hope and beauty!  It took breaking the spell.  My first crack at breaking the spell came when I met and fell in love with Sydney.  He didn't cure me, but he gave me a sliver of real joy and I began clinging to those slivers and worked my way through the falseness of hopelessness.  When the vision of running my car into a tree came up, I would focus on him - how would that make him feel?  Living for another person is not a long term solution, but it bought me enough time to start doing the real work of dissecting this disease.  The irony is that depression also contributed to the end of my marriage with him.  It is my firm belief that two people who struggle with depression can not be together unless both are on board to work toward living and working through anything that can lead to their depression in their OWN life as well as lending a little assistance to the other.  He was not.  Neither were other boyfriends.  I work every day to ensure I will stay healthy.  Some days I could use a little help from my significant other.  A depressed person does not have the strength to hold up two people.  I can not comfort someone who has very special depression who does nothing to help himself.  I can not give happy happy to someone who sees me 24/7 in order to not make his depression worse.  And I refuse to have a dual depression pity party!  I survive because I work daily at surviving.  I would gladly have daily check ins with others, daily reminders of hope and beauty, daily venting and daily list writing.  I will not participate in pity parties....  those who know me know the truth of this and now maybe you understand why.  

Family members and long time friends may wonder why it was Sydney and not THEIR love that broke the spell.  I have no answer for that except that depression seems to be very spell-like.  There seems to be these dart-like triggers in and out of it.  A couple of theories: 1. A fresh new ray of light shakes up your brain's emotional centers.  2. When depression becomes the fabric of your life, everything that has always been there (family and long term friends) are part of that fabric.  There's no shake-up.  There's just day to day.  3. Looking back, I can see that amongst the many things that weighed me down into a depressed state was sexist oppression for which I had no vocabulary to discuss as a young person.  4. I get the impression that the seeds of depression are set at a young age when children really have no way of identifying stress, it's just life....  and if it's a sort of disease we might be born with or wired for, all the more reason to see these feelings as just life.

This is not an unusual version of depression.  It is not the only version of depression.  I do not believe that my methods will solve every person's depression.  I do not judge myself more or less depressed than the next depressed person.  I do hope this post helps someone.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Manor House

I finally regained possession of my former home.  It was a long drawn out learning process.  When I sold it, I had fixed up the place so that I or someone else could walk in and feel like it was home.  When I got it back March 3, it was in a state of absolute disgust.  I made a video.  The clean still shots are from when I lived there.  The video of disgust was shot March 3 before I touched a single thing.



I have now spent 14 hours working in that mess.  One friend came and worked with me for 3 hours.  All of the trash is bagged, most of the Goodwillable stuff has been hauled to Goodwill, and an entire huge recycle trash can has been filled twice with emptied bottles of Sunkist and sweet tea.

I sliced some of the carpet back so that I could see the plywood underneath.  I had painted that plywood with a heavy duty floor paint before I put carpet in.  It looks like the paint may have survived.  Once I peel up the carpet and get it out, the floor should be cleanable for the most part.  I'm betting a good scrubbing and a fresh coat of Kilz and I will be done with the horrendous odor.

There is one more thing.  The toilet.  It is completely full of solid waste material.  I would use the other word for it, but I'm sure you're grossing out just fine without that.  Seeing that, I'm not really sure how I feel.  Sure, disgusted, maybe angry, but really, truly, how does this happen?  I feel so sorry for her daughter of 13.  She can't possibly have friends over.  Do her friends live in filth?  How does it feel to go into a home where someone cares enough to sweep the floor and take out the trash?  I feel sorry for that child.  Seeing her room (the purple room), she's well on her way to being just like mom.  And exactly how do I feel about her mother, the woman who worked the system to get 10 free months of mortgage?  No gas, no water for who knows how long.  Her income as a surgery tech is pretty good.  What is she doing?  Obviously she must be depressed.  But what else?  Depression can spiral into something like this, but is she right as depressed people often think, that she is indeed alone?  No one can help her?  No one cares?  Or did she use up all of her help and waste it?  She did with me.  I wanted her to succeed.  I wanted her to talk to me and find a solution.  She had FOUR written chances with me.  Each one got more strict and added more requirements.  The first let her skip two months...  and yet, she still could not get it together.  She paid exactly one late fee in the fourth agreement.  I dropped all the late fees in the prior agreements.  Nothing I did mattered or helped.  Something greater was wrong.

Many people have seen this video and commented that they would just set the place on fire.  For me, that means I would allow her to destroy everything I created.  This was my home.  This is a financial investment for me.  I can not allow her to destroy it completely.  I'm not going to make big money on this, but I would certainly like to break even.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Coral Max water heater

One of the things I plan to do on the ranch is show people different shower solutions.  This big tank water heaters are energy and space wasters.  The whole house tankless heaters are coming down in price, but they are still rather pricey for a large home.  I plan to use a tankless water heater made for small homes in the straw-bale cabin.  That will be the cabin that will have the main kitchen and guest speaker housing.  I want that cabin to be absolutely comfortable.  I have at least 2 solar water heaters ready for cabins.  I plan to use a small single point of use water heater for the trailer style cabin.  And I have a propane tankless water heater for the shower house.  That leaves MY shower.

When I moved in, there was a 40 gallon tank water heater.  It died about 6 months ago.  I was not sad.  A volunteer and I removed the dead water heater.  Jim, the volunteer, took the old thing apart exposing a black tank and then he designed and built a solar box for that tank to sit in and absorb the sun's rays.  I used the propane water heater with a garden hose attached into my bathroom while I researched possible water heaters.  There are all of the ones I mentioned above...  but I kept thinking, "Why isn't there a shower water heater with the heating element IN the shower head?"  Knowing that my ideas are usually not original, I got online and searched for what I knew had to exist.  Sure enough.  It seems all over the world, people use shower heads with water heaters built into the head.  They come in all sorts of voltage and wattage...  I know how to do basic wiring, but if there are all those volts and watts and amps thrown in, I can get confused.  So, I emailed a friend who does know electricity.  I told him what I had:  a regular outlet and the mega-outlet that the old water heater used.  I sent him photos and links to the shower heads I was considering.  We went with one that would be compatible with the wiring that the previous water heater had used.  I ordered it.  It arrived.  One Coral Max 220v 30amp version.

Anthony came out to install it.  The wiring went easily enough.  The water hook up went easily enough.  The instructions say to run the water through the head before turning on the breaker.  We did. We turned on the breaker and a big red flash and it died.  No one was hurt or even mildly shocked.  What we didn't understand is that you need to turn the water on and FILL the shower head completely so that the water is on the element.

Sadly, Anthony went home and we both pondered and concluded that that was our mistake (not filling the unit completely.  I got on ebay to see if I could find a replacement element and found the whole set up for $26 in an auction with 3 minutes to go!  I got it, it arrived.  I uninstalled the first one and reinstalled the new one.  Anthony had done all of the difficult stuff.  I merely carefully switched out the heads.  I ran the water for a solid ten minutes, and then flipped the breaker.

Well, it worked.  I could feel the warmer water on my hand.  I decided to give it the full test with an actual shower.  It was really only luke warm.  I have one more thing to try before I give this the complete two thumbs down....

Update: I turned the water pressure down coming into the bathroom which helped the temperature, but the entire unit died in less than a year.  It was worth the experiment, but not a very good product.