Starting Over

IMG_4068Our new bedroom – sleeping on $8 air mattresses from Wal-mart until we can afford beds (which could be a few months at the rate we’re going!)
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Do you remember how we raised the money to move to Ireland? We sold about 80% of everything we had, including our house. This gave us the funds to move our family of five and a small household shipment thousands of miles away, where a fresh start was waiting for us.
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Then, when we had to come back, we let go of even more things. We now have about 10% of what we used to have. We are starting over.
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Before you feel too sorry for us, remember that we had AMAZING adventures of a lifetime in Ireland and we are VERY fortunate to have a house at all, let alone a nice one. Also, the air mattresses are surprisingly comfortable.  And…
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Ah, well… it still sucks to sleep on the floor.
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But before we dwell on that, let’s review what Ireland did for us.
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1. Health Care: We had affordable health insurance (around $257/month in Ireland instead of $1,200/month in the United States!). This was a blessed relief after a nightmarish couple of years – see “Shingles” post.
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2. Cost of Living: Food! We were delighted by a bountiful harvest of affordable fresh food. We could buy large bags of frozen vegetables, huge sacks of potatoes, inexpensive meat, and more. Housing! We paid affordable rent for a fully furnished house (that’s how we were able to sell our stuff and move to Ireland). Recreation! We could also visit amazing places – with no cost to us other than petrol for the car.
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3. Freedom and Safety: We felt safe and relaxed. It was like going back in time to the 1980’s. Sure, there are drugs and criminal activities in the “bad” parts of the Irish cities, but crime is still a shocking event. There’s no such thing as an “active shooter drill” in Irish schools (our Irish friends were horrified to learn that this is regular practice in United States primary schools). The Irish kids roam freely in the streets without any supervision or fear. They walk to libraries and to the candy aisle of the local grocery stores, chatting happily without a care in the world. This was what it was like when I was in school – I walked to the downtown area after school activities let out. I’d go to the public library. I’d read Peanuts comics and wait for my dad to pick me up. No one ever thought that this was a dangerous thing to do, because it wasn’t.
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4. Peace: We didn’t have to parse our every word. We didn’t have to worry about what social issue was currently too hot to handle. We didn’t have to worry about which stores/restaurants/airports/roads were currently overtaken by protesters. The week before we left Minneapolis the airport was a hotbed of activity. The police were there in full riot gear because protesters had “shut down” part of the airport. The day before we left, flights were canceled due to a snowstorm. We feared snow much less than we feared potential violence due to protesters vs police. In stark contrast, both the Cork and Shannon airport were open and relaxed.
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Unfortunately, we can’t fix America. But leaving is no longer an option, as we can’t handle another international move. So we’ll have to figure out health insurance, jobs, and food here in our own country.
IMG_4067Our toothbrush holders, courtesy of Aldi
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In Ireland we existed on our dwindling savings, my book royalties, and the kindness of friends who donated to Brent’s student teaching fundraiser. And we made it, whew! 🙂 We were all set with housing, car, etc. We could also afford to get sick (not that we wanted to!), now that we were sporting new health insurance that actually COVERED medical costs!
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I made low budget meals that stretched into days of leftovers. We put a spending freeze on everything. We’d muddle through until a teaching job came through for Brent…
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Except that it never would, not in Ireland. (where’s the AGONY emoticon?)
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As I mentioned in an earlier post, the immigration process had reached a critical point, as our original stamp had run out and we were living on an emergency second stamp — granted to us because Brent’s teaching council registration was still in progress. Proof of residency in Ireland was required to get the PPS number that the teaching council required. Teaching council registration was required before Brent could get a job and apply for a work visa. A work visa was required to get permission to remain in the country beyond our temporary 90 day stamp. The cat caught the mouse while the mouse caught the cat, but the dog was mixing things up by chasing them both… Bottom line, we had run out of time to get jobs in Ireland.
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Meanwhile, something strange and mysterious happened.
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I was teaching a German lesson in the dining room. Living in Ireland didn’t excuse Savannah from school. I’d shipped her textbooks to Ireland, even though it was hard to focus on her studies. Today was one of the rare occasions when we were actually getting things done. We were working through a dialog via a German language program cassette when Brent interrupted us.
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He stood in the dining room doorway with a blank look on his face. I waited for him to say something.
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Hesitation, followed by,  “I didn’t do it on purpose.”
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“What did you do?”
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He said that he didn’t work Plan B on purpose.
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To understand what he meant by this, I have to fill you in on our approach to our new life. When people work on Plan B, that’s what they get. We’d had a lifetime of Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and even the occasional Plan F. We agreed that we wouldn’t even IMAGINE a Plan B unless it became absolutely certain that Plan A (living in Ireland) was impossible.
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But our Plan A philosophy weakened considerably after our second immigration appointment. I went to bed that night feeling hopeless. Brent couldn’t sleep.  He stayed up late, looking for answers via our slow satellite-based Internet (ping, ping, ping to space, then back again to rural Ireland off the boreen).
IMG_20160302_143358The boreen – only one car can fit at a time, especially on the very narrow parts (this is a wide area, believe it or not!). People move off the road to let people pass, when they can – parts of it are impassible due to steep drop offs on both sides. In that case, someone backs down the boreen until they can pull over… this can take a while, if the impassible area is in the walled section that is incredibly narrow with little room for error… backing up while winding around the worst of the boreen was Brent’s driving-on-the-left ultimate challenge. European driving extreme version!
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Back to Brent’s Internet search:
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Brent wondered how hard it would be to apply for a teaching license in Indiana. His Wisconsin license had finally come through. We didn’t want to move back to the same area that we’d worked so hard to break free from. Twenty years of living in the same general area had run its course, especially when winter temps dropped to -20 or lower! But how hard would it be to transfer his license to another state? Just in case… you know, in case of Plan B.
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Are you wondering, Why Indiana?
Brent is a true Hoosier, born and raised. Our firstborn daughter was also born in Indiana. My father lived and died in Indiana. Brent and I grew up there. Many of our childhood friends are still there. The cost of living is not as low as in Ireland, but lower than the upper Midwest (MN and WI). The weather is better. Fall and spring are longer. Winters are milder. Summers are incredibly hot and humid though. THAT I dread.
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I’m not a Hoosier — only those who are originally from Indiana can claim the title. My family is from upstate New York, near Syracuse and Oswego (Clay, Phoenix, Fulton, etc.). My dad was in the Air Force and moved away from NY when he was a young Airman.  After his first Vietnam War tour he was stationed at Grissom AFB near Peru/Kokomo, Indiana.
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We lived in base housing for a while, which I don’t remember much of. I do remember when my parents took me and my cousins to Santa Claus Land in Santa Claus, Indiana, where I danced with Rudolph and told Santa what I wanted for Christmas – in July. Remember this story – it’ll come up again later.
Santa Claus LandMe, dancing with Rudolph at Santa Claus Land – Santa Claus, Indiana
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After two Vietnam War tours, Mom was done with the Air Force. She’d been through two babies with a husband overseas. After what seems to have been an ultimatum, Dad left full-time active duty for part time Air National Guard. We moved back to NY.
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A few years later Dad saw a job advertisement for Zimmer in Warsaw, Indiana. He got the job and we moved to Indiana during a hot humid summer shortly before my ninth birthday. I didn’t like being the new girl who talked funny and “wasn’t from around here”. I remember meeting another new girl. She was from Texas and she talked funny too. I never did like the Indiana heat, but I did warm up to the Indiana people and its transplants.
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Here’s a brief review of our life since, for those who don’t know me, and for those who’ve probably forgotten these details:
Prom Natalie and Brent
I met my husband Brent in high school, where we were high school sweethearts, attended our junior and senior proms together, and graduated high school together. I went to Purdue University after high school. Brent joined the Army, where he was stationed in Germany. I left school at the end of my freshman year because I got married and planned to move to Germany, which I did. We lived there for three years. The Gulf War happened, which extended Brent’s tour. When his tour ended we moved back to Indiana. We lived in Muncie and attended Ball State University together. We graduated college and had our first baby – not in that order.
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After Brent graduated college, the semester after I did, he landed a job in Minnesota. It was the 43rd resume and the first one to say yes. Twenty years later, we were still in the basic commuting area of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis/Saint Paul as of 2015. During those twenty years we’d lived in an apartment in Edina for a few months (too expensive, way our of our league), then we bought a house in North Minneapolis (big mistake, HIGH crime – should have visited the house after dark before buying!). We then settled in the small town Cannon Falls, Minnesota where we bought a cute little house–but filthy and a fixer!–and had two more children.
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We fixed up the little house, outgrew it, sold it for a profit, and moved to our beautiful hobby farm. The hobby farm was located between Cannon Falls and Red Wing, Minnesota. Our neighbor across the long gravel road became our children’s piano teacher. Our neighbors down the road (the house with the barn in the photo below) sent their children to my house, where I taught dance and theater from my home studio. They also had their own home business. Our one-lane gravel road was surprisingly active. Those were good years of raising young children and enjoying a steady paycheck.
Walking to piano lessonsMy daughters walking to piano lessons, down our gravel drive, across the road and up the gravel drive to our neighbors’ house – near Vasa, MN
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And then it all crashed in on us…
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Brent’s job suffered salary-freezes, pay-cuts, buy-outs, lay-offs, and the beginning of the end. We suffered serious financial hardship after the first round of pay-offs. As luck would have it, the pay cut and salary freeze happened immediately after we accumulated more debt than we’d expected (we made a few mistakes in buying our hobby farm house, long story).
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When we knew that his current job was never going to rebound and he’d likely lose it altogether, the search for a new job was on. The search fell to me, as I have a knack for finding information and I’m also a writer. More importantly I was available and he wasn’t. That’s the problem with “working from home”, but also a blessing. When family needs arise I can take as much time off as needed. Of course if I don’t work I don’t get paid, so there’s that…
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Anyway, I searched high and low for a new job for Brent. I submitted his resume over and over again for federal vacancies. I put his hat in the ring for private sector jobs too. We heard crickets. There was absolutely no response from anything.
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Dozens and dozens of applications later, Brent finally got called for an interview – for a federal job that was closing/merging the very branch that was interviewing him! WHAT? Why interview someone when you know that the branch is closing? That’s the government for you. So that job went nowhere. He got a nibble on a Washington, D.C. based job. That too went nowhere (Thank God! I didn’t want to live in D.C.!). By now (after two years of steady applications) we’d had it with government jobs.
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Well, time had run out. Job or no job, we had to do SOMETHING. We’d had a brief glimpse of the good life, but living from paycheck-to-paycheck had quickly gone downhill.  We sold the hobby farm before we were in danger of losing it. We bought a smaller house over the border into Wisconsin. It was cheaper to buy than to rent. But oh how I hated to buy another house, knowing that I’d have to sell it in three to four years!
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For us the American Dream was simply out of reach. My attempts to find my own employment–beyond writing and art–had been met with a frustrating end (another long story). We needed a radical change… a new life.
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Brent went back to school to become a teacher and I spent my days selling my books, our possessions, and our house so that we could move on after graduation. Brent attended graduate school at the same time that our oldest child was also attending college. They  graduated at the same time too.
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With both Brent and Cassie in transition, life was temporarily paused. If we were ever going to make that radical change, the time was now. We may never get another chance. But moving on was far from a spontaneous idea. I’d anticipated our window of opportunity long before.
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I’d been working toward the dream of a new life for the past eight years. My mom was dying, Brent’s job was dying, and my kids were fast becoming adults. Was I going to sit and watch everything slip away or was I going to fight?
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Well, you know how the rest of my story goes. I fought and I won! I did it! I really did move to Ireland. I spent more time with my children and husband in the past five months than I had in the past five years. I regret nothing.
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Brent’s unemployment could have been the straw that broke our family’s back, but it wasn’t. We didn’t sit around wringing our hands during those long months of waiting for his teaching license to come through. We were out collecting shells at the Celtic Sea coast, dancing at Mallow Castle, and seeing a dolphin in the wild. In the evenings, at home in our house on the boreen, we were nestled in the family room eating homemade pizza and watching TV.
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Now that you’re all caught up, I’ll bring you back to how we ended up in Indiana by way of Ireland:
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So, Brent didn’t mean to work on Plan B, but he accidentally landed an interview for a teaching job in Indiana. How does anyone accidentally get a job interview? I waited for the explanation.
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Brent said that he wanted to see what was required to teach in Indiana. He chose an “almost” random place – a city we’ve never been to, but where one of our childhood friends lives. He filled out the forms to see what questions he’d have to answer. He did NOT click the submit button. He did NOT apply. Honest.
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All he did is upload his documents and partially fill out the form. He went back into his account to see what happened… and he still can’t figure out how he got a job interview.
Here’s a screen shot of his application (note the words in red – not my addition, this is how it was in the screen shot):
 NotSubmitted
We’re thinking that the school was probably trolling through uploaded documents, but that’s a bit crazy, given how hard it is to get a job even when all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. Landing an interview from an unsubmitted application is nutty! This bizarre situation left us with a decision to make. Is it time to consider Plan B?
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When mysterious connections happen, such as landing a job interview for a job we never applied for… are we really prepared to reject the opportunity? Indiana was the likely answer to our prayers, darn it. I wanted God’s answer to be “Yes, you can live in Ireland happily ever after”.

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I don’t always get what I want.
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Plan B: I want what I get.
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Living in Ireland wasn’t perfect. We were under a great deal of stress. We couldn’t stay on the island forever–soon our money would be gone and we’d have no way of getting ourselves back to the United States. No, we had to face up to our problems. We had to go back home and deal with all of the things that we were running away from.  We had to start over, and we’d have to fight harder this time around.
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It is a fight we’ll win. When I feel discouraged, I cling to the bizarre twists of fate that give me hope, like when unexpected places from long ago resurface. Everything’s connected, isn’t it? Remember the story about my fond childhood memories of Santa Claus Land? I was startled to discover that we now live only a short distance away from it. The amusement park has been remade into “Holiday World”, but it’s still there, bigger than ever. After we get back on our feet we’ll go there. I’ll recreate one of my childhood pictures–over forty years later! And yes, there’s still a Santa Claus in Santa Claus, Indiana.
Santa Claus Land 2
 And now back to the present…
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The pressure cooker of life was squeezing me yesterday. Our rental car contract had been mistakenly left open even though the car had been returned. The rental car company was charging my near-the-limit credit card EVERY DAY for the past week for a car we don’t even have, eventually running the tab up past my limit. It’s been a nightmare trying to get the charges reversed and we’re still messing with that. In addition, there have been some snags with the house. That too is unresolved. And… The manual reel mower I bought doesn’t work – the settings won’t go up high enough to avoid scalping the lawn. We returned it, but the refund is not showing up in our bank account. If it doesn’t show up soon that will be yet another fight.  And meanwhile, the grass is growing.
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In other despairingly bleak news, Brent found a wood tick embedded in his skin this morning. He pulled it out while he was showering to prepare for his job interview. Now, of course I’m freaked out about ticks, the kids covered with ticks, the ticks infecting the whole family with Lyme disease, medical insurance, and the worst case scenario for everything.
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Here’s another thing: Our house is dirty. It’s been left vacant for two years, according to our new neighbor. That little tidbit wasn’t disclosed to us prior to moving in. We were also told that the sellers had no pets. They had a big dangerous dog, according to the meter reader who says he’s relieved that the dog is gone (he had to read the meter by using a scope from behind the safety of the fence).  We are allergic to anything with fur.  So, for reasons one and two above, I need to clean this house from top to bottom.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for our friends’ help in getting this house, VERY. This is a nice house. In a year or two I’ll look back on all of this and it will all have been worth it.  I’m just tired. The younger me would have had this house cleaned up already, with only the rudimentary supplies we have here and a toothbrush. The over-45 me is sitting at this computer telling you about the work I need to do and plotting to delegate some of this to my kids (not child labor, remember that my kids are teens and young adults).
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On a happier note, Brent has had several job interviews already. His prospects for landing a teaching position are highly encouraging – great contacts and connections all over the place! He’s an awesome person with an A average in grad school. The ink on his master’s degree isn’t even dry yet, especially since it’s still pending his final project in June. He’ll get a great job and the school will be lucky to have him. Unfortunately, he won’t start until the new school year begins in August.
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Meanwhile, he’s also applying for minimum wage jobs, and that’s where the fun stops. Indiana isn’t a state that instituted a higher minimum wage, which is possibly why there are so many job openings – business is booming. It’s wonderful to see so many “We’re hiring!” signs, but most of these jobs are part time, to avoid having to pay benefits, and are only offering between $9.00-$11.00/hour.
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He’s so far been offered a night shift at a pharmacy (literally all night). Since he intended to work the weekends for the first semester or so after he starts teaching, his hours would collide, meaning the potential of working 24 hours straight. He can’t function on no sleep! I told him to have faith that something better will be offered. Now I have to also have faith that I gave him the right advice. [Update: I gave him the right advice. He has another interview tomorrow for a different branch of the same pharmacy chain. This is only part time but it’s a day time position, which will work much better for him, even if he has to add a second part time job.]
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Brent was on a teaching interview this morning. I had no idea how it went because I don’t have a cell phone yet and we have no Internet service. We’d arranged to have it connected almost two weeks ago. The installer came out and said no-can-do. They need to trench so that the cables won’t be a tripping hazard around the back sidewalk area. This means that the utility company would have to come out and mark it (they have) and that a crew would come out and trench it (they haven’t). Only after that can the installer come back out and get our Internet service up and running. Until then, we’ll have to go to our local library for free wifi, or drive to the next town over to use our generous friends’ wifi.
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Update: His interview went well. Of course he always second-guesses himself, but overall he’s confident and impatient to get a job offer. This may be the one! If not, the next, the next.. when it’s the right time, he’ll get the right job.
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So what am I doing, besides cooking our family’s meals in the most frugal way possible and fretting about everything else? Why aren’t I applying for jobs? As for me, I want to keep the job that I already have. I worked too hard for too long to give up being an entrepreneur. Always in the past, if the family was in crisis I’d give up my career to do whatever needed to be done. As a result, I’ve not put in the amount of time and effort that’s necessary for rapid growth. And forget about putting money into advertising – something always comes up and my book royalty funds are spent on the family. I have no regrets. I’m just saying that I already have a job and if I work harder to grow my income I’ll succeed. I worked hard to build my career. I want to keep it.
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Naturally I was doubting my decision as soon as we hit the first series of obstacles. My resolve was weakening. Perhaps I’m delusional. Maybe I should listen to those who think I should get a “real” job. And then… my inbox messages reminded me of a different story. Some of the things I’ve worked on for years are finally starting to pay off! This is not the time to quit. This is the time to dig in my heels and fight harder.
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I can’t live on the island forever, and I can’t let myself be talked into quitting every time life gets hard. Did Ireland teach me nothing? I’m the author of 25 books and the artist of 30+ oil paintings. My career may not be enough (yet) to solely support a family of five with a mortgage, a car loan, and another child starting college this fall, but I have a real job. The bigger money will follow. I have a bright future ahead of me, as long as I have the courage to stick with it and the moxie to fight for it.
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So, that’s where we stand… starting over. We’ll make it. It won’t be easy, but we’ll do it. Our local friends are helping us. They’ve taken us out to dinner several times. They’ve loaned us camping chairs, a fan, a hand-held vacuum, a wrench, a computer monitor, and the list will grow.
IMG_4029Welcome basket of handcrafted soaps from Miki Estep, my childhood friend who is helping us – she also makes insect repellent (you can see it better in the shot below). I’ll have to ask her if it works against ticks.
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I hope that our sparkling wit and delightful conversation makes up for our freeloading. 🙂
And when we’re back on our feet again, we’ll pay if forward, just like our friends are doing for us. I can’t promise that I won’t have a temper tantrum or two along the way. Just last night I completely forgot that I was in a public place, the library of all places, when I checked my credit card account and saw that the rental company had charged me AGAIN for the car we’d already returned. I uttered a four-letter word in a loud stage whisper. Someone smirked at me and I was jolted back to Earth. Did I really just swear aloud in the LIBRARY? I needed to get home and tuck myself into bed in my $8 air mattress.
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This morning has had its own challenges (like the tick discovery, shudder!). This time next year I’ll be happily promoting another new book and preparing for my own art show. But today… Today is anyone’s guess. If I hear any more frustrating news I’ll make sure I leave the library before I’m socially inappropriate.