Up North: Money

Finances.

Today we go to a financial advisor. It’s not that we have great stores of wealth to manage but we have tried to be smart with what the husband has earned in his many years of service.  We would rather not have to make others support us in our old age. Given how quickly money can disappear these days, it is good to have advice. And is it really money when all you know of it is numbers on digital screens. It’s a strange world.

With me, it gets stranger still. I am not an astute financier. The thought of me managing any amount of money is not a good thought.  I am in awe of CPA’s and financial advisors, even of bank tellers. But I have to do it now that the husband gets too tired when he thinks about numbers. God helps me. Oh, and I have this.

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Secret weapon

What people like me need to do, I think, is find and hire others who have the gift. The IRS is my enemy at present, so we have hired our own army of money soldiers. They are mercenaries from some other planet judging by the language they speak. I don’t understand most of what they say. They seem friendly.

As I said, God helps me. I just ask him that none of my mistakes be fatal, and that there will always be a roof over our heads and beans and rice to eat. So far, he has greatly exceeded my requests. I am grateful. And I am amazed at how many interesting things I can learn along the way. There is a website for everything, of course, and a password or two for each portal. There are secret questions and chosen pictures to keep me from wandering into the dark web, whatever that is.  All I have to do is keep my memory intact. Hmm….

Oddly, I am comforted when my bank makes a mistake. When there is no one there who can explain why I’m getting monthly service charges on an account that shouldn’t have them, I am happy to know that there was a human somewhere who, like me, makes mistakes. And there is a human who can make a phone call and tell me that they will remove the charges, just like that. Sometimes it’s still that easy.

So, I am praying today for my “soon to be” financial advisor and putting him in God’s hands. It will be okay. We will be okay. (The stock market goes down, the economy collapses, but we will still be okay, just sayin’.)

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things S

Scripture

I love scripture. I am in awe of it. It is the lens through which I view the world. It is a gift.

Growing up, I was blessed with regular stories from the Bible, read to me by my mom, from what I have to say now was a good, engaging perspective. I don’t remember the publisher, but the facts were there in each story without a lot of extra interpretation. As soon as I could read, I wanted to read it myself. We went through the book many times, both the Old Testament and the New. I had the story down pretty solidly, but never knew what it meant. Not completely.

Through the years since, the stories have become more important, have taken on new meaning. They are not stories, they are one story.

The Old Testament tells me there is someone behind all that I see – a Creator. It tells me that a plan is in place to help me become something that I am not yet. From the record of people and their dreams and ambitions, I learn that I’m not going to get where I’m meant to be by my own efforts. People have tried and even at their best, it has not worked out too well. Just watch the news…

In the middle, kind of between the two “testaments”, is Jesus. He ties the stories of the Old to the stories of the New. He is all about new things because he is God. God is about making all things new again. He has been since the beginning because that was the plan even as far back as Adam and Eve. Jesus makes that possible. Without him, there will be no “new” anything.

In the New Testament I see the possibilities of how the “newness” might look. The people writing those stories were thinking a whole different way. They were still people with problems, weaknesses, bad stuff happening to them and around them, but now they understood what their true value was. They were not defined by their varying circumstances. They felt free in some very important ways. They were full of hope right to the end of their days because they knew the end was just the beginning.

Scripture has the ability to surprise. It can respond to my question of the day in a totally new and unexpected way. Something I’ve read dozens of times can suddenly contain wisdom I didn’t see before. It’s true that there are many wise writings that have this quality. I think it’s because all wisdom comes from one true source. You can find bits and pieces of it sprinkled in lots of places, but never quite complete. When I go to read scripture, I have an eerie feeling of expectancy, like I am approaching something alive and never know what it might do.

Through God’s message in scripture, I value the life he is putting me in/through. I value the lives of people around me. No one is insignificant. Through scripture I feel compassion for people, for nature, for the struggle we are all in. Scripture tells me who the real enemy is – the one who is behind everything that is not right. It tells me the enemy has already lost what he fights for, and that is the root of violence and anger in him. He tries very hard to transfer that to us.

So for now, the story continues. We are part of the story. There is hope and it ends well. Read it.

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Are you still coming?

I am a landlady, a female landlord in other words. I never intended to be one as a long term occupation, but time flies and it has probably been fifteen years or more now. It is not a job for the faint of heart and there is much to learn.
Almost everything that comes along in the way of landlord business is a surprise. Once in a while, but not often, the surprise is a good one. More often, it is not. Over and over, I find myself being disappointed in people. By supplying them with living space I get a front row seat to how they live…not always pretty.
Today I had a 2 pm appointment to show my almost vacant apartment. One thing I have learned is to call people if they are not early and remind them. So I called Jasmine to remind her at 1:55 and judging by the noise in the background she was still at home with a house full of kids. She was “oh so sorry” and wanted to see it badly so asked me to wait, maybe 20 or 25 minutes. An hour and a half later I am still waiting and feeling, well, like a fool. At least I finally have time for a blog post.

Those Moments

There are moments of reflection, and I seem to have a lot of them lately, where I think “what if I never get to do this (fill in the blank) again?”  I have done a bunch of really fun things that I never intended to stop doing but haven’t had a chance to repeat.  

Last week, cleaning files, I found my maps and notes from my two Appalachian hikes.  I know the exact section I wanted to do next but have not gotten back.

And later, the three day walk for breast cancer – I did 60 miles and it was so gratifying to have made it to the end. I’m having trouble with my knees now and wonder if it is permanent or temporary.  

I found the handbook for the trail ride my daughter and I took across Florida, the menu from the chuck wagon, and the schedule of ranches that where we camped. My horse lives four hours away from me now and I rarely ever get to ride. Will it happen again?  Have I put these plans and dreams away?  

All this came to mind yesterday, at the pool of all places.  I don’t go to a pool very often but I have always loved to swim.  My childhood was full of long afternoons at the lake swimming and making up water games with my brothers and friends.  Here I was with Gracie, who is eight and in that early stage of water love that I remembered so clearly.  We had a few little races and tested how long we could hold our breath underwater.

I got one of those moments of reflection.  Some body memories never leave you and I could sooo feel the arch of my back and the body swirl of a backward somersault in the water.  Thought I, to myself, “do it again, it’s only water, how could you possibly hurt yourself?”  

(Are you poised for disaster?)

I was right, it didn’t hurt.  It felt downright good. (fooled you?)

 Gracie was very impressed and we spent a few minutes while she tried it and practiced.  As we did, we migrated to the height of water most convenient for her, about 3 1/2 feet. .My next backward flip demo was a little short on water depth, and I found myself kissing the floor of the pool at the bottom of my circle.  Well, not even that really. I scraped the tip of my nose and chin, but the redness kind of disappeared into the sunburn I had already gotten. I appear unscathed.  

It’s kind of nice to find that you CAN do it again, sometimes. You might have to think it through and be a little more careful, but you can do it.  If you want to.  If you don’t care that you are the only person over 60 in the pool doing handstands and back flips… just sayin’.

I Have Wondered Why It Happened…

We were a fairly young family with two daughters, ages 8 and 5. This was our first big move, leaving friends, family and a comfortable home in the north for unknown circumstances in a state as far south as one could go. Almost everything was unfamiliar. All our belongings were packed into two trailers for the trip. My parents helped us move by towing one trailer and we pulled the other one behind our van.  I remember the end of that long trip – I was driving in the early morning on the interstate and hit an armadillo. It was our introduction to Florida.

After our first day of resting in a motel, our Realtor helped us to a temporary furnished apartment near the famous Siesta Beach with it’s wide, white sand beaches.  We found a storage facility and unloaded pretty nearly all our earthly possessions into two rented rooms to await the new house I was sure we would find within a short time.  We weren’t wealthy but we were blessed with enough. Our “things” were dear to us, having either been received as wedding gifts or handed down as heirlooms from both sides of our families.  We had only some clothing and personal items with us in the apartment.

A week and a few days later we went back to the storage facility to get something we needed.  I walked down the second story corridor to the rooms at the end and tried to figure out why the door on one of our rooms was standing open. I looked in the empty room and tried to tell myself there had been a mistake. Was I somehow in the wrong building? the wrong corridor? What could this mean? I was in a state of repressed panic. I tried to remember all the things we had put in that room but it was impossible – there was too much.  My grandmother’s china cupboard, our best (only) dishes and flatware, our few pieces of art, clothing, my precious knitting machine I had worked so hard to buy… where was it all?

As the next hour unfolded we learned the truth about what had happened that was stranger than anything I could have made up.  It took a while to figure out because, at first, the owners of the storage facility were clueless and defensive.  Gradually putting it all together, this is how it came about.  Previous to our arrival, the now empty storage room had been rented to a customer who was delinquent in paying.  The manager had put an overlock on the room and notified the person that they had X number of days to pay or the contents of their room would belong to the storage facility.  Sometime before that deadline, the customer managed to get in the facility, remove the overlock and get all their belongings out without the manager knowing about it.

I entered the story.  Having been sent up to inspect the building where I was told there were two empty rooms, I saw two rooms, adjacent to each other, empty with the doors standing open.  They looked the right size and we paid for them and filled them up.  I don’t remember even looking at the numbers on the doors.  There were actually three empty rooms off that corridor, one  that I didn’t know about. It’s door was closed and I didn’t even notice it. Unfortunately that was one of the two rooms the manager thought we had rented. The third room, now full of our things, was the one that had belonged to the deliquent customer. And now the deadline had come.

The customary action when the account for a storage room is delinquent is to offer the contents for auction, hoping to recover the delinquent payments (think Storage Wars on reality TV). Our belongings were bought, sight unseen, by a business that accumulated goods from estate sales and storage units and then held a weekly auction on a Friday night.  We learned this on the Saturday after our things had been auctioned.  We were allowed to go through their warehouse and look for anything we recognized that hadn’t been sold.   We bought back the wooden highchair that had been mine as a child.   We found our family picture albums in their trash. There was nothing else. We were devastated.  Although they knew names and addresses of those they had sold to, they would not release any of that information to us.

We felt it was a shared mistake, and attempted to collect damages from the storage company.  Because we had no receipts for the missing items and no appraisals of the furniture and antiques, we were told that legal precedent would be against us.  We would be better off to accept a small settlement rather than take the matter to court and get nothing.  Our lawyer felt so sorry for us he did not charge us for his services.  That was the only overt blessing that I’ve ever been able to recognize concerning this event.

Did life go on? Yes, of course.  But there are differences since then.  I wish I could say that I learned never to make a quick decision, always to check every transaction thoroughly – but that hasn’t always been the case.  What did change was that I hold loosely to “things”, in order that they might not get a grip on my heart.  I’ve bought very little furniture, invested very little in things that might fit into a packing box, spent more time in Goodwill, second hand shops and garage sales for the things I do need.  I’m not sure I understand why God allowed this to happen at a time when so many other difficult things were also taking place, but He did.  I think I will understand it better some time in the future.  And I’ve never given up hope that some day, in some backwoods antique shop, I might see Grandma’s china cupboard again.  I’m just sayin’ it would be kind of like God to do that…

Again, I Wonder

Life is wonder full, full of things to wonder about that is, and today I am wondering about the judicial system.  I have just spent three days serving on a jury, which for the most part was an interesting and pleasant time. I’ve never before had the experience of coming into a room where everyone stood until I sat down (felt very unusual) and I got to eat a restaurant lunch downtown three days in a row (also felt unusual).

This trial ended after two and a half days of laborious testimony with the judge coming down today, after our lunch break, and dismissing us.  Evidently both parties had decided to back up to a previous point where the judge alone could make a decision and he did just that and settled the matter.  It was not the decision I would have made, but of course I do not know much about the intricacies of legal proceedings.  I cannot figure out why both parties agreed to settle the matter this way and there is a lingering sense of injustice that I just can’t shake.

This is the fourth time I have been closely connected to a matter settled in a courtroom or through legal representation. I’ve felt this sense of injustice every time even though I am grateful for our judicial system – grateful we aren’t out settling our differences at gunpoint in an alley somewhere.  These experiences leave me with a disturbing distrust. Ever felt that? Have we created a system that has become so complicated that a clever (or powerful, or influential, or rich) person can find a way to do things that shouldn’t be done and make them seem absolutely legal?

I’m thinking maybe, yes.

I don’t know.

Troubling.

I think I will actively try to avoid depending upon a lawyer, suing anyone, or being in a courtroom for any reason, anytime in the future.  I’m just saying that a lingering sense of injustice can really lower a person’s expectations. Hopefully I won’t get sued for saying all this….

Does anyone have a different story that can cheer me up? I would love to hear it.

Death and Taxes

Two things that are said to be certain, and I add, equally unwelcome.  By taxes, I mean filing a tax return and then finding out that an enormous sum of money is owed.

I don’t even do the filing for our little family of two.  The husband does it with the help of a computer program.  It asks the questions and he fills in the blanks with our information as best he can.  Once in a while it does get confusing however, and whether it was human error or a computer glitch we can’t be sure.  A mistake was made and went unnoticed for a couple years and since it was a mistake in our favor, we wanted to correct it this year before filing. Back in April when it was due, we weren’t ready so the husband filed for an extension. The deadline was last Tuesday.

We all put off things we don’t like to do, so I am totally not mad at the husband. I actually thought he had done it because he did talk about it several times.  Monday before THE Tuesday, I came home from an evening meeting, ready to get to bed and he said the words that make my blood run cold every time I hear them.  “I’m going to prepare the tax return tonight. I need you to pull some files.”

We have two filing systems between us.  He keeps everything, in it’s original envelope, no matter how stuffed the file gets.  I throw everything away that I don’t think we need based on very little actual knowledge of what is needed.  Neither one of us can find anything.  Nevertheless, I always get asked where things are.  That’s when I pretend to riffle through the file cabinet for a minute and then run away when he’s not looking.  Really, I had to get to bed so I could go to work the next day.

I thought it would be all done by the time I got home the next day, D-day, but it was still going on.  There were questions, dates to be reckoned, receipts to be found, decisions to be made and folders and piles of relevant paper everywhere.  In the midst of it all, and at the height of the dread, I came to a realization that we could do better than this.  Maybe if I started now 2013 could be a different kind of year. I could have all the records ready, in one place.  Maybe we could be done in one night. How awesome would that be? (Very awesome.)

from the BRR
from the BRR

So I did start.  I went through the box of random receipts, the BRR, where three years worth of contents of purses and pockets were stored.  Did you know that they make those things with disappearing ink?  I have promised myself that I will not save another receipt without writing the category of the purchase, the price and the date on the top. I am on the learning curve and liking it.

The husband did finish the job – at 11:58 pm, because he didn’t want to wait until the last minute.  We owed money and it’s going to be a painful month.  I’m just sayin’… death and taxes.

Why Does This Seem So Familiar…?

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The world is big and full of people with computers. The internet is a busy, complex place full of new concepts, new words, new ventures.  And  only by having moved my journal from pen and paper to keyboard and cyberspace, I have entered this foreign land. So why do some things seem so familiar?

Today I am going to respond to a welcome confrontation.  I was asked “what do you want?” It was an invitation to express my reasons for not joining a business of sorts that I don’t know much about.  Who jumps into something right away because it sounds too good to be true? Well, me, in the past.  I’m ex-Amway, and although I’m not ex-MaryKay yet, what it has taught me is that I’m not sales oriented.

So after innocently moving my blog to WordPress I have begun to get a few new followers.  I look at their profiles.  I watch their compelling videos.  I wonder why they are following and supposedly reading me?  Does it seem odd that young, energetic men would spend time reading about a 60-ish woman cleaning her house? My “you are being marketed” antennae are quivering…

Affiliate marketing is a new thing on my plate that I have to learn about before I chew, and swallow.  Maybe a good thing, who knows.  Some people are obviously making money through it and I do know that goods and services have to be advertised.  Maybe even I will be using affiliate marketing to earn part of my income in the near future.

But what I want, really, is

to produce content that makes people think about their every day life,

to describe those moments that are common to us all,

to suggest they have purpose and value.

And after I have done some of that and know I’m succeeding in what’s really important to me, maybe then I will also earn a following and an income. Maybe. It’s my way of putting the horse first, then the cart.  I’m just sayin’ I want to do it right.