Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is (A Life Redesigned)

Determine my dream life. Check.

Analyze my budget and identifying items that can be cut or even eliminated. Check.

Until last week, following Warren and Betsy Talbot's blueprint for identifying and living the life of my dreams was proving to be easy and enjoyable.

Last Wednesday, though, I ran into a roadblock. Let me explain.

My next mini-steps in the larger step of saving were on my to-do list, and I knew as soon as I glanced at it that I was going to have trouble.

My first assignment was to "secure the vault". In other words, I was to designate an existing account or create a new one to do nothing but hold (no withdrawing allowed save for the most dire of emergencies) the money I hope to accrue in order to live my redesigned life. That took a quick trip to the bank and about 10 minutes with a very helpful account representative there.

Afterward, I stopped by My Daddy's Cheesecake, a wonderful bakery and cafe here in my hometown. I slid into a booth with my slice of the ultra-scrumptious Scarlett O'Hara cheesecake and considered my next assignment -- putting a number, a dollar amount, on my dream life.

In other words, I needed to figure out what it will cost me to live in an RV, traveling as whimsy and the weather moved me. That proved to be a very difficult task.

Countless numbers of hours spent researching led me to the fact that monthly expenses will be quite variable. Finally, though, I arrived at a dollar figure for monthly expenses that I think is fairly realistic. I divided that figure by 30 (days in a month) and then again in half.

I wrote that number on my notepad, circled it, drew stars and curlicues around it.

My sense of satisfaction at completing another step in the process toward living my dream was very short-lived. Gone in less than a minute.

It was obliterated by an emotion I couldn''t quite put a name to. I still can't.

I tried to banish it, and at times this past week I've been fairly successful. Other times, though, it rolls over me like a huge, angry ocean wave, knocking me off-kilter and leaving me unsteady and unsure of myself.

And that is where I've been for the past few days -- vacillating between anticipation and ennui.

It's something I must work through before I can go on to the next step in the process, so I'll be pausing here until, I hope, next time.

Until then, I hope you'll spend some time considering what constitutes your own dream life. I hope you'll share it via a comment. I would love to be inspired by hearing your dream!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Forget that Rainy Day (A Life Redesigned)

Redesigning my life after the death of my husband almost 8 years ago has been a long progress, marked by the proverbial one step forward and two . . . or three or four . . . steps back. But once I finally had the vision of what I wanted (The Dream Defined), it was time to start making it a reality.

The Talbot's plan, as outlined in their book Dream, Save, Do, calls for specific steps completed in a specific order, but they also acknowledge that while that order made sense to and worked well for them, others in search of a different, better life might deviate as their situation and personality dictates.

With that in mind, I skipped ahead a few steps to "Save". I was eager to get started, to make tangible progress toward my goal. I also knew from reading the book completely through to get a lay of the land, that I could do the intervening steps at the same time as I was implementing steps to prepare financially.

I also did the mini-steps within the larger "save" step out of order, and that has worked well for me.

I already had a budget in place, and most months I stayed under or at budget in every category (housing, utilities, food, fun, etc). To be honest, though, my income at the time allowed me some latitude, and I knew there were ways I could cut my spending.

I pored over my budget, looking for ways I could cut back. Some items were easy to eliminate (so long Starbucks), and I haven't missed them at all. Others are a work in progress. For example, I have about a year left on my DirecTV contract and will be checking tomorrow to see what it would cost to get out of my current agreement and if there would be any long-term savings by doing that.

As a result of funneling the newly-freed up money elsewhere, I'm debt-free except for one credit card and my mortgage. My mortgage (including taxes and insurance) is less than the rent on even a much-smaller apartment in my area, plus I appreciate the deduction on my income taxes, so until I've found the RV I want and am able to live in it full-time, the mortgage isn't going anywhere.

One part of me is ecstatic about these changes. Another part of me is absolutely disgusted with myself for not doing this before now. I shudder to think of the money spent for things that didn't last materially and have no lasting value. But that's the past, and I'm determined to only look ahead.

While it may seem that I'll be living my dream life fairly soon, I made a ginormous life change that will in many ways make my life safer, more positive, and less mentally and physically stressful. In May, I resigned my job as of July 31. In mid-August, I will begin a new job . . . at about 22% less pay.

So my dream may be deferred a bit, BUT had I not made those budget and lifestyle changes when I did and unloaded debt, I wouldn't have been able to take this new job.

Perhaps once I'm settled into the new position and know better the amount of work I'll be taking home on a regular basis and how much time that will consume, I'll be able to think about getting some type of part-time job. But that's a thought for another day.

All of that -- reevaluating my budget, adjusting my spending, and applying freed-up funds to debt, has kept me busy for the past 7 or so months.

And I still haven't completed all the mini-tasks under the larger step of "saving"!

After months of employing my left-brain skills, I get to play around this week with some right-brain activities.

I hope you'll come back next Wednesday to see what the left side of my brain comes up with!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Nice Job! (52 Weeks Project, Week 29)

From the time I was able to put pencil to paper, I've been a list-maker; in fact, I've been known to make lists of lists I need to create! As a result, I'm excited to participate this year in Moorea Seal's 52 Lists Project; look for my list every Monday.

Week 29: List your childhood and current dream jobs.

When I was a child, I wanted to be:  

  1. a nun
  2. an attorney
  3. a teacher
  4. a writer

My current dream job:

  1. best-selling author
  2. travel writer/blogger


Friday, July 14, 2017

Comfort from Within

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited flash mob free write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "comfort" takes me.

From without.

For 50+ years, that's where I sought comfort when life was having its way with me, when I was weary from the struggle or hurting from some jab, when my carefully-organized life with it's planner and checklists hit a snag

When I was a child, I sought -- and found -- comfort in books. 

Eventually, though, I also sought comfort in other people. In their friendship, their company. 

Books were always there, of course, and I even had favorites that I could turn to. And I did. Other people were less reliable, but still . . . I sought them, their understanding, their empathy.

But the day came, as it always does, when the outer things simply weren't enough. Oh, they provided a temporary respite from pain or disappointment, but when I turned the last page of the book or when lunch with a friend ended and I was back home, alone, again . . . 

Now you might wonder why, as a Christian, I didn't find comfort in my faith, in God. The fact is, I didn't try. 

But then, in the span of three years, I suffered two blows, the second significantly stronger, more devastating than the first.

I needed comfort.

And I've finally begun to look for it not from the outside, but from within.

From my faith, yes.

But also from learning who I am, from being true to myself, from being comfortable in my own skin.

I'm a work in progress. 

But the process . . . even that is a comfort. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Trailer Park Princess with her Knickers in a Twist (Book Review)

With The Trailer Park Princess with her Knickers in a Twist, Kim Hunt Harris offers readers a cozy mystery that is refreshingly unique and extremely-well crafted. 

Just as in the previous three books in the "Trailer Park Princess" series, Harris has constructed a plot that is complex enough to keep the reader's attention without being overly-complex and convoluted. Fast-paced without feeling rushed, the storyline quickly captures the reader's attention and keeps it until the very last page.

In Knickers in a Twist, a prominent newsman has been murdered, and Salem Grimes, dog-groomer and recovering alcoholic, and her senior citizen sidekick Viv are back in action. At the same time, Salem adjusts to changes in her relationship with Tony, the man to whom she is "somewhat married", and Viv tries everything in her power to capture the attention of the newly-arrived and dashing Brit, Nigel.

Harris has created in Salem a character that is realistic -- complex, imperfect, struggling at times to make sense of the world and her role in it. In Knickers in a Twist, she continues to mature as a Christian, and her struggles are ones readers will no doubt identify with. 

Other characters -- Tony and Tri-Patrice, in particular -- are equally realistic and believable. On the other hand, in this latest book Viv's antics become more outlandish, almost to the point of distraction. At the same time, glimpses of the real Viv emerge, and it is in those moments when she reveals her vulnerability that Viv is at her best and most realistic. 

Harris' deftness in incorporating issues of faith into the storyline sets her apart as a writer. Elements of faith and how it impacts peoples' lives are smoothly and naturally integrated into the story. Never is there a hint of preachiness or heavy-handedness. 

The dialogue is sometimes witty and others quite serious, but consistently fresh and believable. Additionally, the book is well-edited and free of grammatical and mechanical errors that are unfortunately so prevalent in contemporary fiction. 

In short, Knickers in a Twist is a delightful book, a welcome breath of fresh air in the world of cozy mysteries. 

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, which I have provided here.

The Dream Defined (A Life Redesigned)

Three years ago, I received a review copy of a book that has proven to be one of the three nonfiction books that, outside the Bible, have most influenced me (more on those other two books in the weeks/months ahead).

I blogged several times about the book, but then I stopped. Not because the book was no longer impactful, but because working through the process was a long one for me. While a big part of me wishes I would have been able to zip through it and now be enjoying its fruits, some of the things that slowed the process -- a semester-long trip to Europe, for example -- were so wonderful that I don't regret them.

What book? Progress on what?

The book is Dream, Save, Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers Like You, by Betsy and Warren Talbot (link provided below). In it, the Warren's outline a practical and doable plan by which readers can determine their ideal life and, to the degree realistically possible, making that ideal life a reality.

It became the foundation of my efforts to redefine my life after the death of my husband.

I began working through the process three years ago, and for the sake of those who didn't read the posts I read back then, I'll recap this week (and perhaps next) before jumping to where I am now.

The first step in the process is to discover the dream. The Warrens propose a fairly structured way of determining the dream; they advise their readers to carefully analyze their current life and do two things.

First, a "dreamer" should list everything it is about their current life that they don't like, being as specific as possible. They urge the reader to not just write down something like "my commute" but to dig deeper. The idea is to determine what it is about, in this case, the commute that makes it a negative. Is it the cost? The time "lost"? The method of the commute?

The second step in dreaming is to add "the possibilities". Readers are instructed to list all of the elements they would like to add to their life. Some readers, for example, might put "serve as a volunteer on a weekly basis" on the list of possibilities.

These two mini-steps of the of the discover process took me quite some time. The first part -- listing the negatives of my current life -- came easy to me, as the Warrens indicate is often the case.

Adding the possibilities -- dreaming of what I did want -- took much longer. In fact, until just recently -- over three years since I officially started working through the process -- was I able to identify the elements that created the picture of my ideal life.

Don't let my slowness discourage you or cause you to blame the Warren's plan. My own personal situation was a huge factor. Working through the grief, numbness, more grief, etc. in the aftermath of my husband's death 7 1/2 years ago was a significant impact; so were 3 moves (all positive, thank goodness), the trip to Europe, and other factors.

Looking back, I also realize that I struggled with letting go of my old life; without even realizing it, I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to replicate my old life. Of course, that was an impossible endeavor.

Ultimately, though, I've been able to determine not just what I didn't want in my life, but also what I want my life to include.

It was only then that I was able to identify what my "dream life" looks like:

I want to live full-time (or as much as possible) in an RV . . . traveling as my whim and the weather take me (avoiding extreme temperatures except for "vacations")  . . . earning additional income from some creative pursuit (freelance writing, preferably) . . . returning on a fairly regular basis to visit my son and daughter here in Missouri. I want to live a simple lifestyle that is healthy spiritually, physically, socially, and mentally. I experiences, not things.

There it is . . . my dream.

What's yours?

If the idea of moving from a dream through a plan to living that dream appeals to you, I hope you'll get a copy of  Dream Save Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers and work through the book alongside me. I'd love to hear about your experiences. For more information, go to http://www.marriedwithluggage.com/dream-save-do/   (While I did receive a free copy of the book for review purposes, I do not receive any type of compensation for referrals.)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Wildest Dreams

From the time I was able to put pencil to paper, I've been a list-maker; in fact, I've been known to make lists of lists I need to create! As a result, I'm excited to participate this year in Moorea Seal's 52 Lists Project; look for my list every Monday.

Week 28: List the wildest things you want to try.

1. Living full-time in a Class B+ RV and . . .

2. Staying in each state a couple of weeks

3. White-water rafting on even "wilder" water than we encountered in Alaska

4. Section-hike the Appalachian Trail

5. Participate in some sort of extended bike ride -- across a state or on a specific themed route

6. Slowly drive Route 66, stopping for whatever catches my eye

7. Knit socks, two at a time, toe-up . . . . and not with a magic loop!

8. Get a small tattoo seashell on the top of my right foot or the inside of my left wrist.