Thursday, July 31, 2014

4 x 4, Patti-Style

I love lists, so an email from the Declare Conference organizers with an invitation  to participate in a 4 x 4 post made my day!


4 Things About Me

  • I am very interested in starting a business selling mixed-media word art -- on canvas and on wood.

  • I'm an introvert who loves to be around people.

  • I would love to quit my job and live full-time in a camper, moving on as the mood strikes.

  • I'm a water-person who longs to live either on the beach or on a large lake.


4 of My Endearing Quirks

  • When I sneeze, I sound like a cat (according to my family :))

  • I have no fashion sense (I think it's endearing, but I'm pretty sure I often embarrass my daughter :)).

  • I am awfully uncoordinated. Back when Jane Fonda-type aerobics were so popular, everyone would be clapping, stepping, and hopping, but I would be hopping, clapping, and stepping. You should see me in a Rhumba class!

  • I sing with wild abandon, especially to oldies and contemporary Christian music. Well, I think it's endearing; nobody has actually expressed that to me. ;)


4 Things About My Blog & Writing

  • I've been spending quite a bit of time lately pondering the direction I want to go with my blog.

  • Two books are rattling around in my head.

  • I love long sentences -- complete with dashes; I also like to use fragments from time to time. Like this!

  • I try to be honest and transparent when I blog, but sometimes that's pretty scary.


4 of My Favorite Things

  • They're people, not things, but I can't *not* put  my son and daughter here. Everything and everybody else are a distant, distant 2nd.

  • My favorite food is still-hot chocolate pudding.

  • I love the NFL and watching games on television in my jammies on Monday night, Thursday night, and from noon to bedtime on Sunday.

  • My favorite vacation spot is The Great Smoky Mountains.

What about you? Please respond with the same 4 x 4 about you!

Dallas, Texas, Here I Come!

Well, here I come in 6 days, that is. Early next Wednesday morning I'll tell Dazey good-bye and jump in my little red Prius to make a 10+ hour drive to Dallas to attend the Declare Conference. Three glorious days filled with workshops, meeting other women bloggers, and whatever else comes my way!

I've attended other conferences in the past, but they have all been educators' conferences, so this is new territory for me. I'm very excited about this opportunity to learn more about blogging, to chat with some fantastic bloggers and maybe pick a few brains here and there, and to simply spend time immersed in a culture of Christian women who use the internet and the written word to interact with others.

I'm also a bit nervous. As much as I enjoy a good road trip with the radio turned up and a Route 44 Strawberry Limeade and a few bags of junk food in the passenger seat, 10+ hours on the road isn't my idea of an easy day. But I'll have the conference to look forward to, and that will hopefully make the drive down more enjoyable. The idea of attending by myself and walking into a meeting room filled with women, many of them already acquainted from previous Declare Conferences, is a bit unnerving as well. But I can do this; if I can sling on a backpack and travel on my own by train through Europe for a week, I can do this, right?

I'm also hopeful. If my son doesn't have to work Sunday, we'll be able to spend the day together before I return home on Monday (if he does have to work, I'll drive back to Missouri on Sunday).

A little nervous. A whole lot of excited and hopeful. Not bad. Not bad at all.

What do you have planned for these last few weeks of summer? I hope that whatever it is, it brings you joy and peace. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Keeper of the Flame

Last Friday would have been my husband's 53rd birthday, and for the 5th year in a row, I marked the date with a Facebook post that included a favorite photo. Many Facebook friends share similar posts on the birthdays of a loved one -- usually a parent or grandparent -- who has passed away, so my post wasn't unusual in any way.

What was unusual, for me at least, is that I found a way on my husband's birthday to slip the significance of the date into most of my conversations. It's unusual because I certainly didn't do that when he was alive. I didn't, for example, respond to the grocery store clerk's "How are you today, ma'am?" with "Oh, I'm fine. Just thinking of my husband on his birthday today," as I did last Friday. Wow, talk about overreaching!

But can I confess something? I do the same thing on our anniversary, on the date he was diagnosed with cancer, and on the date he passed away. If you haven't lost a close loved one, you might be questioning my sanity and thinking of leaving this site never to return, but bear with me just a bit longer.

I don't get up on those mornings and decide to slip into every possible conversation that the date is in some way -- good or bad -- special to me. Not at all! The words just slip out, as if on their own. But I know that's not possible; I realize that it's on those days that I slip into one of my many roles, that of "the keeper of the flame".

I became a keeper of the flame long before my husband's passing. I'm the one who brought together both my husband's and my own family traditions to our new family when we married, the one who, when I was only 4 months pregnant with our first child, raised the question of whether or not Santa wraps the gifts he leaves under the tree after we go to bed on Christmas Eve (my Santa wrapped; my husband's did not). It certainly wasn't my husband who put out the special "birthday plate" four times a year. Oh, he loved the traditions, but I was primarily the one who remembered each of our many family traditions and who did everything possible to keep them alive year after year.

I still keep those traditions alive, but now I also do what I can to keep alive my husband's memory. Not with my children, of course. Both of them have told me more than a few times that they think of him every single day, both of them have mementos of their father in their homes, and both have a picture of him on their dresser or nightstand. They each speak of him often, recalling something he said or did. No, I'm not worried about my children forgetting their father. It's the world I'm worried about.

I know it doesn't make sense, that the idea of keeping alive my husband's memory by sharing about him with people who didn't know him to begin with and who will probably forget our conversation within minutes after it ends just isn't logical.

I only know that it's important to me that this wonderful man -- this great husband, father, son, brother, friend, etc. -- never be forgotten. It will happen someday, I know. My future grandchildren will only know him through the stories I and their parents tell them. They will have no stories of their own to tell their own children, and eventually the stories -- his stories -- will cease to be told.

But that's not going to happen yet.

Not while I'm the keeper of the flame.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Only in Hollywood

J.R., Sue Ellen, Bobby, Pam, Miss Ellie,  and even Ray and Lucy. If you're over 40 years of age (maybe even younger), as you read those names you probably pictured Larry Hagman sporting an evil grin and a 10-gallon hot or maybe the sultry Victoria Principal clad in a gorgeous designer outfit and sporting flawless hair and make-up.

Most of us remember watching Dallas' March 21st cliff-hanger that brought the 1979-1980 season to an end. In case you didn't see it, JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) was shot and left for dead; because of Hagman's week-to-week contract negotiations, he didn't return to the show until November 21, leaving the show's writers scrambling to write scripts and viewers to wonder for 8 long months, "Who shot JR?"

A few years later, Patrick Duffy, the boyishly-handsome star who played JR's long-suffering younger brother Bobby, decided to leave the show to "pursue other opportunities". Dallas writers killed him off in spectacular fashion, and Duffy exited, leaving viewers stunned and upset. Unable to parlay his performance as Bobby Ewing into a film career or a starring role on another television show, Duffy was ready by the Fall of 1986 to return to Southfork and to sparring with his big brother. The problem was, he -- or Bobby, that is -- was dead and buried and had been mourned for an entire season.  

That didn't stop the producers and writers of Dallas; in the now-famous (or infamous) scene in which Pam wakes up to discover Bobby calmly taking a shower, he was brought back to life. Dallas fans were expected to accept the implausible idea that the entire 1985-1986 season -- 31 episodes in all -- had been a dream. Many viewers did just that, and the show continued to air for 5 more years.

I was not one of those fans; disgusted at what I considered a soap opera-ish stunt, that "shower scene" episode was the last I watched. I couldn't believe that writers and some viewers alike could disregard the fact that if the 1985-1986 season of Dallas had been a dream, so was that same season of Knot's Landing (the Dallas spinoff set in California and built around the lives of a Ewing sibling and his neighbors) in which Bobby's death was mourned. How ridiculous, I thought, that the producers thought it was okay to just erase an entire season's events and expect us to blithely go back to pre-Bobby's-death as if it had never happened.

Over a decade later, however, my righteous indignation forgotten, I've found myself longing for my own "shower scene".

When my husband was diagnosed with cancer  . . .

As he was enduring medical procedures and chemo . . .

In the days and months and years since his passing . . .

How often I've thought, "I want my old life back".

But that's now how it works. Unlike a team of Hollywood writers, the One who writes the scripts of our lives is in complete control, doesn't make mistakes, and has no need of Dallas-style shower scenes. Instead, He walks with us through the difficult days, and He invites us to trust in Him.

Only in Him.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tech Challenges . . . and Their Lessons

Today has been frustrating challenging, to say the least. Some progress was made and some remains to be made . . . I hope!

I began the morning cleaning out my email accounts. That in itself was a bit of a mess. When I first began blogging, I had 3 email accounts, and I had hoped at that time to consolidate them into 2 -- one for my personal correspondence and the other for emails dealing with this blog, writing, etc. Unfortunately, some of the tech "things" I needed for this blog required a specific email provider, and I didn't have an email address with that provider. Easily fixed, right? Well, yes, but then I had 4 email accounts. That was okay. I figured I'd focus on doing what needed to be done to get the blog up and running, and then I'd go back and consolidate the email accounts as best as possible. I'm embarrassed to admit that 15 months later, I still hadn't even begun that task.

Last night -- prompted by a fb conversation with my wonderful tech guy -- I began searching for a email message with some information he needed. I searched high and low, in every email account I could think of, and found nothing. I worked for 3 hours -- until 1 a.m. -- resetting passwords to get into almost-forgotten email accounts. By then, I was too tired to sort through the folders in each of the accounts, so I left that tech house-keeping chore for this morning.

By lunch time, I had cleaned up every email account I knew I had, and I had even listened to 5 or 6 podcasts I've been meaning to listen to. I was feeling quite pleased with what I'd accomplished, but then I realized I still hadn't found that one piece of information my tech expert needed. Drat!

That's when the frustration began. Four hours later, I was ready to throw in the towel. My tech guru has found a solution or two, but I'm not overjoyed with the changes either one brings. It's a long and confusing situation, but either way I go, I'm going to have to switch my URL to one ending in .net . It's one of those "you can do it now, or you can do it later" scenarios. Neither appeals to me.

signed off in a huff took a break to fix supper, and while bumbling around in the kitchen, I realized something . . . and then another thing . . . and then another. Things I already knew, but things I tend to forget because I don't like them. Not one little bit. I'll share them with you, and you can let me know if you share my dislike.

1. I don't always get to have things my way.

2. Life is sometimes complicated.

3. It is often necessary, when trying to straighten something out and make it more simple, to first endure more complications and mess .  If you don't believe me, think back to the last time you cleaned out -- really cleaned out -- a closet or even just a junk drawer.

4. In that "making it more complicated and more messy in order to straighten it out and streamline it" process,  I often confront some not-so-nice things. Today, for example, I was reminded of how snippy I get when I am frustrated because things are not going my way (see #1).

Yes, today was at times frustrating, but there were lessons to be learned . . . and I hope I did just that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Loneliness . . . a Different Perspective

The hardest thing for me as a blogger is being transparent in sharing my struggles. Try as I might, it's sometimes hard to get past "what will others think of me?". Today's post is a textbook example of that struggle, so bear with me if I meander a bit or, in my desire to avoid meandering, I'm too blunt. Hmmm . . . it appears I'm procrastinating a bit. Here goes.

The past 2 months have been especially difficult. Perhaps it's because of the letdown after a pretty exciting couple of months -- a semester in England followed by the flurry of activity that came with selling my house and moving to a new apartment. Perhaps it's because my daughter moved into her own apartment (which is completely natural, and I'm happy for her), and it's just me and Dazey here.

Whatever the reason,  I've been enveloped by a new type of pain -- an impenetrable blanket of loneliness. Day after day, I'm reminded of what is missing in my life. Not just my husband specifically, but also what our relationship meant on a daily basis. Having that one person who knew all the back-stories, with whom I could communicate through a look nobody else would even notice, someone who I would bounce ideas off and share my thoughts with. Someone with whom I shared a comfortable and simple, but strong, love and companionship.

While driving to church this morning it occurred to me that perhaps I've moved to a place in which the pain of the loss of my husband as an individual is being joined, maybe even partially supplanted  by, a broader sense of loss.  And maybe this current period of intense loneliness -- sharp and heavy and unrelenting -- might be another stage in the grieving process.

Immediately after that thought came another. If it is true that I'm entering a new stage of grieving, how can I "embrace" it? I'm not referring to holding on to it and wallowing in it. Rather, I'm talking about facing it, dealing with it in a healthy way, and learning and growing as a result.

How does that happen? I'm not really sure. All I know is that I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other one day -- even just one hour -- at a time, keep resting on my faith and on God as much as possible, and keep focusing on what I do have instead of what I've lost. Simplistic? Maybe. But right now, simple is all I've got and all I can handle.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Funny

Every home has its good points and its bad and even maybe some ugly, and now that I've lived in my new apartment for 3 weeks, I've identified a few that I thought I'd share.

The Good

* less expense

* less room to store stuff, to clean, etc.

* no fenced back yard = more walks with Dazey  (I'm sure that won't be on the "Good" list when cold weather arrives  lol

* living right in the heart of the community, within a couple hundred yards of the post office, coffee shop, market & other stores, etc.


The Not-So-Good (because these things aren't really *bad*)

* flies -- it seems there are always a couple of flies in the apartment

* the dark kitchen without windows (thank goodness I don't spend lots of time in meal preparation)


The Ugly 

* I found this just yesterday -- the previous renters left a little pile of doggy doo in the behind one of the floor-length curtains in the bedroom


The Funny

* The unit came with a washer & dryer that are "stacked", but not really stacked in the normal sense. The washer is a top-loading and is on bottom, so the dryer is mounted (in brackets) high enough that the washer lid opens about 3/4 of the way. That's not the funny part, though. The dryer is mounted too high for me to reach in, so I have to unload the dryer and hang & fold clothes while standing on the top of a 3-level step-stool. It makes me laugh every time I do laundry, which is not a bad thing at all. :)


Monday, July 7, 2014

My View from the Pew

I opened my Facebook page a few weeks ago to find a post in which an acquaintance lambasted people who don't attend church. He referred to them as "lazy" and, if they called themselves a Christian, "hypocritical", and he baldly stated that there are no reasons (other than illness) for missing church. In fact, he declared, any other reason is simply an excuse.

Here is a paraphrase of my reply:

From experience, I have to disagree with the idea that any reason other than illness is an excuse. I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you that after my husband died, I found church the most difficult of all places to return to, even though at the time, I belonged to a wonderful church filled with some of the most loving, supportive people I have ever known. In fact, I often shared with others -- and it was true -- that it was as a member of this congregation that I felt I had, for the first time in my life, found a church "home". Even so, there was more than one Sunday where I could not walk in the doors. At least twice over the next year, I got ready, drove the 15 minutes to church, and sat in the parking lot and cried. Since I've moved up here [to a city about 2 hours from my hometown], I've found church continues to be one of the most difficult places to go. I don't want to go on and on, but you have no idea until you've walked in my shoes how difficult it is to be so very alone in the very place I should find most comforting.

He responded, making it very clear that he felt I, too, was simply making excuses; I gave it one more shot, but he simply blew me off. I didn't want to go on and on, and I didn't want to make his thread all about me, so I let it go. Here, though, is what I wanted to say to him.

Back when I was still attending that wonderful little country church back home, I found it incredibly hard to go back after my husband died. It was a small Methodist congregation that still used a hymnal and sang all of the old hymns I remembered my grandmothers singing around the house and garden when I was growing up. Back then, though, I never noticed how many of them refer to death, to taking your last breath, or to going up yonder to be with the Lord. As a grieving widow barely holding it together, it seemed every hymn was fraught with lines that made me pause, sometimes even gasp lightly, my eyes filling with tears. Nobody noticed, thank goodness. I just kept my head down, staring at the blurred lines on the page and moving my lips noiselessly. 

That church, like the ones I've visited here since my move, was a veritable sea of happy couples and happy families. Oh, there were a few widows or widowers, but they were all quite a bit older than me, and I didn't identify with them. No, I identified with the women who shared a hymnal with their husband, his hand resting on the small of her back as they stood to sing a hymn; the women whose husbands draped their arms around their shoulders during the sermon; the women who looked up at their husband from time to time to share a smile. I'd make myself look away, to focus on the pastor, but then I'd find myself peeking again to get a glimpse of what was mine no longer. And the pain was so strong it was actually physical.

After I moved to the city and began visiting churches. I was amazed at the lack of friendliness. I would arrive early so I had plenty of time to give myself one last pep talk before going inside. I'd remind myself to smile and speak to people, to walk slowly so people had a chance to respond and perhaps even engage me in conversation. I'd get out of the car, walk among others -- couples and families, usually -- chattering away, and enter the church. Of course, the greeter would smile and hand me a bulletin, but not a single one asked if I was a visitor or spoke to me other than a brief greeting, if that. I'd walk slowly to the sanctuary, making eye contact with other people and smiling gently and saying "hello" or "good morning". Most of the time -- and I mean this wholeheartedly, the people I smiled at would briefly glance at me and sort of nod, all the while moving briskly along. The same thing happened after the service ended as well.  

I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. I was dressed like the other congregants, I looked like I "belonged", but I quickly discovered that a single woman alone is virtually ignored except when the pastor instructs everyone to greet those around them. The people that haven't even made eye contact until then smile, say "welcome" or "good morning" and move on to someone they know. At that point, their smile becomes more animated, more real, and they exchange more sincerely-expressed greetings and chat briefly. I stand, alone and uncomfortable. I walk to where others are standing to greet them; the same thing happens, and I end up returning to my spot, feeling like the outcast kid sitting alone in the junior high cafeteria. 

One Sunday, at a church I had been attending for 3 or 4 months, the pastor walked down the aisle near my seat about 10 minutes before the start of the service, stopped to speak to the couple who sat along the aisle, and then glanced past the empty seat between the wife and I to make full eye contact with me. I smiled and said "good morning"; she nodded once without smiling and walked away. Needless to say, I didn't go back to that church.

It's not just that the people aren't very friendly, though. All of my life -- until my husband's passing -- I attended church with someone; first, as part of the family I was born into, then as half of a couple, and then again as a member of the family made up of my husband, son, daughter, and I. Some widows and widowers say that eating out is difficult, but I've always enjoyed going to a restaurant or fast-food place by myself to people-watch or read while I eat. Church is the one  place I rarely, if ever, attended alone. Perhaps that's why, then, it is in church that I'm particularly aware of my aloneness and my loneliness. Perhaps that's why, then, the loneliness strikes so sharply, so very painfully, on Sunday mornings.

Sadly, too, it is in church among other Christians where I feel the strongest need to "put on a happy face" and not let anyone see that I'm struggling. Everyone else is so darned happy -- I don't want to be a "Debbie Downer". Besides, as my mother always reminded me, people are drawn by smiles, not by sad faces. And she was right. Not only do stern faces shout "Don't approach me", but sad faces also make people uncomfortable. And so, in the very place I should be able to find comfort and support, I act like everything is hunky-dory, that I've got it all together, that I am as happy as can be. 

Ruth Graham wrote an interesting book titled In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart; interestingly, I (as a member of the outreach committee at the church we were attending) read it when it was first published, just before my husband was diagnosed with cancer and before I became one of those broken hearts myself. I remember quite a bit about the book, and I remember that at the end of the book, Graham hadn't found a solution to the problem of feeling so alone and heartbroken while at church. Instead, she offered other strategies for meeting spiritual needs; I've found those strategies helpful, but I still long for a fulfilling church relationship. I'm hopeful that someday, maybe even soon, I'll find a church that is warm and welcoming and in which I don't feel so alone. Until then, I'll keep looking.

Before I close, I'd like to share one more thing I wish I'd said to my Facebook acquaintance.

For the next 4 Sundays, I challenge you to arrive at church about 10 minutes early and not spend that time chatting and laughing with your friends or family. Instead, look around very carefully. Search for someone who is alone. Approach him or her with a welcoming heart and a sincere smile on your face, visit with them, and get to know them a bit. Heck, invite them to sit with your family or, better yet, wave your family over to sit with you and that person. After the service, introduce them to a few people you think they might connect with. So much better than judging and name-calling, don't you think?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections on Downsizing . . . Again

The last time I posted, I had transported 3 carloads of scrapbooking supplies to my new apartment. Over the next 10 days, I moved almost everything I owned except for 5 "larger" pieces of furniture -- bed, dining room table, large entertainment center, etc. -- by myself. I had a system; with the back seats folded down, 5 large plastic bins fit in the back of my Prius, so every day I'd pack up all 5 bins, take a load to the new apartment, unpack those bins, and return home for another load. Some days I took 2 loads, and other days I took 3, but I had it all under control . . . or so I thought.

By the 8th day of the move, the upstairs living area was cleared out except for cleaning supplies, 5 small pieces of furniture, and items (some from the spare bedroom and some from the basement) I had been planning to sell on the community Facebook "garage sale" site and on ebay. I had designated the dining room the "ebay" stuff area and the living room the "garage sale" area and had brought the remaining items to those two areas. With each armload of items I sorted, I became a bit more concerned, and by the time I had finished sorting everything, I was verging on full-blown panic. As I looked around at what still needed to be moved, I made a bold -- actually a desparate -- decision. I asked on the community Facebook page if anyone knew of any charitable organization that would come to the house, pack up the items being donated, and remove them . . . all with only a few day's notice. I also contacted a college student in the area who had posted that he and his friend were looking for any kind of odd job such as moving people, etc. Lastly, I rented a small storage unit just a few minutes from my community.

The leader of a church youth group that holds a giant garage sale every summer to finance their group's various mission trips throughout the year responded to my first request. Two days later she and a few youth arrived as scheduled, packed up everything I had planned to sell on the Facebook group, and carted it away. The following day, the 2 college students arrived bright and early and packed up and moved to the storage unit the remaining items. Once that was done, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and focused on cleaning the house and getting it ready for its new owners.

Between cleaning the house and settling into the new apartment and taking care of all the responsibilities that go along with teaching an online class, the next few days were so hectic I barely had time to eat, and I definitely didn't have time to sit back and reflect on the move and what it means long-term. Finally, though, Friday came and with it, closing. And oh, what a closing it was, but that's a topic for another post. :)

That was 10 days ago; ten days in which I've monitored and participated in some lively online discussions with my students, graded their mid-term essays, and loaded onto the computer the last 2 weeks of materials. Ten days in which I've adjusted to my new apartment and the realities of my new location here in the same planned community. Ten days in which I've reflected more deliberately and with more leisure on the change I've made and its consequences.

There are negatives, of course. First, my kitchen is a small galley that is not open to the other rooms, so I can't watch TV when I'm preparing a meal. That's not a huge problem; I pause whatever I'm watching and resume the program when my meal or snack is finished. Since I'm here alone, the old "I don't want to be cut off from the rest of you while I'm fixing a meal" doesn't apply. Another negative is that the large, commercial air-conditioner is loud. Not too loud to be heard over, so again, it's not a significant problem. The largest drawback is that instead of a flower garden and wide & deep front porch separating my front windows from the sidewalk, my windows and front door look directly onto the sidewalk; conversely, anyone walking down the sidewalk is within a few feet of my windows. I live next door to a small playground and just down the block from several adorable stores, so there's some foot traffic on and off many days. I hung white sheers behind the  heavy thermal curtains that came with the apartment, and that helps immensely. Lastly, I have some items in a storage unit and had hoped to avoid that; fortunately, the monthly fee is much less than I expected and all but about 2 items in it can be disposed off within a few months if I really buckle down and work on that. In whole, then, the negatives are manageable and livable -- at least for the next 11 months.

And then there are the positives. First, the move forced me to dispose of a hefty pile of stuff that I had been putting of selling on the Facebook group because 1) the selling process was becoming more tedious as the group grew by leaps and bounds and problems began arising, and 2) I'd already sold the big-ticket items, and my enthusiasm was pretty much shot the further I got into small items that would only bring $2-10. Second, it forced me to throw away lots of stuff that, quite frankly, I'd forgotten I had. Being able to put things in the basement or a spare room produced an "out of sight, out of mind" situation, but packing and moving brought those things to light. Third, I no longer have yard work (mowing, weeding the gardens, etc) to take care. Fourth, no home maintenance responsibilities or costs. Fifth, I no longer have unneeded room, space used for nothing more than to store stuff, much of which I didn't need or really want. That space contributed to the last positive. Sixth, my expenses dropped dramatically. I no longer cool (and eventually, heat) an office and extra bedroom, making my monthly utility bills at least a bit lower; my insurance also lowered -- my renter's insurance is a fraction of the cost of my homeowner's insurance. More importantly, I no longer have a HOA fee, a yearly NID (Neighborhood Improvement District tax, paid for 20 years) nearly equal to the HOA fee, or a yearly real estate bill in a city that has one of the highest tax rates in my state. And, of course, my monthly rent is about 25% less than my house payment was.

In a variety of ways, the positives and even the negatives help pave the way for the next step in my personal Dream Save Do plan. Negatives and all, I'm more than happy that I made this move, that I sold my cute little bungalow and moved to an apartment. And so, the time for reflection is past; it's time to look forward and plan for the next step in reaching my ultimate redesigned life.