Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lost in remodeling Hell

Ripping out kitchens, painting bathrooms, tearing out carpet, laying tile and hanging blinds and window treatments. It seems like I'm always doing those things no matter where I'm living or what I'm doing professionally. We just seem to be perpetual re modelers!

Two houses ago, we swore we were done with the whole fixer-upper life but that was before we realized we'd be moving to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. It's a wonderful little town and I mean this honestly - the nicest people live here. We've lived in lots of communities but we've not lived in an area this genuinely friendly since Nashville, Indiana.

However, the housing market here stinks. There's very little available and what does come up for sale is in dire need of updating. The house we bought has no central heat and air (which we're putting in), very, very old windows (a next spring project), carpet that truly had to be replaced and all kind so of other issues we're dealing with one at a time.

Our hope for a minor update/remodel has turned into quite the upheaval. It's all good though - we will get through this sooner or later!

In the meantime, I'm getting more comfortable with my job though I'll be learning for a very long time! It's been a challenge. In the first two months, the Medical Director quit which doesn't sound that awful unless you realize the magnitude of hiring a new doctor in a remote, rural community 60 miles from anywhere. God was watching out for me though and helped me find and convince a well loved doc who worked here before that it was time for him to come back. That was nothing short of a miracle.

Mike has been working his fingers to the bone on this house and is about to go crazy with no studio set up. We went to Hobby Lobby yesterday and he bought two gi-hugic canvases. He was so excited to get them home and start setting up a painting area. Not sure what he'll be painting on them - but I'm sure it will be spectacular.

The new t-shirt line is close to being ready to come out. It's the same "Back Forty" line we had before except this time it will be featured in fancy smancy gift boxes that look like t-shirts. There are 30 designs instead of 12 and we doing some fun PR for them.

I do love my job but some days I miss having the time to do as much of Mike's business as I used to - and I do dearly miss writing. I worry that if I don't get back in the habit of writing everyday, I'll lose my voice and that would break my heart.

Once the house is done - we're both back to our creative ways!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Jesus, take the wheel . . . before I run off the road

Man . . . how time flies when you're having fun . . . or maybe it's just that time flies by faster when you're working full-time and trying to figure out what the heck you're doing.

After living out of suitcases and sleeping on Staci's couch for almost two months, we finally got her little rent house in town livable. It's nice and cozy and I'm truly grateful to have a closet to hang my clothes in and a bed to sleep on. So don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining.

But, I must admit that living apart from Mike is hard. I went home over the July 4th weekend and had a really wonderful visit. Our home there is so peaceful and comfortable. It has that southern style warmth that makes you want to kick back and read a good book or watch an old movie. The dogs are relaxed and lazy there and the cats act like we're invading their space by being back. It's just homey.
I still love my new job but I must admit there are more and more challenges the longer I'm there and that's a good thing. It's never dull and the staff is still the best I've ever worked with and that's the truth.

We may have our house sold to a great couple from Austin. I think all of us will be better once the papers are signed and the moving can begin. This constant limbo state wears on your psyche and on your nerves. Will they get their loan? Will we get ours? Should we just keep the Texas house and lease it out or would that be selfish and foolish since we could use a good part of the equity to pay off some bills? Is this house in New Mexico really the one we should buy? It's not my dream house, that's for sure. But it is a nice house that doesn't need a ton of work before we can move in. Should we just rent for a while and wait till the right place does come up for sale?

Too many questions and not enough information to get the answers. Once again, I reckon it's time to let go and let God. Man, that's a tough call for this type A gal.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Day Three: Changing the view

Yesterday was interesting since Joy, my mentor and the departing CEO, was out of the office which gave me a day to go through files, review past board minutes, etc. I also sat in on a Quality Assurance meeting with the entire staff, which was productive and refreshingly upbeat. The day sped by.

The job is perfect. I couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with or a better cause to work for. Living arrangements - now that's a different story. In such a small community, there simply aren't very many properties available and the few that are for sale aren't big enough to accommodate our needs.

So, today I'll revisit a property we considered buying last year before we found the place in Red Rock. It's a grand old Spanish house that was built in the 40's or 50's by the guy who owned the local lumber company here. So it has pretty good bones. Years and years of neglect have taken a toll though and just making the place livable will be a super human feat. The stucco is cracked, there are foundation issues, roof leaks have rotted the ceilings in part of the house and destroyed what was a beautiful wood floor in others. The kitchen has to be gutted and redone and a new source of heat and air conditioning has to be installed. Other than that, it's a beautiful old place that could be absolutely perfect when it's done.

The question is, do we want to tackle that? And would it be smart? Oh, and it's literally two blocks from the clinic! It's been a year since I looked at it so I'll look at it with different eyes today since our lives are in a different place this time.

Come to think of it, I'm looking at a lot of things with different eyes these days.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Day Two: Home Sweet Home

Whew . . . yesterday was my first official day on my new job. It was everything I expected it to be - exciting, scary, overwhelming, interesting and exhausting. Joy, the departing CEO, is an excellent teacher but about 3:30, we both looked at each other and knew we were operating on information overload and it was time to stop for the day.

I met and re-met all the staff yesterday. What a great bunch! Mostly female, all age groups and a wide range of ethnicity adds a certain richness that's priceless. Thanks to Joy's leadership, each department runs itself while seamlessly working together as one big team. I am so impressed with the scope of services and how driven the teams are to provide better quality care. Plus, they're just really nice people.

My life has taken on whole new dimensions. Having a set work schedule is new for me but welcome. Trying to complete projects for several clients often had me working well past midnight and on weekends - now I work 8 to 5 - Monday through Friday. A great thing. I actually GET PAID for vacation time - an awesome concept I haven't had in years. Plus, for the first time in six years, we have health insurance with a deductible that won't break the bank, excellent copays and only have to pay 40% of the premium. In this day and age, that's every bit as important as salary. So, it's all good.

There are a few downsides to moving to the desert from the tropics - like chapped lips, extra dry skin and dry eyes. Of course, hairspray is ridiculous in New Mexico winds so forget that. If you love lush yards and lots of vegetation like we do, you'll spend a lot of time looking up native plants on the Internet. Not a lot of evergreens around and in fact, not a lot of any greens around. But if anyone can make a yard out of a pad of dirt, I know Mike can.

Oh, and I got a post office box yesterday so I could fill out my paperwork at the office. I realized when I started the process that I was, at that moment, virtually homeless. I'm sleeping on my daughter's sofa and living out of a suitcase so I really didn't have an address.

But I do now! It's a modest little box in a big neighborhood of tidy little boxes that line the walls of a pink brick building downtown. For now, that's my address and I'm right proud of it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Day One: Butta has landed.

The family calls my car, a cream colored Chrysler 300C, Butta. When I first got it, I kept saying how it had a ride as smooth as butta - so the name stuck. Butta is the only familiar thing in my world right now.

When I got into Clovis last night, I stopped in Walmart to pick up a few personal items before heading to Fort Sumner, sixty miles away. The sun was shining, it was 78 degrees and breezy when I went inside. Twenty minutes later when I gathered my purchases to leave, I was confronted with 55 miles an hour winds blowing red dirt like fine pellets across the parking lot and the temperature had fallen to 68 (the windchill had to be in the 30's). I nearly froze in my light denim capris and three dollar flip flops as I ran through the "dirty rain" looking for my car.

An hour later when I pulled into Staci's driveway, the wind was blowing even stronger. No one was home so I wrestled my bags out of the trunk and finally got them over the gravel yard (not a good platform for bags on wheels) and into the house. I had to find some warmer clothes and socks!

Kolt and Johni came home about fifteen minutes later and that lifted my spirits some. But the truth is, I was terribly lonely for Michael and nothing was going to fix that. The anxiety and even some apprehension about this new chapter of our lives was a bit overwhelming.

I'm excited about my new job - concerned about finding a new home in this very different environment - torn about whether or not to sell our home in Texas - happy to have an opportunity to be a bigger part of Staci's children's lives - sad about not being an hour away from having lunch with my girlfriends and a host of other things that just keep running through my mind.

I chose not to go to church with the family this morning so I could have some quiet time with God to ask for wisdom, patience and comfort. Then, I'm going into to my new "hometown" to look around and take some photos of houses for sale to send to Mike. I also need to take a look at Staci's rent house since that's where I'll be staying for the next month or so, until we find something more permanent.

It's a beautiful day for it. Nice and cool and a soft breeze - but I'm clear about one thing. That could change in a heartbeat.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We're packing our panties AGAIN!

Great news! I got the job. I leave on Saturday, my car packed with the essentials to start work on Monday as the CEO of a rural medical clinic in eastern New Mexico. I am genuinely excited, honored and overwhelmed at the opportunity.

The first few months will be a bit strained since Mike will stay here to finish up his paintings for Leanin' Tree while I stay with our daughter and her family in Fort Sumner and begin my new position. We'll decide later whether or not to sell our lovely new home here right way or wait until the housing market improves. We don't do well apart so if we don't sell, we will rent there and close this place down until we're ready to put it on the market.

Talk about change. Here, it's hot, humid, lush, green, foresty and hilly. There, its hot during the day but cool at nights (good thing), very low humidity (another good thing), some green, flat and deserty. Here, we have no snow. There they do. We're 18 miles from shopping here - 60 from major shopping there. So there will be some adjusting to manage but after all the moving we've done in our lives, I expect it to be relatively easy.

This blog will likely become more of a journal over the next few months as we both deal with our new roles. Mike, who has been lovingly spoiled by me in many ways will now have to "batch it," paying these household bills and doing kitchen duty alone. In return, I've been just as lovingly spoiled and will have to open my own wine, figure out what to have for dinner since Mike usually cooks 4 or 5 times a week. I'll also have to learn to sleep without the rhythmic sound of his breathing next to me, something I find very comforting.

Our porch time sharing will be via cell phones or instant messaging. We're both sure we'll get through it just fine.

I went shopping today for a few new outfits since my current work wardrobe consists of sweat pants or shorts and old tee shirts. For some reason, it seemed like everything I tried on was tighter than it used to be. I only purchased a couple of things because once I'm there, I'll have to take off at least 10 lbs. With money tight and two households to support for a while, I can't afford a whole new set of fat clothes!

Life really, really is a journey so we're "packing our panties," as Mike's mother used to say - and headin' out.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Life's crazy little curve balls....

My goodness, life does throw us some curves! Just when you think you're all settled into a routine . . . everything changes. Big time.

Last summer, after many conversations about the sagging economy, our own financial health, the ever escalating cost of living and the unpredictable nature of being self employed - we decided to make some changes to our lifestyle (especially if we had any hopes of retiring before we're 90!). One option was to invest everything we had into a wine bar/art gallery/upscale deli business in our local community. It was a great idea and our business plan indicated it could become a very thriving business - if we had the necessary capital to do it right, up front.

We quickly realized we would have to go into major debt to get the business up and running and in these uncertain times, that just wasn't an option. The other more practical option was for me to go back to work full time, hopefully in a position that included health and retirement benefits - not to mention a steady, predictable paycheck.

I honestly enjoy working so I had no problem pounding the pavement (or surfing the web), sending out resumes, etc. I soon found out that it was me and about a cazillion other professionals looking for the same kind of job in a town full of college graduates who will work for anything just to stay in Austin. The market is literally flooded with well trained, highly educated people all vying for the same positions.

Then last Tuesday afternoon, my cell phone rang while I was running errands in town. The lady on the other end was asking me if I could make an interview at 5:00 p.m. the next day . . . in New Mexico! I didn't hesitate. Yes, I told her, I could definitely be there - and I was. I met with some terrific folks about a perfect job. Now the wait begins to see if they liked me as much as I liked them! be continued

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Grand Kids Vs. Wild

It was Calin vs. Wild today when he and the three other visiting grand kids spent the morning fishing and exploring the fruits of spring. He caught this lizard who seemed to take a liking to Calin and spent the better part of two hours on his shirt or his head while Calin dreamed up all kinds of reasons for keeping him. He didn't win, of course and we supervised the laid back lizard's return to the front shrubbery.

It was a sign of the seasons though. Yesterday, Kolt, our 14 year old grandson from New Mexico, went to the far side of the front pond to fish and got lucky after about 15 minutes. When he walked down to the bank to release his catch, he was startled by a gigantic Diamond Back water snake that dove into the water just a few feet from him. Kolt jumped about four feet up and back, yelling all the way. At first we were concerned it was a Cottonmouth which can be deadly. But, today Mike spotted the fat reptile on the far bank again and got his binoculars out to study it closer. Of course, this was AFTER he had loaded his 22 in case it was in fact a Cottonmouth. After 15 minutes of magnified examination compared to the descriptions and pictures online, we're 99% sure it's a Diamond Back water snake which is nonvenomous. That's the good news. The bad news is that it's so fat because it's eating our fish!

Regardless of what it is, the fishing activities have been contained to this side of the pond. But I have to say that Kolt's brief and distant encounter with ole Diamond Back has certainly
made his "what I did on spring break" story have endless possibilities.

Tonight we sat around the dinner table telling both sets of kids funny stories about their parents when they were young. One day, they'll tell their kids about the summer they spent with Sugar and Pa when Kolt literally sat down next to a huge snake commenced fishing. By that time, the snake will be Anaconda size!
I wouldn't trade these moments for anything!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring Break at the Y-ME

Spring always brings with it a list of projects that need to be done and this year is no different. We've been wishing for a small fishing dock on the front pond for months so last Saturday, we conned Christi and her partner, Tina, into coming over and helping us build one.

It went together surprisingly fast! The only good thing about the lack of rain over the last few months is that the water level is down so we were able to set the posts without too big a mess. Anyway, by mid afternoon, the little dock was built and ready for paint (which will happen this weekend!). And just in time for the grandkids visit during spring break, too.

I'll post pictures when it's completely done.

We got some great news from our T-shirt company a couple of days ago. They've had twelve shirts in their line for a year now and they've decided to almost triple that amount! We spent the morning sorting through the images, uploading the ones they already know they want and outlining the top 50 best sellers so they can pick the rest of the line. Tedious work but well worth the time. The Mountain - the T-shirt manufacturer - does a knock-out job of packaging for their shirts and Mike's line (called the Back Forty) will have it's own rack. Pretty darn cool!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring is springing

Spring is always such a welcome relief from the drearies of winter, though our friends who live in the mountains of the northwest would argue that we never really have winter down here. There's something about spring mornings and evenings that seems to breath new life into everything. The birds and frogs are louder, the new grass is greener and the new leaves on the trees are greener still. The aroma in the air from the flowering trees is intoxicating and makes yard work seem like holiday fare. The heat of July will bring us back into reality in that department!

It's also one of the busiest times for us. New Leanin' Tree paintings are going in the studio and new art is being pulled, evaluated, captioned and selected for the t-shirt line, the Back 40. This year, we've added even more projects - like writing two books and getting the online store stocked and marketed.

It's fun and exciting and demanding and chaotic. Just getting everything we have to do in some kind of doable order is a challenge. Mike, obviously, is the only one who can do the paintings so he's safe from a lot of the hum drum stuff like scanning, sizing, and cataloging the art. But he still has to cut and prepare boards for the new pieces, sketch them on paper and then sketch them again on the boards - so I guess you could say we each have our share of routine work.

It can all be pretty overwhelming. But there's nothing better for clearing your mind than cranking up the old riding lawn mower and mowing for an hour or crawling around a flower bed, pulling weeds. It's just you, God and nature.

Works every time.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Headin' North . . . but going south

I sorta know how this gal feels - in more ways than the obvious. Sometimes, the top of the mountain is just inches away but it takes everything we have to keep ahold of it.

Our new online store is getting closer to reality everyday. We've totally overhauled and added new pages for Cow Creek Mercantile. It's looking great but it's certainly been a labor of - not love - more like a labor of . . . well, labor. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll start adding posters, etc. from other artists and pretty soon, we'll have a fairly large supply of inventory.

One issue with doing all your own website work is the chunk of time it takes out of your regular work week. Its a lot but it's worth it in the long run and the truth is, it's not that hard. Just time consuming.

This is the month Mike starts working on new Leanin' Tree paintings for next year. It's always fun to work with the folks in Boulder to come up with some fun concepts - then watch them transform into full blown paintings. When you've worked together this many years, your minds tend to move in similar directions. Mike often does a painting and send it in for the writers to review. The funny part is seeing all the potential captions that come out of it. Some can't be printed and some are just plain goofy but then there's always that one that just works.

I really like this time of year because we get to laugh - A LOT!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

In like a Lion...

So . . . Sunday was an absolutely gorgeous day for March 2nd; bright sunshine and warm winds that were bringing in a cold front and rain that night and into Monday. It was a perfect day to work outside so Mike decided to put in his ceremonial grape vineyard. He has about fifteen plants and we had some left over landscaping timbers so he grabbed the post hole diggers and started stabbing the ground. Within minutes, his post hold diggers severed our phone lines. Clean cut straight through.

Okay, so we put on our parkas and stand on the front porch between the 4th and 5th post (which is where reception is the best) for the next two days until Verizon can get out here to repair the lines. No problem.

Saturday, I got a letter from my health insurance company saying they were raising my premium by $50 a month which was most definitely not in my budget plans. I'm still paying off my hospital bills from last year, for goodness sake!

Then tonight, a department store where we bought our TV and paid the balance off last August called and said my payment was late. "But wait," I said, "we paid that off last year and you gave us the payoff amount." Hmmmm....okay, let me check. Well, yes, I see where you called for the payoff, which was $578.04 and you paid $578.04 with a phone check that day." I'm smiling that told-you-so smile on my end of the phone when he says, but it looks like they gave you the wrong amount. My calculations show you still owe $300 on this account." After much discussion, the caller promised to check it out and get back to me tomorrow. Argh!!!

I'm a pretty happy go lucky gal and anyone who knows me will say I always look for the good in people and the positive side to every situation. But, my happy go lucky isn't feeling so happy or so lucky today.

It's going to be okay though. The nice Verizon man came today and fixed the phones (which made it possible for the department store guy to call) so at least I can talk on the phone in the house if it turns cold again.

I'm sure everything will work out fine. In fact, I'm grateful for what we do have. Everybody needs a few days like the last two so they can be be thankful for all the rest!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Nostalgia Bug

I'm on the road again; in Abilene for a couple of nights on family business.

Since Mike decided to do a series of paintings depicting some of the historic downtowns around the state, I've taken more notice as I pass through.

I passed through Santa Ana on my way here. It was dusk so the sun was setting and the skies were brilliant with yellows and purples. It was amazing. Anyway, what a cute, cute little town! It's only about 2 blocks long but what a neat bunch of buildings! It's one of the handful of historic towns that's still on a major route from somewhere to somewhere. So many of these places have been lost or abandoned when interstates re-routed traffic around them. I hope to head home early enough on Tuesday to stop and take photos.

Take these old gas pumps for instance. I go to the post office in Red Rock at least 5 times a week and park across the street from these. It wasn't until we started looking into the histories of these little towns that I stopped to look at them. I just wonder what they might have looked like in their hey day...

I think I'm going to have to do some serious digging to find out - but it will be worth it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The fleeting joy of Indian Summer

The days are getting longer and we took full advantage of the extra daylight over the weekend. It was good to get away from the easel and the computer and trim some trees, haul brush and rake the algae off the top of the pond. It's funny how much energy you have for that kind of work after weeks of winter weather!

It was great fun but our backs and shoulders ached the next morning; a not so subtle reminder that we're getting lax about exercise. Thank goodness for Advil! Winter is making a comeback this weekend so we'll have ample time to heal up.

Mike has several paintings in progress and is going through photos for the book in between letting coats of paint dry. I'm working our his website, updating it with the new originals, new posters and the new Historic Downtown project information. I'm launching our new online store, Cow Creek Mercantile, this week as well.

I'm also giving some thought to restructuring my Artpro Marketing clinics. The one thing artists always complain about is the huge amount of information we cover in an all day clinic. So, I'm thinking of breaking agenda items down into 2 and 3 hour sections and offering them individually. That would give artists more freedom to take just the workshops offering the topics they're most interested in I also think it would be more effective than the all day clinics, which were almost an information overload. Those workshops will start in mid-March so I'm busy getting my handouts revised and reprinted.

"The" book is coming along but man, it's a chore! Just going through the photos, making notes and outlines, checking names and dates - well, it's a task, that's for sure. If we're lucky, we should have the first chapter done in the next couple of weeks. Once we get one done, the others should be easier.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe we've lived so many places and met so many funny, fascinating people. And the adventures we've had - my, oh my, it's a wonder we made it this far!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Okay, so he veered off the path a little. . .

There's a wonderful old church building in downtown Bastrop that lends a nostalgic bend to the view from across the Colorado. There really was an old iron bridge but it never was a covered affair.

When Mike studied old photos of the old bridge and saw how New Englandy the church looked, he must have decided to take some artistic license and create the cozy village he saw in his head.

It must be nice to take oneself to any place one chooses . . . with a few paints and a little canvas.
So no, this isn't honestly one of the downtown historical series of paintings but it does look quite lovely and I sure wouldn't mind visiting there.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mike's new Historic Downtown Series

Mike has always enjoyed doing historic paintings of buildings, downtown areas, ranches - even people. In 1990, he did a really neat painting of downtown Meeteetse, Wyoming. We lived there at the time and to be honest, a part of us still lives there.

Last November, Mike did a series of paintings of historical downtown Bastrop and donated one of them to a charity auction for the Women's Shelter in this area. He was really entranced with Bastrop's downtown so he ended up doing two more paintings from different angles. This is one of them. One of the buildings in this painting is now Baxters - one of the finest dining experiences in East Texas!

He enjoyed it so much, we decided to initiate a special series of paintings depicting historical downtown scenes, starting with some of the more notable Texas squares. If you've ever driven the rural routes of Texas, you know what we're talking about. Some of the courthouse squares in the small towns of Texas are amazing. LaGrange - Nacadoches - Waxahachie - just to name a few. Should be a fun project!

This painting is called "A Texas Skiff." A modified version of this painting will be published as a greeting card by Leanin' Tree this year. It's one of Mike's favorite pieces.

Friday, January 25, 2008


After years of talking about it, today we finally laid out most of the material for our first book. Every year since, oh, I don't know - 1995 or so, we start the year out with "let's work on the book for real this year!" only to have other more pressing issues squelch our efforts.

This year, however, we've actually done the research and decided on a publisher to pitch it to, though we're fully prepared to shop it around if they're not interested. Mike even came up with a working title (I'll share that when we're more confident about it being the right one). Now the next step is to get the query letter hammered out and in the mail by Monday. That's the goal.

It's been a productive week for both of us. This time of year usually is since it's cold and rainy outside so we stay hunkered down in our studios. Mike finished three small paintings, has two more in progress; I met my deadline for the next article in Living Cowboy Ethics magazine - yeah! - and finished all but one small project for my Phoenix client. So, we're off to a running start for the New Year at the Y-ME.