2019-07-26: A Real Status Update

Hey, all. I know, I know…I’ve been really, really derelict in maintaining the site. It’s been a crazy-busy several months, but I’m finally settling down. Well…sort of. Long story. Pull up a chair, and let’s talk about the last few months…

Let’s start with work. I forget how long ago now, I got a promotion to senior systems engineer at work. It came with a substantial boost in pay, which I really appreciate, but it also came with new terms, some good, some bad: my minimum work week increased to 45 hours rather than the 40 I was doing before, and I switched from salaried back to hourly, but with “guaranteed” minimum hours. The latter part is good news—great news, even! I had lost all incentive to work extra hours back when I became salaried. I’d work extra only if I was behind in my work, but being a pretty efficient worker, that almost never happened. Good for work-life balance, meh for making money.

Truthfully, the main reason I had started doing commissions was as a way to supplement my income since there wasn’t any opportunity to do it at work. Now that I’m hourly again, just from a dollars-per-hour standpoint, it makes way more sense to work my day-job than it does to write. Admittedly, writing is more fun, but if I’m trying to get ahead on paying off the property—and I am; of course I am—then I get more bang for my buck if I work my day job.

The bad news is the minimum 45 hours. Well, okay, maybe not bad, but definitely lukewarm: I was already struggling to fit everything into my schedule, and taking an extra hour a day away only made things tougher. Coupled with the pay to go with working extra hours, well, my home-time has definitely dropped off. Given I was prioritizing work, I quit doing commissions, starting with not taking anything new on. But with only my weekends free, desperately needing a break from the increased work, and still having plenty of chores to do around the house, I ended up stopping my ongoing commissions, too.

On top of that, we’ve had a really weird year weather-wise. It rained every week—without fail—from September of last year until mid-June of this year. I’ve been here three years now—heck, I’ve been in this state for 26 years now—and I’ve never seen anything like that before! I had previously set a number of property-related goals (more fertilizing, more seeding, more herbiciding, more mowing), but because the pasture was too wet to do any of those things, they ended up eating away at the back of my mind and finally got done between this and last month. The pasture looks way better than it did this time last year, but all that mowing, seeding, fertilizing, and herbiciding took time.

With all that extra yard work came a few injuries. I’ve decided I should probably just never weed-eat again. The first time, I was weed-eating and got stung by a bald-faced hornet. I’ve been stung by a bee and by scorpions and fire ants bazillions of times, but let me tell you, that was absolutely the worst pain I’ve ever felt from a sting before! It sent shooting pains through my calf, around my shin, and up my leg. I’ve never had it happen before or since, but it hurt so bad that the only thought that went through my mind was, “RUN!” And run I did: I started sprinting blindly across the pasture. Only halfway across did I realize that the weed eater was still running. I stopped it but didn’t stop running. I stopped running, and it was still just this intense, incredible pain. I got inside and put some stuff on it. It took hours for it to settle down, and even after that, it would flare back up without provocation and hurt just as badly as it had when it first happened. Whoo, that was awful!

It finally healed, though, and I ventured out to weed-eat again. This time, as I was weed-eating, I felt my back getting tired. I thought to myself, “You wuss; you’re out of shape! Suck it up and finish!” And so I did. Two hours later, I couldn’t sit down. My back did something that made it hurt to sit down. I could get sitting, and then my legs would just about go out from under me when I stood up because it hurt so bad. I went to a chiropractor and felt better after he straightened me out. But the saga wasn’t over, yet. That weekend, I went to do laundry, and as I was getting out of the truck, shooting pain went through my back as I put weight on my feet.

I yelled.

Mind you, when I experience pain, I’m one to hiss, grimace, maybe grunt or groan a bit, but never yell. This was beyond all that. I have to say, I’m having trouble ranking my four worst pains because they were all terrible but too different to compare:

  • My eyes after PRK in the short moments between the last pain pill wearing off and the next one taking effect,
  • My tooth when two cavities appeared on opposite sides of the tooth under a crown and met each other in the middle,
  • My chest and gut shortly before I had my gallbladder removed, or
  • This back pain.

I gotta say, I think the back pain wins because it lasted for so long. The eyes hurt terribly but only for a few minutes before I was asleep again. The tooth hurt badly enough to wake me up, but I got it fixed the next day. The gallbladder hurt but only for up to 8 hours at a time, days or weeks apart. The back…registered between a 7 and a 9 almost nonstop for the better part of two weeks. I gotta say, I can understand now why people would choose to be gorked up on opioids; your quality of life when you hurt that badly is just awful. You can’t move because any movement you make makes it worse, but you can’t hold still because you’re hurting. And you can’t think because you’re hurting so much. Gah, screw that! The chiropractor said he thought it was a protruding disc, and after two weeks of nearly daily adjustments, he gave me a couple of shots of prednisone to stop the pain. It’s been a lot better since then. He gave me exercises to do to strengthen my core, and I think those are helping, too. I’m definitely standing and sitting up straighter because I start feeling my back fatigue when I’m not maintaining my posture and immediately think, better straighten up before that happens again! So, I’m taking it easy. I wanted to mow last weekend, but having just gotten the shot, I was afraid I’d mess myself up and not feel it—kinda like biting your cheek after your mouth gets numbed at the dentist.

All of this to say, it’s been a busy few months.

But wait, there’s more! On top of everything else, there was one commission that I’d agreed to do but hadn’t been making much headway on. Truth be told, it put me in a huge writing funk. The topic: quicksand fetish. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t have so many notes from the client about it. The client was very nice—don’t get me wrong—but for an initial 12K-word story, I had around 9K words’ worth of notes of things the client wanted, didn’t want, pointers, even a thesaurus of terms that “get quicksand fetishists going”. With so many constraints, I felt like I was drowning in quicksand, or at least suffocating. Every time I thought about writing, my stomach just kinda turned, and so I put it off. Over and over again. But, I’m happy to say that I finally got it done last weekend (since I wasn’t mowing, I wanted to do something productive…) Such a huge load off my psyche! With that done and no longer stamping out my creative juices, I’m slowly beginning to start back up on my ongoing commissions again. I’m not ready to take on anything new, but a little writing on familiar stories will be nice, I think.

I’ve saved the best for last: as you all may know, I’ve been saving very hard for many years, trying to get the land paid off and the house built. Well, I’m excited to say that as of right now, it’s 23 months until that goal is achieved. Having thought it through, I’ve decided to start construction 6 months before that. In theory, that will have the house finished at the same time the land is paid off. The result: I’ll be able to start living in my house 6 months sooner while getting the lower payments associated with having no other debt.

But that has big implications: it means that construction will start in 17 months—less than a year and a half! In a “convenient” twist of things, I just finished version 9 of my floor plans, and I’m really excited about this version. I finally have a guest bedroom, I have the basement / barn to protect me and my herd from tornadoes, I have all my glass, and the rest of the house is just really cool, I think.

There is a bit of a hiccup, though: the current floor plan is about 8100 square feet. Now, hold up just a sec: over half of that is unfinished—the garage, the barn, the attic spaces, the covered porch, and so forth. The finished space is 3600 square feet, and that includes the lab, so it’s doing double-duty as a house and work space. But, between the huge square footage, the basement, the large amount of glass, the large number of cabinets, and the fact that there’s more unfinished space than finished, the bank is…a little worried. Yes, I’ve talked to the bank. And a drafter. And a structural engineer—two, actually. And a geotechnical engineer (what the fuck is that, anyway?!). And a few civil engineers. And several architects.

And then I slammed on the brakes.

Having gotten a bid from the geotechnical engineer (they do soil analysis and write a report that will help the structural engineer design the foundation, fyi), the drafter, and the structural engineer, with a total coming out between $20K and $30K and having decided that I really don’t even know what this behemoth of a house is going to cost, the thought crossed my mind that before I go spend a lot of money on all of this, I’d really like to get with a builder and see if what I’ve planned is even feasible, and if so, a rough figure of what it’s going to cost. If the estimated cost is 10x what I’m budgeting, then obviously, I need to make huge changes to the place to get it in budget. There’s no sense in spending $7K on a set of drawings from the drafter that’s just going to get scrapped.

Unfortunately, finding a builder has been a royal pain. I dunno whether I’ve mentioned it before or not, but when I first moved back up here in 2016, I had contacted a builder before the move, sent blueprints (yes, actual blueprints—I think that was version 3?) and specs, and asked for a bid. Long, long story short, two months later, he still didn’t have a bid. Builder #2 got me a bid but was $50K over budget and could not seem to deliver on their promise to get me a list of things I could cut to get in budget. Builder #3 told me two weeks for a bid, and when I asked how the bid was coming a month later, he replied, “what bid?”

You could say the experience left a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to builders. There aren’t that many builders who will come this far out to begin with, and those who will typically want it to be worth their while: I suspect what I was running into was the issue that nobody wanted to come out to do “just” a $200K house, hence the run-around.

Fast-forward to today: my banker and I have been talking back and forth about the project and how to get the bank more comfortable with it (what, you’ve never heard of an 8K house with an entire wall of windows, a basement with a barn, a lab with ESD-dissipative tile, and a 22′-tall roof that has a whole extra floor in it because it’s so tall? Oh, well., um, neither has the bank…). In our discussions, I received a few names of builders.

The very best news of all: I’m meeting one of them tomorrow to go over the plans and figure out what to do.

For years, I’ve felt like I’ve been shooting in the dark on this house. I know that there are things I want in it, but I have zero idea of what they will cost. They’re so “out there” that I can’t really find any good numbers on them. Tomorrow will hopefully be my first chance to actually ground myself for the first time in a long time. I have to admit, I’m kinda nervous; I’ve poured my heart, soul, and 15 years into this floor plan, and part of me knows it’s gonna be way too expensive. Most of me is pretty sure that it’s not if it’s over-budget; it’s how much. But, it’s information I really, really need. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I’ll finally know where I stand. I’ll finally know how big the cuts I’m going to make will have to be. And while the results may not be pretty, at least I’ll finally have confidence again.

I can’t wait.

What does all of this mean for you guys? Well, I’m not gonna promise that I’ll write more or post more frequently; that would be silly. But at least there’s a better chance now than there has been.

As a few additional side-notes barely worth mentioning but that I feel like I should mention because sometimes, the little good things are just too important to omit:

  • The evenings have been really pleasant this summer. Like, fall weather. I feel so relaxed and content when I go visit the herd and enjoy the greenness of the pasture (yes, even as we’re about to go into August, they’re still green!).
  • I ate my first-ever pear off one of my trees today. I think it was a little under-ripe; it was pretty crispy, but it was still very sweet and enjoyable. I never thought I’d be able to eat a fruit off a tree I planted a year and a half ago, but wow, it was great!
  • Cloudy, the new horse, is settling in. She’s still mean to the donkeys, but she’s doing it with less frequency and intensity since I got on her case. And she’s starting to actually enjoy me petting her more often. It’s good to see her settling in.

All right, I’ve blathered on long enough. Time, I think, to go have dinner  (and a beer). If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. As a reward, have a haiku:

Tasty summer fruit,
Herd-petting with gentle breeze:
Life’s simple bounties.

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