Category Archives: Daydreams

Daydreaming in a winter garden

I spent a little time in the garden last week, pulling out last summer’s tomato vines and clearing the beds so they’ll be ready to replant this spring. I wasn’t sure what to do with the vines, and while the fire-ring raised beds are neat and easy to work with, they’re not terribly pretty. My long-term goal for the backyard is to turn it into something straight out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel — an irresistible Heligan in miniature, if you will — and big metal rings aren’t quite up to that standard. I’d been considering various options for making them more aesthetically pleasing and getting them to blend in with the scenery a little better, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on retaining-wall blocks or stackable stone. While I was standing on the deck, surveying the yard and taking a mental inventory of the tasks I need to complete before spring, I noticed an abandoned doves’ nest on top of the fence post nearest the house and had an idea for recycling those spent tomato vines:

I can't decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.
I can’t decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.

I’m trying to decide whether I like it. It certainly blends in better than a bare metal ring, so I’ll probably keep it until I think of a better idea.

Meanwhile, I was perusing the Shumway’s catalog and found this:

I'm not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I'll make an exception for this one.
I’m not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I’ll make an exception for this one.

Obviously I’ll be ordering a couple of these so I can have me a time with a poor man’s lady this summer.

Emily

P.S.: Confession No. 1: When I was 16, I wanted to be Neil Diamond’s backup singer when I grew up. Confession No. 2: I still do.

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Coming attractions

I don’t have anything particularly exciting to share today, but I thought I’d offer a quick preview of coming attractions. I have several projects planned for the coming weeks — some for fun, some for profit, and some just because they need to be done.

On my to-do list in the not-too-distant future:

* Make-It Monday posts on an inexpensive DIY speaker set; an improvement to my credenza; another mural project or two; and (God willing) a complete replacement of my poorly installed kitchen floor.

* Tiny Tuesday posts on small-space Christmas decorations; multipurpose appliances; rethinking the dresser; and an interior-design trick that visually increases the space and light in a room.

* Vegetarian Friday posts on fruitcake; quinoa salad; stocking a vegetarian pantry; and controlling costs on a vegetarian or vegan diet.

* Eco-Saturday posts on refrigerator maintenance; conducting your own low-tech energy audit; and a new-and-improved quail pen.

I’ll also work up a list of New Year’s resolutions relevant to my long-term goals (at least one of which is already on that to-do list above), and I’m sure I’ll have a few photos to share as we travel to visit family for Christmas.

Stay tuned.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Seed catalogs

It’s the third-most wonderful time of the year.

The most wonderful time of the year is the first Saturday after Tax Day, when we put the garden in the ground.

The second-most wonderful time of the year is the day Cubs pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

But the third-most wonderful time of the year is now, when the companies that sell seeds for the garden and beekeeping equipment for the apiary start sending out catalogs, which means I can start dreaming about spring in specific detail and figuring out how many times we’re going to have to eat enchiladas or sauerkraut to save up enough cans for all the seeds I intend to start. (Tin cans with the bottoms cut out make the world’s greatest seed-starting pots/squirrel deterrents. Unfortunately, about the only products that still come in cans with identical tops and bottoms are Ro-Tel tomatoes; certain brands of sauerkraut; and most enchilada sauce. This means for about two months every winter, my grocery list revolves around my gardening needs.)

Gardening and beekeeping catalogs are my saving grace every winter. Gray skies and short days don’t do anything positive for my mental health, and after a while, I start to wonder whether I’ll ever get to put my hands in the dirt and bask in the sunshine again. When that first seed catalog lands in the mailbox, I see the first glimmer of hope.

We got catalogs this weekend from Seed Savers Exchange and Betterbee, so I’ll spend the next few months dogearing pages and circling varieties that sound promising and drawing scale diagrams of the garden while I dream of spring.

Emily

Why I’m not buying a Powerball ticket

This ever-increasing Powerball jackpot has prompted a lot of conversations revolving around what people would do if they won.

I appreciate that people enjoy dreaming, and they’re willing to spend a couple of bucks on lottery tickets to fuel those dreams, but I’m not buying a ticket, because I don’t have ten-figure dreams. I don’t even have seven-figure dreams. Everything I want is either free or within reach using resources I already have.

I want another marathon. I can’t buy that. I have to earn it, and the only way to do that is to get up off my arse and train.

I want my hair to grow out and finish turning gray. I can’t buy that, either; I just have to let time do its work.

I want to get up every morning and watch the sun rise over Tucumcari Mountain. It will take money to move, but I don’t need a billion dollars; I just need to pay off my mortgage so I can afford to work for a smaller paper. A lottery jackpot would do that overnight, but I’d lose something precious in the process.

Y’all know I’m a road-trip junkie. I never fly anywhere I can drive, because I enjoy the trip itself almost as much as I enjoy the destination. In many ways, this quest to move to New Mexico is the ultimate road trip. It’s slow. It’s tiring. But it’s teaching me lessons I’d never learn otherwise, showing me things I’d never see otherwise, and introducing me to people I’d never meet otherwise.

If I had a plane ticket — or a winning Powerball ticket, as the case may be — I’d end up flying right over all the sights and lessons and experiences this journey has to offer.

A bed at the Blue Swallow is never more comfortable than when I’ve driven 14 hours to get to it. This is the magic of the road, and I trust it will hold true for my current journey: That first sunrise over Tucumcari Mountain will be that much more dazzling, that first bite of green chile stew at Watson’s that much spicier, and that first sopapilla at the Pow Wow that much sweeter for having been hard-won.

I wouldn’t trade the spoils of that journey for a billion dollars.

Emily

Looking ahead

I was standing in a garage at the Blue Swallow Motel with a paintbrush in my hand one bright afternoon in April when the managing editor of the local paper dropped by to talk about the mural I was working on. When he found out I was a professional journalist, he mentioned he was planning to retire soon.

One might, at this point, question why I am posting this from Cape Girardeau and not from Tucumcari.

The answer: I’d have had to take a 30 percent pay cut, and the income just wouldn’t have been enough to cover two car loans, two mortgages and the $5,000 transmission bill we’d gotten stuck with last winter. We live pretty frugally, but I know from experience that moving cross-country is an expensive proposition when you already have an existing mortgage.

A few weeks after we got home from Tucumcari, I picked up a book called Possum Living, which is about a young woman and her father who spent several years living without any sort of regular income. I loved it, partly because it validated my long-held belief that a sensible financial plan depends more on eliminating expenses than amassing wealth, and partly because it inspired me: If I paid off our debts, I could afford to move without undue stress.

I did some quick math and realized the best way to accomplish that goal would be to stop eating meals out.

In the span of five years, we’d eaten the equivalent of a new Volvo. If I took the money we were spending in restaurants and applied it to my credit-card bill, we could pay off the transmission by spring. With that paid off, we could use the newly freed-up money to pay off the car — then roll that money into the mortgage. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we could be debt-free by Oct. 15, 2021, at which point we could start shopping for land in New Mexico to build the tiny house of our dreams.

Since early August, we’ve sent about $1,850 to the credit-card company. Every time I cook at home, I write down what that meal would have cost at a restaurant, and once a week, Ron sends the credit-card company the money we didn’t spend on dinner. It adds up fast: We’re averaging about $100 a week, and I expect that to go up in April, when our cellphone contracts will expire and we can switch to cheaper phones with cheaper plans.

I’m also losing weight (I’ve dropped 20 lbs. since July) and generating less trash via paper wrappers and cardboard boxes, which is better for the environment.

If we keep going at this rate, we should be debt-free in 2,119 days. Go, us!

Emily

Tee Pee Curios mural

tepeeday1
All in a day’s work. This was about four or five hours into the project. Love, love, love how that turquoise note turned out.

As promised a couple of weeks ago, here are photos from the mural I completed in October on the east side of Tee Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico. I still can’t get over how fast and easy that neon technique is.

koko4
All done; just waiting for the scaffold to come down.
koko3
Detail shot.
koko2
Gar wanted a mural that would catch the eye of passers-by. Even on a cloudy afternoon, I think this pops out nicely.
souvenirs
I picked up a souvenir while I was in town. This great hoodie came from the Dollar General store in Tucumcari. I have matching sweatpants I bought on the same trip. I wear them all the time.

Spending a couple of weeks in Tucumcari this year has confirmed some things for us. First, it showed us we’re definitely on the right track with our long-term goal, which is to build a tiny house in northeastern New Mexico and retire there. The people in that area seem really nice, and the town is just about perfect in terms of size and proximity to larger cities and wilderness areas.

Second, the enthusiastic responses I’ve gotten to my murals have shown me this might make a nice cottage industry, so after New Year’s, I’m planning to take out an ad in the service directory part of the paper and see if I can rustle up a few mural-painting gigs in Southeast Missouri or Southern Illinois. Even small projects would bring in a nice chunk of extra income to save toward the tiny house of my dreams.

It’s good to have a long-term goal and a specific plan for reaching it. Even if something happens to throw us off-track, there’s never a down side to retiring debts as quickly as possible, learning new skills, or saving money for things you really need.

One day in the not-too-distant future, I’ll share our six-year plan for paying off our debts and putting ourselves in a position to make our very specific dreams come true. It’s a pretty good to-do list, even if you’re not planning to build a micro-house in the high desert.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Inspiration

At about 730 square feet, our house is small but not tiny. My long-term goal is to retire to a tiny house in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. To that end, I spend a lot of time getting rid of things I don’t use, experimenting with various storage methods and trying to figure out how to cram my life into half my current square footage.

Even if you’re not planning to downsize to 350 square feet or less, you can draw a lot of inspiration from good design. With their multipurpose furnishings and clever hidden storage spaces, RVs are masterpieces of practical design. DIY campers are even better, as people design or modify spaces to suit their own personal needs.

Whether you’re trying to shrink your environmental footprint, simplify your lifestyle or just make your current house more presentable and less cluttered, it’s worth spending a few hours surfing websites for inspiration. Here are a few I’ve found recently that delight me to no end:

Hank Bought A Bus — A grad student wrapped up his master’s degree with a hands-on architecture project in which he converted an old school bus to living quarters, a la Bob Waldmire. (Bob’s still got one up on Hank, though. Hank’s bus doesn’t have a sauna.)

Tiny House, Giant Journey — A young couple travel the country, towing their Tumbleweed house behind them, meeting other tiny-house aficionados and documenting their adventures online.

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company — Speaking of Tumbleweeds, don’t miss the company website, which is loaded with pictures and floorplans sure to inspire a few daydreams.

Tiny House Talk — What it says on the tin: Blog devoted to tiny houses and the people who love them.

Small House Bliss — Another blog, this one focused primarily on small-house architecture.

Go explore some of these links and see what takes shape in your imagination. Feel free to share your daydreams in the comments.

Emily