Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ah . . . the glories of being self employed

When I tell people we both work at home, they often say, "how wonderful for you!" or "well, it must be nice!” My gosh ,if they only knew!
Years ago I read a quote that said, "The only thing more overrated than being self employed is natural childbirth." How true, how true!

Here it is after 9:00 p.m. and I'm still sitting at this computer, working - and waiting for information from a client so I can finish their business proposal. They informed me this afternoon - LATE this afternoon - that their CFO is coming in tomorrow morning and wants to take a look at the first draft.

This situation isn't all that unusual. A couple of weeks ago I worked late into the night getting artwork ready for a t-shirt company and a few months ago, we spent many hours designing dinnerware for a presentation in Atlanta.

The life of a freelance writer is never dull, that's for sure. The upside is that you really can work in your pajamas and every day is different with new challenges and Heaven knows - all kinds of different topics! Interior designers one day, high tech medical software the next and property rights advocates on a different day - all with a little cowboy humor sprinkled around the edges.

However, I'm making an executive decision today. Whenever possible, I'm going to work a 4 day work week. Yep, I'm taking Fridays off. I'll work Monday through Thursday for as many hours as it takes to get the tasks done and (try to!) take Fridays and the weekends off. I worked a good part of last Saturday evening, all of Sunday and have been steadily at this proposal project for the last two days. It’s a nice thought but I won’t hold my breath.

Besides, I need more time to write the stories I want to write. The stories that feed my soul and crowd my mind - the stories that get backed up in my head until they start to tumble out, like hot popcorn gushing over the kettle at the movie theatre. I have to write them when they present themselves or they'll just drop over the edge and get buried amongst all the other popcorn . . . until I simply can't find them anymore.

Monday, June 26, 2006

New babies and old friends

The miracle of birth never ceases to amaze and thrill me. Kevin and his girlfriend (no they're not married and I can't say they're going to get married but that seems to be the way of the world these days) had a beautiful and perfect little boy last Tuesday. They named him Talon Douglas - the middle name after Mike - and he's just precious. I spent several days with them after the birth, thinking I would jump in there and do the grandmother thing but truthfully, they didn't need me. Mandy is breast feeding so I was no help with midnight feedings and Kevin was waiting anxiously to take Talon afterwards, for his own bonding time. I managed to elbow in and spend a little quality grandmother time in with the new little guy and then headed home on Friday.

I spent Friday night with my sister, Cindy, in Abilene which is always fun. She's a real riot - we always laugh a lot which is a great stress reliever. She's been on weight watchers for about 3 months and is losing down to toothpick size - actually, she looks really good.

On my way home, Saturday morning, I had the good fortune to lunch with Beverly, our realtor in Brownwood, and got to meet her brand new granddaughter, Henslie, cute as a button!

After lunch, I told Beverly that even though we chose not to respond with a counter offer on the Blanket Creek house, we still find ourselves remodeling parts of it in our heads all the time. Our evening Porchtime always seems to drift back to the "what ifs" about that place. We've continued to look for something else but so far, nothing has had the potential and charm of that one. It's funny how a particular piece of property seems to just get a hold on you and won't go away. The damp basement issue . . . is an issue though. I can't help but think that a remedy is out there for that without taking out a second mortgage!

Just because I was gone didn't mean things slowed down here, for sure. Mike's new sculpture is taking shape nicely. It sounds like the installation date might loosen up by a few days which would be nice since there was a real push to have it completed by the third week of August. In the meantime, Leanin' Tree found one more painting they want by the 10th of July and luckily, it's one Mike has really wanted to do anyway so that canvas is prepared and ready to go.

Our contractor friend, Tracy, is using the rest of the rocks we had left from our patio to rock up part of the back side of the house. Our house has a small turret shaped room off the den that gets a lot of high exposure from the sun, which bleaches out the paint. Tracy is rocking over it and it is really looking sharp!

We got a glimpse of the first line of T-shirts being released by Wyoming West Designs and I have to say, they look pretty darned good. The shirts actually come out in the fall so we'll have some at the Cowboy Christmas show in Vegas this year.
The Mountain is also putting out a line of shirts - a larger line - but I'm not sure exactly what their release date is.

Had friends in from Arizona this morning - Kathleen and Ray Schott. She is a firecracker and has some great ideas for turning some of Mike's work into quilted throw pillows so she left armed and ready to tackle that project. I can't quite envision it yet but she's all fired up and plans to bring some samples to the Vegas show so we'll see. They were property shopping down here - looking for a cowboy town. We sent them straight to Bandera!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Lazy summer days

Thank goodness for summer cool fronts! We woke this morning to the sweet melody of rain blended with gentle rolls of thunder that were far enough away to be soothing but not threatening. It was great and Heaven knows we needed the moisture! It was in the high 80's almost all day and the summer breeze quickly cleared up the humidity. All in all, it was just a beautiful day in Texas and we spent every minute enjoying it.

Mike wondered out and took a photo of his table grape arbor. They're ripe early this year but it really doesn't matter. They make the arbor look pretty but the birds enjoy the grapes more than we do. The new vines won't produce any usable fruit for another year or so. It's quite the process but one Mike loves.

The Farmer's Market opened a little late, which was fine. We got what we needed, then went baby shopping for the new grandson we fully expect to be born this week. By the time I leave for Amarillo, I'm going to need a u-haul to take all this stuff up there! We're on the final stretch and very excited about his arrival.

The rest of the day we were basically lazy, lounging on the porch reading, talking to people on the computer and having occasional useless conversations about life in general. It's not something we do very often so it was really nice.

It was an absolutely perfect do nothing day -

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Daddys and daughters . . . Jesus and Guitars

My dad's been gone five years now but I still find myself wanting to call him. Sometimes, I can hear him laughing and often feel his spirit around when I hear a Kris Kristopherson song.

My daddy was special to me but but not in the way most little girls feel about their daddys. He was a musician at heart and a traveling salesman by trade. My parents divorced when I was 12 but they were apart for most of my life so my time with him as a child was very limited.

By the time I was grown, Daddy had developed into a full blown alcoholic and lived with me off and on for over 10 years. When Mike and I moved to Paradise, Montana in the late 80's, Daddy went with us. Once there, he bought a travel trailer and proceeded to make a home for himself in the mountains. In record time, Daddy became one of the tiny town's most colorful and beloved characters. He was a fixture at the Pair-a-Dice Bar where he cooked almost every piece of BBQ they served for the next 12 years.

The folks in Paradise were so fond of him that two years after he died, they held fund raisers to buy him a headstone, something we hadn't been able to afford when he died but always planned to get one day. They got it too. - a huge gray granite headstone with the drawing Mike did of him engraved on it and his favorite saying, "Hello, Darlin'" right underneath it. He would have gotten such a kick out of that!

One of my friends lost her Dad last week. He was a great man too - but much different than mine. He was practically a national icon; a powerful, politically involved man who owned a huge ranch in the Nevada mountains. His memorial service was attended by many well known people and took a week to plan.

We couldn't afford to have my Dad embalmed so his funeral was held within 24 hours after he died. We always laughed about it saying he practically embalmed himself with beer. Besides, there's something icky about the whole embalming process so I don't think he minded.

My friend's heart is hurting now - and I feel sad for her. I've been where she is and it's hard. Little things bring on crying spells, in the grocery store, reading a magazine, cooking dinner, holding the phone realizing you can't call him anymore - all kinds of sneaky situations that catch you by surprise. It's hard but it gets better with time. I miss singing with my dad, nagging him about his drinking and discussing religion with him - but I miss laughing with him the most. Sometimes, we'd laugh so hard we couldn't catch our breath! It was splendid fun.

My daddy died a pauper - no land, no money, no nothing really - just me and my sisters and all his friends in Paradise - but I believe the last fifteen years of his life were by far and away his happiest. We buried him there, in the little Paradise cemetery, in a peaceful plot with a perfect view of the mountains he grew to love so much.

I miss him still but I know he's good now. Just think - in Heaven, Daddy can spend time with Jesus ( and that man loved Jesus!) and won't ever have to hock his guitar again!

Happy Father's Day, Daddy. . .

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Following your gut...

The Brown County property was great and we loved the area. The land was beautiful and the house had great potential - but in the end, we decided that investing the time and money it would take to fix and update the place might not be worth it in the end. That's unusual for us because we usually have great vision, even when faced with water and mildew problems. In this case, however, there were simply too many issues to deal with so we decided not to answer the seller's counter offer but to keep looking. How does one ever know if they made the right decision? Gut feeling, I suppose and for the moment, our guts are okay. We may feel different next week but for now, we're good.

Mike started his sculpture today. At this point it's a flat piece of plywood with pink foam leaning up against it. Tomorrow, the plywood will start to wear the foam board as he builds the armature that will become the second in the Never Alone series. This one is called Forces of Mercy and the central figure is a female soldier coming out of a jungle carrying an injured child. Behind her are all kinds of rescue vehicles and aircraft. It is truly going to be a dynamic piece.

We're both working on major projects at the moment so our days are long but we do manage to steal away for a few hours on the weekends to spend some quality time together and we both look forward to that. Today, Saturday seems far away...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Where did the weekend go?

What a weekend! Saturday was a bust after running errands, finishing the porch painting project and spending a couple of hours getting more images sized and emailed to one of Mike's agent in Virginia - another of those last minute issues that makes me crazy! The day ended well though when a long time family friend who was in the area for a family reunion, came over for a visit. We hadn't seen Barbara in over 25 years though we'd kept in touch via other family members. It was a great visit. She looked great and was just as much fun as we remembered. The visit was just too short.

Today was an eventful day. We went to Brownwood one more time to look at the "house", this time taking Christi and her partner, Tina, with us to get their opinion. Of course, their opinion is weighted by the fact that they don't want us to move that far away. It is so convenient to be only an hour apart now and putting another hour and a half between us does seem a bit much.

They agreed the property was beautiful, though Tina thought the dirt roads bordered on barbaric (remember though, she grew up in Vegas!). They've looked at enough properties with us to see the potential in the house but also recognized the scary things like moisture in the basement and a curious water system that could present problems down the road (that's what home inspectors are for). And then there's the cost of actually updating the house, which is also a concern. BUT, after all was said and done, we made an offer with contingencies. So, we wait and see. If it was meant to be - it will be. If not, we'll keep looking.

Tomorrow, I expect Mike will delve into the sculpture project that will dominate his life for the next 80 days. I've seen him do this before. He will build, research, sculpt, eat, sleep, sculpt. It's a process that engulfs him. If I'm lucky and things move along nicely, he might take a Saturday off here and there but I won't count on it. It's okay, because I have writing projects to finish, a Dallas workshop to plan and several press releases to get out in the next three weeks.

AND, I need to get ahead with my workload because we have another grandbaby due anyday and I want to be able to spend some time with him too. Life is so grand!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Work, Tshirts, patio rocks and loin cloths

Phew, it's been a day. I'm writing a business proposal for a new software company in Austin and this morning I interviewed one of their key executives. Sometimes these interviews can be dull and boring . . . but not this one! It was lively, enthusiastic and full of good information. It was a great, productive two hours.

Bev, the Brown County realtor we're working with, called with answers to many of our questions about the house and most of what she found out was good. We'll go back over tomorrow to take a second look, this time at the critical areas that will determine our decision about going further.

Mike' agents have been busy and have two t-shirt deals working which is a good thing, but one of them wants to move forward at high speed for a third quarter release. That means we have two weeks to finalize twelve designs! Nothing like a little (more) pressure.

We got our patio rocks delivered this afternoon and they're really nice. After over $500 of grass seed in the last two years, we've decided the one area is just a dead zone for grass. We plant it, feed it, water it and it grows just high and green enough to tease us about what a beautiful grassy yard would look like . . . then it dies deader than a door knob. So we finally threw in the towel and decided to lay down slate pavers for a nice patio area in that spot. Looking at that pallet of rocks gives me a wierd feeling of vindicated reward - like we're gonna show that stupid grass seed that costs $35 a bag! Just see what $200 worth of slate feels like. Just try and grow up and die on us now!

Our 6 year old grandson, Calin, is with us for a few days and that's been fun. He's been watching George of the Jungle and Tarzan and tonight he asked me if I could make him a pair of those short things that Tarzan wears. Last year I made him a Batman cape and this year it's a loin cloth. I can hardly wait to see what he wants next summer!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Ghosts and goblins ... I'll miss those

Boy, it's obvious we've both got "selling the house" on the brain. We spent the day mowing the grass and painting the fence and the porch - the two latter projects have been on the to-do list for ages but suddenly, we were merrily painting away, visions of moving to the Brown County House spurring us on.

There are still many questions to be answered about that place - like how high was the highest electric bill and have the wells every run out of water, etc. And we still need to make that second trip through to look with a more discerning eye - and not eyes that are totally awestruck. We've learned the hard way that it's always better to make that second trip and play the devil's advocate, asking all the question you hate to ask but know you must and weighing everything equally. We've jumped into home purchases too quickly and ended up with an albatross that made us miserable. It's not a mistake we want to make again.

We'll see what answers we get this week and decide which way to move from there. THEN, comes the big challenge - selling this place. This wonderful old home that has been lovingly restored, to perfection, I might add. Rarely, and I do mean rarely, does anyone come into this home for the first time and not say "Wow, this place is beautiful!" That's something we all hope for when we buy a house - that and finding one that suits us well. We found it here and I've loved it, absolutely loved it.

It's the most beautiful home I've ever owned or lived in and I've been so very proud of it. Even the trick or treaters at Halloween tell me how pretty my house is. Ah, but, it's in the middle of town. Fine for most folks, and actually okay with me, but Mike longs for the quiet and solitude of the countryside.

If we do move, I'll be fine. We can make the Brown County house a showplace, something very special. But it's 15 miles from town. Funny, I'll miss a lot of things but probaby I'll miss the trick or treaters the most. We went through 60 lbs. of candy last year and had a ball. I started buying it in August. Yes, I think I will miss that the most. I just love seeing all those happy, shy, funny little children in their cute costumes. Something tells me Halloween at the Brown County house is very quiet and boring.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Falling in love with the land

As soon as we started down the winding driveway, I could tell we were going to love the house. Our realtor in Brown County Texas was a delightful lady named Bev who has a radiating smile and infectious laugh. She had shown us two houses prior to this one that were nice but just didn't have that zing we were looking for. This one, however, did.

The big old log and brick house sits on 10 very secluded acres of rolling hills and has a year round creek running through it, right next to the house in fact. There are tons of huge mature trees and huge boulders scattered willy nilly around the entrance and in the front yard. And up on one of the hills where the views go on forever, there's a huge in-ground pool with diving boards and a slide that's just begging to be cleaned up and used for summer fun.

The house needs serious updating - all the flooring has to be replaced. The current array of patterned vinyl is pretty unsightly. The kitchen cabinets need to be overhauled and all the walls need to be painted. The ceiling in the kitchen has some wierd figure 8 pattern that will have to go along with the crystal chandelier looking light fixtures. There's a basement that appears to have had a water leak at one time and a rather sloping floor in one of the upstairs bathrooms. Most everything can be fixed okay I think. The most immediate project would be transforming the barn/storage building out back into a sculpting studio for Mike. All it will take is $$$ and there lies the potential problem. Will just have to put a pencil to it I suppose and see where we come out.

It is a most wonderful, quiet, peaceful setting but it is also 20 miles from a grocery store (we'll have to change our buying habits) and that many miles from medical facilities (we'll have to be very careful too). It's also an extra 2 hours from our dear grandchildren in Austin, which is a concern because they're the two closest grandchildren to us and provide us with the "fix" every grandparent needs on a regular basis.

The home we're in now is simply perfect - just the right amount of space, beautifully decorated and updated, charming and comfortable. Its only fault is that it sits right in the middle of town and we really miss living in the country.

We have many questions about the Brown County house, like can we get high speed internet service way out in the boonies. So I suppose we'll pursue the answers and decide whether or not to go for it. It's sort of a scary proposition.

Moving - the very thought of packing up this house makes my stomach hurt - until I look at the wonderful photos we took of the Brown County house. Hmmmm.....have to see how I feel in the morning. I think Mike would have written them a check on the spot if he could have. He loved it!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Brown County - reclaiming the magic . . .

I just know we must be Gypsies. We've lived in so many places in our 30 years together - 8 states and many cities - but we've met some of the most wonderful and interesting people along the way. I wouldn't have missed a single place.

Almost everywhere we went, Mike found new inspiration for paintings or sculpture and often, I found opportunities to fine tune my writing or marketing skills. One of our favorite places on earth is Brown County Indiana. We lived in Nashville, Indiana, for several years and have always cherished those days. We made many lifelong friends there that are still very dear to our hearts.

When we were in Nashville, we opened and ran a small western themed guest lodge. It was the most fun ever! Lots of work but also lots of fun. I think we've been looking to recreate that atmosphere in every place we've moved to since.

It was a wonderous enchanting place with stables, a summer house and three ponds. You know what I mean - the sort of place you read about but never really get to live in. It was truly divine intervention that landed us there and I'm not sure I'll ever understand how we pulled it off because it was way out of our price range. But thanks to a lucky house sale and a creative financing genius, we did.

We boarded horses, had lots of get togethers and even held a huge chuck wagon cookout to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters. It was 30 acres of lush green pastures, big red barns and miles of white fences. Simply awesome. Even now, some ten years and five moves later, when we speak of the "ranch," we all know which place we're talking about.

And so tomorrow, we're traveling to another Brown County - this one in Texas - to look at a couple of places we think might have the same potential our old Y-ME Ranch Guest Lodge had. Who knows, maybe we'll find it there or maybe we'll realize we have to just keep looking. I guess as long as we have those magical memories to inspire us, we can enjoy the journey.

I'll take pictures.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

This man killed my fish!

This is my sweet and talented husband, Mike. He's the kindest man alive but yesterday, he filled my koi pond to overflowing and this morning, three of my beautiful fish were floating amongst the lily pads - the victims of over clorination. The other two are missing in action. Oh well, I have to go to Austin tomorrow so I'll pick up five more.

Today was busy - even after discovering the dead bodies in the pond. We've been working on a design concept for a large sculpture commission for over a week now and finally got the go ahead from the Sr. Vice President today. While it will be a fun project for Mike, the timeline is critically short. In order to make the delivery date, he'll have to work overtime all summer. After 30 years together, I can tell you he works better under pressure so I'm really not that worried. The sculpture is a relief piece, out of mixed media, that is going to be awesome. It will depict our soldiers doing humanitarian work. We're both pretty pumped about it. Now I have to get in gear and get some press out about it.

We also finished the POP (point of sale) display design for the new line of figurines scheduled for release in a few weeks. We are very excited about this new line since it's the first new product release since we signed with the licensing agents last year. We've seen the prototypes and they are adorable.

The line is called the Y-ME Ranch Hand series and there's been a helluva lot of work put into getting them ready for market. Neither of us realized what it takes to take a new product from concept to completion - it's a lot! BUT, we had an enormous amount of creative control and that was great! The folks at Westland Giftware have been fabulous to work with. Shortly after the figurines are released, a new line of cowboy mugs is scheduled for release by the same company.

Next on the agenda is nailing down some t-shirt licenses (two in the works) and finishing the writing part of the Y-ME Ranch Handbook in time to get it published before Christmas.

In between those projects, I have two writing projects for clients that will have to be done in the next 30 days. It sounds much more overwhelming than it is.

Sometimes, when I look at our project list I'm amazed at the breadth of topics we cover. I might be writing ranch humor in the morning, heralding an awesome new software later in the day and advising an interior designer about marketing in the afternoon. Talk about different hats!

A typical day for Mike includes tending to his wine making, a hobby he's absolutely passionate about, researching military dress for the new sculpture and touching up a painting of a toothless, laughing woman for the greeting card company.

So when we get together at night for Porch Time, we have lots to discuss!