Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ranching, writing and painting the town

I'll be traveling to New Mexico next week to take photos and interview the Steele family on their working cattle ranch just outside Fort Sumner. It's fall work time at the ranch and everyone pitches in to help with moving and shipping the cattle.

The ranch has been run by the same family for several generations and they're doing a great job of it. The interview is for a story I'm working on for the winter issue of Range Magazine, ( -You can visit their site to see what they're all about.)

There aren't that many big, functioning family ranches left these days so getting to be a fly on the fence post during this fast paced annual event will be priceless for me.

Speaking of writing assignments, I got a call from the associate publisher of one of the major western magazines last week. He's recently taken on the editorship of a new publication for the Paragon Foundation, also out of New Mexico, and asked me to take on one of their regular features. How cool is that?

Mike finished a long overdue painting this week for our framer friend in Snyder. It's a painting of Danny's favorite cow, the Queen Bee. She's half Brahma and half something else - I can't remember what - and Danny has wanted a painting of her for years. It turned out really nice - for a painting of a cow standing next to a pond in a west Texas pasture.

The next painting Mike has going is one he's doing because he wants to. He has a couple to do for Leanin' Tree but he's still waiting for the go ahead on the sketches. In the meantime he's working on a darling painting of Bea Dunbar, an longtime family friend. Bea is in her 80's and has the most infectious laugh in the world. She lives in Clinton, Mississippi and is still as fiesty and funny as ever. She spent a week with us a couple of years ago and we took a slew of photos of her having a glass of wine on the porch. I think she's going to like the painting a lot.
Seems like suddenly we both have a ton on our plates! But then it's that time of year again. I'm working on a new calendar for Healing Reigns ( and will start on our calendar in the next day or so. We have an Open Studio and a house warming party planned for October 20th that we're really looking forward to but the invitations have to get out this week.
Mike is doing a special historical painting of downtown Bastrop to be printed into holiday cards to benefit the local Crisis Center and I've volunteered to help with their annual gala, the Festival of Trees. That event is in mid November, just about the time we have to wrap up all the doings for the Vegas show before it opens on December 6th. There's inventory to put together, posters to print, and all kinds of last minute details to cover regarding the booth.
Christi and Tina, our daughter and her partner in Austin, are ramping up their services as their business, the Lavaca Street Deli, in downtown. Since they're on a budget, Mike is helping with their remodeling project and I'm doing their holiday marketing collateral (probably at midnight!).
Kevin is thinking about moving back home for a spell while he switches from young-man-with-no-purpose to young-man-with-one. He's 25 and it's time. One thing is for sure. He can never look back and say he didn't have a chance to live wild and free after high school - because he did it and did it well. Now, it's time to get down to reality of life. It's either back to college or stepping up his profession from waiter/bartender to something with a more solid future.
As usual, fall is out of the gate at full speed and we're running to catch up. It can be overwhelming at times but we love it. Our butts may be dragging but we're draggin' them double time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Please listen carefully, our options have changed...

What has happened to plain old competency in this world? And how in the world do folks find the time in their workday to straighten out all the gi-normous problems some of these companies stir up? It's a full time job!

This is how my day went. The IRS mistakenly thought we got to keep all the proceeds from our house sale back in 2004 (instead of having to pay off a lien) and sent the Veterans Administration a form saying so. The VA then re-evaluated Mike's medical benefits and informed us we would be billed for co-pays for his medical care from 2005 until now. We already have a co-pay but apparantly they think we should be paying more.

First I called the VA and waited on hold for about 10 minutes; then explained the situation and was told to call the IRS. Okay. I call the IRS and am on hold for another 15 minutes and was told to call the company that generated the 1099B. Okay . . . but I never got a copy of that form so I need the IRS to fax it to me. As luck would have it, our fax line is not working. I go online and file a repair report with Verizon - for the 4th time in two months - same line.

I call the mortgage/insurance company and they tell me I need to have the account number off the 1099B that I don't have. Okay. Another call to another agent at the IRS (you have to give them your life history each time) yields the account number. A second call to the mortgage/insurance company where I'm put on hold for 25 minutes (thank the good Lord for speaker phones) and finally after four calls to four departments, get a person who can find our account. She explains that we benefited from the sale of the property so the 1099B is correct and with that, she's gone. I dig around and pull out the actual documents from the mortgage/insurance company that clearly state that 95% of the funds dispersed were sent to someone else - not us. By this time, its too late to call her back so I get to start this whole thing over in the morning.

The whole process took me over 3 hours. What a pain in the patooty. Most of it would have been so much easier if a person had answered the phone to begin with rather than an automated woman who demands that you listen to all the options because they've changed. Ever notice that everyone's options have recently changed? It takes valuable time to navigate all the options and I have yet to hear my option actually listed. If only a human had answered, I could explained the issue and been transferred to the right department the first time.

I know automation is here to stay and I understand that in many cases it saves money and time. But most of the time, it's just frustrating.

My favorite one is when the internet is down and you call your internet provider to get to tech support. First thing out of the gate is a recording telling you the website to visit to get more immediate help. Call me crazy but if I'm calling tech support for my internet provider, chances are good I don't have INTERNET!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stepping out of the Boat

That's Peter and Jesus over there to my left. The other Apostles are in the boat, flabbergasted to see Peter step out of the boat and into the turbulent waters of a raging storm to prove a point. I can't even imagine doing such a thing.

A few years ago, a friend took us out on his very large, very fast cigarette boat at Beaver Lake in Arkansas. As the speed of the boat picked up, I sunk down further and further in my seat and pulled my jacket up over my head. I was so scared! Finally, another friend graciously led me to the cabin below thinking I might feel safer. It was a nice gesture but I didn't feel much better down there.

Life is a little like that. The older we get. . . the faster we get older. The faster we get older, the more critical it becomes to step out of the boat and do those things we've always wanted to do; go scuba diving, visit a foreign country, go back to school, start a new career, just spend time with your grandchildren - join the Peace Corps! There are millions of people with all kinds of dreams. If we can just resist the urge to sink down into our seats or pull our jackets up over our heads - we can experience all kinds of new things.

I want to do it all - get my real estate license, write books, articles and columns, design new products for Mike's paintings, open a neat little store front with all our products and a quaint coffee and wine bar nestled in the back where folks can stop by any time of the day. I may not get to do it all but I'm definitely ready to get out of the boat and go for it.

If I just stay focused on God, whatever happens between the boat and Him will be perfectly fine!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Getting Down to Business

We finally have most of our boxes unpacked and both our work spaces set up.

I have to admit I was a little more than worried about the space Mike was going to convert to his studio. It's a nice big room the previous owners used for a game room. The deal is, for a painting studio, Mike likes tiny, claustrophobic cubicle places to paint in. It's weird.

When we lived in Indiana, he pitched a tent behind the garage and painted in there for about two months while the studio was being built. He absolutely loved it. I couldn't stand to be in it longer than fifteen minutes - it was simply too small and cramped.

His initial idea was to close off a small area toward the back wall of this great big room and make that a painting studio. However, with new assignments from Leanin' Tree and an already strained budget from the kitchen remodel, he decided to wing it in this big room. His solution? He set up his easel in the very back of the room and when he's working, he turns off all the lights except for those right at the easel. Since his back is to the door, he can't see the expanse of room behind him so he feels comfortably confined.

If he went to a shrink, I'll bet they'd tell him this strange need to burrow in to get creative has something to do with trauma while he was in the womb. He likes low slung roof lines on tiny cabins and compact recreational vehicles. I like tall, tall ceilings in big rooms and nice spacious motel rooms. Somehow, we manage to compromise and work it out though.

For now, my office is in one corner of our guest bedroom - at least until next spring when we'll build another room out in the garage or down at the barn. For now, this is just fine. The ceilings are high, there's a wonderful window right next to my desk that looks out on one of the ponds so I have a nice view.

The guest room/office also has an over-sized walk in closet that was perfect for my filing cabinets and sewing machine. It's tiny and darkish with no windows or air circulation. The dark green carpet make it seem smaller than it actually is.

I think secretly Mike covets my walk in closet.