There’s Nothing Halfway about the Iowa Way

So begins the song that’s been rollin around my head (thanks, Meredith Wilson) since we entered Iowa about a week and a half back. We really came here to visit friends and get some stuff done, but we’re managing to have plenty of fun along the way. 

We are in a tiny town of about 100 people, but there’s a nice neighborhood feel and I usually get out for a walk each day, particularly enjoying the river views. Ross and I have also visited Decorah twice, which is a lovely college town that is home to Luther College. It has some gorgeous architecture, an extremely walkable downtown with fun historic information and murals and all of the chains and big box stores one needs for the essentials. (Including a 24 hour Walmart. Why can’t NH have more 24 hour stores?) 

One museum we haven’t visited yet (it’s pretty pricey for us) is Vesterheim, the four story National Norwegian-American Museum & Heritage Center. It looks like it would take at least four hours, so plan ahead around the guided tours of some of the out buildings. 

The fact that we skipped the museum doesn’t mean we have lacked for activities. We did some shopping (I couldn’t help it – the dress and the cowboy boots were gorgeous and the boots were at an unheard of price) and picked up some goods and goodies at the New Pioneer Co-op and at the bi-weekly farmer’s market. They’ve also got a music store and a game store, so Ross was a happy camper, and we bumped into the headquarters of StoryPeople, a wonderful company that makes artsy books and wooden things that are colorful and with wonderful stories. I’ve always enjoyed their products at fancy galleries/boutiques in New England and have given a few as gifts. Who knew they were based in Decorah?!

We managed to catch a wonderful concert by the community orchestra last weekend. A local professor was the soloist for Rhapsody in Blue, and the concert also included works by Bernstein and Copeland that were very well done. Best part? The concert was free! 

Our first RV puzzle has come up. We have a small power steering leak. So we need to find someone to fix that, ideally before we leave but definitely soon. Stay tuned for that one.

Otherwise we have been super busy transferring prescriptions, lining up health insurance, revising resumes and websites and lots of other important things. Still tons to do, but we are making progress – and Ross booked his first gig from cold calling! 

Lots to do. And the election and the pipeline are making me nervous. But we are blessed and thankful to be here. Thanks for reading! 

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From Dayton to Peoria in a Day

Our night in Dayton was a bit different than planned. We had originally thought to camp at Walmart, but there was a part of us that wasn’t thrilled to be solo in their parking lot for the night. Not uncomfortable, but not comfy, I did a quick search and saw there was a Flying J only 15 minutes away. They’re a well-loved travel plaza chain, so we headed there, found a spot for the night and settled in. The next morning we had breakfast and hit the road after much discussion of interstate vs. not. We settled on interstate to allow time to visit the Luthy Botanical Garden in Peoria, IL. All went well on the drive, although the wind was often intense. We ate lunch at a beautiful rest stop in Indiana (our first time there) and we’re making great time. But when we arrived at the BP Google had suggested, it was tiny, so we retraced our steps to the Cracker Barrel in the outside of town. Once the night’s lodging was acquired, we booked it back to downtown, which gave us a half hour inside and all the time we wished outside to explore the beautiful garden. Ross gets credit for finding this and it was really wonderful! Tons of art and sculptures, birds and squirrels and a bunny, nooks and crannies and seating and the setting sun. Such a wonderful way to spend an hour or two. And it’s free!
Peoria didn’t WOW us like Cleveland, but it was nice enough and we loved the area with the garden, which had other things including a playhouse. Some of the residential areas were really fancy too – and some seemed to have two houses but one driveway. Old homes perhaps? Only negative was both children and adults crossing busy streets without crosswalks!

After a quick snack on our drive, we were back at Cracker Barrel. After some debate we decided to sit down for dinner. Unfortunately they aren’t very good at taking to people with allergies but we had a good meal (and I got my coveted cinnamon sugar baked potato) and Ross has more than enough food for a meal or two today. We’re hoping for a midday adventure before meeting our friends tonight! 

Besides seeing two new to us states yesterday, Ross described how much he enjoys seeing things that are different from what we know in New England. Big farms and open fields, wind turbines and even the steel architecture (including some reminiscent of Dayton’s plane history) excited him. To me, they weren’t that much different from North Dakota, but I do love realizing we aren’t in NH anymore. The adventure has definitely begun!

Eight days until departure!

I can’t even believe I’m writing this. The summer flew by, we packed up Ross’ studio, and next weekend we begin our epic RV adventures!

I have so much to do. As does Ross. But we are ridiculously excited to begin.

Our car visits the mechanic Monday, so fingers crossed that we can keep this thing going for a while without major expenses. The RV is happy except we don’t have a working hot water heater, but we lived without it all summer so we will let it go for now. (Estimated to cost about $350 and no guarantee the part would fix the problem.)

Tonight we perform our first church concert, and we have lots of family and friend visits planned on top of our mad dash to digitize and store before we leave. Thanks to everyone who is fitting us into their busy schedules.

Send us some happy car vibes and lots of energy. We will need it!

We’re in!

Well, we’ve now been living in our RV, more or less, for almost a week. It’s still pretty messy as we organize things, but we’re in and we love it! We are still in the midst of projects and organizing in storage and at Ross’ studio as well (where I have my computer for the summer) so life is crazily busy.

But it’s so good. I am so much less stressed now, on a day to day and moment to moment basis, than I was at my last job. It may be crazy, but I know we’re on the right path.

I should be getting my first paycheck from Jean’s tomorrow. Godspell is going extremely well. I’m really looking forward to adding the band. I’m very proud of our work and happy my body is so far cooperating with the craziness.

Our next goal is to embark on the Whole 30 diet – the more difficult auto-immune protocol for me and the regular version for Ross. We had a bit of a propane scare so we aren’t using the stove yet – I’m hoping we can get that figured out before we start the diet.

We’re still seeking a cheap car for Ross. My car is tiring and the writing seems on the wall there too. Let me know if you’ve got a cheap car in NH that runs well.

Money is tight, but life is good. Thanks for reading!

False Starts and Next Steps

I’ve been lying in bed for about an hour. It’s 2 a.m. Since I can’t sleep, I thought I’d try a blog post.

Things are not looking good with the RV. Although we can get it drivable for $1400, they weren’t able to find a part (the air pump) for the truck! They even called Ford. And I really don’t want to travel cross country with something no one can find parts for. We also still don’t know about the inside of the RV. So we are leaning toward selling and we have no clue right now if we can make back close to what we paid or not.

Meanwhile, Ross’ car was totaled after we were hit in an accident. They gave us money for it, but we really didn’t want to be shopping for a cheap car just for the summer. So we are at a real crossroads. Options include:

Buy a junk car for under 2K. Buy a more expensive vehicle that can become our primary vehicle, perhaps one large enough to tow something (storage or a pop up) if we have to tent it or rough it for a while. We could at least tent it this summer.

Buy another RV ASAP through a dealer with financing while my income is higher. Definitely a junk car in this scenario…hopefully trade in RV for at least a few thousand in credit.

Some combination of the above options.

So this week, we expand our car and RV buying search. Awkward time as it is my last week working with the Arts Alliance, but so it goes. I do think all these struggles and challenges are bringing us a lot closer as a couple. Please send us some good thoughts and help discerning next steps. We can use it!

The Big Reveal and the Beanie Baby Purge

Well, it’s done. I gave my notice at my full-time job. While I am not yet ready to announce my RV plans to the world yet – we need to wait until the summer so I can keep my church job – I am delighted to announce that after May 29, I set arts administration aside, at least for now, and can focus on other things.

Am I excited? Ridiculously so! I wouldn’t say a giant weight has been lifted yet – much of the weight was definitely caused by financial stress – but for whatever it’s worth, I am not as tired or quite as stressed. So yay for that.

I am also happy to report that last night, as I ran a purchase by my mom (fleece t-shirt quilt to use all my old tees) and talked about how much progress I am making with purging old clothes and my grandmother’s beanie babies, she sees genuinely happy for me. She encouraged me, congratulated me on my progress and asked thoughtful RV questions. I am so glad I got the telling her part out of the way to give her room to do her mom thing. She’s a good mom, even if she doesn’t always understand my way of thinking, and she’s usually right about things. 🙂

Handling Ross’ finances is proving to be exciting, in that we can try new things to pay down debt, but also disappointing in that there isn’t nearly as much room to trim our budgets as I’d like. So I need to get back to work for Judy and hustle some more lessons ASAP. My first north country voice student (minus a few vocal coaching sessions) is tomorrow, so I am looking forward to that.

It’s also hard to make frugal food purchases when you are trying to lose weight (both of us) and hoping your diet can help fix your body (me). I have been doing a great job so far – trying to keep my food budget to $30-40 per week – but Ross is buying a lot of his own food too…and it is just a lot of work to choose which fruits and veggies you can afford if you need a lot of dairy products, for instance. I know we will keep refining it though…lots of things will get easier when we are on the same schedule too.

The next step for Ross is promoting his solo album. Meanwhile, I need to not only make more money, but start getting on top of RV planning. Hoping we can set up an RV appointment this week for the spring.

That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading!

The Money Machine

I’ve been thinking a lot about money. Mainly because my blog of the month reading has consisted of financial blogs – mostly Mr. Money Mustache, which I highly recommend if you are interested in getting serious about saving or even retiring early. 

For my entire adult life, I have considered myself to be succeeding if I was breaking even each month, with a little left for fun money. I have never made big bucks, but I  have always figured out a way to make things work…but likewise, even when I was making 45K or so a year, my expenses were so high (living solo, driving too many miles, etc.) that my savings rate was never great. 

When I went to graduate school, I really thought I could get a significant pay raise with my degree, so I thought 20K of debt was no problem and didn’t even bother trying to pay any of it off during school. After all, I didn’t have any undergraduate debt (thanks Mom and Dad!) so I was better off than many. 

Of course, I didn’t foresee struggling for over a year to find work in my field, settling for a boring desk job, and then taking a pay raise that was really a pay cut because it came with no health insurance or other benefits (besides vacation)…also, no opportunity for a raise…and very limited opportunities for my husband to find work nearby. 

And meanwhile, Ross’ amazing success story of going back to school, working in radio, building his own teaching studio etc. is not nearly as amazing when you realize how much debt he picked up at school….and a decent portion of it in private loans. 

So while Ross has payed off his credit card debt (!!!) and I have paid off my cat medical bill debt and I’m almost finished paying off my own medical bills thanks to charitable care, we still have a huge amount of debt between us. 

So my new obsession has become getting really serious about finances. Saving more and paying off debt will be the focus for the foreseeable future. And I am posting it here, for accountability. Ross and I have big dreams, dreams of achieving a level of financial independence where we only need to make 15K or so a year to live – which would let us pursue our creative projects with abandon. 

We will have to work very, very hard to get there. But thanks to Mr. Money Mustache, I believe it is actually possible. And if you want to contribute to the cause, let me know. 🙂 We have lots of skills to share. 

The Deed is Done, and other news

The day I dreaded has come – I told my mom our timeline.

If you haven’t figured it out, we also have news on the job front, so here is the latest.

I plan to give notice at the beginning of March and work through the end of May. Then I will have a few weeks to recover. Church job will continue through most of September at least, so I won’t give notice until June or July.

I will be the musical director at Jean’s Playhouse this summer. I was looking forward to working with Scott Severance, but they let him go, so I will be working for a surprise Artistic Director. I will probably oversee the camp too. Ross will play guitar when he isn’t teaching. Speaking of which, he gave notice at NHPR so as of April 1 he is just teaching and such.

On September 20, a week after finishing at Jean’s, I will begin a gig as the band leader and pianist for the Carpenters tribute tour with Judy Pancoast! Ross will play guitar, and we will be able to book gigs when we aren’t performing with her! Should be really fun. I hope it goes well!

Beyond that is anybody’s guess. Let us know if you know of places we should work, cities to visit, etc. Sponsors are also welcome. 🙂

One day at a time. Life is what we make of it, right?