Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Have you guys read the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld? It's awesome. I'm currently on book 2, Pretties. To use some pretty lingo, I've been totally blog-missing.

I've been struggling to find balance in my life. I've been successful at getting my exercise in and eating well most days, but I often feel like that's all I have to show at the end of the day. My house has been a wreck and I finally had to stop everything and spend the entire day cleaning and doing laundry yesterday. And while I stayed busy the whole day, I didn't get the kitchen finished or the living room clean, so this morning it still feels like a pig sty. Bleh! It was such a nice day yesterday, the warmest this year and I spent most of it inside, although I did manage to go for a jog/pull Mack in the wagon around 5pm... I just realized that because this challenge ends Friday instead of Sunday, I only have 3 days to complete my 30 point personal goal which involves finishing up some old photography work that's been hanging over my head for months. I think I better start by cleaning the living room, since that's where my computer is and likely where I'll spend the majority of my day.

Now, can I whine for a minute? I don't write about this on my personal blog because I don't want to hurt my husband's feelings and I don't want to seem like I'm trying to solicit money or anything. PLEASE don't think that. But lately I've just been so tired of being financially stressed all the time. My husband and I started Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover in September 2007. We have paid off about $40,000 in debt (including selling a vehicle) in the last 2 1/2 years. Good, right? While I'm proud of that accomplishment, it's still so discouraging to see how much farther we have to go. Another $50,000 before we are debt free and can start saving for a down payment on a house. By the end of next year, we'll likely be a family of 6 living in an 800 square ft house. I know that we are doing the right thing. I know that we will reap the benefits of being financially responsible someday. And I know we created this mess by living beyond our means. But I'm just tired. Tired of pinching pennies and budgeting so carefully and looking in the cash envelope to find that there's only $75.00 left for any non-bill item my family needs in the next 10 days. I want to go buy a new pair of jeans. What's the fun in moving down a size if you can't get a great new pair of jeans? I want to buy storage containers to organize. I want to buy new bedding for myself and my girls. I want to buy a plane ticket for my best friend, Lori, to fly out and see me this summer. (Lori, if you're reading, stop feeling guilty. And stop stalking and hurry up and join this challenge!) I want to get my camera body repaired. I want to buy at least two new lenses. I want to enlarge and frame some great pictures I've taken of my kids, like this one, which I invision as a 24x36 canvas print on my living room wall:

And that's just the "fun stuff I want" category. That doesn't include things like a mini-van, which we need to purchase in the next year if we're going to have another kid. Right now I've got all 3 of my kiddos sandwiched in the back seat of a 1987 Honda Accord. But even a decent used mini-van with high mileage is $6000. And don't get me started on my computer, which is 7 years old and crashes almost daily. The disk cleanup and I are very intimate friends. It takes me 4 times as long to do things as it should, especially downloading and editing pictures, which is most of what I use my computer for. But that's at least $1500 and what I'd really like is a laptop so I can have the mobility and freedom to work on my photo and blogging projects wherever I want. My husband needs to do some major repairs on his motorcycle because he took a part-time job as the canal rider (he rides along 2 canals several times a week to check for debris and make sure no one's hogging more than their fair share of the water) and he really needs a motorcycle to do it efficiently.

Our biggest limiting factor right now is the sporadic nature of Dan's self-employed income. He is an independent contractor for a law firm and writes patent applications. He spent 6 years getting a PhD in oncological sciences, and while he loves science and basic research, we simply couldn't afford to live on a post-doc's salary for the 6-8 additional years it would take him to be qualified to be a professor. And even then the income potential rarely exceeds $80K. So Dan went another direction with his career. The income potential is great as a self-employed patent agent, but it hasn't happened for us yet. Dan does work for only one law firm right now, and he's gotten himself pigeon-holed into doing work primarily for one client. So when that client doesn't send work, Dan's basically unemployed. November, December and January were really hard for us, teaching us to truly distinguish between wants and needs. We relied quite a bit on our food storage, were humbled by the way the Lord provided for us through gifts and anonymous help, became familiar with the 8-10 times a day phone calls from the credit card companies wanting their late payments, and really understood what it meant to only pay for the absolute essentials and everything else would have to wait.

We are treading water right now with just barely enough to meet our basic needs and keep the wolves from the door. But there's been no extra payments on debts and certainly no excess cash to buy non-essentials. My frustration is two-fold. The biggest hold-up is that Dan has yet to take and pass the national patent bar exam which would license him as a patent agent. Patent agents can do everything an attorney can do except for litigate in the courtroom. Not only can they write the patent applications, they can coorespond and prosecute patents with the Patent and Trademark Office. Being a licensed patent agent would open up the door for Dan to get work from other law firms, which would definitely increase his income. Here's the problem: Dan is spread too thin with other obligations (volunteer fire-fighter, chairman of the town's tree board, on the town economic steering committe, helping on our friend's ranch almost daily, riding the canal, and now he just got called to serve with the 12-13 year old boys at church). He is not a lazy man, by any means. He works his butt off from morning til night, but it's often not on something that actually PAYS anything. All of these other obligations are keeping him from studying to pass the patent bar and my nagging certainly is no help. But I just don't see our financial situation changing until Dan passes that exam and solicits work from other law firms.

My other frustration is that I don't really have a way to contribute to the income. I do a good job keeping our expenses low, but because we live in a rural community, it is very difficult for me to make much money doing photography. The economy here simply won't support the prices I used to charge when we lived in the city. And to be honest, for what I can charge and the time it takes me in editing the pictures after I've taken them, it's just not worth it. When I shoot, I do it mostly for fun, to keep up my skills, or to provide a service for someone. But not as a money maker. I could travel up to Jackson Hole or back to Utah once a month and spend a weekend shooting, but frankly, Dan would rather make the money and not have to watch the kids the whole weekend. It's worth it to him to have me home. And honestly, that's a blessing because it certainly wasn't like that when he was in graduate school.

Wow, this is a lot more than I intended to write, but I guess I just needed to get it off my chest. I just keep praying and encouraging Dan to pay our tithing and simply enduring because there's nothing else I can do. I'm thankful the weather is improving, thankful to get outside, and I'm looking forward to starting my garden (can't actually plant until Memorial Day because of late frost). This year I'm going to try to grow soy beans and garlic and do better on my cucumbers, in addition to the potatoes, peas, green beans and carrots I grew last year. To end on a happy note, here are some pictures of me and my kiddos in our first garden, last summer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go raid the produce drawer in the fridge.


  1. Sue, those are GREAT pictures!! I understand what you are going through. We are going to be a 6 member family living in an 1100 sq. ft. house by the end of the year, I can't even imagine going down another 300 sq. ft. And, with a disabled child (he has to go to PT twice a week, plus everything else), insurance that has a $2000 deductible (per person, max $6000) before they pay anything, a 3 year debt payment plan that we just signed last month, a husband who's career is in manufacturing (it's been a year and a half of "are we going to get paid this week", I feel very similar to you. For us, tithing (and a very small amount of fast offerings) has been our lifesaver. I know that we have been blessed way beyond what we deserve. And I take comfort in the fact that I will never be homeless or starving (we have a GREAT family we can mooch off of if it gets too bad), even if we don't have a penny (or thing) to our name. You sound like you are incredibly disciplined and I admire your candidness and ability to keep going!

  2. Oh Sue, I wish I could just wave a magic wand for things to turn the corner for you. I have to think that the spiritual, physical, emotional and financial discipline you are practicing will produce blessings for you and your family.

    I'm just reaching through the inter-tunnel and giving you a big hug.

  3. Sue, phone date this weekend. Love you, we all love you. Man is that he might have Joy, these trials help us to appreciate the joy when it comes. I know on a daily basis you experience joy. Can you wear a size 10, I'm shrinking out of some of mine and I'll send them to you?

  4. Sue, what a tough trial! I must say that I checked out your photographs, and they are AMAZING. You are so talented. Do you need childrens clothes? What ages are your kids? I have a girl 7, boy 5, boy 4, and girl 2. I would love to pass on any clothes you could would really help me simplify my closets so I don't have to store anything. I will be praying for you.

  5. Love you Sue! You are a strength to this group and I know you are a strength in your home. Hang in there! I'm also going through closets and could send some stuff your way if you'd like . . . clothes for the momma even! Just let me know.

  6. Can you tell these women love you? I believe the Lord NEVER leaves us alone. He sends angels to help us along our way. LET them help you!!!
    You are doing ALL the RIGHT things. He sees you working so diligently. You are putting your faith and hope into ACTION!!! Look how far you have come. I am SO impressed!!! It will be worth it in the end and you will be a better person because of how you have endured this trial.
    Keep up the great work and know we are all cheering you on!! You CAN do it!

  7. Man, I hear you. I so hear you. Debt sucks. If there's one thing I want to teach my children, it's NEVER to use credit cards. Live on what you earn, that's it. I had a fun conversation at 2:30 am this morning, as my husband was on his way out the door to work, and asked me if he should work this Friday. I had to remind him that we have to have a certain number of hours, or we can't pay our bills, and I hated having to be the "bad guy." I asked him what other response I could really give, because I can't change the math of our bills. Now, after a little more sleep, I can see that I could have said something more appreciative and encouraging about how much he works for us, but at 2 in the morning with a newborn, the math logic of the bills was all my brain could process.

    If there was one wish I can think of for you at this moment in time, it would be that you could find decent-paying work with your photography. Your talent is obvious, and precious, and I would wish it could yield some income for you. No doubt you do too, but I see why it can't, living where you are. So, my heart is with you, hoping for the best. Love you, so much.

  8. You guys are so awesome! Melissa sent me a facebook message today asking for my address. She said, "I know, I know. You're not trying to solicit help from the healthy wives club, but we just can't help ourselves. So there." How do you like them apples? :)

    One thing I've learned is to take help when it's offered. Pride is so overrated! So if you want to send anything, I will gratefully receive it. I am currently in a size 10, but not too far off from an 8, I hope. Marci, I'd love any hand-me-down's, even if they don't fit right away. Lily is in a size 10 pants and 12-14 top. Amelia is currently a 4T, but fast approaching 5T. Mack is in 18-24 months, but I'm sure he'll be into 2T before I blink.

    My address is:
    PO Box 67
    130 First North St.
    Cokeville, WY 83114

    Love you all! And who knows, perhaps I'll have the chance to repay you someday with a family portrait!