Road of Change, Uncategorized

Road of Change: Missouri to Oklahoma

In Arkansas, we saw Texarkana and then on to Little Rock. So much of the scenery flashed by us because we were so deep in our thoughts and hurts. We did the usual bathroom breaks.  We ate fast food in the car, adding to the crumbs already there.  We would have to get the car cleaned at some point because it was rapidly reaching a point where it was too disgusting to ride in.  

Outside of Little Rock, we picked up state road 65 that would take us to Branson, Missouri.  We just need to cut across the southwest side of Missouri, so we wouldn’t spend much time there.  

Dinner in Branson consisted of yet another burger and fries and a chain hotel for the night.  At this rate, I would likely gain 50 pounds before the trip was over.  What was Lillian thinking making us do this?  How can anyone eat without gaining a ton of weight while on a road trip.  In my hotel that night, I looked up information about how to lose weight while on vacation and found some great ideas.  And I had a perfect alibi traveling with me–Snow.

That morning, after dressing in my traveling pants, a tank top and my sneakers, I ate a whole wheat bagel at the complimentary breakfast buffet in the hotel.  I grabbed a banana and a coffee and took them back to my room.  I packed up my things and took them out to the Cayenne.

Snow eagerly awaited her morning walk, so I took her to the back of the hotel parking lot to allow her to poop.  Then, we walked to the lobby and I asked for a walking map of the area so I could walk my dog, and of course, myself.  Chris called me when we were about four blocks from the hotel to ask me when we were leaving and I told him I was walking Snow and would be back in about thirty minutes.

“Where are you walking her to?  Colorado?” he asked.

           I blew out a sigh and then answered him.  “Sitting in a car all day and eating nothing but hamburgers and fries will not do anything for my school girl figure.  I felt like going for a walk this morning.  I will call you when I am ready to go.  Smoke a few cigarettes and get some breakfast.”  I hung up without saying goodbye.  I didn’t really care if Chris had to wait for me.  The time I spent walking the dog was well worth it in my opinion.

Of course, he was impatient and fuming by the time I returned to the parking lot with Snow.  I made him wait a little longer while I went back into my room and used the toilet.  A quick survey made sure I had not forgotten anything in the room. The car was running and Snow was perched in the backseat when I closed the door.  Chris stopped by the front of the hotel and I went in to return the room key cards.  We hit the road by 9:30 a.m.  The next stop: Oklahoma City.

Chris plugged in his iPod to the sound system and turned the music up.  The music played loudly enough that we couldn’t talk if we wanted to and I am certain that was the object.  I am the one who made the rules, so I couldn’t renege.  

After about an hour of emo tunes and 90’s rock blasting through my head, the song we danced to at our wedding came on and I saw the slight smile on Chris’s face.  I hoped it evoked a fond memory from our past.

We learned a tango for our wedding dance and danced to Asi Se Baila El Tango by Bailongo! and Vero Verdier.  We spent several days in a dance studio with a small man who had the incongruous name of Mr. Carlton.  When he told me his name, I instantly got a mental image of him doing “the Carlton.” He stood 5’4” in two inch dancing shoes and weighed about 100 pounds.  His straight black hair never moved on his head because he used so much pommade.  But, the man could tango.

Lillian bribed Chris by promising him enough money for a down payment on a house if he went through with the dance lessons.  As usual, he pouted and complained about having to do anything out of his comfort zone.  But, he wanted a house badly enough to suffer the humiliation of dancing with me.

Mr. Carlton dimmed the lights in the dance studio on the day of our first dance lesson and put on a deeply dramatic song.  A tiny Oriental girl came out of the back dressed in a black leotard, spike heels, and a skirt that only covered her bottom.  Mr. Carlton pulled off his coat and tossed it aside and jerked on the girl’s arm, pulling her in closely.  They writhed and swirled and posed on the dance floor.  Everything except the two people dancing vanished from the earth as I watched them maneuver their way across the floor, never losing eye contact with each other.  I was mesmerized.

Chris said, “I can’t do that!” as soon as the dancers completed their routine.  

Mr. Carlton shouted at him, “Of course, you can’t.  That’s why you came to me.  Jasmine and I wanted to show you what you will learn over the next few weeks.”  He murmured a thank you to the girl and she vanished from the room as quickly as she arrived. “Now, we begin.  You have your shoes?”  

Lillian brought dancing shoes for both of us that we would wear at the reception.  Although mine had heels, they were comfortable to wear.  Chris’s shoes were shiny black and he would wear them for the wedding and the reception.

We put on our shoes and Mr. Carlton inspected the fit.  He announced that they would work perfectly and then commanded we stand for our first lesson.  Chris kissed my hair and said, “You have to know how much I love you if I am willing to do this for you.”

I countered with, “You are doing this for a house.”

Chris said, “I do love you, house or not.”

I blushed and Mr. Carlton told us to get to work and to stop flirting.  For the next two hours we practiced our posing, getting our frame correct, staring deeply into each other’s eyes.  At the end of the session, I felt like I had just ran a marathon.  I was sweaty and tired.  My arms and calves ached.  My head ached.  My feet felt swollen inside the shoes. Chris looked very much the same.

As we drove home after that first dance lesson, Chris told me, “I have a new respect for anyone who dances.  That is a lot of very hard work.”  He was silent for a few moments and then he asked me, “Do you think we can do it?”

“I hope so.”

“How long have we got to learn this stuff?”

“The wedding is four months away.  Mr. Carlton has scheduled us for two lessons a week.  Yes, I think we can do it.”

“You know, we have to get this perfect.  It’ll impressed the hell out of Mom.”  

It bothered me a little bit that he was learning the tango to impress Lillian rather than me, but I kept my mouth shut.  At least he was going to try.

The next lesson was dismal.  Mr. Carlton yelled at us for being stiff as a two by four.  He flailed his hands and ranted.  The muscles in my arms ached terribly from the first dance lesson and I felt like I was moving through glue.  Chris didn’t say anything, but I imagine he felt much the same.

The third lesson went a little better and the fourth even better.  We discovered we could judge our progress by how much Mr. Carlton yelled.  Less yelling meant better dancing.

I progressed with my wedding plans in the midst of all of the dance lessons.  Six months before the dance lessons, my mother and I went to Kleinfeld’s in New York to get a wedding dress.  As usual, we clashed terribly.  Mom wanted me to wear a mermaid gown and I wanted something a bit more vintage.  We settled on a dress that was reminiscent of the beaded dress that Ginger Rogers wore in the movie Top Hat.  The Hollywood Golden Age themed wedding moved ahead at warp speed.  Mom wanted to impress all of her friends from the Hamptons, so we got married in Mom’s backyard.  Neither Chris nor I knew most of the guests, but we only had eyes for each other, anyway. The money Mom and Dad spent on the wedding was embarrassing.  We got through it.

I had a second dress of the wedding reception; one far more conducive to dancing a tango in that it was similar to my wedding dress but without the train and missing most of the beads. It conjured images of Ginger, again wearing a white silk gown.  Chris wore a top hat and tails. Matt, Chris’s best man, introduced us as we entered the tented pavilion my mother had erected in her yard for the reception.  “Ladies, gentlemen, honored guests.  May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Archer, Chris and Ann.”

The orchestra cued the music and I slowly walked out to the dance platform.  From the opposite side of the platform, Chris appeared and tossed his coat aside, just like Mr. Carlton did that first day at dance lessons.  Our bodies molded together as we went through the well-rehearsed steps of the tango.  We received a round of applause which would have happened even if we danced poorly.  Mom beamed and Chris blushed.  I caught a glimpse of Lillian and she shook her head slowly from side to side.  Later she told me that entire wedding was pretentious and I agreed.

Of course the wedding was pretentious, but few people could say no to Lilith Weaver.  So, the lavish and pretentious wedding proceeded, and Chris and I had fun.  And so did my six bridesmaids and Chris’s six groomsmen.  That evening, I danced with a Senator or two, a Hollywood producer, a couple of Wall Street Millionaires, and an actor who was famous for creating a superhero on the big screen. We dined on lobster, Beef Wellington, caviar, and a wedding cake decorated to look like a white top hat with Swarovski crystals and white roses to garnish.  Just like my wedding bouquet.  White roses, Swarovski Crystals and silk ribbons.

By the time I danced with my Dad, I had my shoes off and Mom was scandalized.  She informed me as she and a famous TV chef danced by that only tramps and hobos went without shoes.  Dad whirled me a way and told me to ignore Lilith and to enjoy myself.  Chris and Lillian danced closer to us and Lillian pushed Chris into my arms and grabbed my dad for a spin around the floor with him.  Mom fumed at Dad for dancing with the indefatigable Lillian Archer.

Other than our tango, Chris was a terrible dancer.  He was just barely able to do a box step.  I only danced with him two or three times during the night.  Matt, on the other hand, was accomplished and lithe on the floor.  He graced me with several dances while Barbara smiled at him in approval.

Around midnight, the party started to wind down and Carolyn, my maid of honor, announced that it was time for me to go so everyone else could go.  Matt instructed the orchestra to play a slow romantic song and Chris and I had one last box step dance together.  We went upstairs to stay overnight in Mom’s guestroom.

I was happy to have a lavish wedding, but afterward, I knew Mom had over spent.  All I had remaining were some memories and an album full of photographs.

Chris pulled the car over so we could get a selfie of the Oklahoma Welcome sign. I smiled because I was still thinking about our tango and Chris just looked annoyed.  I sent the photo to Mr. Cartwright and to Lily.   I also sent one to Matt.  He would enjoy the image of Snow with her two front paws on Chris’s leg, begging for a pat on her head.  Maybe that’s why he looked annoyed.

OKLAHOMA

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Road of Change: Texas to Arkansas

 

The GPS told us the actual drive time to San Antonio was about 7 hours, but it didn’t take into consideration the traffic in Houston. We averaged about 20 miles an hour just about all the way across the city. Houston was hot and humid.  The Cayenne started to overheat in the slow traffic, so I was forced to open the windows and turn off the AC.  Even with 26 lanes of traffic, we crept along for what seemed like a hundred miles.  

Because of our late start, we stopped at the Candlewood Suites in Houston’s City Centre, never actually traveling all the way across the city. We ate dinner in the onsite Grille, Chris eating light because he still suffered from the effect of his binge the previous night.  I was secretly happy he felt bad.

I have never had much sympathy for anyone with a hangover.  It is a fully preventable disease.  Chris suffered in silence because he knew I would give him a piece of my mind if he complained. Or so I thought.  He rarely told me what was on his mind, so I got into a habit of assigning thoughts to him that may or may not be accurate.

About halfway through our meal, he said, “I will never drink that much again.  I still feel like shit.  Let’s not leave early tomorrow. Maybe we can take a day and sleep in.  At least I need to.”

I nodded and said, “Go back to the room, now and go to sleep.  Call me when you wake up in the morning.  They have coffee and a continental breakfast down here in the morning until 11:00 am.”

“Maybe we should get on the road after the morning rush hour,”  he said.

“Just call me when you are ready to get moving,”  I repeated.

“You will answer your phone?”

I glared at him, rose from my chair and walked back to my room, unescorted.

I opened my laptop and tried to determine if there was a better route to take to get this over with quicker.  After a few minutes, I gave up and turned on the TV to watch the same movie I watched the previous evening.  The second time around, it didn’t get any better.  I was bored with the trip and bored with my traveling companion.  We had to do something different or we would likely just give up and go home.  Was a house really worth all of this aggravation?

I called Chris’s cell phone and he answered with “What?”

“I was thinking.  Maybe we should try to make this trip more bearable.  Like maybe we should pick a tourist spot in each state and make it a point to visit.”

“Why?”

“It will give us something to look forward to instead of just a month or more of driving,”  I said.  “I took Snow to a plantation in Baton Rouge while you were still in bed and it was great fun.  I learned a little about the state of Louisiana, too.  It broke up the monotony of just driving.”

“Well, if I agree to that, where would we stop, next?”

“We are turning north toward Little Rock, Arkansas next.  We go from US 59 to Interstate 30 North.  There is a nice dog park we can stop at in Texarkana.”

“Okay.  Whatever,”  he said.

I hung up on him and looked into the park a little.  Like everything else in our lives, I had to make the plans.  It was like Chris just rode along in life without thinking about anything.

Finally, I decided to drive instead of sightseeing.  Maybe I would feel better once we got to Little Rock.

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My Morning Routine

Most of you don’t know this about me, but my older brother lives with me.  In my house. having effectively taken over the downstairs portion.  It didn’t happen over night, but rather gradually over the past four years since I bought this thing.  He has the downstairs bedroom so he can, in his words, provide security for the property.  Um… okay.  Not much around here to be secure from, but I digress.

Now, I don’t mean to get on a rant here, but really, I don’t understand how the male mind works.  Maybe some of you guys out there can clue me in (without giving away any of the secret guy code stuff, of course.)  What I mean is this;  my morning routine is a simple one.  I get up, make my breakfast and before eating my breakfast, I clean up the kitchen–washing dishes, loading (or unloading and then reloading) the dishwasher, wiping down the counters, sweeping the floor.  Because, honestly, how can one person be far messier than a houseful of toddlers and dogs?  Well, Bro manages.

The reason I have to clean up the kitchen is because Bro does not.  He has 2 or 4 midnight snacks and leaves the dishes everywhere.  Okay, if I’m honest, they are mostly near the kitchen sink.  I find table knives smeared with peanut butter, bowls where he ate leftovers for dinner at 11:00 pm–long after I hit the hay–and bread bags without the twisty tie still on it and empty bowls with the remainders of soup or spaghetti.

Getting back to the morning routine, I get up, clean up the kitchen and then eat my breakfast.  Pretty simple.

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Photo by Catt Liu on Unsplash

Now, the reason for my rant:  Last night for dinner, he made stuffed chicken breast and cauliflower with cheese.  Don’t be horribly impressed because the chicken breast came pre-stuffed from Harris Teeter.  After I ate my dinner. Bro did not eat because he was still deep in the throes of his copious-amounts-of-alcohol weight loss plan (which is not working).  He thinks if he just drinks lots and lots and beer and doesn’t eat any food whatsoever, he will get rid of his beer belly.  Or as I like to phrase it, his heart-attack belly.  Well, somewhere in the wee small hours, he eventually wises up for about thirty seconds and eats a peanut butter sandwich or some leftover chili.  And the beer belly grows another half inch. Not because he ate some food, but because he consumed another case of beer.

Still, with the meager offerings for dinner, the sink was fulled with pots and pans and other debris from the day.  I took one look at it last night and decided that I would wait until the morning to wash everything up because the mess looks less daunting in the morning sun.

So, this morning, I opened my eyes and remembered the mess in the kitchen, rolled over and hit my mental snooze alarm–just another five minutes.  I woke up an hour later and launched myself out of bed.  Actually, the word launch is way too strong for what really happened.  Anyway, I went to the bathroom to do what people do in the mornings and I heard water running.  So, he is up and washing his clothes, I thought.  Yes, he lives with me, but I absolutely draw the line at some things.  I don’t clean his room, I don’t do his laundry, I don’t mow the grass, I don’t take out the trash, and I don’t kill the spiders.  Someone else has to do those things and I elected Bro.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  He is older than me by only three years, but in his mind, that makes him far older, wiser, and totally in charge of my life.  After all, he has years more experience than me plus male genitals.  Why shouldn’t he be in charge?  I don’t agree with that.  Genitals have no bearing, at all, on who should be in charge of anything. Neither does age.  (This attitude could be one reason I am not married and have not been since 1987.)

Anyhow, imagine my surprise when I came downstairs and found the dishes washed.

I think I should interject here, that the dishwasher was full of clean dishes where I filled it to the brim and turned it on the day before and the clean dishes were still inside, but the pots and pans and debris from the midnight snacks were washed and put in the dish drainer to dry.

He sees me enter the kitchen and says, “I washed the dishes.”  I replied, “I see that.”  He said, “I didn’t empty the dishwasher, though.”  “I see that, too,”  I replied.  He counters with, “The sink was full of dishes.”  I said, “I know.”  He gave me that look that puppies get when they are expecting a treat.  So I said, “Thank you for washing the pots, although you never thank me when I wash the pots.  I clean the kitchen every morning and I do not expect effusive praise and thanks.  Plus, I work two jobs and you work no jobs, but rather you screw around on the computer, having no source of discernible income and you expect a thank you because you did me this great big favor of washing a few pots?”

In his own defense he said, “I wash dishes sometimes.”

“Yes you do, but it is about a 100:1 ratio.  You washing dishes the one time and me the 100,”  I responded.

“I turn the dishwasher on sometimes,” he said.

“Oh, that’s right, you did turn it on once.  Thank you.  Thank you so much for turning on the dishwasher one time.  You never thank me for doing the dishes every day.”

“I noticed.”

“La di da!  You still never thanked me for doing the dishes, but you expect me to thank you.  And I did.  I thanked you.  Enormously.”  I said, with an air of finality that ended the discussion.

So, guys of the male persuasion, why do I have to thank him for doing the dishes once when he never thanks me for doing them day after day?  What is it with men?  I never get thanked when I clean up the trash he drags into the house with his boots because he doesn’t know how to wipe his feet.  I never get thanked when I go behind him and clean up all the things he leaves lying about the place because he doesn’t know how to put anything away.

So why, in that single act of washing a pot, does he expect a thank you?

That is probably a question that will forever remain unanswered.

 

 

 

 

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Chapter Two conclusion

Later that evening, I called Matt to tell him what transpired with the will.

Matt chuckled when I laid out the terms.  “Well, that sly old fox.  Did she know you and Chris were separating?”

“Yes, I told her a week before she died.”

“You know, I need a Porsche Cayenne like I need a hole in the head.  Barbara and I don’t even need the money.  But, I would love to see you and Chris, so I insist you bring the car to me.”

“You know I love you, Matthew,”  I said.

“Don’t tell Barbara or Chris.  We’ll never be able to get rid of either of them.”

“I didn’t mean that.”

“Just don’t kill Chris on the road trip.  It’s hard as hell to hide a body.  I know.  I’m a Medical Examiner.  Tell that punk to give me a call before you kill him.”

I laughed and disconnected.

My own mother wasn’t as supportive.  I called her after I talked to Matt to tell her what we needed to do.

“Don’t do it.  Just tell that cheat and liar to get lost.  Cut your losses.  That road trip will lead to nothing but trouble.  You will regret spending that much time with him.  What has he ever done for you besides sleeping around with everything in the country?”

“Mom, one woman is not sleeping around with everyone in the country,”  I said, sharply.

“I’m not surprised to hear about this.  I have suspected for years that he was cheating on you.  Now that it’s proven, you need to dump him.”  Some stories never change.  “I have told you for years he is a zip, a zero, a nothing.”

“Yes, I know.  You tell me every chance you get.  I didn’t call to get a lecture.  I just wanted to know if Lily can stay with you while we’re gone.”

“Of course, I would love to have my granddaughter for a few days, but you know your father and I are going to the Hamptons for the summer and there is just nothing there for a fifteen year old girl.  Let me talk to your father and maybe we can just stay in New York for the summer, although it is ghastly hot and miserable.  I will make the sacrifice for my granddaughter.”

“Thank you, Mom.  Let me know.”  And I disconnected.  “Don’t change the light bulb because I wasn’t going to read anyway.”  I said aloud.  “You know she won’t help you out, idiot” I admonished myself.  Still, I always hope she will finally act like a person.  

Snow lounged on the bed beside me, so I nuzzled her neck.  She rewarded me with a lick on my cheek.

The little knock on the door alerted me to Lily.  She opened the door and then started with, “Mom, I don’t want to stay with Grandmother Lilith.  She makes me wear ugly dresses and puts my hair up in a 1960’s bouffant.  She gives me lectures about proper ladies needing proper grammar and she says you and Dad have raised a juvenile delinquent.  I would be miserable the whole summer.  Don’t make me go stay with her.  Find someone else to babysit me.  Maybe you could fly Charlotte here to stay with me.”

“These walls must be made of toilet paper.  Also, your cousin is getting ready for her wedding,”  I said.  “She can’t stay here with you.  But, maybe you can stay with Carolyn and Louis.  She can always use help with those three boys.”

“That would be a lot better than staying with Grandmother Lilith.  Aunt Carolyn is fun. And you always talk really loud when you’re talking to Grandmother Lilith, so the walls don’t have to be made of toilet paper.”  Lily looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, “I only have one grandmother left.  Do I still have to call her Grandmother Lilith?”

“Yes, you do.  She insisted.”  Then, in my well known and well rehearsed imitation of my Mom,  “I earned the right to be called Grandmother and I insist upon being distinguished from that other one.  Therefore, the grandchildren will address me as Grandmother Lilith and not one syllable less.”

Lily giggled and then said,  “I think she holds her nose a little bit higher than you did.  Now, are you going to call Aunt Carolyn?”

“I’ll call her tomorrow.  My sister goes to bed pretty early.”

“So, you and Dad are going to do this?”

“I think so.  He is pretty upset right now, but he will go along.  I don’t believe he really wants to separate.  He has had more than one opportunity to leave and he is still here.”

“Good night, Mom.  I love you.”

I smiled at my beautiful girl.  “I love you, too, Lily.”

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Photo by Lachlan Donald on Unsplash

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Chapter Two continued…

“She changed her will just a couple of days before she died,”  Chris said after Mr. Cartwright’s vanished out of our driveway.  “She dreamt this scheme up just a few days ago.  We should be able to break this will.”

I walked into the kitchen and said over my shoulder, “She wasn’t addled or feeble-minded.  She was brilliant right up to her collapse. She may have been ninety-four, but she wasn’t demented.”  I paused for a moment, then turned to face him.  “Does the idea of spending a couple of months in a car with me repulse you completely?”

“No,”  Chris said;  “No, of course not.  I am not repulsed by you.”

“There is simply someone you would rather spend time with.”  He didn’t even bother to deny it. The names I wanted to call him filled my head.  He put a hand on my shoulder and I jerked out of his reach.  “I’m going to bed.  Stay out of my room.”  I said, turning away from him.

“I get the guest room, again?  That bed is hard as a brick.”

“Christian Matthew Archer Junior.  You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t sleep in my bed and hers.  I draw the line,”  I told him.

Lily stood in the doorway of the kitchen.  “You guys are still fighting?”  My daughter looked like her father with dark curly hair and blue eyes. At fifteen, she towered over me by a head.

“We aren’t fighting, dear,”  Chris said to her.

“That’s all you two have done for the past two years, since Trip died.  You have gotten a lot worse lately.”

Chris hung his head and I walked to her to cover her in a hug.  “When did you get so smart?” I asked her.

“Doesn’t take a genius to figure this stuff out.  You know what I think Grandma Lillian is trying to do?  She is trying to get you two together.  Think about it.  By making you go on a trip together, you two have to talk. You have to get along.”

“It’s not that simple,”  Chris said.

“Yeah, Dad, it is that simple,”  Lily countered.  “If you and mom can survive together on a road trip, then maybe you will stay together.  Everyone gets divorced, today.  I was really proud of the fact that my parents are still together.  I am the only one of my friends who lives with both parents.  That is pretty cool.  Don’t screw it up, Dad. Work it out with Mom and tell that skank you’re screwing to get lost.”

She spun on her heel and stomped up the stairs.

“What’s a skank?”  Chris asked me.

“From her tone of voice, I don’t think you really want to know,”  I replied.

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Photo by Rene Böhmer on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

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How to Know When You Need a Family Budget

Do you really need a budget? Isn’t that just a boring list of numbers that means you never get to spend money on what you want?

A budget is really just a way to take control of your finances. It does not necessarily mean you can’t ever spend your money on what you want; it just means you spend your money smarter. In fact, if you are always denying yourself and never buying anything you want for fear you can’t afford it, a budget could be liberating. Dealing with real numbers tends to be a lot less stressful than dealing with vague impressions of your income and expenses.

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Photo by Niels Steeman on Unsplash

So how do you know if you need a family budget? Here are some tips to help you know if you need to form a budget.

1. Your credit cards are never paid off.

If you are paying only the minimum balance on your credit card, and/or using one credit card to pay off another, then it’s time to work out a budget to get out of that hole.

2. Money “burns a hole” in your pocket.

Do you feel like you have money for a moment or two, then it’s gone? This could mean you have too many expenses, or that you are too quick to spend on wants rather than needs.

3. You don’t put any money into your savings, or you are random about how much and when you put money in.

Having a savings plan is an important aspect of financial management. If you don’t have any regimented plan for putting money into savings – say the first 10% of your net income always going to savings, or all bonuses from your workplace going straight to savings – then your savings will tend to languish as you keep spending on things you want.

4. You don’t have a savings account at all.

If you don’t have any savings or emergency fund, it may be a sign that you need a budget. A good family budget can help you make savings a priority.

5. You’re always saying, “I can’t afford it.”

Do friends ask you to go out to lunch, or to an event, and you say you “can’t afford it” all the time? This may be true, or it may not be; forming a budget will help you know what you really can and can’t afford.

6. You never seem to have enough.

Money can be deceptive – what seems like “plenty” can suddenly be not enough. Forming a budget can help you get a grip on what you really have; you may be pleasantly surprised that you do actually have enough, or that it’s feasible for you to make some strategic cuts so that you will have enough.

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5 Clever Ways to Name a Character in a Fiction Story

One of the most important aspects of writing fiction is the character’s name.  Often I spend hours or even days pondering over this critical issue.  I spent more time on naming characters than I spent naming my children.  The name has to fit the character’s personality.  Names like Stephanie Plum, Sherlock Holmes, Dirk Pitt fit the characters so well and I hope to do at least that good in naming mine. This is a list of some of the guidelines I use.  I would like to take a moment and point out that NONE of these names belong to anybody I know, so if you try to find yourself in a name, you will be wrong.

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What would you name your baby?
  1. Bad Guys

The bad guy will have a hard sounding name will have “J”, hard “G”, or “D” sounds.  Think Judge, Garrick, Darth.  While Judge Dred was a good guy, to me that is a perfect bad guy name.  A name that sounds like a crime is a good choice.  One novel I wrote has Arsen Gray, Bad Guy.  How about Killian Kroft?  Aaron Battle, or Lance Pierce

  1. Good Guys

An innocent woman or sweet female character will have a name like Mary Perkins or Sarah Simpkins.  It reminds me of “Babykins” or Lambykins.”  Mary denotes innocence itself.  You will never go wrong naming a mother Mary.  Also, variations of Mary, such as Marie Perkins work or Mariel or Muriel.  Sarah or Sally are good mother’s names.  Ann, Anne, Anna, Hannah are all main character names I like to use for my ladies.

For a good guy, I choose softer sounding names like, Christopher or Matthew.  James is a good guy, as in James Bond.  More good choices are Matthew Holmes, Eli Morning, Chris Shanley, or Christian Erikson.

  1. Heroes

A hero would have to have a heroic sounding name, like Ares, Arthur, Garrett, and Julius, or for the ladies, Artemis, Diana, or Raven.

To name a character, you have to figure out who they are and what they will accomplish.  For example, a male who will save Earth from destruction, but is a complete computer geek, you may try something like Arthur Palmer or Sterling Watson. I often create the back story for a character before I ever name them.  I sometimes use a “working name” until I decide what the character’s name will really be.  When I plug in the new name, I read over what I have written to see if the new name fits a s well as I think it will.

  1. Beautiful People

A beautiful woman needs a beautiful name, like Rose, Lily or any other flower name, or named for a jewel, like Ruby, Beryl, or Jewel.  A very handsome man could be Brian, Daniel, Alexander or (my favorite) Adrian.

What about a beautiful evil woman?  Ruby Pierce or Lily Lance.

  1. Intellects

Brian is a perfect genius’s name because it looks like Brain, or Isaac or Vincent.  And a genius girl could be Margaret, Sage or Alice.

I try to use names that are easy to pronounce and recognizable.  I don’t make up names, even in a Sci-Fi story.  I have seen that too often, where a character has a name that makes you want to buy a vowel.  I have spent way too much time trying to pronounce a name in my head that seemed unpronounceable.  In a novel I am currently working on, the heroine is Kathleen Fouraker and the hero is Christian Shanley.  In another Sci-Fi, I used Regina Sharpe as the heroine and James Thompson as the hero.  If you promised your grandmother that you would name your lead character after a village in Wales, then be kind to your readers and include a pronunciation guide.

The character name is an important story element, so don’t be afraid to give it some serious thought. Google it.  Look up the name’s meaning, its origins.  Say it out loud.  Does it sound hard as diamond or soft as cotton?  Also, if you need to change the character’s name, then do it.  I have changed a name more than once in my stories.

 

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How to have a Surprise Retirement

I have been at this retirement thing for about three months. To be clear, my retirement was not by choice. I was forced into early retirement by losing my job. So, what does that really mean?

It means I was taken completely by surprise and I have always hated surprises. My boss came into my office and announced, “This is your last day working here.” They were generous with a severance package and unemployment benefits. But, seriously? “Well, thank you for nothing you greedy, heartless, degenerate moron. I was leaving here in 4.5 years, anyway.” I thought to myself. I packed up my personal belongings, erased everything from my computer including the operating system and walked out of the back door without saying goodbye to anyone.

I had that sudden feeling of falling on my backside as Lucy snatches the football out of the way. I completely understood what the Coyote felt the instant he looked down and saw that he had run off the edge of the cliff or looked up and saw the anvil coming directly at him. Nowhere to run. After a few days of reeling from the news, I was able to think coherently… that is, I could think in complete sentences that did NOT start with, “Now, what the hell am I going to do?”

I had a five year run up to my retirement plan that was effectively cut short by 4.5 years. But, at least the rudiments of a plan were already in place.

  • Pay off my car
  • Pay off my credit cards
  • Double up on my IRA payments
  • Pay off (finally) my student loans
  • Use the IRA to remodel the bathroom and to add hardwood floors downstairs.

Having my income whacked in half, most of my retirement plan had to be amended. Fortunately, I am one of those people who make lists. ALL. THE. TIME. I make lists to remind me to make lists. My new Retirement is Happening Right Now list is pretty simple.

  • Pay the house payment FIRST each month
  • Pay the utilities next
  • Find a cheap cell phone plan
  • Eliminate the cable, keeping Netflix
  • Find a part time job that I can do from home
  • Make regular car payments
  • Make regular credit card payments

Whew! I feel much better having a plan. So how is the new plan working?

It has to be amended again, because I am switching from unemployment benefits to Social Security Benefits which has whacked my already whacked income by 1/3.

So, I still have to make adjustments to my lifestyle and I still have to figure out how to make this work. This story will be on-going as I figure out how to live on a limited income without loosing my house and becoming one of those old ladies who push a grocery cart around and live under a bridge.

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Photo Credit: Photo by Matthew Sleeper on Unsplash