Before I say anything else I wanted to mention that this blog hit 200,000 hits and I am humbled by that achievement. It matters very much that what we have to say is worth clicking on our posts and pages so many times, and you all made it happen. Thank you very much for the support, we are truly grateful.
Wednesday morning started out with some great Texas winter weather and we jumped in and started cleaning bowls, tearing down what we could, and basic prep to close the tent. We also had a customer call looking for a big tree and he ended up getting one of the remaining 12-1/2 footers cut down to a 10 and then paying half price. Quite a bargain. We also ended up selling a second one (again cut down to 10 feet) so I was really happy that both those beautiful trees in the front will fulfill their Christmas purpose. Yes, goofy I know, but they were beautiful trees and deserve to be in someones home. We also dealt with a couple more return issues, but everyone was super nice about it and although it seems like a lot of returns all at once we sold well over 400 trees, so the return rate is less than 1%. In all cases we called the owner and he went to some lengths to make the customer happy which I was very glad to see. These trees are really important to him and they are his brand so on the rare occasion something goes wrong he always makes it right.
It was slow enough that I even got to leave for a few hours, and even though I still haven’t been more than 1-1/2 miles from the lot I did get that pedicure!! Cori stopped by and we had a Green Tea pedicure which was awesome (my skin feels great) and then went to HEB where I bought a few groceries and picked up a gift for the gift exchange. The limit is $10 for a girl present and $10 for a guy present (I didn’t make the rules) so I decided on Lottery tickets for the guys (that always goes well) and Cori found a cool electronic wine opener on sale. Score! We also chipped in on the present for the owners. All in it was $40 we weren’t planning on spending. None of it was mandatory of course, and I I like gift exchanges and it’s been a long time since I have been able to participate in one. (I’m going to weigh in with my opposing view. I’m OK with the gift exchange (well, not really, I think it’s stupid to do a gift exchange between 15 couples when you don’t really know any of the people at all, but I sort of get that they’re trying to do something nice and fun for everyone for Christmas, so I’ll let that slide.) but to ask a bunch of employees who are working, to make money, to chip in $20 each to buy what will amount to a $300 gift card for the owners of the company is just bad form in my view. Things like this are always described as optional, but they never feel optional. It was presented this way to me: “We’re collecting $20 from everyone so we can buy them a gift card, so whenever you can get that to me, that would be great. Oh, and it’s optional. Is tomorrow OK?”. It certainly doesn’t help that overall I’m not feeling very “givy” to either of the owners, but even without that I think it’s just a bad practice. – Lee)
It was a whole three hours of freedom (I will remove those hours from the final wage analysis) and it was definitely needed. We are in the home stretch here and that is a beautiful thing. I also made one of my favorite dinners, sirloin tips and noodles, so between the pedicure and dinner I am a happy woman. We only sold 3 trees, but at least I had a good day.
Thursday was more cleanup and our slowest day by far. We only had 2 people come in all day and sold 1 tree, 1 wreath, and a bottle of Keeps It Green which is the solution you put in trees to keep them fresh. I get lots of questions about whether this product really works (we have the scientific study results to show people), whether 7up or Sprite works (I have no idea), whether anything is needed at all? It’s only $3.25 for the solution and since I have personally never used it I say it has been scientifically studied, it’s like a vitamin supplement for your tree, but that’s it. Lots of people buy it, and it certainly won’t hurt anything, but I don’t really push it. I actually don’t push any particular product except for the stand if they buy a heavy tree. The stands are lifetime guaranteed and our trees are drilled to match the stand so the tree stands up straight in them with minimal adjustment. It’s a solid product and those plastic stands that are rated for larger trees, just aren’t going to cut it. I always say the same thing when people don’t want to buy the heavy duty stand though, give yours a try, but if it doesn’t work put the tree in a bucket of water and come back and get one of ours. This happens pretty frequently when people get home and discover their stand isn’t going to work. We have sold a ton of stands that way and I really feel like that’s good customer service. Why buy an expensive tree and put it in a crappy stand so it leans? Makes no sense. (We’ve actually made more in commissions on stands than we have on trees, so that tells you something. – Lee)
Every day we are getting calls on how many trees we have left ( we are down to 78 at this point) and I know they are in the process of determining which lots to close in which order. This requires some coordination, because one of the full time employees oversees the removal of the last trees and the packing of the trailers, so it’s complicated. They closed Laredo first because their sales historically stop early and it’s farther out of town. Not surprisingly we have no idea where we are on that list, or when we will close so I have kept one employee during the slow days and the other on call in case we get “the call.” I feel bad about paying an employee when there is minimal work to be done, but we have talked about it several times (and I discussed the situation with the owner) so it is what it is. It’s only $80 a day in labor, so it’s not like we are robbing the bank here, but we certainly could be running leaner on labor if we needed to. We still have some big trees left, but I heard what other lots sometimes do is cut down the bigger trees into manageable size and then the manager couple runs the lots themselves at this point. Like I said, we have talked about that, but at this point we have scheduled labor out until Christmas Eve.
The other reason we would like to close is the weather. It was absolutely beautiful Wednesday and Thursday and since we have so many trees that need removed that would have been the perfect weather to take care of that. We did get all the tasks completed that need warm weather though, bowls cleaned/dried and signs taken down and inspected, but we are facing at least 6 days of straight rain now so I am sure we will be loading trees in that weather. Could be worse of course, we are getting the tail end of a massive storm that’s due to dump tons of snow on the northern states and thankfully we are just getting rain. I miss the desert though. More and more of our friends are hitting the desert for their winter and they are experiencing some amazing, sunny weather. How funny it is that after all of my concerns about Quartzsite last year I am actually thinking of it with longing. It’s not just the weather, but also the people who are there, and most importantly it’s a break from work.
We figured out this week that since last May we have not had more than four non-working, no travel days in a row. We have either been working or traveling to get to a job and the pace has finally caught up with both of us. We are still waiting to hear about whether a gate guarding job will be available and if there is one we will certainly take it, but if not I wouldn’t mind just taking a break. I’m tired, Lee is tired, and we really miss nature. One of the great things about our Alaska job was we had time off to explore and see cool things, but aside from one trip to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Montana and one trip to the Riverwalk here to have lunch with my brother we have done nothing fun in months. If I judge my life by the pictures I take (and to some extent I do) it is falling woefully short. Where is the balance? And to be super clear, now I am talking about more than one specific job. We judge these jobs based on their own individual merits in our summary’s but this is more about the pattern. Most people who take these jobs have income coming in, so this infusion of cash supplements them for the entire year. Plus it helps keep costs down, which again helps manage the annual budget. Any or all of these jobs may make sense for them because they are only doing them for a portion of their year. Our situation is different. We take these jobs in the hopes that we will earn enough funds to coast for a little while. Work a little, play a little has been our goal, but there has been precious little play.
Let’s step back a minute and take the “50,000 foot view”. We left Alaska essentially breaking even, and needed to use a little savings money to travel to our next gig. Considering the costs for Alaska that’s a huge win in our books. Then we made enough at the Beet Harvest to pay for our time there, then to get us to Texas, and then to cover us through November and December while we were waiting to get paid for Christmas Trees. From a strictly financial perspective that is a pretty good deal. At this point we have roughly $800 of the Beet Harvest money left which will be plenty to get us through until we get paid. When we leave Christmas trees, we will definitely have at least enough to cover our costs to get to our next job and at least a month, if not more. We will either be in Quartzsite or gate guarding, and both would have a very low cost of living. So from a strictly financial perspective we are staying ahead of the curve.
But you also have to look at what we had to do to get here. We had to work long strings of 10 plus hours days with no days off. We had to do physically demanding work under less than optimal conditions. We had to travel quickly to get from point A to point B with no time for exploring in between. We didn’t make enough to splurge on a special campground or a special trip at the end. Well, we did, but if we decided to do that it would put more pressure on us to get the next job sooner, plus to be honest I am to tired to do anything, anyway. We briefly discussed Pedro Island or somewhere on the coast of Texas, but at this point I don’t have the energy it takes to plan something like that. It could change, but I would much rather just go to Quartzsite, which at least is a known quantity.
Don’t get me wrong, at any time we could dip into our savings and take a break. Heck, we could say “screw it” and live off our savings until they ran out. Many people do that. But we are really trying for a sustainable lifestyle. It needs to be sustainable, but it also needs to have quality with quality, which of course is completely subjective to us as a couple. We seem to be behind others in figuring all this out by the way. Lots of our friends who started when we did have figured out a good work/life balance. Of course most of them have some income from other sources, but even that aside they seem to have a better handle on it. Maybe in this case our desire to build a better mousetrap is working against us. Actually that’s mostly me. I’m just not willing to settle into a pattern until I know what my choices are. I think in all fairness that’s making Lee a little crazy, but so far he’s been pretty cool about it. Plus all these new jobs give me something to write about, which is important to me.
Anyway, I wanted to lay all that out for you, because that’s how we have to think about things. It’s not just this job, but this job, and the next, and the next, and finding a way to balance those with the things we actually want to do. Sure, it’s cool trying something new in the work arena (at least for a little while), but who wouldn’t choose staying in a national park over living on a vacant lot if they could? I know I would, which I suppose is progress of some sort. I have been a big proponent of volunteering/working even if you didn’t have to for a long time now, but if nothing else I now understand why some people prefer just hunkering down somewhere and living frugally over working. If (and I am not saying that is the case, but maybe it is) your choices are to not work/not spend money versus working this hard, I would pick the former as well. For us though that option is not on the table. So we will keep plugging away and see where it leads us. I haven’t given up on finding the perfect combination for us by any stretch, and I am sure ultimately we will get there, it’s just not going to be as easy as either of us thought it would be.
Update: After Lee proof read this post we had a long discussion about how things were looking for us. These posts often spark conversation between us, which is a really good thing. He found it all a little depressing, as we are working our way down the list of traditional jobs RVers do and not finding anything that really works for us. The fact is though there are lots of jobs that can be done and truly the Millennials are my guides on this. We could find mobile jobs, we could move to an area and find regular temporary jobs, we can pour more resources into our small businesses, or I can start consulting. These are all options, and all things for us to explore. We have no idea what this will end up looking like for us, that’s part of the adventure, but we are together and we love each other and we know we can make money. At the end of the day those are the important things. – Trace
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