The weather was absolutely stunning today. 74 degrees, no clouds, and a light breeze. I decided to go to the grocery store and it was nice getting out. Everything is very green here and as of yet the “hordes”of mosquitoes that we’ve been warned about haven’t appeared. When I got back I downloaded Google Hangout and tested it with my youngest daughter, Kay. She helped me worked through the interface and we discovered it didn’t work very well on the IPad. Since this is what I am using for my upcoming call with my favorite author I wanted to work out the bugs before I started. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the frack pond lining guys have been working pretty hard on the pond and told me when they left they have one more day of work to do. I’m not sure how that will impact the fracking schedule since the work-over crew is still going, but they are making progress. (The way I look at it, every day brings us closer to our April 1st departure, so they can feel free to take their time. – Lee)
Since we know things are going to get busy soon I have been spending quite a bit of time at night writing. Last night I wrote about our final days in Keene, and the first few months we were on the road. As exciting as things were back then we had a pretty rough start, and dredging all that up was kind of tough. Still, it was good to be able to write about it without being concerned about my job, or how folks would perceive us. I worried a lot more about that sort of thing back then. When I woke up this morning and looked at the blog comments from yesterday’s post I had the past firmly in my mind.
One of our readers, The Wandering RVer (who coincidentally lives about 30 minutes from where we used to live, and is facing 18 inches (Better her than us! – Lee) of snowfall today ) asked, “How would you compare your “happiness meter” now with your “happiness meter” 5 years ago?” That’s a really good question. My happiness meter is way higher, but the scale has changed. It is not lost on me that we are very lucky to be enjoying 74 degree weather and not dealing with the crazy snow anymore. I know many people are anxiously awaiting being in a position where they can experience the same thing. But I can be grateful for the parts of this lifestyle I like and still want to tweak it so it is better for me. When we first started out I was acutely aware of how lucky I was. We were financially stable because I got to keep my job, we were in Florida during the worst snowstorm in New England in many years, we had our families blessing for our lifestyle choice, and we had many friends who were close by and extremely supportive. I was grateful for all of that and felt lucky, but that didn’t mean the adjustment wasn’t very difficult.
I tell my girls that most things in life worth having are hard. I completely believe that. Childbirth was hard, parenting is hard, and marriage is absolutely hard. That doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful, but it does mean you have to work at them. Being full timers, at least for us, isn’t always easy. It requires compromise, some sacrifice, and lots of communication. And that doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that it is real life. I know that in the beginning I fell into the trap of seeing the lifestyle like a vacation. After a couple of months I knew that wasn’t true, but I still thought since we struggled we must be doing it wrong. If we could just find the magic combination of travel and work it would be like we had envisioned it in our heads. In the last two months we have gotten much better at talking about the reality of what it is. I think that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean we aren’t committed, and it certainly doesn’t mean we are doing anything wrong, it just means we haven’t got it all figured out yet. And that’s OK because we will keep plugging away until we figure out what works best for us.
In the meantime, to answer the question, I am much happier than I was living in New England. My relationship with my husband is much better than it was prior to us going on the road, and I have more deep and meaningful friendships than I ever have in life. Plus, it’s 74 degrees, and not snowing, and that doesn’t suck.
Busy day today. First we had our meeting with the accountant and found out what the news was there. Keep in mind I am not an accountant, and am passing along what I heard him say. I could have gotten some of this wrong. We have to pay $3700 this year, which is almost the same as we got in a refund last year. That really wasn’t that bad, because we had to pay taxes and a penalty on a 401K loan I let expire right after we went on the road, and we ended up paying $1K penalty because we didn’t have ACA compliant health insurance for 9 months out of the year. Since the compliant insurance was going to cost me $1K a month, I was OK with that. And in case you were wondering (I was) the executive order that President Trump signed did not stop us from having to pay the penalty. First, it is only for 2017 forward, and second, the order he signed said the IRS has “the right” to attempt to collect the money but “must” accept the tax return as is. We could have filed that way and rolled the dice that no one would make a fuss later, but that’s not really our style. Thankfully we are now ACA compliant in 2017, so regardless of what happens with legislation it won’t be an issue going forward.
That amount also included $48 in interest because we didn’t pay 90% of our taxes in the calendar year. Since the 90% is calculated off the prior year earnings, that would have been impossible for us anyway. $48 is not a big deal, and going forward we could avoid this interest by paying tax periodically to the government. Or we may not, since it’s still hard for us to guess what our net income will be. What Lee would like to do is set aside the money into a savings account as we go so we have it at year end, and I am fine with that. The good news was we went from a 25% tax rate down to a 15% tax rate because we made so much less money. The bad news was we had to pay an additional 14% on all business/1099 money which took us to an overall tax rate of 29% for a portion of our funds. Since this year most of our money came from W-9 jobs, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it is important to take into account going forward.
We also spent a big chunk of today planning our route and stops when we leave here. Originally we were going to Padre Island and Big Bend, but we had an opportunity to see our friends Deb and Steve, who we have not seen in over a year. It’s been a long time since we had to coordinate a trip with multiple people and I had forgotten how complicated it could be. They are headed east at almost the same time we are headed west, so we tried to find a place that worked with both our routes, had things to do, had cell coverage (Steve is still working his corporate job), and had availability. Not as easy as you would think. Ultimately we found a place and both booked it at the same time, so we are super excited. We were also talking to Cori and Greg who will be with us for a couple of days and even though they are on vacation in Mexico found a way to book their spot as well. Really, really excited about seeing them. (Lest anyone’s feelings get hurt, we not more excited to see one couple than the other. One we are apparently “really, really” excited to see, but the other we are “super” excited to see. We love everyone equally, except those that we love more, and you know who you are. – Lee)
Once we had those dates locked in we went ahead and booked more of our route. I wanted to visit our friend Sherry in Cottonwood and see Sedona, and when I saw the State Park only had two spots left we went ahead and booked that as well. Then we looked ahead to Flagstaff but that got a little trickier. Most of the campgrounds there don’t open until May 1st and we will be just a little earlier than that. On the plus side there is tons of Forest Service land in that area, so we are going to check that out. By the time all of that was done several hours had actually passed. Part of the reason it took that long was we had moderately heavy truck traffic. The people doing the pond liner finished up today and that just leaves the work-over rig crew. Not sure yet how much longer that will be, but trying to find out. (Once again, no rush, take your time, guys. – Lee)
I didn’t sleep well at all last night and had a slow start to my day. Lee worked more on editing (he has completed 171 videos to date) and I looked in a recipe book for a chicken marsala recipe. It is one of Lee’s favorites, so I would really like to learn how to make it, plus it has Marsala wine and mushrooms in it which works for me. In the past I always avoided cooking with alcohol for some reason, recently I am finding I really like it. So I am going back and re-looking at some recipes I skipped over in the past and giving them a try. I’m not nearly as interested in cooking meals though, so Lee and I are largely eating “whatever”, and I am just cooking the items I like. Tonight I am trying crawfish tail stuffed mushrooms, and that may be my entire dinner. I have always been a person who could mostly eat “whatever” for meals, but Lee has always liked a full meal, with some kind of meat, starch and vegetable. Thankfully he’s fine with cooking his own meals, and I am eating an odd mixture. Something about working nights has my eating schedule kind of screwy so yesterday I had four small meals; toast/bacon, leftover steak/green beans, a hot dog, and a bologna sandwich. Works for me.
The mushrooms by the way turned out great. Over the years Lee and I have tried to duplicate Red Lobster stuffed mushrooms numerous times and were never successful. These weren’t quite the same, but were definitely in the ball park, and the closest we have ever been to duplicating them. The trick apparently is to make the stuffing first, then saute the mushrooms, without stuffing, until they are tender. Once the mushrooms cool you stuff them, top with cheese, and then place in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to finish off. Perfect. The stuffing was close, need to tweak it a bit with a little more salt and maybe a pinch of garlic, but I am thrilled the technique was mastered. That’s one of the reasons I continue to try new recipes. Even if the particular recipe isn’t exactly what I want, I often master a new technique in the process. That’s often the fun part.
Didn’t sleep well again last night, maybe I am just tired of working nights When I woke up the company man was leaving and I asked when he thought the fracking would start. He said they had a couple of days left on the work over rig and it could be a couple of weeks before the fracking began. That really surprised me, because I thought it would be somewhat immediate, and he saw this and then quickly said it could be sooner, but he really had no idea. It’s important to note that this particular company man has been our account manager’s point of contact through the entire process. When I fell into the gate, he is the one who got them to come out and put the drop bars on it. I figured if anyone would know it would be him, but once again I was told he only knew his part of the process.
In our case that’s OK. We have 13 days left and if there is a delay in the fracking that is no problem for us. As much as I would like to experience that so I can report on it, I also would be just fine at this point if we skipped it all together. From what I have read the traffic is heavy 24/7, which we have not experienced. Our heaviest traffic days so far have had the volume occurring mostly in the daytime, but from what we have heard the sand trucks come around the clock. The interval in which you get truck traffic can vary significantly though, depending on where the sand is coming from. We read one account where all the sand came at once and the gate guard had 20 trucks lined up on the road. In other accounts the trucks can comes as frequently as every 5 minutes if the sand pile they are pulling from is close by. I am sure it isn’t solid busy all day, every day, but since we have established the slow days are the good days, we’re not looking forward to it in any event. If there is a two week delay, we might actually miss it all together which would be just fine with me. To prepare for leaving Lee made a trip up to San Antonio. He had to return the speaker bar he bought, get a haircut (he is super shaggy) and make a Costco run. As tempted as we were to buy enough for two months at Costco that has never worked out well for us in the past. So he will be buying some things this trip and then we will need to go again when we are near Phoenix with our friends. Hate going twice, but buying huge amounts there always blows our budget and then we never get that money back by buying less the following month. Best to just stay in the food budget month to month. (I cleverly designed this trip so I ended up arriving on the southwest side of San Antonio at rush hour on a Friday, and Costco was on the northeast side. It took me 90 minutes to go 23 miles. So I ended up not getting a haircut, which is kind of a drag, because my last haircut was November 1st. I’m pretty sure I’ve never gone nearly 6 months without a haircut. And I really don’t want to drive back SA before we leave April 1st, so I will either need to wait until Phoenix, or go the little place here in town. Tracy needs to learn how to cut hair. – Lee)
While he was gone, I spent some time looking at my PMP credentials. In 2008, I took a class and an extremely hard test and received my Project Manager Professional certification. In order to maintain this certification I need to earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDU;’s) every three years. In the past this was easy, and I was working in the field, going to school, and a member of my local Project Management Institute chapter. This last year I have pretty much blown it off and when I went to pay my annual membership fee was a little concerned to see I needed to earn 35 credits in the next 406 days. Since I want to keep my credentials up to date, I need to find a way to earn those credits and I have a couple of different routes I can take. While I have been out of the field Agile Project Management has become all the rage and they are now offering a separate certification in that methodology. I could easily earn the credits if I took the classes and got that certification, but that would be a major undertaking. I had to study every day for 6 months for the last one. Plus, Agile is primarily used for IT projects and although I have managed those in the past they are not my favorite types of projects. They are lucrative and there is always plenty of work, but I am much more interested in less technical projects, in particular the “soft skills” of team building, process improvement, and change management. If I am going to re-enter the field I would like to be choosier about what types of projects I work on. In my past I largely had to accept whatever I was offered because I needed the practical experience and of course it was my full time job. Now, hopefully, I can be choosier.
So this leaves me with volunteering my time and completing some online education. Thankfully there have been huge improvements in the virtual offerings available and many of those classes are now offered for free to PMI members. Basically for every 1 hour online course you earn 1 PDU so at worst I need to carve out 35 hours worth of time to watch these seminars. And if possible I would like to do some volunteering. There are some virtual positions available through the international network of PMI chapters and it seems like a great way to get my head back in the game and do some networking. In particular I am interested in working with some overseas chapters to bulk up my international experience. I am really kicking myself though for not looking at this sooner, because we will be traveling soon and I am leery about signing up for anything until we see how the internet connection is in Oregon. There is a good chance we will not have internet at our site which would make volunteering more challenging. At least though I can start doing some of the online courses now. It’s great that we have unlimited data because I don’t need to worry about data usage. I know that is quite a bit of detail but I am mentioning it for those whose game plan is to maintain a professional career on the road. There is nothing wrong with taking a break, I actually encourage it, but keep in mind in today’s world skill sets can become outdated very fast and it is certainly something to keep an eye on.
On a completely different note I keep forgetting to mention our “pet roadrunner.” We have one particular road runner that hasn’t gotten more used to us over time and he/she likes to hang out in the ditch that runs right by the RV. We haven’t gotten any pictures, because he will come up when we are sitting outside but if we try to go in the RV he takes off. He’s been getting closer and closer and today he walked up and picked up a bug less than 10 feet from me. They really are beautiful creatures and I am enjoying getting to see him/her closeup. I was talking to one of the truck drivers about it and he said some gate guards nearby had one that was really fat. Every night they put a wooden board out and when they flip it over in the morning it has bugs on it. They eat their breakfast outside and the road runner, comes every morning and eats the bugs off the board. Very cool.
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