DEBT FREE AT LAST!

Debt, significant debt, followed me for decades but I just made the final payment! *Pulls kilt over head and screams FREEDOM!*

Only gone and blinking done it! Decades of debt finally all gone, all paid down, every penny. I await a bill for some car repairs but otherwise and aside from a mortgage and regular bills, I owe nobody anything. The money in the bank is mine to do with as I please. I cannot remember back when this was the case previously. It has been my constant companion, my lullaby at night, my alarm call in the morning, it has been my travelling companion and as close to me as my own heartbeat. It has been a motivation to focus on what matters. We had a good life none the less but this is a legacy I didn’t want to pass to the next generation. I wanted the next generation to be free to take chances and be bold if they choose to be. It would have been easy to pay off minimums for the rest of my life and ignore the freedoms afforded to those who are not thus shackled. Easy. The hard decision was to live up to what I though was right for us. To actually decide that my life work until it was completed was to be free of things which erode my freedom to choose, and debt was right up there at the top. Each month it would eat away at my disposable income. It was a constant reminder of mistakes made. It annoyed me.

If you are minded to make the same decision and become debt free, hats off to you.

If you are minded to make a different decision and stick with minimum payments, more power to your elbow.

Shakespeare in Hamlet wrote:

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine ownself be true,”

The whole phrase resonated with me but it’s the “This above all: to thine ownself be true” part which always rang in my ears since my days at the Provo Missionary Training Centre (MTC) and our District Leader, David Muntinga would repeat this phrase out loud to himself frequently. It stuck like an earworm and shaped my personal philosophy. So, thanks Dave!

My philosophy is based on strength of character, freedom to choose, kindness where possible, resilience to weather the storms, and a passion to embrace opportunities.

I think the experiences we have gone through as a family, particularly in the last 4.5 years should act as a cautionary tale to young people making life choices!

At any point we can make a different decision and choose a different path. The principle is called Agency. We all have it and it is like a muscle in the body, we either use it and it strengthens or we don’t and it weakens. Making a different decision feels awkward, clumsy and ungainly. It is not a pretty sight at first but I liken it to watching a class of 4 year old children learning ballet who look like cats on roller-skates at first vs that same group 5 or 10 years later with a gracefulness which is inspiring. Work through the kittens on roller-skates phase, it doesn’t last forever.

If I had my time over, these are some of the things I wish I’d adopted earlier.

  • Choose your path of study – does it get you where you need to be for your next life steps? Does it open or close doors?
  • Choose your career well – will it provide for you and your dependents. The higher qualified you are, the more freedom there is to make your own schedule. Qualify young, qualify highly.
  • Choose your partner well – if you choose to have a partner do they have complimentary goals and philosophies, are they equally carrying the load, are they easy to be around, can you talk about the specifics of budgeting without fighting or someone becoming moody?
  • Choose your financial strategy early in life – are you a spender, are you a saver, what did your parents do and did it work for them, if you don’t know about money, learn! There are endless resources available online or in your library. How many hours can you put in to your career. Do you have other priorities which draw away your attention. Is your strategy working for you?
  • Choose to budget – know what is coming in and what is going out. Know the dates of payments. Write it down.
  • Choose to recognise the true cost – I mentally add the time away from my family to earn the money and the tax already taken by the government into the cost of the product and think to myself “is it still worth it?” Conversely, if you have financial woes and plenty of possessions, know their value and sell them! Generate revenue, get back some of the cash and pay down expenses.
  • Choose to find the best deals for you – as contracts come to an end, shop around. As birthdays come up, buy early and allow time for shipping at a reduced rate. As utility prices fluctuate, move deals or suppliers. As tools become needed for a DIY project check the internet vs the high street prices and make good choices.
  • Choose to cancel duff subscriptions – FREE MONEY! Who doesn’t love free money. That’s what it feels like when you find a subscription you’d forgotten about on your statement and cancel it down.
  • Choose to continue learning and growing – there will be wise people around you in your life, listen as they chat, ask questions when appropriate, learn from them, use them as a mentor.
  • Choose to ask for help – if you are in over your head, ask for help. Call the companies and tell them. Tell a friend. Approach organisations who manage these situations daily. You are in it on your own, your choices got you here and your choices are going to get you out of it, but if it all gets too much and you need expert help, ask.
  • Choose to build a reserve – if you are debt free, build a slush fund, a reserve, a cushion, whatever you want to call it, to fall back upon in tough times. Tough times always come. It’s prudent to have done what you can to make those times a little easier.

My experience has reached the Build A Reserve phase. It is quite exciting to build rather than be repairing. Feels completely different and it is actually a little scary which is silly. What if I do the next phase wrong! Anything new can be daunting so I choose to push through, carry on learning, carry on listening and carry on trying to make good choices. I may never rival the likes of a billionaire, people who I do not envy at all, they worked hard for what they have and I am pleased for them, but I can build from this point forth and can be pleased that I got my little family this far in the journey. It is hard. Oh so difficult in ways that I cannot find words to articulate. It is possibly one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I’m hoping that the effort one day feels worth it. Right now it is all a little raw and a little new so I have to let it settle in to the new normal before I can speak on that with any degree of confidence. This is my new Kittens On Roller-skates phase!

Now hopefully you’ve had a charmed life and never have to consider much of the above. You people who are adulting successfully have been a quiet inspiration over the past few years so thank you.

My Curly Haired Baby Finishes 3-16 School. 

16 year old kids are ready to leave school, I however am not ready. I am a hot mess.

OK, so I might have been a hot mess last night. I might have managed to keep my “I am so pleased for you, congratulations sweetie” composure as Missy dropped the news that she leaves school officially on Wednesday lunchtime. The penny dropped. I suddenly twigged that my little curly afro haired baby who’d been wearing a school uniform for over a decade would be finished with uniforms as she enters study leave for her exams. My curly haired baby who looked at me so doe eyed in those first days of school was now laughing at me getting misty eyed as she talked about the final ever classes with her favourite teachers and how they were taking pictures with the students and giving them pep talks. My child is a child to me. Sure, the world sees a 5′ 10″ young woman who is capable and confident but I see my baby fresh out the hospital or in her oversized polo shirt with a logo. They see someone doing really well in the sciences and I see Chip and Biff early reader books. They see someone who stands her ground and I see someone who needed defending. 

She is ready, I am not. 

After this summer, adulthood looms. She is going to be magnificent and rock everything she sets her mind to. I will have to continue letting her move away and acclimatise into opportunity and responsibility.  My whole mandate for 16 years has been to let her be free enough to be a child, safe and loved. Now my mandate is changing and it is happening so quickly that it is difficult keeping up but I will get there.  She still has two more years of school but is more like junior college where they’re more autonomous. My baby is no longer a baby and it has come as a surprise. 

I am often behind the emotional curve, this is nothing new, no major surprises. I am very pleased with the woman she is becoming and look forward to standing back and observing her in adulthood in a few years, but not yet. I need a little more time. 

Debt Free At Last, Free At Last!

Debt is a form of modern day slavery. Well, with a little luck, this Woman is about to get her freedom papers.

If I have my numbers right, and I am quietly confident that I most likely have, in 2 months I will be completely without debt excluding a mortgage and regular bills. Did you hear that?  (knock on wood)! *runs around the house with her shirt over her head screeching hallelujah’s*.  

I have within my grasp the idea of being debt free for possibly the first time in a long time. I am excited to start building rather than repairing. I am excited at the idea of getting out in front rather than keeping up.  I am excited that the £28100 rent in the past four years didn’t quite pull us under. I am excited that elbow grease and value for money service providers were the biggest component in fixing this home, I am grateful for a wizard of a Mortgage advisor who negotiated a very manageable deal. 

Now, in among this happiness let us not start planning a new wing on the house, or moving to Kensington SW1 in London, or buying fancy things. We will, by the grace of whatever we believe in, and with a trade wind in the right direction, have enough to get by. We will, putting aside the obligatory emergencies, be able to live comfortably enough to to have everything we need and a little of what we want after building up a little reserve for the future.  I will not have to do mathematical gymnastics and keep a mental and physical spreadsheet log of everything draining our resources and their current APR.

Now, although exciting to me and joyful, it is also a little embarrassing to have been in this predicament.  Lesson number one, when the boy says he needs all your money and you have to pay the daycare fees and household bills too, don’t do it. He will have nice clothes and you will not. He will go out with friends and you will not. He will put your shared houses in his sole name. He will be a toe rag but you will not. 

In a month the divorce will be through. I am going to see if I can push and have this all knocked off before then. It is a big ask but wouldn’t it be grand to have matrimonial and financial freedom occur simultaneously?!  A woman can dream and then wake up and get to work to make her dreams come true.  

Writing a book via Email.

How could I help her remember her roots and learn from others experiences? I decided to write a book just for her.

I email myself things I want to tell my daughter when she is grown… things I wish i’d known about how the world works. I have the intent of compiling a book for her for when she heads to University.  Hopefully she’ll take a few moments to browse the pages and be able to incorporate some of the things shared.

There is so much I wish I had known and stumbled upon this idea a few years ago. Not wanting my daughter to fall into the same trap of starting from scratch I came up with a way to pass down the things I learned through graduating from the school of hard knocks.  Things on budgeting, careers, prioritisation, staying very close to friends and paying particular attention to the quality of your girls who are friends, making time for oneself, becoming subject matter experts in things which she is passionate over and which are useful to the wider community, health, how much I love how she can work a room, how much I love how she notices the people who need someone to talk to, some memories of her before she can remember, how I found moving beyond my own wants and needs led to a happier life, a reminder of her childhood dreams and aspirations, some photos of her early artwork and some comments perhaps about her to me over the years from our nearests and dearests.

Whether she loves it or not, it has been a delight to compile over the years.  Emailing myself little memories or thoughts on the hoof, from anywhere in the world using my phone, helped me to gather a wide repository of items to share.  Even reading back over early entries at this point in time shows me how quickly we forget the little things which make a life.  There are entries on subjects and events which until prompted I had completely forgotten even though I was the author.

I have noticed that when I stop and notice the good things in life, I am more prone to continue noticing the good things.  This has been a blessing to my life as it helped me focus on someone other than myself and helped me look for the good.  There is a sense of enrichment.  It also fortifies me against the moments which chip away at happiness.  It is like the id says “this rubbish thing may well be happening, but look at this vast array of successes” as it throws its arms wide over all the collected moments.

So, as much as this has been for Missy to peruse at her convenience at some later date, it has become a talisman of goodness in my own life, right here and right now.  I am pleased I started and pleased that I didn’t think to myself “ah, she’s already 10 years old, it is too late”.  Transpired I remembered much of her little years when she was 10, and as we start to focus on adulthood there are things for which I want her to be positively aware.  It wasn’t too late.

 

The House # 3 – what happened next

We had the key to the house, Missy had 3 days booked at a residential course in Cambridge, we had the shock realisation that the rental house wasn’t packed as much as is required to move home.

Elbow grease.  That’s what was required from this point forth.  That, and money.  Lots and lots of money.  My purse is now filled with receipts from DIY stores.

So, the teen seemed to be emotionally stopped on packing her room.  That’s all that was required of her apart from picking up after herself.  She had to pack her room.  I saw dozens of rubbish bags exiting her little sanctuary but didn’t see many boxes making it to the move me pile.  What should have taken half a day ended up taking more than two weeks.  Whenever I go in her room it is a cause of contention.  We end up arguing so I tried to leave her to it.  In the end I found myself standing on the landing tersely pointing out that she was not fulfilling her end of the bargain, I was highly disappointed in her and she needed to pull her finger out or argument or not I would go in and sort the situation.  “But I’m deciding what to keep and what to throw”, “Decide Faster!!!”.

I dropped Missy at Cambridge, and then collected her and took the day to look around that beautiful city with her and my cousin Noele.  We had an amazing day.  The course was more than everything she’d ever dreamed of.  We needed some together time.

The house with the key needed emptying.  Debris everywhere, cupboards still full and unable to receive our personal effects.  So, every night after work and every morning before work, there I was emptying the house into my car to be taken to the recycling centre.  Walls needed scrubbing, floors needed scrubbing, every single surface needed scrubbing.

Every time I moved something in the house I found more mould.  Rather than being able to proceed, I would have to stop, strip the wall, apply mould remedy, wait, scrub, reapply, rewash, repaper, before I could get on with what I had intended to do before moving the item.  It was rather disheartening and time consuming.

I bought trade paint.  I thought “Tradesmen, they know what they’re doing, I’ll buy their paint” but it transpires that tradespeople do not buy trade paint because it is fit for very little.  What should have taken 2 coats took upwards of 4.

Missy had design ideas about her room including stripping the woodchip wallpaper, painting, and adding brick wallpaper as a feature wall.  Apart from me sneakily adding 4 coats of paint to her room while she was in Cambridge, and laying a carpet, she did the rest herself.  It looks great.

So, slowly the house began to change from dirty, mouldy, icky to a place where you could touch the paintwork, run your hand down the bannister, walk through a room and open a cupboard to find emptiness.

The helpers helped, during week 2 mum arrived and stayed over.  We hired gardeners to help tame the wildly overgrown hedge.  We’d cut it down to an appropriate width using heavy duty power tools but needed help topping it off and taking away the cuttings.  The gardeners also helped me to put the fence back up which had been pulled down.  The Mormon missionaries arrived and helped me change the roof of a shed, to re-board and re-tarp so that it was watertight.  I still have remedial work there fixing the back wall, but baby steps.

The skip filled, the cars filled over and over again.  One of the dogs my mum owns, a big floofy German Shepherd, slipped through the gate and took a walk through the neighbourhood causing much excitement among the local residents.  Appliances were delivered.  Things were starting to come together.  Now, to pack the old house and book a removal company.

But one thing at a time.

 

 

How hard times change us

Hard times. Everybody has them. Heartbreaks, disappointments, money too tight for comfort, our head doesn’t match our heart, illness in ourselves, illness or distress in our loved ones, people besmirching our character. Hard times happen to everyone. There is no immunity.  Rockefeller is reported to have half jokingly offered half his kingdom to his chauffeur to swap Mr R’s weak and painful stomach for the chauffeurs strong and healthy one. No immunity from troubles in this life.

Hard times are coming, and hard times have passed. We have a 100% success rate at getting through difficult situations thus far. We can do difficult things.  Sometimes we don’t want to, but we can.

The difference between difficult times making or breaking us is how it changes us. How do we adapt?  Darwinism isn’t the survival of the fittest as is so often quoted but rather the survival of the most adaptable.

So, how does adversity change us?

Sometimes we become brittle, and brittle things snap easily with very little pressure applied.  Brittle responses are short, sharp, hurtful to our self or others.  Brittle hearted responders confirm their bias that everyone or everything is against them.  There is confirmation everywhere that they are right.

Sometimes we become gentle. Gentle things can appear to be defenseless. Some try to take advantage of gentle responders. Confirmational bias reinforces the notion to a gentle person that the world can be a good place. A famous quote states that “a soft answer turneth away wrath”.  Frequently, meeting hostility with calmness or treating people how they would want to be treated whether they deserve it or not brings about a suitable outcome.

If we have been ill or broken hearted, we get to decided how we react.

It takes less than 90 seconds for the chemicals generated in a surge of anger to flush through the body.  If a person can breathe through a moment of anger, keep cool and not rise to the bait, the incidents physical response will be over in a minute and a half. However if a person dwells on the situation and feels the surge of anger again, the clock starts over.

Saying “I am this way because I had a hard life” or “I am this way because my parents are this way” or “because I am a redhead” underplays and undermines our decision making rights and privileges.

We get to choose. Every time.  The more often we choose one way rather than another, the faster we develop a habit. But we get to choose. No matter what, we decide how we respond. We are free to change our mind at any point.

Choosing gentleness wouldn’t make a person weak. “No” is still in the vocabulary.  There is still a resolve and grit. There isn’t a requirement to be a fall guy.

We can do difficult things. Heartaches over time become manageable. Wrongs can be overcome. Anger can pass. There is no reason to choose one response over the other. Just, what shape do we want our life to take. What manner of men ought we to be?

I am trying to learn to be gentler with people. There is a propensity for me to be yes:no, right:wrong, do it or step aside. Often there isn’t always time to say things twice so directness is a useful tool. But is the directness brittle or gentle? That is what I ask myself.

I wonder if either one or the other is more correct. Is there as much correctness in retreating into hermitude after a grief and yelling at the neighbourhood kids or expanding in to empathy?

There is no definitive answer. I find from personal experience that on the rare occasions I am having a hard time, it passes quicker or my ability to carry the problem increases if I make an effort, no matter how hard and no matter how concerted the effort has to be, to check in with those I love and see how they are doing. It helps.

The upshot is that I believe anyone who is free from a traumatic brain injury gets to choose how they would like to respond, even if that choice leads to a relearning or exploration of options and skills not yet at our disposal.

We get to decide. What a gift!

The House # 2. What we found.

I hadn’t been home for 4 years, and prior to that it had been our home, not mine. I hadn’t any idea what I would find but this had been such a difficult process I was prepared for almost anything.

So, we left off at me and Missy retrieving the key to the house from the neighbour.  It was this key.  One solitary, very expensive, hard fought and won key.

We took our courage and entered in to the house.  First impressions were that the place was grimy, as though a house full of greasy handed adults had lived there.  The air smelled dusty and dirty.  A carpet on the stairs was threadbare and torn.

Some items including an armchair were left in the living room but it wasn’t bad at all.  The bathroom was dirty.  The bath – I just don’t know how a bath gets that gloopy with gunge.  The bathroom cupboards were occupied, the understairs cupboard was filled, the living room cupboard was filled, the bureau that we fought over where I ended up giving up my furniture in favour of making space for his furniture – was sat there, abandoned and containing stuff… lots of stuff.  The conservatory wasn’t too bad on first inspection but fish tank stands were screwed in to the windowsill and the blinds were broken and unusable.

A photo with my face scratched out but you can still see my smile was left behind.

The sheet detailing the police record of his taped interview was in the drawer.

Love letters and cards to his ladies, Linda and Louise, were left for me to find.  Apparently he helped them get through their darkest hour and everybody loves everybody.

The kitchen, I didn’t want to touch anything, the grime was evident on all surfaces and handles.  All the cupboard doors were wonky, many of the cupboards were filled with unnecessary clutter, lots of clutter.

Upstairs all the blinds had been removed so we were open to view from neighbours on all sides, cupboards were filled, Missy’s room was kitted out in full furniture including a dining table and bar stools (really, bar stools), a broken bed, a tv stand, all her toys we’d not been able to take which were now for children not adults, her wardrobe was empty.

The third bedroom has built in closets, full to the brim.  Aircon units were left which will end up being handy in the summer if they work.  Bathroom sink in a box was left.  A bathroom cupboard in a box was left.  DIY tools and tool boxes were scattered around the house.

The main bedroom, to be greeted by the king sized marital bed was disturbing.  I could see the impression from where he had lain these past four years, with my side undisturbed or indented.  Other items of furniture abounded.  My bookshelf over the chimney in the bedroom lay untouched, none of the books read, all dusty and as I left them.

Black mould in the cupboards and in the corners of the room.  How can someone knowingly live with black mould in the room they sleep?  It is unfathomable to me.

The boiler was broken with an error message indicating trouble with the intake vents.

Wires, cut, severed, uncapped or made safe, were dangling from the boiler.

Black mould behind two kitchen cupboards.

Plumbing piping on the outside of the house had been smashed.

Debris littered the rather decent for an English house’s garden.  Canopies tangled and broken, rubbish all around the garden, paddling pools were strewn across the grass, the giant fire drum which stands at around 8ft tall was filled with hedge cuttings but from where I do not know as the hedge had grown to be as high as the upstairs windows and covering much of the garden and garden buildings.  The sheds were filled to the brim.  They were filled with abandoned tools, with 4 lots of bathroom sets of wash basin, pedestal, toilet and cistern.  That was around 16 sanitary items had to be taken to the tip!  There were old dishwashers, freezers, fridge freezers, tumble dryers, shower trays and surrounds.  The roof of both sheds had caved and ripped, one worse than the other.  Behind the sheds we had a hip high, 30ft wide expanse of broken and discarded wood and weeds.

The front of the house as you pull up on the drive looked perfectly respectable.  As you entered the home and moved further through it became a more shambolic representation of the truth rather than the façade.  For a man so fastidious and aggressive regarding all things housekeeping, the condition of the place was a shock.

In that moment, once I recovered from the surprise of how grimy and unkempt this house had become, I determined that I would invest the capital required and invest the elbow grease necessary to make the house habitable again.

It would take many days, dedicating myself to the task, and calling on service providers and accepting the help of those who wanted to assist including my mum to get it to a point where we could move furniture in.  The house needed to be decontaminated of mould, walls needed to be stripped, everywhere needed to be painted and repaired, carpets needed to be laid.

It took a skip, a gypsy scrap dealer, another flatbed truck for garden debris, a mass of furniture donation including saying goodbye to the marital bed, and 15 estate car loads to the tip and we are still going strong to remove the unnecessary and undesired items from the house.

The Saturday before last we moved in our things.  We’re now trying to close down the rental home and hand in the keys but landlords, gosh they make things difficult!!!

This house is littler than the rental so our furniture doesn’t fit, we’re having to be quite creative and repurpose items and continue downsizing but we’ll get there.  This last weekend we managed to get 3 bedrooms set up, a washing machine plumbed in and find homes for lots of possessions, mostly keepsakes and bathroom stuff.

On the Saturday I moved us in, I thought I had made a terrible mistake.  I felt like an interloper in my own home, I was a little upset for no tangible reason other than the mess that the removal company had left was a little overwhelming.  A friend at Church on the Sunday suggested that Missy and I take a day off, that we just eat easy food, watch a movie, spend time there, don’t worry about the boxes.  It worked.  We bonded with the house and come the Monday I felt less like a stranger.  So, thank you Julie Brann, you helped me get back on my emotional feet and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for your kindness toward us.

Now, and for the next 25 years while I pay down this mortgage, Missy and I will (fingers crossed) have a home to come back to, a place to call our own, a place to rest from the world where people aren’t inspecting us every 12 weeks on a Wednesday, where we can have friends over in an impromptu fashion, where we can hang pictures on the walls and plant our garden without wondering if we’ll be around to see it flourish.  I’m looking forward to getting used to the idea that this is home.  Pictures to follow.