Archive for the ‘Alternative Careers’ Category

Since everyone is talking about goals and resolutions for the New Year, I’ll let you in on two very big ones I’ve set for myself, and how each year I am usually able to achieve them (or at least get close!)

My first resolution is to stop letting external situations affect my happiness. Sounds very Zen, right? I’ve tried many times over the years to meditate, but I lead a very active life and have a hard time sitting still. When I’ve tried, I always become too aware of physical aches and pains. And I find in trying to detach myself from outcomes I become too much of a zombie, feeling neither the highs nor lows of life.

Years ago I heard a radio program about Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who later wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  Because of the suffering he and others endured in the concentration camps he came to his most important conclusion that even in the most dehumanized and painful situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful. Specifically, he realized that no matter what happened, happiness was the one thing no one could take away from him. This profound idea has stuck with me, on the backburner of my mind.

Honestly, 2011 was one heck of a year: narrowly missing getting shot by a stupid neighbor’s stupid hunter, our well going dry and having to haul water for six months, having sudden bouts of debilitating bursitis, losing our aged pet wolf dog, accidentally catching the kitchen on fire, a young guitar student carving her name into my coffee table, just to name a few highlights of my personal distress. Maybe these things are worthy of anger, fear, depression, sadness. My usual outward response is trying to be humorous, but inwardly I had given permission to these events to rob me of happiness.

Do you let life’s troubles rob you of your happiness? What is your coping mechanism?

Secretly, I had hoped 2012 would go easier on me–but no such luck. I started the year with a head cold, and just two days before our trip to Chicago to visit family (from where I am writing) my husband cracked a molar and had to make an eight hour round trip to an oral surgeon to have it extracted (I told you we live in the boonies). The same day our heat pump stopped working and the repair people said the compressor is shot and the repair would be 7,000 dollars. The day before the trip our farm sitter had some heart trouble and was taken to the hospital, so I had to train a friend the hour before leaving how to care for 90 animals. The icing on the cake was the blizzard that hit Chicago the day we were to arrive, a five hour delay boarding three different planes, only to be de-planed and put up overnight in Memphis.

Welcome to Chicago

Amazingly I have not let these things rob me of my happiness. I recognize something in me has shifted by simply setting the resolution. I was thankful there was a doctor that could work my husband in, and glad he has experienced so little pain. I realized we have plenty of dead trees from the drought we can cut down and burn in the fireplace, and that we’d even bought ourselves a new chainsaw for Christmas. I was thankful to have such a kind and trustworthy friend willing to take on our farm at the last minute. I found a lovely -12 degree coat on sale and felt quite rested after a night in Memphis. I felt empathetic for the harried airline employees, and the airline comped everything, and even gave us vouchers towards our next trip. By the time we arrived in Chicago the blizzard was over, the snow beautiful. The car rental agency was out of econo-cars, so they gave us a sports car! I’m having a nice time. Nothing can rob me of my happiness!

My second lofty goal is to start earning my living as a fine art painter. I’ve never doubted I could do it–if I only could find the time to paint enough pieces. But I always found excuses of why I didn’t have time. (That’s very easy to do when you let life’s troubles affect your happiness). When you stop and look at all the tribulations that great writers, artists, inventors, and scientists have gone through and yet still been able to produce movingly beautiful, ground-breaking, and incredible works, you realize it can be done. These people didn’t have life any easier or let excuses get in the way of their passions.

You might say I’m on my own search for meaning. On New Year’s Eve, I had the great fortune of meeting a woman that has been making her living as a fine art painter, and she’s graciously been encouraging me and telling me how to get my foot in the door. To my own astonishment I ordered 50 blank canvases of various sizes and amid all the current chaos was able to lay the foundation work of two paintings in just two days before we left.

Do you let excuses get in the way of following your passion and aspirations?

Red Admirals underpainting by Sage Austin

Ripples underpainting by Sage Austin

I’ll be sure to post the finished versions of these soon.

One of the ways I’ve been able to stay on track with my resolutions and goals over the years is through accountability. My best friend (who lives in another state) and I decided about 15 years ago to act as life coaches for each other. Each new year we email our goals and resolutions to each other and set up regular phone or email sessions each month to check up on how we are doing, and to encourage one another. We have been doing this for so long we’ve learned that we achieve most of our goals when we stay on track, and the years that we’ve strayed from our accountability sessions we don’t usually reach our goals. I would highly recommend this method to anyone serious about their resolutions and goals.

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Why hello! I am Emily’s husband, Jeremy.  You might’ve seen pictures of me doing various farmy type stuff.  I like to be very supportive towards any and all of Emily’s flora and fauna vices.  I love animals and I like to eat vegetables, but I’m really whiny when it comes to physical labor. I’m really appreciative that Emily puts up with it.

I draw for a living, which is easier to do from the inside of a house, so about 94.78% of everything Emily posts about is all her.  I know it bums her out a little and she covers it up really well.  When she does tap me on the shoulder and say “I need you outside” I drop my brush and try not to be a poop head.  I do love the out-of-doors and we do make several camping trips throughout the summer.  The things I love to draw the most are organic in nature and are influenced by artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Walter Crane, and Winsor McKay to name a few.

I, myself, like to be a bit creative in the kitchen [not as successfully as Emily] and I appreciate her exotic layering of different flavors to entice the palette.  I do the majority of the cooking though and usually that means a meal that is less thought out and quicker in prep time.  Emily is outrageously good at preparing special suppers and the like, when she has a goal in mind. She’s getting a lot better with multi-tasking several dishes at the same time too, but she sure can fill up an empty sink with dirty dishes afterward! 😉 HahAAaa!

I never saw myself as a farmer when I was little, I’ve known I wanted to be an artist since I was like 6 or something, but I did not see this coming.  Still, I help put the critters out and feed them, and then put them up for the night. It’s not really that hard.  I’ve promised Emily an hour a day to help her in the garden when she needs me.  I know that doesn’t really sound like much but it takes a lot of time to do what I do so that I can pull my weight with bills and things.

I reeeeeaaally enjoy living where we live right now and hopefully we will be here for a while.  You should see the gardens Emily has sweated over; they are really beautiful.  She has an incredible stamina for working outside, I know I couldn’t do that.  But then again I sit at a drawing table for 10 hours a day.

When Emily and I first met she knew me as that art snob that worked at the art store and she totally had a crush on me.  I remember seeing a really pretty girl that I thought was out of my league.  Then, a year later I eavesdropped on a conversation between her and a coworker of mine about Terry Gilliam and I had to put my two cents in about his brilliance and that’s how the ball started rolling.  I think the thing that really cinched it was our mutual love of childrens’ books.

While she is trying her best to become the next Tasha Tudor I am working hard to be somewhat of an Arthur Rackham with the line work of Gustave Dore.  Now when Emily posts pictures she usually does really nice photos of her gardens or the animals or something she conjured in the kitchen; I don’t really do so much of that.  Soooooo I will put up some of the stuff I dabble in. So here you go.  Hope you like it and can sympathize with why I spend so much of my time avoiding going outside.

I too have my own blog. I am not as efficient as Emily at loading it with good stuff on a regular schedule but you can see more of what I do, while Emily is earning her callouses outside.  You can visit me at jeremybastian.blogspot.com.  Thank you all for taking the time.


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Earlier this week, the inadvertent farmer described her dabbling in real estate as a vehicle of financial independence.  In a similar way of thinking, I thought I would describe how we deal with investing.  Like she said, this may seem a little off topic but I suggest that the “norm” in stock market investing has little to do with what I will be discussing.  Let’s consider the “not-norm” in investing.  Believe it or not, there are ways to not lose your shirt and not panic every day as the stock market closes.  To be sure, it is not for everyone and you can definitely lose money at the stock market game, but it’s also possible to be ok too.  I am no stock market guru or advisor so take what I say with a grain of salt…this is just what we do…

Ouch...not a good day

A lot of times, when one thinks of investing in the stock market, we think of some poor person staring at a computer screen, either waiting to push a buy/sell button, hoping to time it just right or of someone ready to jump off the edge of a cliff because that hot stock tip overheard in the restroom didn’t pay off and his lifesavings is lost.  One can absolutely trade like that and while you can win big, more likely than not, unless you are a brilliant business person, you will lose big.

Most people look at the stock market all wrong.  We don’t usually go buy a new car because someone mentioned something about the latest model in the restroom.  We don’t buy our house on a whim or because it has the biggest for sale sign in the front yard.  In most every investment/purchase you make, you do research.  You aren’t thrown about by the whims of people around you.  You take your time and do it cautiously.  Why on Earth would you treat your retirement or lifesavings any differently?


But gee whiz, I don’t really want to research the bazillion stocks and mutual funds and all that stuff.  How do I do research then?  I prefer to let other experts sort of take care of that for me.  Enter Lazy Portfolios.  Rather than trying to buy a bunch of individual stocks that can easily rise and fall based on totally unforeseen or uncontrollable events, lazy portfolios direct the investor to regularly and faithfully invest in mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) that sample large portions of various markets.  For example, you might make an investment that is comprised of all the stocks in the S&P 500 by buying one mutual fund.  You’ll own a representation of a ton of stocks with one purchase of these vehicles.    It spreads your money across sectors/ regions/etc so all of your eggs are not in a single basket.  While very few investments of any sort have done much in the last 2 or so years, several example lazy portfolios have done pretty ok, all things considered.

Of the lazy portfolios in the previous link, I like the Second Grader’s Starter…that’s exactly how we invest.  It has a representation of the entire US stock market, a total representation of the international market, and a representation of bonds.

We buy portions of all three every other week…not a huge investment, but a regular investment.  Sometimes we buy high, sometimes we buy low.  In the end, we are betting on dollar cost averaging (check this idea out!) to level the ups and downs.  I don’t try to time the market.  I don’t try to tell the future.  I just buy and hold.  Over time, my investment compounds.  I don’t panic when the market slides (though I do celebrate when it rises…shhh…don’t tell!) because I know I am going to be buying low and holding.

Slow and Steady

Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha (read more about him…fascinating even if you’re not an investor) equated this idea something similar to buying hamburgers.  He said that his household like hamburgers.  They don’t celebrate and go buy lots of meat when the price of beef goes up.  Quite the opposite, they are happier when they can buy it at low cost.  If you buy quality stocks/bonds/mutual funds/ETFs that way, you can expect that buying low today will be a good thing as their prices will eventually rise (buying junk is always a bad idea of course).

Like I said, stock market investing is not for everyone, but if you look at it with a perspective other than “normal”, you may want to give it a try.  There are lots of places where you can set up automatic investing strategies with low cost transactions and low/no minimum starting values (I like sharebuilder.com).

Do any of you folks dabble in the stock market?  What are your investment strategies?

Warren can also be found at My Home Among the Hills writing about the adventures of life in WV.

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I was hesitant to write this post.  I was not sure if it fit in here with the chickens, homesteading, and gardening…but I have been asked so many questions about a recent remodel that we did for our newest rental I thought I would try to answer some of them here.

Why here?

Well the writers and the readers of this blog are an independent, hardworking bunch that don’t always follow the same path as the rest of the ‘normal’ world.  So discussing financial freedom through a less than common means seems appropriate here.

First of all we did not set out to own rental houses.  Just a year after we purchased our first home my husband took a job across the state.  We tried our best to sell our home but couldn’t.  We were left with no option that we could financially manage except to rent it out.  It rented quickly, we asked just enough to cover our  mortgage with taxes and insurance.  As complete novices we lucked out and got great renters that ended up staying there 20 years!

When we purchased our next home across state  it needed a lot of work...a lot! Being young and eager to learn we took it as a challenge to remodel our own home.  We learned to strip wood molding, lay flooring, hang wallpaper, re-plumb, re-wire, put in new bathroom fixtures, and a whole host of other skills that would serve us well over the next 2 decades.

When it was done we looked around and grinned at each other…”want to do it again?“.  So on to the next house we went.  Instead of selling the original home we decided to rent it out.  How could we afford a down payment without selling the other house? Well we saved up for the down payment,  just like people do on their first house.. Instead of doing the typical move up to a bigger and more expensive house we purchased another just like the one we were in.  In fact it was only 2 blocks away and a little less money than the first!  It again needed tons of work.  This time we tackled an addition as well as the usual jobs.  Mark some more skills off our need to learn list…roofing, siding, framing…check!

We again moved across state and ended up selling the home we had just finished and use the money for a down payment on the next house plus a decent nest egg to use when we found another real estate purchase.  The very first house was now a rental, the second was also a rental, the third was sold.

We did this 3 more times moving, remodeling, renting…we now had 5 rentals.

All the while we were searching for somewhere to build…somewhere in the country with acreage.

We had to search for a few years until our current property was finally found…flat place to build, south facing, no busy road, property for my parents, room for animals, and of course room for a garden! As the farmer who owned the property would not just sell us the 15 that we wanted we bought 38 acres in total.  I would have LOVED to have kept the whole 38 acres and lived there just my family and my parents.  But my husband wanted to have a home that was debt free…besides I think he might have been worried about how many animals I would acquire if I had that many acres to fill!

We sold 2 rentals to come up with the down payment we needed.

So we divided, improved, and sold 23 acres.  We made enough money to build our house without a mortgage.  This also gave us the freedom to be our own contractors, do much of the work and build at our own pace which would not be possible if a bank had been involved.  The skills we learned from remodeling were put to good use on the construction project.  It is an experience I will always look back on and be glad I did.

Now I am not going to try to fool you and say that owning rentals is for everyone.  We can make it work because we know how to fix a sink or patch a roof…if we had to hire this done it would be hard to be profitable.  We also are very diligent to screen our renters. Lastly we are fair landlords who ask a fair rent, enough to cover our expenses but we do not make lots of extra money each month.  We could ask more, but we don’t.  We appreciate that  affordable housing in nice neighborhoods is a rarity. We like that we rent to working families who treat our homes well in part because that have been treated well.

We have found that investment in real estate has been more dependable and more profitable than any other ways we have tried to invest for our future.  As long as you don’t speculate, flip, or otherwise try to ‘get rich quick’ with real estate, because this journey has been neither quick nor easy. We have spent countless hours on our knees laying tile, and fishing wire.  But it has been a journey of much learning and much reward.

Oh and by the way…we are still not done with our house! I am hoping to start baseboards this summer!

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