Having the Time to Live

I had originally planned to write a post about one of the main challenges I’ve been having in regards to being on my own timetable and trying to produce a book. However, something happened today that made me want to focus more on one of the positive aspects to this whole “self-employed writing” gig I’ve got going on right now.

I woke up this morning, quite unusually, at 6am and found that I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, of course, instead of actually getting up and being productive, I lounged in bed for another two hours surfing links with my phone and checking FB, Twitter, Instagram, Buzzfeed, Pinterest, and all the other usual time-sucking suspects.

It was very relaxing and indulgent. The rain pattered outside my window, but it was warm and cozy in my bed. Practically the perfect way to spend the morning snuggled under the blankets. (I say practically, because the only thing that could have tipped it over the top would have been to have a freshly brewed cup of coffee miraculously delivered onto my nightstand…but that’s probably asking for too much.)

Having been a complete layabout for a few hours, I finally roused myself up, took a shower, got myself halfway presentable, and made my way to my daily office, AKA the local Starbucks.

(There’s a post percolating in me about my Starbucks in the near future.)

I was lucky and managed to snag a table by one of the outlets, so things were looking quite good. I hooked myself up, popped in my headphones and began reading what I had produced the previous day to get into the zone and figure out how to pick up where I left off, when suddenly, my phone rang.

It was Terry. They let him out early because it was pouring down rain, the construction site was drenched and they were soaking wet. Would I be interested in having lunch with him?

Can I tell you how absolutely nice it is to be able to randomly have lunch with my husband in the middle of the week? To be able to just stop what I’m doing, pack up my stuff, and go meet him at the restaurant? The freedom! The flexibility! It’s liberating!

Definitely one of the perks to being self-employed.

You know what’s even better than that? No feeling guilty. I actually came home after lunch, sat down, and still managed to get a couple of hours of good writing in. So, yup. Still on target and disciplined.

Today was a good day.

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A Penny From the Past

When Terry and I were living in Belltown of Seattle, Washington, we were young, happy, in love… and poor. The studio apartment we were living in was the listing in the newspaper that they use as bait to get people to come to the building and look at all their other vacancies. We just lucked out and happened to be the ones who actually GOT the great deal. I think we were paying $495/ month at the time; which was on the very edge of what we could comfortably afford.

Another reason why the apartment was so cheap was because it was the corner studio on street level. We used to call it the “fishbowl” because you could see in the windows from all directions and if you left the blinds open, you were automatically on display.

The Humphrey Apartment building used to be an old hotel back in Belltown’s heyday of red light districts and sailors. In fact, Terry’s Uncle Bill, who used to be a merchant marine, visited us once and regaled us with the area’s seedy past. Needless to say, when we lived there it was decidedly more tame!

The wall behind Terry used to swivel on a center hinge. The bed was on the other side.

The apartment had a ton of character. There was an old Murphy bed attached to a swinging wall hinged in the middle. This meant that it was possible to fold the bed up vertically and then swing the wall around to make the bed completely disappear from the main room.

It also had hardwood floors, brick walls and exposed wooden beams. It was shaped in such a way that if you were standing in the kitchen you couldn’t see into the living room. Not at all like the more modern, big, white box studios where they put a strip of linoleum along one wall and call it a kitchen. What was really nice was there was a huge walk in closet with plenty of storage shelves. (It was where the bed tucked away when it was swung out of the living room/ bedroom.

The building itself was also super cool. It had a courtyard with a little fountain, black wrought iron gate and twinkle lights strung up. There was also a higher end, fancy Italian restaurant located in the building that set up little tables around the fountain during the summer months.

The main room when the bed was out.

On Friday nights, we’d walk back from our adventures to sit by the fountain and eat tiramisu and drink cappuccinos. Mario, the owner of the restaurant, would come out and chit chat with us while the last of the dinner crowd lingered over their wine.

Of course, we were too poor to eat a whole meal there except on very, very rare occasions (I think a total of two times in the six years we lived in the building) but he had a soft spot for us and would occasionally bring out a little extra treat.

The thing is, we didn’t have a lot of money. At the time, I was working a part-time retail job and going to school full-time. We were basically living off Terry’s wages (which weren’t much) and saving every which way we could. I remember we had a $50 grocery budget per week for the two of us.

We used to go visit his parents in Eastern Washington once every 5 weeks or so and they would load our car up with bulk non-perishables like rice and beans and fill our back seat with canned goods from the Bent and Dent. So, basically our $50 budget would go towards buying any fresh veggies, fruit and makings for lunches.

I used to wake up every morning at 5:45 to make Terry’s lunch of meat and cheese sandwiches with a cookie and some chips. We’d bag our own chips and re-use the baggies. We would go out one Friday every two weeks as a “date night” and split an appetizer and an entree.

The kitchen. Through the doorway and to the left is the living room/ bedroom.

Part of why we could live so inexpensively was because we were living in a city where there were a TON of things to do that were free or didn’t cost much. We’d go to art gallery show openings where there was usually a free glass of wine (or two) to be had, snacks and hors d’oeuvres, a DJ or music set up, and some great art to look at. We’d go see free concerts or check out a band playing at a bar without a cover.

During the weekends we’d poke into all the different high end interior design and furniture stores and discuss the different styles and aesthetics we liked. Terry would show me the various carpentry methods that were used, or point out the inlay work. Sometimes, I’d take my camera out and go on a photography excursion with themes like “Seattle Architecture” or “Washington Park Arboretum.” Or, we’d just grab a cup of coffee, walk along the waterfront and watch the tourists.

Even though we didn’t have a lot, I remember that time as being charmed and happy- not just in spite of being on a tight budget, but almost because of it. Not having a lot challenged us to be creative and think up new ways to stay entertained.

Nowadays, Terry and I make quite a bit more than we did back then. However, I have to say, we haven’t been very good about keeping up with our frugal habits. In fact, we’ve been living pretty high on the hog for awhile now.

Almost too high, to be honest. We’ve gotten into the habit of going out to nice dinners once or twice a week. I mean NICE dinners with pricey cocktails, appetizers, entrees, dessert and coffee. Stem to stern dinners that set us back quite a bit. With just the two of us and discretionary incomes, it’s hard to resist. We also tend to order in a meal or two; which means we’ve actually been paying for dinner out about three or four times a week.

Yet, I know that we should be saving a LOT more, and that we could be paying down our credit cards much faster than we are. We ARE paying them down. In fact, we have great credit. However, I worry that we’re not being disciplined enough and it could come back to haunt us. Not only that, but budgeting better would help us have the funds to fix the house and make the necessary improvements more quickly.

To top it off, although we’re happy and enjoy the time together, I know that spending so much more money isn’t making us any happi-er. I think about the fact we could be saving that money and putting it towards a trip, or more repairs on the home so we can actually sell it and move back to Seattle. I realize that we’re letting it all dribble through our hands and not actually utilizing it to achieve our goals.

So, I sat down with Terry this weekend and we had a good discussion about trying to do better. Now, I’m the kind of person that likes to start things. I start goals with the best of intentions of reaching them, but usually fall off in motivation after a couple of weeks.

During that first three weeks or so, I’ll be totally gung-ho and really throw myself into it. Then things start to slip. First it will be a day…then it will be a couple of days a week…and then, BAM, I’m right back where I started.

Terry, on the other hand, has a tendency to be a glutton. If he can have more, he’ll take it. More time, more money, more dessert…if it’s available and he wants it, he doesn’t usually see a reason not to have it. So, you can imagine how we’ve been enabling each other’s bad habits.

However, one of the things I really admire about Terry is the fact that if he sets a goal, or states he’s going to do something, then it means he WILL do it. He’s very good about that. So, I talked to him about how I was feeling with the money situation, and got him to agree with me that we need to be doing more in the way of saving. Now that we’re both on board, I know he’ll help me stick to the plan.

My stated goal is to bring my lunch to work at least three times a week and make coffee at the office at least three times a week. I have a really bad Starbucks a day coffee habit that sets me back $5.08 every morning. So, if I can cut that by three, that’s saving $15/ week, $60/ month. Most lunches average $10. (Sometimes more, sometimes less, $10 is about right.) So, if I can bring my lunch three times a week, that will be $30/ week, $120/month savings.

This is my third week bringing lunches and my second week making coffee…so I’m off to a good start. Now, I just need to get over the first month hump, and hopefully it will start feeling like a habit.

On top of that, but we’ve been making a point of cooking dinners at home more. Although Terry has been doing most of the cooking, I’ve been doing my part by making sure there is a clean kitchen for him to work in. Heck, I’ve even cooked a few times in the past week…and I’ve already discussed how much I like to cook!

Eating at home has the added benefit of giving me a lot more variety of food to bring to work for lunch the next day. Ordinarily I just cycle between two or three places; lunch has actually been better since I’ve started bringing it. Not to mention, it’s a lot healthier, too.

So, that’s our little self-improvement project we’re currently working on. Hopefully, by writing it down and documenting it, I’ll be on the hook and encouraged to stick with it. I’ve already noticed that I’m feeling surprisingly happier with our situation and how things are turning out.

Overall, I have to say it’s been a success so far and I’m feeling really motivated to keep at it.

Love in Thai

Today is my husband’s birthday, so in order to honor him, I thought I’d share the story of how we came together.

Taken the day before I left to Thailand for six months.

Terry was my best guy friend for years before we got together as a couple. He watched me go through two major relationships before I ever knew he was interested in me. In fact, I used to talk to him about the things I was looking for in a relationship, or things that were bothering me about whatever guy I happened to be seeing. Little did I know he was quietly taking notes on the side.

When we did finally end up coming together, I was just getting out of a truly awful relationship. It was one of those experiences that knock you on your ass and leave you wondering how you ever could have made such a colossal mistake. I was torn down and broken and felt like I could no longer trust my judgment. He picked me up and took me to Alki Beach in West Seattle where I poured my frustrations out and told him how utterly defeated I felt. I mentioned that I was going to fly to Thailand for six months and stay with my mom who was living in Bangkok. What I really needed was a chance to hole up and reassess my life and priorities so I could do everything in my power to make sure I NEVER made the same mistake again.

Terry stopped, looked at me, and said, “I understand why you have to go to Thailand, and I support you. However, if you leave and don’t come back, I will never forgive myself if I don’t tell you how I really feel.” I remember standing there with the sand under my feet and the breeze coming off the water and feeling like a door had opened up in my mind and heart. It was truly one of those light bulb moments. What an idiot I had been! The one I was searching for had been right in front of me this whole time!

I felt like a shroud had been removed from my eyes and I was finally able to see. However, I still hesitated. The fact was, I had made such a large error in judgment with my previous relationship and didn’t feel confident in my ability to make sound decisions. Our friendship and potential future felt too valuable to subjugate to the whims of a rebound romance. I knew Terry would give me 100% and the fact of the matter was I couldn’t do the same for him. Not at that moment.

But I wanted to.

So, I told him that I did feel love for him and wanted to be together, but I still needed to go to Thailand and get my head screwed on straight.

For the next six months we e-mailed and chatted online. We wrote sappy letters of longing and planned for our future. One of the best things about getting together long-distance is that you can’t rely on the physical chemistry and assume the other person knows how you feel. Everything you want them to know has to be spelled out- literally. All your hopes, expectations, and fears have to be communicated. Distance demanded our honesty. It drew us together and made us stronger in the long run because we knew exactly where each other stood.

Towards the end of the six months, Terry called me one day and told me that he had sold his turntables, stereo equipment, records and speakers in order to buy a plane ticket to fly out and see me. I was stunned. We had been talking about him coming out to see me almost from the minute I boarded the plane, but I was afraid it would wind up being a pipe dream. When I got that phone call, I knew that Terry is the kind of person who does what he says he’s going to do.

So, he flew halfway around the world to see me. It was his first time on a commercial flight and the first time out of the country. It was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to share the Thai part of my heritage with someone outside of my family. I met him at the airport and took him back to my grandparent’s condo where I was staying.

That first weekend I took him down to the islands in southern Thailand, specifically Koh Samed. We rented a little bungalow and proceeded to have the most romantic four-day weekend. The kind of weekend you read about in romance novels and fairytales. We would stroll along the beach in the morning, and then have massages under the swaying palm trees. We rented a boat and went snorkeling in the Gulf of Thailand. In the evening we had dinner at a floating restaurant where candlelight danced playfully in the island breezes while our feet dangled over crystalline water.

Terry and me off the coast of Koh Samed.

We met some fellow travelers staying on the island and went down to the local bar at the tip of the beach where we all sat around buckets of Mekong whiskey and Red Bull; which we proceeded to collectively suck up out of straws. As we stumbled back to our bungalows we came across a darkened patch of the beach that separated one part of the island from the other and decided to shed what remained of our clothes and go skinny dipping under the stars. As we floated on our backs in a state of otherworldly bliss, the water beneath us glowed like green underwater fireworks where the phosphorescence did their best to compete with the night sky.

After our four day holiday in the Thai islands, we took a bus back up to Bangkok. It was a long ride and we were a bit sunned, sand, and sea’ed out, so I suggested that we stop and grab a bite to eat at the local street vendor.

There is a Thai appetizer called satai that is usually comprised of marinated chicken, beef or pork and then put on a stick and slow roasted. The best satai in Thailand is found with the street vendors, not with the overly bland versions found in most hotels. It was quick, cheap and easy fare that seemed relatively innocuous; mainly because I had been going to this street vendor for the past six months.

But, of course…of course! Wouldn’t you know it that the one time I buy satai for Terry, the meat turns out to be bad. We both end up getting the absolute worst case of food poisoning. No one should EVER have to have the kind of food poisoning that we had.

It was so bad that my mom ended up giving up her bedroom and attached bathroom out of pity for the two of us. It was so bad that any way our bodies could expel the offending food it was going to- up, down, it didn’t matter.

We spent one, horrifically long night tag teaming it to the bathroom. There was no dignity. There was barely a semblance of humanity. There was no choice, it was a complete nightmare.

The next morning, I started to recover a bit sooner than Terry because the food had hit my system a bit earlier than him. I managed to make my way into the kitchen and I was vaguely thinking about maybe trying to have a cup of tea and see if my stomach would accept it.

As I came back into mom’s bedroom, I found Terry lying on top of the bed, sweaty and sleeping. The morning light was just starting to filter in through the curtains. His face was shadowed and his jaw was stubbly. At some point he had wrapped himself around my grandma’s old teddy bear and I thought to myself, “Awww…”

Right then, I knew. This was Love, with a capital L. We had just managed to go from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the fucking lows in the span of four days and I could still, somehow, walk into the room and think he was the most perfect, adorable man in the world.