Maybe a Move?

Contemplating the doctor’s suggestion to cut back on stress, I quickly pinpointed the two areas that topped my stressor list.

  1. Money (always). Teenagers are not cheaper than infants or toddlers even though they no longer require diapers, daycare or babysitters. They tend to be involved in extracurricular activities that often come with a significant expense (show choir, anyone?), and to need things like braces. They start driving and your insurance bill doubles, or they don’t drive and you have to chauffeur them. And, of course they are known to have prodigious appetites! Even the 10% discount I get (on store brand products) at the grocery store is no match for the bottomless pit of a teenager’s stomach. Add on things like repaying student loans, paying the insane ER bill ($5,000+ billed to the insurance company ($1,000 my share) for the 5 hours I spent there while they ordered expensive tests and did absolutely nothing to lower my stroke-threatening blood pressure in January) and the not infrequent car repair bills and you can see why we are always stretched to the limit.
  2. Time, lack thereof. Between working two jobs and commuting my day has little down time in it. A typical two-job day is getting up a bit after 5 AM, hitting the road at a quarter to six, arriving at school by 7:00 AM working until 3:00, driving to the store, working there from 4 to 10 PM and arriving home by 10:45, in bed around 11:30. If I am only working at school but have to pick up a kid for an orthodontist or doctor’s appointment I will spend over 2 hours on the road and drive more than 80 miles making the trip from from home to school, back to the kids’ school, backto town, and then home again. This happens at least twice a month. Throw in meetings in Indy (computer science workshops, professional conferences, coach training) and that’s another long day once or twice a month. Even my best day, Saturday, my only day off, is spent running errands -hauling trash and recycling, filling water jugs, taking clothes to the laundromat, running a kid to play practice or a friend’s house, returning books to the library, doing grocery shopping… I generally do not get enough sleep and I do not have time for a social life at all.

So, money is not an easy problem to solve. Although average teacher pay in Indiana is around $50,000, pay for a beginning teacher, even with a Master’s degree, is about $35,000. Even though I’m now a STEM coach not a  classroom teacher my pay is still on the teacher’s scale. Indian teacher pay has actually gone backwards – according to a news article quoting the Department of Education “Pay for Indiana teachers has suffered the biggest inflation-adjusted drop since 1999-2000, according to the Department of Education. They now earn almost 16 percent less.” In other words, I shouldn’t expect a big raise any time soon!

So that leaves job #2, my part-time gig. I’m actually making less money at the store than when I started because they are cutting back hours. They are also about to implement a new procedure that will cut out the need for cashiers! They plan to have a “Scan, Bag and Go” program where shoppers will get a hand scanner, scan groceries as they pick them up in the store, put them in bags and pay electronically. No doubt this will be slow to roll out and there will be problems to work out before they stop needing cashier entirely but I wouldn’t recommend anyone plan on being a retail cashier as their life’s work!

I’m looking at finding a better paying 2nd job and have applied for a 20-hour a week position at the local library that pays $3 more an hour (and I have an interview in 2 weeks!). I’ve also inquired about transferring to the pharmacy at the store. That pays an additional $2 per hour and, since it requires more training, is a more secure position. Both possibilities would incrementally improve my income.

As far as time goes – well, quitting the 2nd job would certainly add more hours to my day but it would make the money situation worse! That leaves moving closer to the places we need to be. And, coincidentally I recently came across an ad on Facebook Marketplace for a fixer-upper in town. A 3-bedroom, one bath house needing repairs. Only $5,000 down and low monthly payments (which would eventually equal about $50,000) and in 8+ years you would own the house. It seemed worth checking out so I emailed the seller.

Days went by and then out of the blue the seller responded with a note giving the key code for the door and saying that there was a new ‘even lower’ down payment. I told him we’d go take a look. This is what we saw. Not a lot of curb appeal but that’s OK.

The next thing we noticed was that the door was moving. It wasn’t closed. My daughters refused to get out of the car but my son and I decided to check it out. We thought perhaps another prospective buyer was inspecting the place. When we got to the door we could see that it was being blown in the wind because not only was there no lock box attached to the door, there was no regular lock!

The seller (who by the way turns out to be located in Texas) characterized the house as needing some work. That was an understatement.

Wires

Holes were punched in the ceiling and walls and wires had been pulled out and cut and stripped. Most of the outlets adn switches had been pulled from the walls.

Leaking

The roof was leaking and there were puddles on the floor and soggy carpet.

There were piles of trash – mostly old food containers littering the floor and broken windows in several rooms. The toilet was full to the brim with foul smelling congealed liquid.

Gross

Squatters?

On top of all of that, the neighborhood had little to recommend it. The area behind the house was home to numerous shabby mobile homes with ‘yards’ littered with broken down cars and miscellaneous trash. Across the street were the trash dumpsters belonging to several two-story apartment complexes.

We left and I emailed some of these photos to the seller and wished him luck in unloading the property. Demolition would be my suggestion – at least it would keep the squatters out.

Still the idea of moving into town has taken up residence in my mind – the soon to be smaller family (daughter number 2 leaves for college in August) could possibly fit into an apartment- one with a paved parking area, running water, decent internet and phone reception. Close to my work and opening up possibilities for the teenagers who want jobs and mom who craves connection with other adults. I’ll be keeping my eyes open!

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Less Stress

“Less stress,” prescribed the doctor in charge of lowering my stubbornly resistant and persistent high blood pressure after reviewing a month’s worth of readings predominantly in the stage 2 and 3 hypertension range.

“Less stress,” I repeated. “How so?”

“Take some time for yourself,” he replied, giving me a pat on the shoulder as he headed to the door. “I’ll call in your new medicine.”

“Right,” I replied. Another new medicine. And less stress. Because I’d already cut out salt, abstained from alcohol for months, lost a few pounds and added more fresh wholesome food in my diet. And of course, tried half a dozen other new medicines, each with a suite of side effects – muscle cramps, dry mouth, migraines, thinning hair, sleeplessness, depression and lethargy to name a few – but none that consistently lowered my blood pressure. The trick I was told, was finding the right combination. Which still eluded us.

The odd thing is that I don’t feel unusually stressed. This, an aghast friend tells me, is merely because I’ve become acclimated to stress over the past decade. She assures me that anyone who works more than 60 hours a week in two jobs, is a single parent to 3 teenagers and a college student, typically commutes an hour and a half a day, lives a semi-pioneer lifestyle that requires hauling water, and still lives paycheck to paycheck, is STRESSED (the caps lock is her, not me).

We’ve scaled down, I tell her, the chickens and goats are gone. She rolls her eyes. “But your car,” she says, “and your house!” It’s true the car is showing signs of deterioration – we’ve put over 70,000 miles on it since we bought it a few years ago (it had 107,000 miles then) and at age 15 the electrical system is on the fritz with odd issues like lights that don’t work and a car alarm that goes off while you are driving down the road (embarrassing) and a non-working heater and AC. More worrying is the rusted undercarriage that portends the loss of the rear axle some day. I try to go gently through the potholes and defer thinking about it. The mechanic told me that I’d know when it went out as the back-end would no longer be controlled by steering!

And the house? It mostly works (aside from the lack of running water issue and the listing to one side which means doors won’t close properly). True, it’s quite hot in the summer and cold in the winter and suffers from damp nearly all year round. And it seems small and cramped even though it’s larger than our last few abodes. The lack of a driveway is a hassle during the rainy season, it’s true, as even 4-wheel drive isn’t enough to safely navigate the hill. It must be familiarity that causes us to view it with impatience and disdain.

I’m not sure what I can change to fulfill the “less stress” prescription. More time for me means less work which means less money which means more stress. So I buy a candle that smells good and says “Balance” on the side, and a pint of Haagen Daaz vanilla, blackberry, chocolate ice cream and as soon as I post this blog entry I’m going to light one and dig into the other, listen to the rain and wind (and not think about the mud) and enjoy some brief stress relief. Ommmm.

 

 

Posted in car, expense, health, housing, hypertension, mud, stress | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

When I was in 5th grade I started a club. Inspired by the now iconic anti-litter commercial (the one with the crying Native American), every month or so I, and 3 or 4 other little girls, would walk along side of the highway and pick up trash for an hour. When we were done we went to Dairy Queen for ice cream and to strategize about how to save the world. At the end of the school year my 5th grade teacher wrote out her predictions for where her students would be in 20 years. She put a name to my concerns about the planet, saying I would become an environmentalist. And so I did, in a roundabout way.

After getting my master’s degree in Anthropology (archaeology) I ended up working for an environmental firm doing archaeological surveys to support environmental impact studies of proposed construction projects. I worked my way up to project, then program manager, overseeing studies relating to air and noise pollution, impact to endangered species, and traffic issues in addition to the potential destruction of archaeological resources. During this time I read and researched and kept abreast of scientific discoveries and issues. My concern for the environment grew.

After the upheaval of the Great Recession and subsequent changes in our lives, in my new profession as a science teacher I continued to monitor the environmental news and to talk to my students about the health of the planet. It isn’t good. I could quote numerous studies and statistics but you can easily check for yourself. Sea levels are rising, ice sheets and forests are diminishing, coral reefs are dying, pesticides are killing pollinators, the ocean is filling up with plastic and becoming more acidic, regulations protecting the environment are being rolled back and the population is increasing.

As I check out customers in the grocery store I watch the conveniently packaged individual serving-sized items, all tucked hygienically in their plastic containers, travel down the belt to be stuffed into plastic bags and I know that almost all that plastic will end up in landfills, and rivers and the ocean, and your bottled drinking water. When a customer complains that we are out of ‘grass-fed ghee’ I can’t help but think that we’ve all become too entitled. The store I work at is huge and we have an enormous selection of products in all their vegan, gluten-free, pasture-raised, organic, non-gmo, whole grain, grain-free, bacon-flavored, vapor-distilled glory.

We have fruits and vegetables that aren’t in season within a thousand miles from the store and flowers that don’t exist in nature. I hope everyone is really enjoying all this bounty because I’m pretty sure it’s at the expense of future generations.

I get depressed when I think about the state of the planet, and the future that awaits my children and their offspring. I belong to forums of like minded environmentally aware folk and we agree that the burden can be overwhelming. They have different ways of dealing with it – spending time with friends and family, enjoying the outdoors as much as possible, taking pleasure in simple things. I find it less easy to escape the feeling of uselessness in my life.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt hopeful and optimistic. Perhaps a decade. I’ve been pushing forward all this time because it’s the only thing I can do but it’s clear to me that I will never regain the ground I’ve lost and I’m tired. I realize that the ongoing health issues I’m dealing with are partly to blame for my discouragement. It’s stressful and it makes me anxious. And there are just too many problems and too much work and not enough sleep or money. I wish I thought that would change.

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