Jilly D.

Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

Epiphany

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on January 29, 2014 at 1:26 pm

My neighbors, Nancy and Jack McKittrick invited me over for New Year’s Eve since a blizzard was expected. Nancy called all the neighbors within walking distance over for a stay-at-home celebration. Around 8 p.m. I bundled up in my wool coat, hat, mittens and boots. Just breaking the drifted snow from the door to the road was hard work. Once I got out onto the road, the plows had gone by and I skated along in my boots on the icy sheen under the moonlight. I brought a bottle of wine and my Scrabble board.492896-R1-00-1

Sam Warren stomped into the McKittrick’s house shortly after 8:30 pm. The orange snow pants, big snowmobile boots, welding hat with ear flaps and those smiling, twinkling blue eyes mesmerized me. Flirtatious and funny for 40 minutes non-stop, Sam left the neighborhood gathering by 10 p.m. He had a wood fire going in the cabin and goats to check on in the storm.  It wasn’t any Unabomber who lived down that lane; it was a sexy, wild, backwoodsman.936213-R1-12-13A

I waited all New Year’s Day 1998 for a sign that this was a sign. There wasn’t any.

My dog, Bob, and I strolled down the lane to find his cabin. We quickly discovered Sam wasn’t there when I riled his dachshund who would not stop barking. Bob and I scurried home.

Despite the “No Trespassing” signs, I continued to walk down the lane to his cabin by the pond. The unpaved road had a canopy of trees and winter stillness. Several times a day for the next three days I tried to create an opportunity to meet by walking down to his cabin by the pond. He was never there during daylight hours.

I wrote him letters. Long letters. I tore them up.

The letters were really written for me, trying to clarify what I was feeling and what that might mean. After the third day of my obsession, I realized he wouldn’t be interested in a 10 page handwritten love note from some strange middle-aged spinster. Neither was I.

956725-R1-16-17AI wanted to see Sam. I had walked around the entire farm. This was the most beautiful place for solitude with nature on planet Earth even in the midst of bitter winter. I knew enough about what I felt and what I wanted. I knocked on his front door in the middle of the afternoon on January 6, 1998.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas. When he didn’t answer the door, I tacked three condoms in an envelope with my phone number on his front door. I waited all afternoon by the phone. It was 5:30 p.m. and getting dark fast.  I was desperate and crazy and more dangerous than the Unabomber. I had never done anything so bold before.

***

Sam’s version of how we met differs from mine. As he retells this story, he returned home to his cabin at dusk, found tacked to his front door an envelope containing three condoms and a phone number with a hand scribbled name; looked like Jim.

Bachelor farmers are pranksters and Sam figured he was made the fool by one or another friend named Jim. He called the phone number.

“Hi. This is Sam,” he said.

“Hi Sam. This is Jill” I replied. My heart was pounding so hard I was afraid he would hear it.

It was Jill. Jill. Not Jim. Jill. It took Sam a few seconds to comprehend. Sam had seen her last at the McKittrick’s house at their New Year’s Eve gathering. Six days ago.

He had been so busy restoring an antique tractor the past few days he hadn’t had time to think about their chance meeting. He knew she rented Bird and Annie’s house. She walked up and down the roads everyday with a scruffy old mutt. Sometimes she’d wave. And smile. Some high society college professor would never have anything to do with the likes of him, Sam thought.

“Hello? Sam? Would you like to come up and talk sometime?” My voice filled the dead silence.

“Yes, but I need to let my dog out, have some supper and take a bath. I’ve been painting a tractor all day and I am covered in John Deere green,” he said.

“Great. I’ll see you around 8 p.m.”

At 6 p.m. his pickup truck pulled into my driveway. He’d let his dog out and wondered if I didn’t have a tub he could take a bath in; if I wouldn’t mind making him dinner.

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Labor. Pains. Mary, Joseph, Jesus.

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on January 28, 2014 at 2:16 pm

snow on firFor Christmas 1997 I made plans to be alone. The stress of traveling to see family in Minnesota was too much if I wanted to return to work next semester. I prayed for a sign that life had more in store for me than working to death.

My gift to myself was to relax and recover with a private celebration. If I could feel good enough to open my heart, mind, and soul, perhaps I would discover the joy of the season.

Christmas Eve Day I spent in the kitchen slowly preparing my favorite holiday meal. I cooked myself a traditional turkey dinner. As the turkey roasted, snow fell outside. I called my neighbor Nancy to see if I could ride along to the carol sing at the Cayutaville Methodist Church. We arrived at the white chapel in gentle snow flurries. Before we entered the service, I stopped dead in my tracks. I had been here before. I felt certain, but I knew different. No I hadn’t.

Nancy and I slipped in the back and sat down in a pew on the aisle. Disoriented somewhat, I sensed a sign I was waiting for; but it passed without knowing what it was or meant.

The service began with the piano banging out the simple tune “Away in a Manger,” with the congregation singing along. I looked around the small sanctuary. Twelve rows of wooden pews, each sat four to six congregants on the right; and twelve rows on the left. I recognized many of the faces as neighbors, people I passed in the grocery, at the gas station, in the bank. The choir came up out of the congregation and stood up in front of the pulpit to sing. The collection plates were passed down the rows and across the aisles. “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” we sang.

The minister took the pulpit and preached an unusual sermon. “The pain of childbirth goes unnoticed in the gospel story,” the lady pastor began. Mary’s story of giving birth was the focus of this Christmas Eve.

“Can you imagine how it was for Mary? She’s pregnant. She’s traveling and there is no place for her to spend the night. The shame and humiliation of an unexplainable pregnancy, the discomfort of riding on a donkey, the exhaustion… Can you imagine?” she asked her parishioners.

As I sat in the pew listening politely, my hands cramped up and they suddenly were so swollen I could hardly interweave my fingers together in prayer. My neck at the base of the spine pounded with pain. I swallowed my screams into the silent night. My ankles and knees felt swollen and achy. I couldn’t move without more discomfort. I wasn’t even sure I would even be able to get up from that pew.

“Labor pains remind us nothing good comes without struggle,” the minister said. My focus was on the pain and struggle. Nothing good.

I went home and crawled into bed and slept late into Christmas Day. Foraging leftovers and lingering in my flannels all day long, I felt worse not better. What kind of a sign is this?

Fascia gets inflamed and irritated. Fascia is what holds our organs in place inside our bodies and connects the skin to the bones and tendons. It’s the goo between our organs and skeleton and skin. When the fascia is chronically stressed the feeling is pain and fatigue and an overwhelming sense of not being able to keep it all together.

I spent the next week doing nothing. Wiped out, I slept, ate, stared out the window into the whiteness and fell back to sleep again. Snow kept falling and I couldn’t muster the strength to shovel the driveway. I didn’t need to go anywhere anyway.

It didn’t hurt anymore walking than not walking past the Unabomber’s place

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, Uncategorized on January 27, 2014 at 5:58 pm

My physician diagnosed me with fibrositits: a chronic condition of connective tissue (fascia). He put me on a medical leave for fall semester 1997. I’d just delivered my portfolio for tenure and promotion review and finished the first week of classes. Ugh. Instead I spent that autumn different than any other. I’d been in a classroom every September since 1963.

462577-R1-09-10A_010Doing nothing wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Resting and reassessing how I would manage the pain and fatigue now part of my everyday life and consider my future prognosis kept me distracted from the symptoms. Thinking I’d never be able to dance again, swim for miles, or hike the hills in the Finger Lakes made me determined not to be defined by my  illness.

The day I got my diagnosis from my doctor I came home to the house I rented on the edge of the Tompkins county line. I laid down on the floor. I stretched my legs longer another couple inches. I put my arms out to my sides. I sighed. Tears ran from the corners of my eyes onto the floor beneath my head.

I laid there. The tears kept coming. I didn’t sob. My breathing remained calm. I breathed in. I breathed out.

My hair and ears got wet. I laid there on the floor and wept. Everything hurt. It hurt for a reason and now I knew why. I found too little relief in that fact. The doc told me the diagnosis was not terminal; although I was going to have days when I wished it was. For me, it was the morning brain fog, loss of night vision, the butterfly rash, swelling of joints, and dysfunction of digestive organs. But the worst of it: the inability to follow my own train of thought suddenly in mid-sentence, the short term memory lapses, the wixing of mords and overall irritability. My brain farts finally had a reason.

My bones sank deep into the floor and salty water poured from the corners of my eyes. I stared at the beautiful pine boards above and merged with their knots and grains and golden beams. The tears streamed down my temples, into my scalp, down my neck and onto the floor. I laid there.

And cried. I woke up the next morning; lying on the floor, on my back, with my eyelids sealed shut from the Sandman. I cleared the sleep from my face.

I walked the country roads near my rented house every day to give myself and my dog, Bob, some exercise. Even when I hurt like hell, it didn’t hurt any more exercising.  So I walked. I walked through the pain. The more I walked, the less it hurt. Putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward was its own reward.

One day while out walking I noticed a new barricade appeared across the end of an unpaved driveway on Buck Hill Road, around the corner. “No Trespassing” signs went up and a couple sawhorses blocked vehicular traffic from turning down this lane I had never even noticed before.

I was a news junkie and suspicious this could be where a Unabomber could be staked out and hiding. I lived alone with my ragamuffin mutt, Bob, as my sole source of protection. We kept our eyes open for suspicious activity. Nobody went in or out; the snow piled up in the long drive.

Cold enough?

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, The Farm, Time and seasons, Uncategorized on January 26, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Mixed with milk and sugar, hand-cranked fresh-ground coffee welcomes our day. From the table we can see out the floor to ceiling windows and watch the passing of seasons. Sitting and sipping coffee, the day’s plans unfold between us.

When darkness lifts, the work begins. In winter, the chores involve bringing wood in, feeding and watering the barn animals, walking the dogs, feeding the cat and keeping the fires going, then cooking and baking and tending the coals. In between chores you can catch stretches of daylight hours to accomplish one or more items from a very long honey-do list.

Sam gets dressed in the morning to go out in the cold and he climbs up on the roof to sweep the snow off the solar panel banks. As soon as there is morning light, snow has to be cleared or the photovoltaics will not generate power. They don’t require direct sunlight to make electricity, but they do need light. The brightness of a fresh snow can boost up the power as long as the solar panels are directly exposed.On Warren Pond Farm

The bank of panels on the wood shed is on a roof facing mostly to the east catching the early daylight hours. This second bank faces south and catches the rays from mid-morning to sunset. With 25 year warranties none of the panels have gone bad. One broke in a bad windstorm when it was torn off the roof. More than one fell off, but only one broke. Not bad for 10 years.

Going green is simple but it isn’t always easy. Getting up and going out first thing in the bitter cold morning is one of the prices to pay. The snow removed from the solar panels and the wood box full with dry tinder; Sam never complains about these early morning chores despite January blues.

“Want another cup of coffee?” I ask as Sam comes in to shake off the morning snow and cold. Purely rhetorical; the real question is whether there is any home-brewed left.

For some the price of living off-the-grid is too high. Making real choices between keeping the electric fence on or running the lights late into the night or between watching television or keeping the freezer running are unnecessary inconveniences to modern folk. Can I find a hairdo that doesn’t require any care beyond a once-a-week shampoo? The curling iron, the blow dryer, the bathroom fan, the machine-dried towels, and the thousands of gallons of hot water for daily showers are things I can live without. Can’t watch TV? I can read by oil lamp and it’s more romantic. Dump the CuisinArt for a wooden spoon. For me, it seems sheer luxury.

Just before the sun rises I wake. Deciding between darkness and light exactly how my day will play out; my hopes and dreams belong to the preconscious moment.

It’s in those early moments of day when life surprises me. The blue heron who decides this morning to catch a fish and eat it within 20 feet of me. A small herd of Whitetail deer prance around the pond taking a morning sip and exercise their fawns in the drifts on the alfalfa field. On snowy mornings the critters leave their tracks for deciphering. Mink, bear, possum, pheasant, mice, fox, skunks, chipmunks, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes leave their prints.

Weather predictions are most accurate when made early in the morning after your skin feels the temperature, wind speed and humidity levels. When your future depends more on climate than stock reports or sports scores, those first moments of morning are important to making a schedule for the day. You can foretell much from those first moments awake. If there is dew on the ground, then there will be no rain today. Plan accordingly.

My stock is in the barn

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on January 25, 2014 at 10:49 pm
mind of his own

mind of his own

“You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time,” Sam said on more than one occasion. Of all the scarce nonrenewable resources, time should never be wasted. For everything there is a time. The trick is to know what time it is.

For me, it was time to change. I dropped out, fell through the cracks, flew under the radar screen, unplugged and disembodied myself from any electronic identity. Instead of keeping and chasing paper trails, I now find it exhilarating to think about leaving no trace at all.

I went on a low social cholesterol diet. No more fat heads. I put myself on a starvation media diet. As a former college professor of journalism, this was a ‘fast’. Even though I could quote you chapter and verse on the negative mindset mass media creates in consumers, I’d been a news junkie. The truth had become little more than what sells in commercial news media and I found it toxic. The results of my fast proved stunning. Without the noise of news I gain the time to think about more important matters than the shock of the day. I have time to hear my own thoughts.

Rosehips under freshly fallen snowI didn’t give up on TV. TV gave up on me. I stopped reading national newspapers, subscribing to magazines, listening to talk radio or watching network news. My local newspaper, the free shoppers, the bulletin boards and local radio stations provide more than enough news and entertainment. I don’t seek out news; I get the news I need without paying for it. Somehow the everyday pornography of grief still gets delivered.

The luxury of time to think about the world and the state it is in affords me the time to do something about it. Too often I feel as if by watching, listening or reading the news I am doing something. I am not. Just because I know something doesn’t mean I can do a damn thing about it. News leaves me powerless to do anything about what I learned. So I shut it off and started thinking in more practical terms.

Instead of a home with 2,500 square feet of living space, Sam invited me to live in his cabin with 400 square feet. Less room means less stuff.

“Less room means it takes a lot less to heat and power your living area. Less room means less to clean!” says Sam. He convinced me on the less cleaning argument. Less room means everything in your home has a purpose and a place.

“Try making your own electricity. Create your own heat. Conserve. Commute. Carpool. Walk. Grow your own. Do it yourself. Fix it. Make do without,” Sam tells me.

The loss of retirement funds, high unemployment, home foreclosures, credit card debt, health care costs and the threats to the security of our food supply and national security make the future uncertain if not bleak.  The price of everything has gone up and the end of the fossil fuel era is apparently now.  The new economics make things look bad and you urgently want to do something, almost anything, to stop the madness. So do it. Stop.

I used to rush about, hurry, push the time limit, thrive on urgency and was addicted to speed:  faster, faster. The pace of everyday life kills.  The incessant feeling of being behind and trying to catch up nags and irritates. The reality is that wages have fallen since 1973 and there is no way to catch up. Especially not after the era of excess when we extended our budgets by buying into credit card debt.  The voice mail and email, the correspondence and phone calls, the reports and forms, the meetings and conferences, deadlines and bottom lines pressed down; leaving absolutely no time to think clearly and calmly.

On Warren Pond

On Warren Pond

Good things take time.  Slow down. Breathe. Deeply. Again. Inhale through your nose and smell a new day. Exhale and push that desperation out through your mouth. Suck in fresh air until your nostrils collapse and then blow the old out through your teeth. One more time. Slower.

Creating a new self-sustaining lifestyle does not mean sacrifices, self-denial, depression or loneliness. It means acceptance, adjustment and appreciation. Our sense of well-being can’t be measured in liquid assets but in social capital with far better rates of return.

I can not offer any quick fix solutions for saving the planet or fixing your personal finances.  I can hope only to inspire you to live on what you can afford and make best use of what is at hand.

There are no get rich quick schemes.  Sam’s best investment tip was to keep the stock in the barn. Here you will read about how it is possible to minimize your carbon footprint and enjoy it.  I hope our story will inspire you to find your own good life.

When the time is right, take it.

Po-dunk. Po-dunk. The sound of power.

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on January 18, 2014 at 8:57 pm

956725-R1-20-21AIn New York the joke is there are only two seasons: winter and road construction. In the heart of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, farmers know four distinct seasons. Different kinds of alternative energy can be harvested each in its own time.

sunflower

Glad

Sam Warren built a system that integrates sun, water and wind with the natural forces of local weather. When the sun doesn’t shine, the wind blows. When it isn’t sunny or windy, it’s raining and the water runs. Instead of fighting against the forces of nature, Sam works with them.

Solar panels provide the primary source for generating electricity year round.  Windmills and a waterwheel are complementary sources. The sun, wind and water keep us free and clear. No credit card bills, no interest payments, no debt.

Too many people think retrofitting their current residence with alternative energy involves a substantial capital investment. For some folks no matter how much money they spend, their residences are not well situated for harvesting the sun, wind or water. For others, it makes perfect environmental and economic sense.

Sam practices the “pay as you go” system. Start with what you can afford and your savings provide the capital to purchase your next solar panel, or inverter, windmill or meter.

956725-R1-19-20AIn the last 15 years Sam installed more solar panels than his original two. As he could afford it, he added two windmills and built a waterwheel. The first windmill was an Enron model and it still works on a pole attached to the roof. The second windmill is much larger and sits atop an 80 ft. tower to the west of the cabin. Each catches different air currents.

The waterwheel is 10 feet in diameter, set in concrete and weighs more than 3,000 lbs. of steel. Sam designed it based on a Fitz Overshoot wheel. He built it entirely from scratch; cutting and welding the steel into a true circle. It took him most of a winter to build.

On Easter Sunday 2002 he began digging a half acre pond at the northeastern corner of our property. The pond is more than 40 feet higher than the cabin roof. Sam laid pipes from the pond overflow pipe through the fields and down to the cabin. The six inch pipe brings water to the wheel by the force of gravity. Later that spring, he hired a crane to set the waterwheel upright and level; then poured concrete for its foundation right in front of the cabin.766018-R1-12-13A

Water is a power source available in winter: running water never freezes. Because it is gravity fed, water flows without need of an electric pump.

The waterwheel will run on just a trickle of water. Once the cups fill with water and the wheel begins to move it is impossible to stop the momentum. Sam hooked up a turbine from to the waterwheel and it generates 3-phase electricity.

100_0931Once the waterwheel was in place, Sam spent the summer and fall building a millhouse around it. With pulleys and gears, Sam rigged up various farm implements to run off the waterwheel’s power: a corn sheller, a seed cleaner, an 1892 drill press, a grain mill, apple corer and peeler, cider press, and knife sharpener. He built in grain bins and countertops in the second floor, or attic, of the millhouse.

The lean-to kitchen eventually gave way to a new summer kitchen that is 6 foot wide by 12 foot long situated between the cabin and the millhouse. There is a big picture window between the summer kitchen and the millhouse. When I put the coffee on in the morning I get to look out at the waterwheel. The dawn’s light bursts into the millhouse and catches the water as it splashes. Po-dunk, po-dunk, po-dunk. The music of the wheel plays round and round. Light is refracted in every direction by the spokes of the spinning wheel.

My throne has an oak seat

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on January 12, 2014 at 2:40 am

100_1025In 1992 Sam took the month of August off from trucking. Same month and year I moved from Athens, Georgia, to 11 acres right around the corner from his folks. He started building a cabin near the pond on the back 40 acres of his parent’s farm. He went back on the road trucking but spent his time off working on his new home with what he could afford. He spent years on the road living in his truck; without paying rent, utilities, groceries or other home expenses. With his savings he invested in his little house on the pond.

The following August he spent another month finishing the cabin, building a table and bed, and constructing a goat shed. In August 1994 Sam came home for good. He sold his truck, bought four solar panels and batteries, moved into the cabin and set up farming operations with a couple goats and his dog, Buddy.100_1028

While he drove thousands of miles cross country as a truck driver, Sam came up with a floor plan for the original 20 ft. X 14 ft. cabin. It included a main room, small bedroom and a lean-to kitchen. Sam didn’t need blueprints because he’d built the entire thing in his head on the road. He did sketch the floor plan on graph paper in a composition notebook for reference.

The board and batten siding match the rough cut lumber used for interior walls. A 6 ft. X 20 ft. porch off the front of the cabin faced southwest along the shore of Warren Pond. Eventually Sam framed in the porch with floor-to-ceiling triple-pane windows. He laid stone floor, over water tubing placed in sand, so we could have radiant floor heat.

100_1032The cabin is our home. Our bedroom is the length of our full size mattress. The room is 5 feet long and 10 feet wide. There are built-in shelves above our feet and storage under the bed. An open, steep, staircase angles up over the bed to the loft above.  A corner shelf boasts a white antique water pitcher and a framed 8 X 10 inch mirror.

100_1027The main room has two woodstoves; a large cast iron cook stove and an old Ben Franklin stove. The table Sam made from pine; built-in benches sit over the storage batteries for the alternative energy we generate. Two straight back chairs are used by visitors.

A stainless steel sink sits in a washboard cupboard Sam built. Hot and cold water come out of a Pitcher Pump for the kitchen faucet. Above the sink are shelves filled with tin plates, bowls, cups, glass mixing bowls, coffee mugs, glasses, and glass decanters of flour and sugar. His grandmother’s wooden butter bowl rests safely on the very top shelf. The handle on the hand-crank coffee bean grinder is bright red back in the corner left of the sink. The silver tray and knife racks are next to the bean grinder. Cast iron skillets, pots, griddles, pans and colanders hang on the wall behind the wood cook stove. The rough cut lumber walls have nails pounded in to hang up antique farm tools; old saws, drills, chisels, levels, hammers, hatchets, and such.

Staring at these rough cut lumber boards on the walls, Sam has drawn in pencil several full scale renditions of animals using the grain, knots and texture of the wood. He highlighted the images that popped out at him from the wood. One drawing of a goat stares at you from one side of the room and as you move to the other side, the goats’ gaze follows you; a shifting double perspective.

The water closet is literally that. A white porcelain toilet sits immediately to the right of the bathroom door with two shelves above it. A propane hot water tank is immediately to the left.  The bath tub is above the bedroom in the loft. Fed by gravity, the well forces the water upstairs where there is an old claw foot porcelain tub. The loft is additional storage space for all my arts and crafts, out of season clothing, photos and memorabilia.

Originally the cabin had an outdoor outhouse. It still stands, but it doesn’t get much use anymore. I wouldn’t commit to farm life without an indoor flush toilet. My throne has an oak seat. As a backwoodsman, Sam claimed for years to enjoy the start of everyday by going out to the privy.

“Fresh air in your nose. The sunshine in your face. Wakes you right up!”  Sam said.

From a quiet life of desperation

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, Uncategorized on January 4, 2014 at 9:09 pm

766018-R1-12-13AWhen New York State Electric and Gas told Sam it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to bring electricity down to the homestead from the road more than 1,400 feet, Sam decided he would make his own power instead. Our electricity is home grown.209467-R1-02-3

Sam started out with a couple of solar panels. He’s been off-the-grid since 1994. Today there are two big banks of solar panels generating enough power to run electric fence, lights, radio, a big screen TV, a DVD player, refrigerator, freezer, water pump and other appliances; although not all of them at the same time.

“Got no mortgage; no rent payment. Got no utility bills. No heat or electric payments. Got no bills for cable service, internet, high speed dialup or instant messaging. No health insurance payments or medical bills. Don’t budget for entertainment or travel. Grocery bills are next to nothing because we raise the food we eat and most of the feed for our animals. No need for a health club membership,” Sam says.

“People go to work every day all day long so they can pay for their housing and heat. They come home after dark. They spend more time at work than at home trying to pay for the cost of having a home,” says Sam. “Makes no sense to me,” he says.111111-R1-14-15_015

It took me two years after I moved in with Sam to leave my guaranteed-for-life job as a tenured college professor. Once I added up the rent, heat, electric, health insurance, meals, car loan payment, gas, insurance, travel, wardrobe, dry cleaning, haircuts, books, magazines, journals, computer software, credit card payments and business expenses involved in keeping up appearances of a modern professional I got a real shock. I looked around at my colleagues paying off student loans, saving for their children’s college tuition, paying for daycare or private school fees, caring for elderly parents, taking on second mortgages and huge credit card debt. Too many of my professional associates were in therapy, depressed, drinking too much, taking lots of antidepressants and prescription narcotics, dysfunctional as human beings and creating a toxic work environment to which I got physically sick. The job didn’t pay for itself. I could never make more money than what I needed to spend to keep up, much less stay sane.

Until I met Sam I was like millions of other Americans today. I was always strapped with debt. First it was student loan debt, but as I paid that down, the credit card debt piled on as I tried to maintain the appearances of a professional lifestyle. I couldn’t even start to save for a down payment, much less afford a mortgage on my teaching salary.

No repo men came after my car. No bill collectors harassed me. I could make the minimum payments and my credit limits kept rising. But I could never afford the credit extended to me. I faced rising fuel costs, heating costs, worked harder and longer hours. I spent more on energy going to and from work and on heating a household in which I spent less and less time. I couldn’t enjoy what I had and I couldn’t live on what I could afford. I couldn’t sleep at night owing for the rest of my life.

AFCU Class Swenson & Cooper Work 20100521GHFrom a quiet life of desperation to a life of quiet deliberation, I took my lessons from a self-educated man. What I learned from him proved more potent a remedy to my ailments than any pharmaceutical. Everything passes away but a few things endure. Sun, wind, water, fire, stone and earth have been here across all time, but love is the greatest source of power to sustain the human spirit.