Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On planning ahead

August will shock me with the sixtieth anniversary of my introduction to this planet as a living being.  This past year has been one of contemplation, ill humor and realizations.

During the past year, I realized that while many people take the bullet train to maturity, wealth and success, arriving almost before they have begun the journey, my own path to adulthood has followed an old, rutted dirt road filled with mud puddles and hazards where I have slowly picked my way along, often following detours or getting completely lost.  I certainly won't be skidding into the end of my life, although I know that a good shower will be required before I meet my maker.

My youthful dreams of a private jet and millions of dollars have eluded me.  In fact, my business has never reached a million dollars in sales.  Team Mates is twenty three years old on November 2, 2014.  It has provided my family with a modest income, a home or two, a couple of cars and part of the educations of my children.  It has not, however, provided me with retirement savings.  In fact, I imagine that my company has been my traveling companion down the old country road, reaching toward profitability as I have wandered toward maturity.  It is clear that neither of us is even close to our respective ends.

It became obvious during the past year that my company would provide me with enough income to live a decent, if modest life for as long as I worked.  If I hired a replacement, the cost would be higher than what I cost right now.  Selling the company would result in a high tax bill, a very low net gain and the requirement that I continue to work.  I might as well stay with Team Mates.

As a former accountant, I was very capable of calculating all of my unattainable financial goals.  As a human being, I was depressed.  Not even a million dollars would be enough for retirement, even if I was extremely frugal.  I would never, ever be able to quit my job or do 'what I wanted to do' or live the carefree life that I have so often seen my friends living because they managed to do what I have not been able to do; they worked and saved and acted like adults with their money and with their lives.  They were able to retire.

One day, I looked up and saw the rutted dirt track meander into the distance and smiled.  Retirement is out of the question and there is so much that I want to do.  There is working with my horse, working with other horses, gardening, making wine, writing and reading.  There are my children and grandchildren. The list is endless.  I have so many hobbies and desires.  I have a limited attention span.  Call it ADHD for Adults if you wish.  Add to the mix that I work full time.  Is there any wonder that I am never finished?

I realized at that moment that in a way, I already find the time to do what I enjoy.  There is already enough time.  I rarely find that there were not enough hours in a day.  There are, in fact, exactly the right number.  If more are needed, they can be borrowed from the following day because there are always more after that.  In fact, borrowing days is essentially an interest-free, non-repayable loan that renews at the end of each day.

This led me, of course, to the idea that I don't have much  in the way of savings.  On consideration, though, I recognize that I have very little debt.  Whatever I absolutely need, I usually pay for very quickly, except the new or used truck needed for hauling the horses, which I can't actually buy at the moment.  As long as I work, I can pay for the things that I need.

So while retirement is out, life will be fine.  I'll pick younger friends who are still working.  That way I don't have to feel badly about not sitting around playing bridge in the afternoon.  Or commuting between Minnesota and Arizona and never really knowing what season it is.

In the meantime, I'm leaving the shop at five today, driving home to a quick glass of wine.  Then I'm tossing a saddle on Sam and we'll go riding down to the power plant where we'll pick a few raspberries and do some circles around trees.  When we're done, we will go back home where I'll put Sam in his paddock, wander through the gardens and maybe come up with a plan for burning the big brush pile this weekend.

That's far enough ahead for now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's a process

In the interest of disclosing as little history as possible, which would make this a novel rather than a short commentary, I'll just say that I have a strong interest in horses.  It all began about three years ago when one of my sons and his wife enticed me with their horses.  As with all things that capture my starving, attention deficit mind, the interest blossomed into a full-fledged need for a horse, a place to store him and some sort of ability to ride him.  

I have little experience with animals.  Cats have been a part of my life for many years, if they are actually considered participants in lives other than their own.  Oh and we have some koi.  I've never owned a dog although my dad had one once, a long time ago.  The dog only lasted about six months.  He really wasn't suited to our house when I was growing up.  

Buying a horse was really easy.  We traveled south for three hours after seeing one on Craig's List, discussing the fact that you should never ever buy the first horse you see.  Three hours and fifteen minutes after starting south, my checkbook was lighter and I was the proud owner of two horses.

That was when my learning began.  Having a horse is an investment of time and money that probably is better spent on other pursuits, like beating oneself about the head and shoulders with a large piece of lumber.  Vets have to make housecalls because we don't simply load them into the van for a checkup, hay has to be bought early in the year, before supplies run out, sufficient land has to be available for running, grazing and manure (never ever think that manure gets rid of itself).  And there is a time commitment or else you wind up with pasture statues who consume every dime you have without giving back a darned thing.

I love my horse.  He is amazing and magical and the only reason a person these days ever needs to have an equine partner is emotional and not even remotely logical or rational.

Horses are wonderful teachers.  They are.  No, they don't hold classroom hours and the tuition is high but not impossible.  The lessons, though, are all about management and learning and understanding.  I have, in fact, learned much about managing my company and employees.  I've learned about patience.  I have learned how to do something absolutely without expectation of reward, because a horse completely lacks the capacity to 'like' people or things.  They can't joke around, enjoy kisses and hugs, look forward to petting or any of those things that dogs and cats can do.  This is scientific fact, by the way.  Horses have an extremely underdeveloped frontal lobe which is where reasoning and love and playfulness are found.  

Assuming that I have now upset every horse owner who truly believes that their horse loves them, we shall move on. 

Teaching most subjects is pretty darned black and white, except history which apparently no longer exists.  Okay, I'm an older person so I'll say that it used to be black and white.  Some of this Common Core crap covers the whole color spectrum and will be eliminated from this (and any other) discussion.  Moving on here.  

Teaching involves facts, not emotions.  It assumes logical answers to questions.  One answer per question is helpful.  Horses are totally reactive and non-emotional.  They don't reason their way through things, they just answer.  Wrong answers are deadly in the wild.  If you learn to think like a horse, you remove the emotional value from your thought process and the answers, especially when it comes to managing a company or a person, are much more clear.  Rules make more sense.  Systems and processes are much easier to follow.  

I'm stopping right here.  That way there might be more to write in another blog.  Continuity, right?  Speaking of which, I'll have to say something about community again one of these days.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I love epiphanies.  When one occurs, it just makes at least the whole day better, and sometimes even carries over for a week or so.

Yesterday I had one.  It didn't involve work, at least not directly.

It went something like this:  "It's time to recognize that we are no longer on our own."

We used to live in the suburbs.  We had our four tenths of an acre, surrounded by trees, sitting across from a park filled with baseball and softball fields.  The street was noisy and there was lots of traffic.  We had gardened the plot until there really wasn't much more to be done and the inside of the house was going to be next, just for something to do on weekends.

We didn't know a single neighbor.  Not one.  I could wave at one guy, whose name is Arthur, as I drove by his house.  Aside from that, nothing.  Oh, there was also Lance who lived behind us and hated us because our fence had been located on his property for twenty years.  He would have a few beers and come out once in awhile and rail at me over that.  I didn't really care.  Minnesota has beneficial use laws, so technically the property was mine. I found out that Lance had died, although I only found out after we moved.

We lived there for fifteen years.  And knew absolutely no one.

Two years ago, we packed up and moved to the country.  We bought five acres that had a house, a barn, a second large garage and then acquired two horses.  We moved in our own and spent the first few months waving at the few cars that passed by since we knew that most of the drivers lived on our gravel road.  One or two waved back.  What a thrill!

One day, not long after we moved in, a couple of the neighbors rode their horses up the driveway to introduce themselves and meet our horses.  Then we started getting invitations to various places for drinks, barbecues and so forth.  And then we found ourselves offering help when needed.  The ladies down at the corner needed some hay brought down from another barn.  Someone else was looking for hay.  Somebody needed a little extra shoveling help.  The list of friends grew, even though we couldn't even see most of our neighbors' houses.

Yesterday, I was looking at Facebook pictures of the neighbors all helping each other stack hay.  We couldn't help because we were borrowing a trailer from one of the neighbors in order to pick up two hundred bales that I needed for our own horses.  I did realize, with a sigh, that I'd be called on to do something down the road.  In fact, we're helping to take care of the petting zoo and kennel down on the corner over the coming weekend.

That's when the epiphany arrived.  It was a negative at first.  "If the ladies down the road couldn't take care of themselves, then they need to hire some help instead of relying on the rest of us to pitch in."  No, it doesn't sound nice.  And yet, that's what the suburbs and cities do to us.  "Leave me alone," is the standard neighbor cry.  "I never ask for help and never want to be asked" is the statement of the day.

Then I realized that the truth is, we now belong to a community.  People work together to make their lives better.  None of us is rich.  None of us has the resources to carry on alone.  We do our best to manage our own acreages and don't actually have to have contact on a regular basis.  The thing is, we do it anyway.  We borrow stuff from each other, we return it when we're done, we pop on over to the neighbor's to mow or shovel snow or load hay because we know that they appreciate the help.  That's how communities work.

We are no longer on our own.  We have actual neighbors in an actual neighborhood.  It is a little bit tiring on a social level because my community-serving muscles are atrophied from years of living in cities and hiding away.  Working them just takes a little time, though.  In the meantime, having neighbors makes me smile.