Anniversaries

Today is the two-year anniversary of the day the house burned. (As it happened, it’s also the anniversary of wedding my ex). So, I’m going to take some time for looking back on what I did right and what I did wrong. And, take time to make time to get back to writing. But I’m only looking back two years to the fire. I’m just writing a post, not a book.

The most important thing I did right was when I decided to settle with the insurance company. I didn’t want a false incentive to rebuild my life “cookie cutter” style, nor to work hard at digging deep for proof of all that I owned. “Cookie cutter” was the adjuster’s phrase. If you choose the “build your house back” option, cost overruns are only covered if you build back exactly as it was. Meaning that if you upgrade to stone counter tops or move a wall, any completely unrelated cost over runs in the basement or drive way are not covered. When you live in a house 23 years, you can’t help but see some things you’d change. I had one of the more modern floor plans for my neighborhood, but the house was more than 30 years old and trends change. It was still not what you would build from scratch for the next 50 years. I moved on and sold the lot. A builder put a spec home there. He did a nice job of building a current home that fit well in an older neighborhood and it sold for a top price. I thought the clean slate was a good result for the neighborhood that I called home longer than any other and I felt good about that.

There are drawbacks to a clean slate though. When you are building back cookie cutter, there are few decisions to make because you already made them. “Same” is the answer to everything and you just watch the contractor to be sure it’s done right. When you do that, moving on in ways unrelated to dwelling and contents moves up in the queue. When everything is a new choice, the layers of choices past aren’t there building the foundation of quick new decisions. A conscious choice to start from scratch is not for the weak at heart. Those decades of layered choices are how you ended up with the life you had, and even though stuff is just stuff, it’s the stuff you use for your life and insurance isn’t designed to improve your life, only to keep you from suffering if the worst happens. The mistakes you make while remaking your home are at your own cost, just like the original ones were. The more unknowns, the more likely it is that there will be mistakes.

The biggest surprise was how long things took. I thought there would be more Amazon.com involved in my rebuild, but things didn’t fall neatly together. There was the unexpected news that we had a seller’s market going on big time. I knew that neighbors weren’t having any trouble selling in my great school district, but I didn’t know just how hard it was to buy. We even went to a neighboring area where the school scores were a couple of percent lower, but finding a home was really tough, a big time sink. I was in that price range that has the most people in it, so well-priced houses were snapped up quickly. Now, I’m driving past houses we looked at nearly daily. I’m glad we didn’t end up in any of them and Russ says the same thing. But, there were complications and delays. We were still looking at back up houses the week before closing in case the deal fell through. I hated to ask to see a house when I had one under contract, closing in a few days, but I really didn’t have confidence in closing and I really didn’t have time to fail. If it hadn’t been for my allergies and that little hint of dog smell left in the carpet I might have jumped ship and be living in the last other house we looked at instead. Of course the irony there is that the house we bought had knock your socks off pet odors, but for that house the cure was to rip out everything and seal it with Zinsser.

The biggest mistake I made might have been having the urge to get on with things and buying before I had a permanent place to be. We had the goal to replace as much as possible through thrift stores and estate sales. It was the only way to get some semblance of the quantity and quality of what we had back. When you appreciate the quality, weight and feel of an antique tool, flimsy short term pressed sheet metal doesn’t cut mustard. We had to buy things when we could find them. They might not be available again. So, in some respects, it wasn’t a mistake to do it that way. And that may just be how it is when replacing a household, but it was definitely the hot spot. The place where it hurt was in the mix. Getting the right house meant getting a fixer because of the market, ours came with delays. We piled stuff on top of stuff inside of stuff and then rearranged stuff so that we could fit in more stuff. The irony being that 5 years from now we might have bought an Airstream (or a Spartan) and chosen not to even have a stationary home. It wasn’t 5 years from now though, it was two years ago. I replaced a lot of hobbies and do it yourself tools, household items and just plain stuff. The pile of stuff FOR the house gets in the way OF the house while we’re working on it, and it gets covered in saw dust too. My son downsized and wanted to fill my basement the day we closed. Life doesn’t stop going on just because we are still really, really disorganized and stressed. Moving stuff to do stuff. Moving stuff to clean it or clean behind it, or to keep from having to clean it. etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSd6-EvBgN4 We thought after things settled, we might take a long overdue vacation. One where we don’t carry our food and bed on our backs. One where we walk on the beach and sleep in a bed. Russ had an injury in the spring that lasted through the summer. There’s no telling how over due that’s gonna get!

The uncomfortable irony happened when we learned from neighbors that lightening had struck several times in the new neighborhood. So far, it’s been mostly tree damage. The old neighborhood was in a dip and I never worried about tornados. The new neighborhood had several new roofs due to storm damage. I noticed before we bought that several homes had new roofs, but I had guessed it was just the age of the neighborhood. Later a nearby house burned. I was coming home and saw the dreadful black plume. Every turn brought me closer to a home I’d been in for only a short time, and every turn I was unable to tell that the plume was coming from somewhere other than my home. I don’t wish loss on anyone else, but another fire before recovering from the first? I really hoped it wasn’t me. At the same time, I started going through emergency choices in my mind. I listed settling as the best choice I made, but that double edged sword also makes me wonder if it was the worst. The whole thrift replacement idea got me some cool finds, but all that time and gas… there is no reimbursement for that, and I was only able to do it because of my employment gap. I believe that if it ever happened again (please, NO!), I’d go the other route. Rent close by and rebuild. At least if you know where you’re gong to live, it is possible to know if you’re renting nearby when you sign the lease. This time no corporate apartment in an inconvenient area. Get a nearby rental house this time, and rebuild this time. Make it as fast, painless and finished as possible. I’m not sure I regret how I made my lemonade over the past two years, but the litmus test for any choice is “Would you do it again?” Right there in that moment, drawing closer and closer to a plume that could turn out to be my own? The road was long. The answer was “no.” For that house at that time, maybe my decision was right, but I hope I never find out what it would be if it happened again, and I hope you, dear reader, never have more than a passing interest in what your decision might be either.

A House, A House, My Kingdom for a House

That’s not exactly how the Bard wrote about King Richard III’s battleground predicament, but I’m feeling a bit of the same dilemma. Trying to find a home has certainly marked a winter of discontent (and rare winter storms). One of Shakespeare’s most misunderstood plays about one of the most controversial English regents seems a good thing to parody while I’m trying hard not to take myself or my situation too seriously.

Normally the decision to move comes at a natural break, a change in life or career that makes moving away or changing your home the natural thing to do. Mine came quietly in the wee hours of the morning with the sound of fire fighters who scarcely woke the neighbors while keeping the fire from spreading to their homes. My guiding change was only abrupt need.

A rush of decisions hit. First there’s triage, then there are bigger decisions. The decision about temporary housing had to be made before the long-term decisions. Conveniently staying near a major junction in interstates had advantages, but wasn’t convenient to the place I eventually decided was most important to find a home and, what turned out to be my primary goal and focus wasn’t anything I had even thought about before the fire. I knew that it would be hard to make decisions about small stuff before I made decisions about the big stuff, yet life moves on and the small decisions happen whether or not the big ones do.

I’m not so far from that time when many people downsize, and let’s face it. When you have just lost the house full of things you spent a lifetime collecting and inheriting, that does seem like a time to downsize. But I haven’t quite made the time when I can do that. My home needs to accommodate all the needs it currently fills. So, the house that fits this year, may not be the house I still want to keep in 3-5 years. I thought I really wanted a short sale or a foreclosure. The savings would help me to make up for the likelihood that I would be in the house for a short time and cancel out some of the extra expenses of a short-term ownership.

It’s a game for the big boys though. I’m looking for a home in Fulton County where those foreclosure auctions on the courthouse steps include the high value homes of Atlanta and its surrounds. Here, even a home that goes for pennies on the dollar can have way too many decimal places for me and even on the homes that do apply to me, the ruthless people who know what they are doing are competing for a decreasing commodity and they could swat me away with their little fingers.

My sweet spot would be getting a house that someone else got on the courthouse steps, but hadn’t remodeled yet. Something that still had room in the price for me to improve it and have a little reward for my work. I went to a meeting for investors who wholesale properties. I thought I might find someone who had a property for me. I wasn’t really comfortable there. There is a kind of respect that people are due and I couldn’t see it at this meeting.

It is true that people have to look out for themselves and their families. How one chooses to do that comes in every color, shape and size. I know a sales person who said “I looked at every sale that another man made as taking food from the mouths of my family.” He was successful, but in spite of how that sounds, he was also compassionate. People find their own ways to keep up the march and it is a struggle.

Some people have appetites that are never sated though. They lack appropriate respect for the resources they use. Some would take anything they can get and try to force a situation to squeeze out even more from people who are desperate and powerless. Do they need the win, the extreme TV or the power vacation? It’s about how ever they define superiority and superiority is not the hole I’m looking to fill.

The truth is that foreclosures are not distressed properties. They are the properties of distressed people and the choice to focus on the inanimate is just a means to help distance humanity. I want the good deal that helps to make up for some of my losses, both in the fire and in the future, but I want it to come from one of those careless people who doesn’t try and brought their trouble on themselves. I want it to come from the person who will never have anything because they go through life irresponsibly. I don’t want it to come from someone who lost their job through no fault of their own, or worse, lost their health. But I won’t get to choose and I may not know until their neighbors become mine. As much as I would like to take care of my own family in the best way possible, to find the best deal, to continue my march and fill our needs, I do understand that what I have been looking for could be heart wrenching if it actually comes my way and the search for any home at market or below continues as I weigh the prices and potential of what is available.

The housing market has changed since I was last paying attention. I’m seeing that trusted resources like Clark Howard recommend renting in the current market if you will be in a house for fewer than 10 years. I don’t like throwing money away on rent, but I’m not happy with my current options and I’m not expecting appreciation to make much headway over the short-term. If money is to be lost, loosing it without the additional risk of short-term market swings could be the lesser evil. Many of the houses that I can purchase have serious condition issues and the prices don’t seem to reflect that. I’ve drifted toward looking at homes that are far outside my budget to be ready if they become short sales, and kicked myself for missing it when a couple of them did. But, there’s no good way to know and my missing it was not through lack of effort.

This has been a winter of discontent, searching and storms, yet, I have still spent much of it grateful for the better than good bits and I continue to trudge through those other bits with faith that something will turn up.

Gone Man, Solid Gone

There’s this frozen instant in time when almost everything in the house is gone, sucked away. What exists afterward depends on what we were doing where it was happening, and inches apparently matter.

The cast iron pans that Russ was restoring in a lye bath outside were safe and orchids from the back deck survived, but the smoker beside them didn’t because it was too heavy and risky to move before it bent when the house fell. Two sterling silver Revere bowls in an upstairs closet were charred and misshapen. There was no apparent trace of whole categories of possessions, perhaps they were unrecognizable in the rubble. A miniature stained glass church I bought in an after Christmas clearance sale survived, perfectly preserved by a form fitting Styrofoam box that showed no signs of heat damage. It was stored near the part of the house that was apparently the hottest and it was among the least sentimental of those things it was stored with. The fire investigator told me there would be some things that would survive, but they wouldn’t be the things I wanted. He knew.

I have a firm grip on the importance of people and the comparative lack of importance of stuff, so getting through this with grace is at least in my ballpark. But still, I loved my stuff and I feel an affinity with Bernadette Peters in “The Jerk” when she finds out she has suddenly gone from unimaginably wealthy to bankrupt. She whines with a pouty face “It’s not the money, it’s the Stuuuuf”. I had good stuff. I’ve been collecting it for a long time, waiting for a good price, getting the stuff that is well made, the stuff that is built to last… under normal conditions that is.

Just before the fire, one of those great truisms showed up on my Facebook feed. It said “You can’t control what happens to you, just how you respond to it.” I hope to take that to heart.

One of the things about our thrifting experiment, sometimes in the second hand places you can find that solid stuff built well and made sturdy, that stuff I admire and respect. Our little experiment will be very time intensive, but given that money and time are both limited resources, it seems that splitting them up and using balanced amounts of each is the most likely way to rebuild well on a budget.

We have decided on rules for our thrifty rebuild. We want to get as much as we can from thrift and estate sales, but there are some things that we want to purchase new.

We have a list of things that we will buy new. We may buy other things new as well. For instance, the mixer I had nor the mixer I wanted was on the second hand prohibited list, but we didn’t find one in the time frame we wanted. Here is our list of things that we will buy new, not second hand.

Mattresses

Upholstered Furniture (unless we think re-upholstering is practical)

Any other difficult-to-clean thing that could have animal dander, mites or bedbugs

Plastic Food Storage Containers (Chemicals can bond and we don’t know how they might have been used)

Plastic or Wood Food Utensils (same)

Undergarments

Shoes

The list is based on cleanliness and the ability to transfer anything harmful. There’s also a bit of the personal ick factor. Undergarments could be cleaned, I just don’t want any second hand. Fungicide can be applied to shoes, I just don’t want to use or trust it. The list may grow or have exceptions, but they will remain based on known ability to transfer harm or what ever we personally find unappealing.

Thrifty

Cookie Jars, LostBefore the fire, Russ and I were frequenting thrift stores and estate sales to find things to up-cycle, re-purpose or re-sell for our vintage and handmade business. Our treasures were available (and will be again) online at Etsy.com shops Six Degrees and Lost Vacation and in booths at local Antiques and Interiors stores. Woodstock Antiques and Queen of Hearts in Marietta
We love the manufacturing standards of older things as well as giving new life to things that might otherwise be lost forever. The treasure and bargains that you can find are amazing, especially in an affluent and densely populated area like the one we live in.

We also find things that friends and family are looking for. When I see something that makes me think of them, they may get a “Hey do you want..?” call, text or photo. Some of my stories of bargains sound great, just like those shows on cable. Sometimes I see a sofa or a trinket that I have… scratch that…had, or that my grandmother had. Finding those “usta haves” will be important now. But, it is a take what you find kind of pursuit. In a full price store, you know what to expect and have a reasonable idea whether or not the thing you want might be on the shelf. In a thrift store, you can find great bargains, but the stellar price may not be on the something that should take up space in your own life, business or hoarder home. So, how practical can it be to rely heavily on a commitment to thrift store purchases for replacing the must haves?

If you are up-cycling or reselling there’s a lot in knowing what things are and what they are currently worth. But it is hit or miss even then. Some thrift stores charge as much as some retail stores (I’ve even seen things priced as much as double retail), but they don’t offer returns or warranties, believing that dedication to their cause will get enough customers to buy their wares. And there is all of the time and gas involved.

After the fire, Russ and I wondered how much of our world we could put back together in thrift stores, estate sales and auctions. We’ve had some good finds, but are they good enough to justify the time and expenses as anything more than a hobby or an amusement? We were working on finding out if what was primarily my pursuit born of unemployment could grow into a realistic replacement career. We had built our stock and planned for a strong and busy holiday season that would boost this pursuit into a full fledged business, but it is not a metaphor to say that it all went up in smoke.

And then there is the time component of the up-cycles. It makes great entertainment to see a save on a show like Storage Wars when a cast member makes a great up-cycle from old junk into cool stuff, but they never talk about how much time that takes, especially if you don’t have a team of helpers to get it done on the filming schedule. Those shows give the numbers people want to consider, actual purchase price versus potential sales price without regard for time, gas, storage, marketing or other expenses. In other words, they ignore all of the inconvenient real costs for the camera. There are clear winners on the occasional miss in the pricing departments of most thrift stores, but do the bargains come often enough? That is our experiment. To call it a success, we believe that it has to justify the time spent, just like work. If I put a year into this and haven’t saved at least as much money as I would earn working at something else, then I would have been better off doing something else.

Few people have a fire sweep their lives, and adding up the real costs? That doesn’t make as good a show as just looking at the fun and interesting parts, so why would I put all of this time into writing a blog about this stuff? Even though a fire isn’t the most common thing, many people do have to start over for any number of reasons and when they do, it’s pretty daunting. So many decisions, and no time to make them be the best ever. So whether you are overloaded by a reboot, or just looking for some weekend project or entertainment, I hope that I can share something fun or interesting with you.

So that is what we will find out, that is what this blog is about now.

How much of our lives and our business can we recreate second hand through thrift stores, estate sales and any other source out there in three R land?

Soon we will have the name and look that my tech advisor recommended, but all the old content will still be in the background.

A Garrison Keillor 4th of July

Celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks is a part of what makes every summer whole. Last year we went to the beach. This year we stayed close to home and started the day in Marietta Square looking for a watermelon. We arrived in the late morning and were met by a dozen or more people on unicycles, possibly from the front end of the parade. We parked several blocks away and saw a bit of the end of the parade as we walked into the square. Some people were still enjoying it from atop the newly renovated Strand Theater. After the parade there was music on the bandstand and some of the regular farmer’s market vendors joined the food and craft vendors for the holiday, unfortunately, not those selling watermelon. It was good to see water in the fountain again, now that we are out of drought status. There was a bungee trampoline with tiny fearless humans flying through the air and home made style ice cream powered by a hit and miss engine. We ate at Marietta Pizza Company where Sweetwater Brewery was promoting their “Save the Hooch” campaign, got our watermelon at Harry’s Farmers Market and decided to see the fireworks in Alpharetta at Wills Park.

Wills Park is always a treat. We came early to have a picnic and enjoy the park filled with other families. There seemed to be a few more side attractions here than what I had noticed in years past, a bandstand, magician, face painter and food vendors. Stu Enloe was there with a hot air balloon inflated and on static display. As I watched families celebrate with football, frisbees, rice crispy treats and sparklers I had a sense of time standing still because this day was so much like every other 4th of July as far back as I can remember. When the fireworks began the crowd was alive with loud cheers and clapping.

It seemed doubly appropriate that PBS aired an American Masters episode featuring Garrison Keillor over the holiday weekend. It was not specifically a holiday program, but deeply American all the same, and no one else can pull you into his imagination to make you feel like you grew up in that same small town with him in quite the same way. During the program Mr. Keillor asked his audiences to join him in singing the Star Spangled Banner and it captured his intent precisely. He said that singing in that way brought people together. He talked about believing that our country was good and that he didn’t believe it was angry people who made it that way. He had given the example of angry talk show hosts. Mr. Keillor said something else that really reached me. He said that when he was young his deepest fear was to live an ordinary life. I remembered intensely wanting things to be bigger and more special when I was young. But, then he said he realized when his daughter was born, he had a sense that it was ordinary and that was when he realized that ordinary was good enough. I had been enjoying a very ordinary 4th of July while at the same time I was appreciating the extraordinary nature of it all when I heard this. Yes, Mr. Keillor, I agree. Ordinary is good enough.

This Schoolhouse Rocks!

This morning, July 2, the East Cobb Neighbor, a free local paper was delivered to my home. Back on page 6A there was an article Cobb jobless rate highest since ’76. Being among the 9% of Cobb County residents currently seeking employment keeps me from sleeping as well as I might these days, but experience also teaches me to be optimistic.

When I was in grade school I loved Schoolhouse Rock’s I’m Just a Bill up on Capitol Hill. It had personal meaning for me because my father made it come alive. He was the Chairman of the County Commission in rural, south Alabama, so government seemed reachable from an early age. Being a part of forming government came into my consciousness when a guest came over one evening. I was just young enough to be amused by the fact that his name was Rhodes Johnston and he was also a Rhodes Scholar; and I was just old enough to be impressed, both by the Rhodes Scholar status (mother explained that it was quite an accomplishment) and by his association with National Geographic. Mr. Johnston and my father were writing a bill for the state legislature. I think it had to do with one of the local rivers. I later learned that the bill passed. Of course it did, my daddy wrote it! Like most children I saw the world of the possible as being at least as large as my parent’s accomplishments and the lesson stuck.

Years later I joked with a political science professor about sitting down on the living room floor to write a bill (yes, they sat on the floor to write it). Her eyes widened and she said that it wasn’t that easy. I never explained why I made the comment, but I did eventually ask her for a recommendation to a study abroad program in Central America. I didn’t expect it to lead anywhere, but I asked the questions anyway. I asked my professors “Would you like to write a recommendation?”. I asked grandma “Would you like to keep the kids for the summer?”. I asked all my questions and filled out the application. Before long that fat envelope that means “yes” was delivered to my mailbox, my children were visiting Grandma for the summer and I experienced the tropical cloud forest. It was not legislation, but it was a dream. I was awed by the colors, textures and sounds that were the cloud forest. I came to believe that if something so beautiful could exist, there must be something right in the world and I was able to experience it because I kept moving toward something I thought was an impossible, or at least unlikely goal. The kids came down for a visit after the program and I was able to share it all with them. Like Woody Allen said “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

This was not the first time I met with unexpected yes. The first time may have been when I was twenty. My brother-in law died in the service of his country and I was moved to write an op-ed piece. His brother, now my ex-husband, gave me the “Aren’t you adorable?” look when I showed him my work. The L. A. Times was more respectful. They printed it. Years later, I began to design clothing. I called my favorite magazine and asked if they would like to publish my work. They did. My favorite designer saw that work and used my design on her wedding dress. These are not world changing events, but they are life changing events. When your work, what ever it is, is appreciated by the people you admire it feeds the spirit. It gives you the audacity to keep seeing opportunity and to follow it even when you are certain that failure is likely.

When my supervisor recently called me into a private conference room, I knew the “no easy way to say…negative company growth…” was coming. People asked me what I would do next and I said two things. I gave the light-hearted “I’m going to Disney World” because the trip was already planned and it just happened to be true. Then, on a more serious note, I said that I would walk through the first door that opened. On second thought, I’m idealistic enough to amend that. I’ll walk through the best door that opens! I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know that it has the potential to be more than what I left behind. I haven’t found the right questions to ask this go ’round, but I have learned that when I do, I will ask them because when the answer is yes, the dream is alive.

Diary of a New Bicycle Commuter in Atlanta

By Karen

I’ve been trying to find a way to come to terms with my daily grid. It’s not such a bad life, but at the same time there are things that need to fit into the course of a day so that there are reasonable levels of enjoyment, health, and free time. I was spending a lot of time in my car driving the 22 congested miles to work. If I could take a bus or the metro I could at least read along the way. However, I live in East Cobb, an area where there are poor commuting options. This is by design. There are also fewer people who demand those options, but I was among those who would prefer to let someone else drive rather than stressing through the crazy drivers and arriving home exhausted and uninterested in heading for the gym.

I ran through all of the public transportation schedules with a friend, just to make sure that I hadn’t missed something. The amount of time it would take meant that there really were no realistic options available. I mused that I could ride my bike to the MARTA station in Fulton County faster than I could get to it by car or bus and the idea was hatched. That is exactly what I decided to do. Beside the many other benefits. if I could incorporate my exercise into my daily commute, I could be sure that I would get it and that would then would free up time for other things. Perfect!

That was about a year ago while gas was climbing to the $4 mark. I was checking out routes and building stamina. I ruled out riding to the the bus station in Marietta because it was about the same distance as MARTA with the same number of scary intersections and passages, but the route had no stretches of pleasant view and few bike friendly areas. Then, once I got there, I would still be on a bus subject to traffic jams and route interchanges, rather than traveling a bit faster on MARTA direct. I was definitely headed to Fulton County. This meant that crossing the Chattahoochee River and that was a big challenge. Both places where this is possible are traffic bottle necks and quite intimidating. That wasn’t all I had to overcome. The commute and the 8 hours sitting at a desk had added extra pounds over recent months and I wanted to build up a better level of fitness before I embarked on the adventure.

Planning was going along nicely. A locker room and showers were available at work. I bought a second set of toiletries for the locker. The fit was tight, but I was able to put a weeks worth of clothes in the locker and drive only once per week to resupply. There were bike racks in the parking garage. It was a pretty friendly environment for what I wanted to do. I also hoped that if I eventually built up to riding the entire commute on my bike rather than taking MARTA half the distance that
I would get into good shape for the the fund raiser bike ride that I wanted to do at sometime in the future.

First Attempt
I’m in an in between category in several ways. Aware that some people thought I was crazy for wanting to ride my bike in Metro Atlanta, and also quite aware that for some people it was much, much less of a “big deal”. I’m not old, but I’m not still so young either, ugh middle age, and that combined with the desk job and long commute caught up with me. Shortly before I was going to make that first bike trip I stepped out of bed in the morning and nearly fell over in pain. I went to an orthopedic surgeon. He told me I had a pinched nerve and that I had to stay off of it. I’m sure that I must have looked very disappointed. He said “It’s not cancer. This is small.” No, it wasn’t cancer, and I am grateful for that and many other outstanding blessings that I enjoy. It was, however, the crushing of a coping mechanism that I had worked out for myself. There is really no way that I could have explained to him that this was, in many ways, about survival to me. It was about finding a way to make it through the throngs of people mechanically grinding through one daily commute after another. My interstate commute reminded me of a Disney cartoon from way back, a short that starred Goofy. Alien life forms observing from afar thought that cars were in control on earth and that people were the infecting parasites. The Dr. was in a hurry and wanted to go play golf. I didn’t explain the distress on my face, only listened to his assumptions and advice. I was a little indignant that he told me my shoes weren’t sensible enough. I thought I was the queen of ugly sensible shoes, but I listened to the doctor quietly.

The whole shoe adventure was a series of indignities that would have been laughable if they hadn’t actually happened. I looked for shoes that were better for my feet. My Keen sandals were the only shoes I had that the doctor had given approval, but finding something that matched the Keens in fit, something that had a big toe box, yet would stay on my heel while also being appropriately dressed for work was a real challenge. In addition to the pay check I spent on medical costs, I spent a pay check trying to find acceptable shoes over the short term, and more as things went on. Spending a lot on shoes is supposed to be for fashionistas right? Au contraire, many shoes seemed to feel good in the store and began to hurt or slip and rub blisters after half an hour of wear. Once a month we have casual day at work and I wore the sandals then. There was no pain on those days. I guess the doctor was right about my shoes, but I was reprimanded for not meeting an unspoken casual day dress code. In an old traditional company I was experiencing a gap in policy and expectations. For the doctor, my shoes were not practical enough, but for my workplace… Damned if you do… How could one person’s feet be such a bother? I did additional research and bought toe socks to separate my toes. I behaved. I waited, eventually the pain and the twinge that preceded the pain had mostly disappeared.

Second Attempt
I found a commuter van while healing, but I had to choose whether to use the van exclusively for an entire month at a time. May was the month this year. The first was on a Friday. I started in May for the weather. I decided to dispense with the build up of stamina on the bicycle this time, partly because of the commuter policy, and partly so that I would have a greater chance of getting at least a few bicycle commutes accomplished before the foot pain returned.

The morning commute went smoothly. I intended to get out at 5 AM and it was more like 5:45. I had a headlight and a flashing rear light and I wore a reflective safety vest. Part of the ride went through neighborhoods, part through Chattahoochee River National Park. The crossing of the river was not as intimidating as it might have been at this early hour. I was not happy with the location where I had to cross over Hwy 400 and the ride took longer than I expected, but all in all it was OK and I made it in to work just fine. Once I got down town, the streets actually seemed safer than in suburbs and there were other cyclists on the road. I felt great all day and had a lot of energy.

The ride home was less optimal. I chose to test a different overpass crossing Hwy 400 and it put me on Roswell Road, a very busy 4-lane artery, much sooner than before. Several vehicles came terrifyingly close to me. It was the large industrial vehicles that really did it, not the average car or truck. Riding in the area is doubly difficult because bike lanes simply disappear without warning. As a cyclist I feel like the road just disappears out from underneath my wheels when this happens. For the motorists…well, they don’t have cause to even notice until they come upon me, and then there isn’t really much adjustment time. In rush hour traffic, the vehicle in front will often block view of a bicycle. I walked my bike much of the way home to get off the road. While walking I thought a diary telling how the good and the bad had all worked out for me over time. I thought that how I adjusted to things along way might be interesting or helpful to someone like myself who was considering something similar. I began to think of things I might share. It was getting dark. It was becoming Friday night, party night, and I was exhausted. I didn’t want to unpack my headlights and flashers to put them back on the bike. I brought home more than I expected on that first day and I wasn’t sure I still had the strength to zip the bike bag back up if I opened it. I was pretty close to home, but I called a friend and told him that I would wait in a local fast food restaurant. He came, we had supper together and we packed the bike.

It rained for all of the following week. I was mentally running through potential routes that might be safer. I was planning to drive through a neighborhood that had the potential to keep me off of Roswell Road until shortly before I needed to cross the river. I never got that far though. I received notice in the middle of the week that the negative growth at my company had finally caught up to me. Short cycling diary! I’m glad made the ride though, if only for a day. In some respects it seems like it was the bike ride into unemployment. There was a lot of preparation for a single commute, but I’m glad I did it.

The fund raiser I want to participate in, organize and run actually, is for Patch Adams and can be seen at this E2EFundraiser. While the ride across England seems a dream of the past, I would still like to be able to begin at Marietta Square near a clown shop and ride my bike to Patch’s campus in West Virginia. It should be something that could be accomplished on a two week vacation. We will see what the future holds. For now I’m back at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Update: Russ and I have been spending a lot of time out on the Silver Comet. On the day we made 50 miles, we realized it almost as an afterthought. Riding to Anniston, AL for the weekend is our current goal. I had thought we’d make it this fall, but the cold weather is right around the corner and I think it will be spring. Appreciating the irony, sometimes you can attend to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy while waiting for the bottom to resolve itself.