a (winding) path emerges

It is the first day after the winter solstice, when daylight begins, slowly but surely, to grind away at nighttime darkness. As if to illustrate, I woke up to a bright pink sunrise this morning, the first I’ve seen in a long time. For the most part our recent sunrises have either been unremarkably white-gray due to heavy cloud cover, or, occasionally, the classic golden orb rising in a perfectly clear sky that slowly changes from the palest blue to a deep cobalt.

For me, like for many others, natural turning points such as the solstice, the equinox, or the end of one year and the beginning of another serve as points of reflection, of taking stock and summing up, and looking ahead. That’s when I seem to remember about this blog most frequently. So, where are we as of December 22, 2018?

We’re still in our home that we bought last summer. If all goes well, we will likely be here for much of the rest of our lives. We’d like to travel more, maybe live abroad for a bit, and are trying to come up with creative, low-cost ways to do this, such as house-swapping. However, we fully expect to keep coming back to this house and to stay here for as long as we are able to.

P. has all sorts of ideas for how to make our home better – change out the flooring for a more comfortable and eco-friendly material, insulate the sun room to make it usable year-round, build a wall in the living room, add a bedroom or two, perhaps even build another, smaller house in the back yard. Perhaps some of this will actually happen, at some point. If it doesn’t, I’m OK where we are, with what we have. This is not our dream home, but it is enough.

We are finally making some progress with paying down our debt. I got our first debt consolidation loan 6 months ago, to cover approximately half of what we owed on our credit cards. This loan increased our monthly payments but reduced our interest rate and compressed the pay-off  timeframe on that portion of our debt to just three years. A few days ago, I decided to check into the interest rates on the remaining debt on our cards, and found that they have crept up to unacceptable levels. So, I looked into another loan with the same debt consolidation lender and, surprisingly, was offered a loan that would cover virtually all of our remaining debt (save about $1,000), at an even lower interest rate that our first loan with them.

I thought about it for a bit: yes, it was a good deal, but given that we are already stretched thin with our current monthly payments, can we really do this? Then I decided to take the plunge anyway. We’ll make it work.

We’ll find yet more ways to trim monthly expenses, perhaps trading goods or services in exchange for homegrown produce. I will pick up some freelance gigs – not so much that I am working 24/7, as I really don’t want to work too much for the sake of both my sanity and P.s, but enough to bring in a little extra income so we don’t have to subsist on cheap ramen. I’ve actually already found (or, rather resurrected) a small, intermittent source of side income, and have started looking for additional work. Perhaps P. will be able to pick up some work too. We can find another roommate, which will bring in around $400/month, a sizeable chunk of change (we’ve had roommates for most of our time in this house but do not currently have one).

The next three years will definitely be tougher than ever financially, especially the next 2.5 years, when we will be making payments on both loans. But, it is so gratifying to have an end to this quagmire finally in sight. We’ve been paying more than the minimum on our credit cards but only nominally so, and the language on those bills about the 30 years that will be required to pay the balance off in full at the rate we were going, and the astronomical sum we would pay given all that interest, were starting to sound really depressing.

Now, the key is not to get into any further debt. There are several ways we can try to follow through on this commitment. For one, I am fairly sure that we will be getting a decent tax refund come February or March. I’d like to set aside all or most of this money (likely in the range of $500-$800) as an emergency savings fund. This way, if our car needs fixing or our dog’s vet visit ends up costing more than anticipated, we will be able to dip into these savings instead of relying on a credit card. True, the amount I am expecting to be refunded won’t go very far, but it will definitely help out.

Our car loan can be an additional, second-line resource. We got a car loan – or, more precisely, a personal loan that was intended to fund the purchase of a truck – several months ago, but the truck purchase fell through, and we decided to hold off on looking for another truck until P. feels more confident that he will actually use the truck enough to justify buying it, as well as shelling out for all the associated expenses (taxes, plates, registration, insurance, ongoing repairs, etc.).

We’d considered simply paying off the loan in full immediately but ultimately decided against it. The interest rate is low, and since we’ve already paid the loan origination fee, it would be a waste if in a few months we were ready to buy a truck and had to apply for another loan and pay the fee again. So, we put the loan funds into our savings account, where it is available to us if we do decide to spring for a truck – or if we need emergency cash. So far we haven’t touched it and I hope we can keep it that way. And, if we feel like we are struggling so much on a daily basis that it’s not worth having these funds around, we can always just pay off the loan in full and get rid of the monthly payment.

Wow, this post ended up being mostly about money, which was not the intent. I guess it’s been on my mind a lot. There are other things happening too. P. is trying a new medication, and will start on another one shortly. Like I told a friend recently, at this point we are not looking for a silver bullet, as we now know it does not exist for him. Rather, we are hoping to find a medication, or a combination of several meds, that will provide P. with just enough energy, emotional stability, and focus that he can build on this foundation in ways that he already knows work well for him: praying, spending time outside, eating better, and staying busy.

For my part, I’ve met a couple of new people this year here in the valley who may become good friends as time goes on. Towards the end of the year, I also reconnected with a couple of my oldest friends (including a mutual friend whom P. and I met virtually at the same time we met each other; well, to be precise, I got a few days on him). I’ve never lost touch with them completely but frequently months or even years go by when we keep track of each other on Facebook but fail to connect one-on-one. It’s been good talking to them, and I hope to squeeze in one more phone call before the year is out.

I’ve also been writing more – not for work but for myself and for friends. Looking at this blog, one might wonder where all of this writing goes. Well, the answer is that it goes on my Facebook page, and some of it is not even in English. I’ve started writing a series of vignettes about life here in the Methow Valley in my native language. Two pieces are already up, and one more is ready to go and will be posted in January. An “episode” a month sounds like a reasonable goal at the moment. The first piece was actually written for an online magazine published in my country of birth, but my pitch was unsuccessful. Since I was already harboring dreams of a readership somewhat larger than that of this blog, after a while, I copied the contents into a Facebook post and was excited to see that friends – including my 5th grade history teacher, who has started writing herself in recent years – were reading and commenting.

So, we are wrapping up the year in a pretty good place, all in all. There is one thing that is increasingly weighing on my mind, which I will try to muster the courage to address in another post over the coming months. Other than that, the year is drawing to a fairly quiet close, and I feel like, despite all the ups and downs and detours and backtracking that have become our norm by now, we are tracing a (very circuitous) path that at least has some sort of direction and does not appear to be pointing towards an abyss. And, this feels to me like something to be grateful for.

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