My Health Insurance Story

If the AHCA passes, something like this could happen to you.

I’ve been self-employed since 1990. When I left my last full-time job — which did include health care benefits — I bought my own health insurance coverage. I was 29 at the time, a non-smoker, and in good health. But health insurance was something I thought everyone needed to have, so I signed up with one program or another — I honestly can’t remember any details — and stayed insured for years.

Understand that I seldom needed insurance coverage. Again, I was in good health. If I caught a cold, I went to the doctor. If my insurance covered the visit and medicine, fine. If it didn’t, I paid and didn’t complain. When I had some problems with my knee and needed several tests, some physical therapy, and finally some arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, I ponied up the $1,000 deductible before finally getting some benefits to cover most of the other costs. I’m not rich and I’m not poor but I was usually able to afford any kind of medical attention I needed.

Each year, my insurance rates went up and I paid the new premium. It wasn’t a big deal; I made more money every year and I saw the increased expense as part of my cost of living increase. Occasionally, I’d shop around for a new policy and get one that was a little less costly. That would creep up over the years and I’d change again.

The biggest mistake I ever made

I’m not exaggerating when I say that getting on my future wasband’s health insurance was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. Why? Because when was I diagnosed not long afterwards with a tumor that needed removal and possible cancer treatments afterwards, he told me that I might not be covered if the insurance company found out we weren’t married. Terrified of bankruptcy from medical expenses for surgery and cancer treatments, I agreed to marry him. After all, we’d been together for 23 years and “engaged” for most of that time. We’d obviously stay together forever.

I turned out to be wrong about that. But the insurance was the root of my mistake; if I hadn’t gotten on his health insurance plan, I never would have married him. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to get him out of my life when he decided he wanted a mommy more than a wife and took up with a desperate old whore he met online only six years later. (Read a few of the early posts tagged divorce if you want the details of his betrayal.)

And no, there was no cancer.

In the early 2000s, my future wasband took a job in the Phoenix area with a company that offered very good health insurance plan. Around the same time, I got a sizable increase in my health insurance premium. He told me I could get on his insurance and it would be cheaper and better. Even though we weren’t married, I assumed he knew what he was talking about when he made the offer, so I dropped my insurance and got on his.

Sometime after we married, when I was still on his insurance, I started having digestive issues. I went to a gastroenterologist connected to Wickenburg Hospital — which I will never do again — and told her about my symptoms, including pain in my upper abdomen. She translated that as chest pains and decided that I needed to get an EKG. When that showed no problem, she sent me for a stress test. When that showed no problem, she sent me for another test. When that showed no problem, she finally gave up trying to diagnose me with heart problems. She was never able to resolve the digestive issues I had. Neither was another doctor I went to see. I wrote about this in a 2010 blog post titled “Getting Quality Health Care: Apparently Impossible.”

My wasband lost the job with the great insurance got another one with good insurance. I stuck with his new plan. Then he lost that job and was unemployed for a while. He got us on Cobra, which he paid for with our joint checking account. Except he didn’t pay on time. He missed a payment and they cancelled our coverage.

He got in touch with them right away and made the payment. It was only five days late. They reinstated him immediately. But they looked at my medical records, saw the heart tests, and refused to cover me because I had a “pre-existing condition.”

Except I didn’t have the condition they claimed I had. I had never had that condition. All tests had proved negative. My heart was fine.

It took six months of fighting with Blue Cross to get insurance coverage again. For the entire time, I was completely exposed to financial loss: if I was hit with a major health problem, the cost of medical attention could easily bankrupt me. Actually, I guess it could bankrupt us — I don’t think my idiot wasband realized how exposed he was, too.

I finally got coverage under my own name, separate from my wasband, by signing papers saying I’d never put in a claim for heart-related issues. I had no trouble with that because I had a healthy heart.

And, as you might imagine, I learned my lesson and kept my insurance separate from my wasband’s no matter how good his next employer’s plan was. I simply couldn’t trust him with something that important. (That probably helped confirm my financial independence from him in divorce court a few years later.)

I have been on one health insurance plan or another since that “pre-existing condition” scare all those years ago. The Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) made it easy to find insurance that met my requirements. Again, I’m generally healthy and I make a decent living. I have insurance primarily to prevent bankruptcy in the event of a major illness. I have assets to protect, including my home, my business assets, and my retirement funds. I’ve worked too hard my whole life to put them at risk.

To keep my premiums as low as possible, I have a very high deductible: $5,000. I take advantage of a health savings account if I can. (My new plan does not allow additional savings but I can still use the balance from my old plan.) It’s nice to have annual check-ups and special tests like mammograms covered by insurance without having to worry about the deductible. Coverage under ACA helps people who can’t afford doctor’s visits at all to make at least make one visit a year which can, hopefully, find any problems before they become serious.

I’m not at all happy with the provisions of the Paul Ryan American Health Care Act (AHCA or TrumpCare) in part because it will allow insurers to deny coverage or greatly raise rates for people with pre-existing conditions.

Will it affect me? Will I be denied coverage? Or charged some outrageous rate for premiums? Just because I had a few heart tests ten years ago? Tests that proved I had a healthy heart?

And will some test or problem you’ve had in the past prevent you from getting coverage?

And what about well-care visits? Maternity coverage? Contraception? Mental health care? Any number of items on the list of required coverages from the ACA?

(Don’t worry boys, I’m sure you’ll still be able to get your little blue pills. Republicans wouldn’t dare threaten a man’s sex life.)

With only 17% approval rating from the people, Republicans could pass the bill later today anyway. They don’t care about the people who voted them in. They care about the lobbyists and rich donors who pay for their campaigns. The people most likely to benefit from this plan.

So I guess time will tell how it affects you.

How I Became a Snowbird

It only took eleven years.

I’m halfway through my first full week in Arizona, the place so many mostly retired Americans go in the winter to escape the cold at their northern latitude homes. With my second winter season in a warmer climate now under way, I think it’s safe to say that I’m officially a snowbird.

I also realized that I’ve been doing some form of snowbirding for the past eleven years now, although I didn’t do it the usual way.

And I think I prefer it the way I do it now.

He’s the scoop. Be advised: this blog post includes the airing of some dirty laundry, which, unfortunately, is an integral part of the story and explains what took me so long to get here.

The Reverse Snowbird

For the eight or so years leading up to my eventual divorce and move to Washington state, I was a sort of reverse snowbird. Instead of migrating south for the winter, I migrated north for the summer.

2004 was the first year I did this. That’s when I got a job as a seasonal tour pilot at the Grand Canyon. A week in the significantly cooler Grand Canyon area followed by a week at home in Wickenburg. It was a busy summer. I was just another tour pilot at the Canyon, flying over “the big ditch” up to 13 times a day, but in my home office, I cranked out the fifth (or sixth?) edition of my best-selling Quicken Official Guide and got started on an Excel book. When I wasn’t home, I dealt with the relative discomfort of life in a horse trailer’s cramped living quarters, parked on 40 acres of property I owned with my future wasband five miles from pavement. I’d leave at 6 AM to get to work by 6:45. And yes, sometimes I did fly to work; I had a R22 parked beside my Jeep at the trailer. That’s the summer I decided to “go for broke” on my struggling helicopter charter business and order an R44.

Howard Mesa Cabin
Our Howard Mesa cabin was a nice place to escape from the heat.

In 2005, I had a brand new R44 helicopter but virtually no summer flying work. (Seriously: who wants to fly when it’s 110°F out?) When the Quicken book revision was done at the end of June, I headed back to the northern Arizona property with my horse trailer and horses. In a compromise with my future wasband, we’d had a prefabricated custom wooden shed delivered to the property. While he worked at one of the many jobs he bounced between in the Phoenix area, I spent all of July at the “cabin,” fitting its walls with hard foam insulation and building an interior wall to divide the main room from the future bathroom. On weekends, my future wasband would join me, handling tasks I couldn’t do then (but can certainly do now): wiring, plumbing, cutting lumber, fitting large sheets of T111 (think plywood paneling) on walls and ceilings. Together, we turned that shed into a very cozy four-season escape in a place where the Grand Canyon was our local park. But when the work was done, it was still too hot to hang out at home. So I hopped into my 2003 Honda S2000 (which I still own), and headed out on a 19-day road trip by myself to explore points north. I visited places (and friends) in Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah, getting a real feel for a lot of the off-the-beaten-path places. I came back with a lead on a hangar home in Cascade, ID — perfect for a summer home — and even flew my future wasband up there with me to see it after I got home. (What a waste of time and money that was.)

In 2006, I made the mistake of marrying the man who would, six years later, leave me for a desperate old whore he met online. (Yes, I do realize now that the marriage was his attempt to “lock in” on the considerable financial, real estate, and business asset investments I’d been making since I had my first best-seller in 1998. But back then, I couldn’t imagine anyone I loved plotting to use family law to try to screw me over. Silly me.) I had some surgery in May and then went on a road trip with my wasband in that Honda to Napa Valley. That trip, which was the closest I’d get to a honeymoon, was probably the last fun trip we took together. Then it was back home to Wickenburg for the summer, with occasional trips to the cabin. That was also the first summer I heard about cherry drying, but my contact couldn’t guarantee me any work and I wasn’t willing to take the helicopter to Washington without some sort of guarantee of revenue.

In 2007, I worked on books, including that Quicken book again. Cherry drying was an option but again, without a guarantee of work, I wasn’t prepared to go north. But I was prepping for a seasonal lifestyle. Financially and mentally, I was ready for it. My wasband promised to join me on the road during the summer when he turned 55. In 2007, he was 51. My goal was to have enough work lined up by the time he was ready to join me to support both of us, so we could work together in the summer. Then we’d return to Arizona in the winter and he could do what he wanted to do — he’d talked about a bike shop, solar power consulting, being a flight instructor, and a few other things that interested him. Since we’d also need a place to live on the road, bought my first RV, a hybrid pull trailer that turned out to be a less than satisfactory choice. We used it at a rides event in Kingman, AZ and may have taken it on one or two other trips. In the meantime, he started learning how to fly helicopters so he wouldn’t be stuck driving the trailer all the time; when we traveled, he could reposition the helicopter and I could do the commercial flying at destinations. That was the plan. (Or at least I thought it was.)

In 2008, everything changed. My wasband bought a condo in Phoenix, closer to his job, where he began living four or five days a week. My office was in our Wickenburg home and due to the amount of computer equipment I needed to write, I stayed there with it. Between my wasband’s weekday life in Phoenix and his numerous trips to the New York area to visit his family, I didn’t spend much time with him at all. And then I got a contract for seven weeks of cherry drying work in Washington state. I left in June, making two trips to get the helicopter and RV up there by myself. I worked on my Quicken book in the trailer. My wasband joined me for a week in July. We stayed at a lakeside motel with the helicopter parked on the lawn and toured a lot of central Washington while I waited for a call out. Then he went home and I finished the season alone, making two trips to get the helicopter and RV back by myself.

Life fell into a routine from that point on, with me becoming a sort of reverse snowbird. I’d live in Wickenburg from September through May, mostly by myself, while my wasband lived in his Phoenix condo with a roommate and spent just about all of his vacation time visiting family in New York. Because his roommate was openly hostile toward me and I was still writing several books a year, I didn’t visit very often. In early June through August, I’d head to Washington alone — making two trips each way every year — for cherry drying work. I was building up a good client base, extending my season, and my flying business was finally making a decent profit. I even added winery tours and a profitable annual rides gig. In early 2010, I replaced the pull trailer with a very large and comfortable fifth wheel trailer — again, with the goal of living on the road every summer with my wasband. But in 2011, when he turned 55 and was in yet another dead-end job, he said he “wasn’t ready” to join me on the road. (It wasn’t until much later that I realized he never intended to join me, that it was just another empty promise.) That winter, I lived with him in his dark and dreary Phoenix condo, even moving my office there when he finally kicked his roommate out. Silly me: I was trying to bring us closer together. I even went to the marriage counsellor he wanted us to see.

I had my hopes up in the spring of 2012 — my fifth cherry drying season — when my wasband got what looked like might be his “dream job.” He said he could work from anywhere and that he’d join me in Washington for the summer. Finally! I began prepping the RV for his arrival with our dog. But then he called me on my birthday in June to tell me he wanted a divorce. He wanted to stay friends, he told me, as he was secretly giving my investment statements and tax returns to a lawyer to estimate his take.

What followed was the beginning of four years of insanity, with him calling friends and family members to tell them that he still loved me, changing the locks on my house and hangar, trying to lay claim to half of everything I owned, harassing me at home, sending a private investigator to spy on my future neighbors in Washington, lying and making absurd statements under oath in court, making false accusations about me trashing the house, claiming I’d hid property and money from the court, losing in the divorce decision, appealing the divorce decision, putting the house on the market without informing me or getting approval from the court, hacking into one of my old investment accounts, losing the appeal, begging the appeal judges to reconsider, and then doing everything he could to delay paying me what he owed me for the Wickenburg house that he wanted and got in the divorce. Along the way, he went through three lawyers — one of whom he neglected to pay who then put a lien on the house — drove a court-appointed Realtor and a title company person nuts, and sent me a ridiculous email threatening me with legal action that I knew would fail.

In the span of four years, he made so many often comical errors in strategy and judgement that I find it hard to believe I could ever love someone so unimaginably stupid.

Yeah, there’s definitely enough material for a book.

Anyway, the winter of 2012/2013 was the last one I spent in my Wickenburg home. When I didn’t have house guests, I was alone — at least while I was there; I traveled a lot that winter — but it really didn’t feel that different. After all, I’d been living mostly alone there since my wasband bought his condo in 2008. I spent the winter packing my belongings and discarding the things I didn’t want, waiting for the divorce trial. When the court stuff was done at the end of May 2013, I left my Wickenburg home for what I thought would be the last time, and headed north.

Real Snowbirding

The day after the divorce decree came down from the judge and I was finally free, I bought 10 acres of land in Malaga, WA, at the heart of the area where I did my cherry drying work. Over the following two years, I designed and built a home there and moved in. Ironically, my new home has all the features my wasband would have liked, from the wrap around deck with endless views to the huge garage and shop area to the limitless space for gardening. It’s perfect for me and I don’t need (or really want) to share it with anyone.

And the weather? No, it doesn’t rain all the time like it does in Seattle. Malaga (and the nearby “big city” of Wenatchee) is on the dry side of the Cascades. Annual rainfall is less than 10 inches. The weather is very similar to Prescott or Flagstaff, AZ: dry, but with four seasons. Warm and dry in the summer, sometimes reaching the low 100s for a few days with low humidity. Cold with snow in the winter, sometimes dipping into the teens at night for a few days but usually warming to the 30s or 40s during the day.

Summer is perfect, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s when I do my work there. But winter? Sure, my home is cozy and warm and the views out to the valley can be magnificent when the snow falls and the sky clears just enough to offer glimpses of brilliant blue between the clouds. But the days are short and sunlight is limited. It gets cold in December and January. And 15 years of living in Arizona taught me one thing: I like sun and warmth in the winter.

My Home with Snow
Here’s my home as it looked in late November 2015. It sure is pretty on a nice day with snow on the ground.

Late winter is not an issue. In 2013, I began doing frost work with the helicopter in central California. So I’d head south with the helicopter and RV — remember that big fifth wheel? — in late February and could stay until late April.

But early winter? The way I saw it, the winter’s “dark days” were during December and January. That’s when I really needed to head south.

It took a few years, but I finally got a routine figured out.

In January 2015, when my home was partially built, I accepted an invitation to house/dog sit for a friend in Wickenburg. That gave me an excuse to head south for two weeks in the coldest part of winter. I stayed in my friends’ comfortable guest house with my dog Penny and cared for two very large golden retrievers.

Much later that same year, as the days shortened and the air chilled, I realized that I had exactly what I needed to be a real snowbird: that big fifth wheel. Although my home was done and I was moved in, the short days were getting me down. After my annual Christmas cross-country ski trip to the Methow Valley, I packed up my rig and headed south to join some friends camped along the Colorado River south of I-10. The trip itself was a bit of an adventure — requiring me to buy a new truck along the way — but my first full-time snowbirding season was a real win. You can read about it starting here.

On the Steps of the Mobile Mansion
Here I am with Penny, on the steps of my old fifth wheel, the Mobile Mansion, last winter in Quartzsite, AZ.

I spent all of January and half of February in Arizona, in my fifth wheel and in my friends’ Wickenburg guest house. Then I moved my helicopter to the Sacramento area for frost season and made my way there with my fifth wheel by way of Valley of Fire and Death Valley. Because of engine problems, my truck and RV never quite made it to Sacramento, though — at least not in February. While the truck’s engine was replaced with a new one (under warranty, fortunately) in California, I returned home in March, prepared to fly down to Sacramento when called out. In April, I made the two trips to get the truck with RV and helicopter home.

That was last year. This year, I’ve made some equipment changes, got a reliable house sitter, and set out early on my snowbirding trip.

The big fifth wheel is gone, replaced with a slide in truck camper, the Turtleback. I’m absolutely loving the flexibility this new rig offers; learn more here. I left home the day before Thanksgiving and, after stopping at a Yakima Lance camper dealer to get a part replaced on the Turtleback’s huge sunroof, took a leisurely drive south on back roads through Oregon and Nevada. Another stop for two shows in Las Vegas and then more leisurely travel to my eventual destination: more house/dog sitting for my Wickenburg friends.

Poolside in Wickenburg
Poolside in Wickenburg where I’m house/dog sitting for some friends. I’ve got no complaints at all.

And that’s where I am now: sitting in their poolside guest house with a fresh cup of coffee beside me and three dogs snoozing after their breakfast. At 8 AM, a new friend will come by with her dogs and we’ll go for our twice-daily mile-long walk in the wash out behind the house. I’ve visited my disassembled helicopter in Chandler, seen numerous friends in the area, and even got an invitation to a pilot party on Saturday where a lot of people will be very surprised to see me.

This is only a stopping point, though. When my friends return later this month, I’m not quite sure what I’ll do. They’ve already told me I can stay as long as I want, but I’m thinking about a trip to Tucson and Tubac, which I haven’t been to in some time. And another friend was recently at White Sands in New Mexico — how far is that? Can I take a few days to visit? I’ve never been there. I’m already booked for New Years Eve at La Posada in Winslow and have a chore to attend to on the Hopi Reservation near there. And I’m definitely going to spend a good part of January along the Colorado River with my friends; I bought a new fishing pole just the other day and my kayak is ready to be offloaded when I reach our campsite. After that? Who knows?

All I know is this: my helicopter needs to be in the Sacramento area by the third week in February. So eventually I’ll be there. There’s a campground nearby on Puntah Creek where I look forward to paddling in again. And lots of wineries to explore in the nearby Napa and Sonoma Valleys. And the California coast. And San Francisco. I really do love late winter in central California.

The lack of definite plans doesn’t bother me one bit. I like making things up as I go along. And if you ask me, that’s the best part of being single: being able to make decisions for yourself without having to consult or rely on what someone else tells you they want or plan to do. I don’t have to worry about anyone letting me down again.

And when the winter is over, I’ll go home. That’s what snowbirds do.

How ironic: the lifestyle I planned for all those years ago with my wasband is basically the lifestyle I have now without him. And I’m loving it even more than I thought I would.

The Mobile Mansion is Gone

Another chapter of my old life ends.

On Monday, I delivered my 36-foot fifth wheel Montana Mountaineer RV, affectionately nicknamed “the Mobile Mansion” to its new owners. Yesterday, I met them at the bank to have the paperwork notarized and get my check.

Early Life of the Mobile Mansion

I bought the Mobile Mansion brand new back in 2010 in Quartzite, AZ. I got a great deal on it. The Great Recession was killing RV manufacturers and dealers; by January 2010, Quartzite dealers were desperate to unload brand new RVs.

Mobile Mansion in Quincy
Here’s the Mobile Mansion parked at the golf course I stayed at in Quincy, WA, for about two months each summer. (I now hire pilots to work my Quincy contracts.)

It was the second — well, fourth if you count the popup camper and horse trailer with living quarters — in a line of RVs I’d owned since the early 2000s. Like its predecessor, a Starcraft hard-sided camper with pop-out beds, It was a business asset for Flying M Air: I bought it as a place to live when I traveled for my flying work. I’d begun working in Washington every summer in 2008 and wanted an affordable and comfortable place to live while I was there. The Starcraft was affordable but not comfortable. The Montana was very comfortable mostly because it was very large. I got a big one because I expected that I’d be living in it for four to six months a year with the man I was married to and our mid-sized dog. I wanted us to have plenty of space. I wanted it to be a true home away from home. When I bought it, I blogged that it was the “perfect” RV.

A Temporary Home for the Homeless

When my marriage fell apart in June 2012, I was living in the Mobile Mansion in Washington State, where I was working for the fifth summer in a row. I didn’t bother bringing the Mobile Mansion back home to Arizona at the end of the summer. Instead, I stored it in a friend’s garage, along with my boat. I’d need it in Washington the following year no matter what happened, so it made no sense to bring it home.

I did move it down to California in February 2013 for the frost control work I started there that year. It was a lot of fun to live part time at an airport with my helicopter parked a few hundred feet away.

At Watts-Woodland
The Mobile Mansion parked alongside a hangar in the Sacramento area. You can see my helicopter parked on the ramp at the left side of the photo.

In May 2013 when the court stuff was finally done and my wasband finally agreed to a division of personal assets in our Wickenburg house and Phoenix condo, I moved out of Wickenburg permanently. By that time, the Mobile Mansion was back in Washington, settled in for my summer work, and I moved right back into it.

I lived in it for most of the next two years. I traveled a bunch in the winter, as I usually do, and had a three-month housesitting job during the coldest months of the winter of 2013/14 when living in the Mobile Mansion parked outdoors would have been tough. The following winter, the shell of my new home was finished and, when I wasn’t in Arizona or California, I lived in the Mobile Mansion inside the RV garage. I had a full hookup in there: 30 amp power, water, and sewer. It was comfortable, but cave-like — sort of like that Phoenix condo I’d hated so much — and it really motivated me to finish up my living space upstairs.

Mobile Mansion in Construction Zone
The Mobile Mansion was my home and base of operations while my new home was being built. I even set up a time-lapse camera on one of the slides to record the whole building process.

In early April 2015, I moved upstairs, sleeping on an air mattress on the bedroom floor. The shower wasn’t done yet, so I still showered down in the Mobile Mansion in the garage. But by the end of the month I was mostly moved in, with my furniture in place. Although my home wasn’t 100% complete, I was done living in the Mobile Mansion.

Or so I thought.

The Mobile Mansion stayed in the RV garage until July. I’d been playing around with AirBnB, using the full hookup campsite at the edge of my driveway as a rental and getting some activity. But in July, I moved the Mobile Mansion back outside and parked it near where it used to be. I pulled all of my personal items out of it, leaving only what was needed for guests. And then I put it on AirBnB. Amazingly, I was able to rent it almost every weekend right into October, getting $80/night with a two night minimum.

Mobile Mansion
People paid $160/weekend to live in the Mobile Mansion with it parked right where it is in this photo. (And no, the helicopter usually wasn’t parked in the side yard.)

(I could probably write a whole blog post about squeezing money out of assets without a lot of headaches. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.)

Mobile Mansion for Sale

By September, I had decided I definitely wanted to sell the Mobile Mansion. I wanted to travel for the winter but I wanted a smaller rig. I’d already started shopping for one. At the time, I was thinking of a much smaller bumper pull. I listed the Mobile Mansion in various places, hoping to sell the truck with it.

After that last AirBnB rental, I took everything out of the Mobile Mansion, gave it a good cleaning, and dropped it off at an RV sale lot in East Wenatchee. The folks there were pretty confident they could get my price.

They came in with two offers, both of them very low. Bargain hunters looking for “motivated” (read that desperate sellers.) I didn’t have to sell the Mobile Mansion. It was fully paid for and not costing me a thing to keep. I’d even made nearly $2K using it as a rental for part of the summer.

By December, I’d decided to go south for the winter. My friends were camping out in the Colorado River backwaters and I wanted to join them. I figured I’d sell the Mobile Mansion while I was away and come home with a different rig. So after my Christmas skiing trip, I went to the sale lot with all the gear I’d need for the winter, packed up the Mobile Mansion, hooked it up to my truck, and headed south on what was supposed to be a three-month trip.

Old Ford
The last of the snow melted off the roof when I reached Blythe, CA.

Despite the in-transit trials, I had a great time. It was good living off the grid with my friends, soaking up the sun, fishing, paddling, horseback riding, and shopping for deals in Quartzsite. I almost sold the Mobile Mansion once — I had a decent deal to trade it for a truck camper and still get cash in hand. But I wasn’t mentally ready for such a huge downsizing. I made some improvements to the Mobile Mansion, thinking I might keep it after all.

Mobile Mansion Parking
Living in Arizona along the Colorado River in the Mobile Mansion last winter was tough. Not.

I regretted not taking that offer when I left Arizona in February and started my trip to California for my frost control work there. Truck trouble stranded my truck and the Mobile Mansion in southern California, really screwing up my plans. I went home, fetched the helicopter for my contract, and spent some time in the Sacramento area with it. But without the Mobile Mansion to live in, I didn’t want to be there. I went home, leaving the helicopter, my new used truck, and the Mobile Mansion scattered around California. It wasn’t until April that I was able to fetch everything and bring it home.

After cleaning the Mobile Mansion out yet again, I brought it right to a sale lot in North Wenatchee. Once again, the sales guy told me how sure he was that he’d sell it — possibly even within a few weeks.

But I didn’t wait for the Mobile Mansion to sell before getting on with my plans. (I am so done waiting for someone else to do something to move forward with my life.) I bought a truck camper to replace it and almost immediately put it to use. After an overnight “shakedown tour,” I put it to work housing one of the pilots who worked for me in Quincy. (I suspect he would have been more comfortable in the Mobile Mansion. Oh, well.)

The sales lot guy was unable to sell it. I think it’s because he was asking so much more than it was worth, hoping to turn a tidy profit on my rig. And the fact that when he didn’t feel like coming to work, he didn’t — so the lot was closed more often than it was open. (Needless to say, he won’t be seeing me again.)

It Pays to Wait

Fortunately, I hadn’t stopped telling the people I know about it. And two of them were interested — but not for the price the guy on the lot was asking.

We agreed on a price. Ironically, it was more than the price my wasband had accepted on our jointly owned 40-acres of vacation property in Northern Arizona the month before. (Desperate sellers will take anything. Yes, I accepted the low offer, too, but the only thing I was desperate about was finally ending any ties I had to the sad sack old man I’d married 10 years before. The money was nothing. Almost literally.)

And I didn’t have to split the proceeds with anyone.

I delivered the RV to the new owners on Monday. I let one of them use my truck to back it into their hangar, which was just deep enough for him to back it in. I showed them how to unhook it. I gave them the full tour, including the “secrets” I’d learned about it in the five years I’d spent so much time in it. That took nearly an hour. I had mixed feelings as I was doing it, but I think the overwhelming feeling was that of relief.

Yesterday, I met them at the bank where we signed and notarized the title and other papers and I got my check. After handshakes and even a hug, I left them and went right to the bank to drop off the check.

Although I’m a tiny bit sad about closing the Mobile Mansion’s chapter in my life, I’m also very happy to do it. To me, the Mobile Mansion was a constant reminder of broken promises, miscommunication, and lies. Although I’ll miss its spacious comfort when I travel, I’m very glad it’s gone.

Making It Happen

You can do it if you try hard enough and stop making excuses.

Yesterday evening, when I got home from a charter flight, it was a wee bit too windy to land on the platform I use to roll the helicopter into the garage. The platform sits in a rather confined area and there’s little room for error. A gusty tailwind could make for an ugly landing and I simply didn’t want to deal with it. So I did what I’ve done on a few other occasions: I landed in the side yard.

The wind didn’t die down before nightfall, so I left the helicopter out there overnight. It was supposed to rain today anyway and I figured I’d just put it on the platform after any cherry drying flights I had to do. I do my best to limit the number of times I have to start or shut down the helicopter on my property so as not to bother the few petulant neighbors who, in the past, have complained — to others; not me — about it.

But this morning dawned bright and mostly sunny. I checked the forecast and, sure enough, it had changed. Apparently, the big rain would be on Sunday — unless the forecast changed again.

Of course, the beautiful — and I really do mean beautiful — morning light gave me an excellent opportunity to take a few new pictures of the helicopter. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you likely know how much I value Golden Hour light. And I never get tired of the view from my property.

N630ML at First Light
Flashy lawn ornament at first light.

My Prized Possession — for a Reason

As you might imagine, my helicopter is one of my prized possessions. (My new home is the other one.) Not only did it cost a huge amount of money to buy — and yes, I do own it outright — but it represents a series of achievements in my life:

  • writing a few best-selling computer books that eventually funded its purchase,
  • building skills to fly it safely as needed for the kinds of flying I do,
  • jumping hurdles set up by the FAA to operate it for Part 135 charter flights,
  • winning the right to keep it and my other business assets in my ugly divorce,
  • building a solid business around agricultural contracts in Washington and California, and
  • continuing to operate it as a primary source of income in my third career as a helicopter pilot.

It’s been a long road that started way back in 1997 when I took my first helicopter lesson and won’t end until I retire from flying and sell it to its next owner.

I often think about an airline pilot I was once friends with. He questioned why I would even bother learning to fly helicopters at my age — I was 36 when I started. “You’ll never make any money as a helicopter pilot,” he told me. Although I didn’t intend to make a living as a pilot back then, he turned out to be dead wrong. And I’m glad that I no longer have negative people like him in my life.

But think about how easy it would have been to accept his “expert opinion” and not try to move forward with any kind of career as a pilot. It was a built-in excuse for failure. Why try if this guy who knows the industry better than me says it’s impossible?

How many people do that? How many people simply don’t try because they think the odds are stacked up too high against them?

Anyway, as I snapped a few photos from every angle in that amazing first light of the day, I was thinking about this, thinking about what the helicopter means to me. Thinking about what it represents. Thinking about the series of actions I took to get from a 36-year-old who had only been in a helicopter twice to a 55-year-old — unlike other women, I don’t lie about my age — who makes a nice living as a pilot and has a helicopter parked in her side yard with that beautiful view behind it.

I’ve written about a lot of it here in my blog, and I don’t want to repeat it here. This blog has over 2,400 posts from the past 13 years. No shortage of things to read if you want to spend the time.

What I do want to touch on briefly here is the fact that just about all of us have it within our power to make things happen for ourselves.

I’m living proof of that. I’m from a lower middle class family where college wasn’t likely to be an option and got my first job — a paper route — when I was 13. I’ve been working pretty much nonstop since then — although my idea of work these days has little resemblance to the 9 to 5 grind most people deal with daily. (Hey, I was there for eight years and I know what you’re going through. The commute, the office politics, the meetings, the feeling that all you’re really doing is pushing paper. Ugh. Hope yours is better than mine was.)

Everyone dreams of doing or learning something special that’s important to them, but how many people do it? Some try but fail because they don’t realize from the get-go that achieving a difficult goal is a lot of hard work with very long hours and no guarantee of success. It takes planning, it takes funding, it takes the ability to work smart and have Plan B (or C or D) ready when things don’t work out as you expected. It’s easier to not try and to simply keep dreaming.

But do you really want to wake up one day when you’re 56 years old and realize that your life is more than half over and you haven’t achieved what you wanted to? (I think that’s what happened to my wasband; it pretty much caused him to lose his mind in a midlife crisis that went horribly wrong.) We only have one life. Why would you let it go by without at least trying to achieve your dreams?

The Psychology of “Success”

I was in college, in a Marketing class, when I first learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. From SimplyPsychology:

Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfill the next one, and so on.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Wikipedia image by FireflySixtySevenOwn work using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36551248

The earliest and most widespread version of Maslow’s (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs includes five motivational needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

This five stage model can be divided into basic and psychological needs which ensure survival (e.g. physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualization).

The deficiency, or basic needs are said to motivate people when they are unmet. Also, the need to fulfil [sic] such needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied. For example, the longer a person goes without food the more hungry they will become.

One must satisfy lower level basic needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. Once these needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.

The SimplyPsychology page about Maslow goes on at some length, making it difficult to decide when to end the quote. If this interests you, I highly recommend that you read it for yourself. It’s in plain English and a lot easier to decipher than the Wikipedia entry.

Maslow’s Hierarchy stuck with me since I first learned it. It made so much sense. It almost provides a blueprint for a good and fulfilling life. We are motivated for obvious reasons to take care of our basic needs like food, water, shelter, rest, and safety. Once those have been dealt with, we can move on to psychological needs like friends, relationships, prestige, and a feeling of accomplishment. Once we feel secure psychologically, we can move on to the need for self-actualization: achieving our full potential and realizing our dreams.

I admit that I was a bit put out when I learned this — keeping in mind that I was only 17 at the time — by the notion my professor suggested that once we’d found self-actualization, there was nothing left to motivate us. But since then I’ve realized that self-actualization isn’t the achievement of one thing. It’s the achievement of as many things as we like.

Here’s an example from my life. Since I was a kid, I always wanted to write a book (and have it published). When I was 31, I achieved that goal. So what does that mean for me? Game over? Call it quits? No. There was another goal waiting in the wings to step forward when that had been achieved: to make a good living as a writer. And I had other goals throughout my 20s and 30s and beyond: learn to ride a motorcycle, visit all 50 states (still working on it; haven’t been to Minnesota yet), learn to fly helicopters, manage rental properties (what a mistake that was!) — the list goes on and on. As it should.

Some people think of these goals as “bucket lists.” I’m not a fan of that. I don’t believe in check lists of things that we put off until we’re ready to “kick the bucket.” I believe in doing things now, while we can really enjoy them and learn from them and possibly let them change our lives.

Flying is a good example. I wanted to learn how to fly helicopters since my first ride at age 7. I never dreamed I’d be able to do it, but when I had the time and money to learn, I did. Then I got hooked on flying. I bought a helicopter. I dreamed of being a Grand Canyon pilot and built the experience (measured in flight hours) to qualify. I did that for a season. And before I knew it, I had bought a bigger helicopter and was doing what had to be done with the FAA to build a charter business. Now flying is my primary source of income. Yet when I took my first lesson back in 1997, I never thought I’d fly for a living.

Good thing I didn’t wait until I was collecting social security to take that first lesson, huh?

A side note here: 36 is older than usual to start flying, but not too old. Two of the helicopter pilots who flew with me this season also got late starts as pilots. One of them co-owns a helicopter flight school that has two locations and a bunch of helicopters and employees. The other works for him and just this week has built the 1,000 hours of flight time he needs to get his first commercial pilot job. Both men are in their 40s and have been flying for less than 10 years.

Make It Happen

As usual, I’ve wandered away from my original point. I have so much to say that it’s difficult sometimes to stay focused.

My point is this: we all have the power within us to make it happen.

Inspired Pilot

Back in March 2015, I was interviewed for the Inspired Pilot podcast. This is the brainchild of Marvyn Robinson, a UK-based pilot and IT guy, who interviews pilots with the goal of having them provide inspirational thoughts and information for people who want to learn to fly. It was a real pleasure to share my story. If you’re interested in the path other pilots took, I highly recommend it.

Take care of the needs at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Don’t piss away your money trying to satisfy higher level needs until the lower-level ones are satisfied. (Do you really need a Mercedes when a used Honda will do? Prestige is better earned through actions than flashy, expensive possessions, despite what advertisers tell us.) Get and stay out of debt so you don’t need to be a slave to a job or lifestyle you hate. Think about what you really want in your life: a skill, a dream job, a business doing something you love? Do your homework — find out what it takes to meet your goals.

And then turn off the television, get your head out of your phone, and stop wasting time whining and complaining and making excuses for why you can’t succeed. Work hard and smart, keep your eyes on the goal and what you need to do to reach it. You can do it.

The Video

I started this post by explaining why my helicopter was parked in my side yard and what I was thinking and feeling about it as I photographed it from various angles. What I didn’t mention is that I made a video, too.

I tried to put into words what I was thinking and feeling. I always feel a bit awkward about showing off the helicopter. It’s one thing to put a picture of it in action or parked at a landing zone online, but it’s another to actively brag about it and what it means to me. I know that owning a helicopter is beyond the wildest dreams of most people. But I also know that it was once beyond my wildest dreams — go figure, huh? Maybe anything is possible.

The video does get a little personal. I mention my wasband and how sorry I feel for him. I wish I could have done a better job motivating him to achieve his goals, but in all honesty, I could never understand why he would need motivation from me. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy? I’ve come to realize that I’m more driven than the average person to reach the top of his pyramid, but I didn’t know it back then. To me, the man I spent more than half my life with was intelligent and had or could build the skills he needed to succeed in one or more of his many life goals. I could never understand why he didn’t even try — or why he gave up so quickly when he did. Instead, when I prodded him to work toward a goal — for example, flying more often so he could get the hours he needed to achieve his goal of becoming a flight instructor — he countered with excuses. After a while, I gave up with frustration. I now realize that not everyone is as driven as I am. He definitely isn’t.

Hindsight is 20-20.

Yes, I know that this blog post is addressing a first world problem.

Here in the United States, most people don’t have to worry about getting food or shelter or meeting other basic needs. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do to help those in other nations who are less fortunate than we are. I can only recognize that they are struggling and hope that things get better for them.

That said, please don’t lecture me (or others) here about insensitivity to those less fortunate than we are. Read the Site Comment Policy for more advice about sharing your thoughts here.

The video also assures viewers that we all have it within ourselves to achieve our goals. Maybe I’m being too optimistic? I heard on the radio just yesterday that people in Argentina are starving right now because they can’t get food. And what of the millions of refugees in the Middle East and Africa? Can these unfortunate people ever achieve their dreams? I don’t know. They need to take care of the bottom of the pyramid first. So many people in today’s crazy world do.

But for the rest of us — like the dozens of people who have told me, during flights, that they’ve always wanted to be a pilot but never learned — what are you waiting for? Make it happen!

I did — and I continue to do it every day.

Throwback Thursday, Birthday Edition

An old photo and some memories to go with it.

I don’t have many photos of myself, mostly because I don’t see any need to. I know what I look like: I see that face in the mirror every morning. But I do have a few older photos to look back on and this is one of them.

Old Photo
These two photos of me stood on the ledge beside my wasband’s desk in our Arizona home. I took the helicopter frame when I packed, but left the rest.

I vaguely remember the day the larger photo was shot. It was at my car in a parking lot at the beach. It was just after sunset. My future wasband was the photographer.

Nissan Pulsar
Here I am with my old car and my dog Spot in front of the first house I owned with my future wasband. I figure this was shot in 1985.

My car in those days was a 1983 Nissan Pulsar. It was metallic blue and a definite upgrade from the 1970 VW Beetle it replaced. I loved that car until I realized how much it lacked in terms of performance and agility. I replaced it in 1986 with a 1987 Toyota MR-2 that I owned until just a few years ago.

The beach was likely Jones Beach on the west end of Long Island in New York. My future wasband and I met there back on July 10, 1983, an event I documented in a blog post I wrote after my marriage to him fell apart 29 years later. The parking lot was called West End 2.

The photo was shot at sunset. We went to Jones Beach West End 2 occasionally to watch the sun set — that’s how we’d met. Back in those days, I lived in Hempstead on Long Island and he lived in Flushing in Queens. Although I doubt this photo was shot the day we met, it was probably shot sometime that same summer.

I like this photo a lot. It’s quite a nice composition; my wasband could be a good photographer when he tried. This is one of the instances when he managed to nail composition and light; he usually focuses (no pun intended) on subject matter and neglects one or both of the other vital components of fine art photography. (I can’t tell you how tough it was to get him to go on photo outings during golden hour light.) But in this case, he took a great portrait of a much younger version of me.

Younger, yes. I was probably 22 in this photo. My birthday had been just 10 days before we met and this had to be within three months of that. It’s one of my favorite photos of myself.

I’ve been thinking lately about how much I’d like to create a modern version of this photo. My face with the same expression — if I can pull it off after so many years of life experiences that resulted in the cynicism I work hard to overcome nearly daily. The position of my head in the lower corner of the driver’s side window of my current little car, a 2003 Honda S2000. The reflection of the horizon, red from the light of a recently set sun.

Or maybe it would have to be in my truck, since my car doesn’t have a back window for the reflection.

I just need a friend with a good eye and a camera to meet with me and make it happen. Another project for another day.

I don’t actually have this photo in my possession. I found it face down near my wasband’s desk when I returned home from my summer job in September 2012. The locks had been changed on the house I’d shared with him for 15 years, but an $8 lock — yes, I found the receipt dated just the week before on the kitchen table — isn’t going to keep me out of my home. (Neither was his lie-studded attempt to use the court to keep me out. No, I didn’t “abandon” him. I went to my summer job, as I had the previous four summers in a row.)

I found it interesting that he’d kept the photo at all. Or the one of the two of us all dressed up, shot only a few years later at a friend’s wedding, which I mailed to his mother as a birthday gift. I was surprised that the desperate old whore he’d hooked up with, who was obviously calling the shots for his life and divorce battle, hadn’t destroyed them when she was in my home, sizing up my possessions for her own future use. (That didn’t work out the way they intended, either.)

I righted the two photos and snapped the picture you see above. Later, I packed the little helicopter frame — I honestly can’t remember if I took the Papillon picture with it; it’s still packed somewhere. But I know I left the car window portrait behind. I think I was hoping that it would jog his memory of the better days together so long ago, before greed and jealousy and anger and frustration had split us apart. Maybe it would snap him out of his delusional state of mind and make him think twice about what he was throwing away. And how much it was costing him to make an enemy of the only woman who truly cared about him.

Of course, none of that happened. I stayed in the house until May 2013, packing my things while I waited in vain for him to see reason and settle out of court. In the end, it went in front of a judge and he wound up paying me and his lawyers at least four times what he would have if he’d agreed to my generous settlement offer. And he could have kept the house! Stupidity? Greed? Bad advice? I think they were all part of his problem. Amazing how a person can change.

But by then I was started on my new life without him, moving forward for the first time in years without a sad sack old man holding me back. Building the home I wanted — without the endless delays and compromises and excuses I’d been dealing with for years — in a beautiful place among good friends. A place where I could build my business and have an active life with the variety and challenges I thrive on.

When I look back on this picture, I remember the good old days when we were young and idealistic and deeply in love. And then I remind myself that the man who took the photo is long gone — and I’m so much better off without the man he became.

Golden Hour at the Aerie

Two shots showcasing my home.

Even amateur photographers — or at least serious amateur photographers like me — know that the best time for landscape photography is during the so-called “Golden Hour.” This is the time of day roughly one hour after sunrise and roughly one hour before sunset when the sun’s light is soft and often golden in color. Long shadows provide depth which adds texture and highlights contours in land forms. Colors are skewed reddish, which can make everything look just better.

Construction on my home has been mostly done — I still have a few things to do inside like finishing trim and building a set of stairs to the loft — for a few months now. I got my official certificate of occupancy about two months ago. I recently did some outside work to clean up “the yard” and make it look presentable. I have ten acres but I really only maintain about an acre of it — the rest is natural vegetation: bunch grass, sagebrush, and wildflowers. It gets really green here in spring but starts to brown up by late May. This year, we’ve had just enough rainfall to really turn on the wildflowers and keep the grass green and gold. Really pretty.

Perfect for capturing some shots of my home to share with friends and family.

I got the first shot the other day. I happened to be down at my Lookout Point bench late in the afternoon when I looked back up at my home. The light was just right to illuminate the multitude of wildflowers that had grown between the bench and my building. Unfortunately, I’d left my Jeep and truck in front of their garage doors and that made the place look less than perfect. By the time I moved them and came back, the light would be gone. I decided to do it another day.

Afternoon Home
I like this shot the best, mostly because you can also see the nearly full moon in the sky above the cliffs.

That day came a few days later. I was inside, resting up from some minor surgery I’d had earlier in the day when I realized that the light was perfect. I grabbed my phone and ran down the stairs with Penny at my heels. We hurried down the path to Lookout Point and I turned around. Perfect!

I shot about 10 photos from different angles. This is the one I like the best.

I very seldom share this view of my home. The reason: it only photographs well in the afternoon in late spring, summer or early autumn. Other times, the cliffs to the south are in shadows.

This shot really shows off the beauty of the cliffs behind my home. They rise about 1,000 feet above my road and consist of basalt columns of rock laid down during Washington’s prehistoric volcanic past and carved away by ice age floods. My home sits on a shelf of tightly packed silt; the land drops away again toward the river to the north.

The vegetation up there, by the way, is ponderosa pine with the occasional aspen grove. I’ll be planting some of those on my property in the years to come. The irrigation lines to get them started are already laid.

This morning, the light and clouds were perfect again for a golden hour shot of the front of my home, which faces east. I didn’t mind the truck being parked on the concrete apron by the big RV garage door — although the truck does manage to make the 14 feet tall by 20 feet wide door look small. I grabbed my phone again and hiked up my driveway and partially up the road behind my home. I took just three shots from different angles. This was the middle one and I like it best.

Morning at Home
This shot, taken this morning, shows off the front and north side of my home, as well as the view beyond. The view, privacy, and quiet is what sold me on this building site when I first saw it back in 2012.

Every time I look at my home, I realize that none of it would have been possible if I’d stayed married to the sad sack old man who was living in a rut in Arizona. I’m sad for him — he would have really liked it here, maybe as much as I do — but I’m thrilled to have had the freedom to build the home I wanted and to live the lifestyle I’ve come to cherish.

Life is what you make it. If you want something badly enough, you need to make it happen. There’s nothing that says that more to me than my home here at the Aerie.

Night Stalkers

Caught in action!

Game Camera
Game cameras like this offer an affordable way to keep a record of visitors while you’re gone.

Last winter, I set one of my game cameras up on my unfinished deck. I’d found an animal turd on a piece of plywood outside my living room door and wanted to know where it had come from. So I set up the camera — and promptly forgot about it for six months.

Eventually, I got to work on the deck and the game camera was in the way. I brought it inside, where it languished on the windowsill beside my desk for a while and then brought it downstair to the big desk in my shop. I thought it had been turned off, but it hadn’t. It took pictures whenever it sensed movement until the batteries finally died.

Today, I pulled out both game cameras, put in new batteries, and prepared to set them out to see what they might capture while I’m not looking. I pulled both SD cards out of the cameras and had a look at their contents.

One camera included video shot inside the garage of my old Arizona house back in 2013. I’d set up the camera after I realized that someone — in all likelihood, my future wasband — had attempted to break in through the garage window beside the front door. Fortunately, we’d put a bar there years before that prevented the window from opening more than a few inches for ventilation. When I noticed it, the window was open and stuck hard half off its track. Since I did a lot of traveling that last season home in Arizona, I thought it might be a good idea to set up some kind of surveillance for while I was gone. Game cameras in the kitchen and garage were a good solution. Fortunately (for my wasband), the only activity they captured was me and my friends coming and going.

Dawn Cat
One of my two barn cats looks out over his domain just before dawn last March.

The other camera was the one I’d put out on the unfinished deck last year. It was set up for motion triggers images. And what it caught kind of surprised me: my barn cats hanging out on the supports for the deck. Keep in mind that the only way they could get up to the deck was to climb at least ten feet up one of the posts. There was no ladder, overhanging trees, and no staircase.

Barn Cats
Here’s a shot with both cats. The surface they’re on was approximately 3-1/2 inches wide 10 feet off the ground.

Glowing Eyes
The cats spent most of March 27 up on the deck. According to my calendar, I’d just come home from a trip to California the afternoon before.

I found about two dozen photos with one or both of the cats in them. In most instances, they were either walking right past the front of the camera’s lens or sitting on one of the 2 x 10 beams that support the deck.

Nowadays, I think I have just one barn cat: the black one. Although I saw Black Cat just last night on the pathway between his “safe place” in the shed and my front door, I haven’t seen Gray Cat for months. I’ll likely get one or two new barn cats in the spring. I got them to keep the rodent population down so the snakes wouldn’t have anything to eat and it worked like a charm — I didn’t see a single snake within 200 feet of my home or garden. This is, by far, the best way to control snakes and rodents. Best of all, since they’re not really “pets,” they don’t take much care. I can provide enough food and water in their shed to keep them satisfied for a month since they supplement cat food with rodents and their water with the chickens’ water.

As far as cameras and security goes — without revealing too much, let’s just say that I don’t rely on game cameras for security anymore. I have a far more sophisticated system with live cameras I can access from anywhere. Of course, none of that really matters when my house-sitter has a Doberman and knows where I keep my shotgun.

And I never did find out where that turd came from…