2014: A Look Back

Moving forward, looking ahead.

2014 is over. It was a good year for me. Not my best, but certainly one that finished on a very positive note. A year I can look back on and be proud of what I learned and accomplished, a year that marks the successful end of a long and bitter battle to keep what’s rightfully mine.

The Journal

Penny on the Porch
Penny the Tiny Dog lounges in the morning sun on the wrap-around porch of the house we spent the winter in.

I kept a journal for much of the year. I started it on January 1, 2014, when I was housesitting for a neighbor who was gone for the winter. He had a wonderful home and I was fortunate to be able to spend nearly three months in its comfort. Having the space to entertain friends helped me build stronger bonds with people I’ve met since relocating permanently here in Central Washington State in late May of 2013. And it was a hell of a lot warmer than my RV would have been.

This was the first time I kept a journal for any length of time. You might argue that this blog is a journal — and it is, to a certain extent. But while my blog posts cover a wide range of topics and often go into wordy detailed descriptions, my journal is brief. I wrote in it every morning throughout the spring, set it aside during the summer, and then opened it again in the fall. I wrote my last entry in the 2014 edition this morning and will start my 2015 book tomorrow.

Each entry is limited to one double-sided page, forcing me to keep things brief. I often refer to blog posts for more detail. My journal entries include a lot of thoughts and feelings that I don’t include in my very public blog. 2014 took up 1-1/3 blank books. Red ones — I really do like red. 2015’s first book will be black because that’s the color I found on sale.

The benefit of this and other journals I’ve kept in the past: I can go back and refer to them to see what was going on during a specific time in my life. This is especially important these days, when I’m trying so hard to discard painful memories from my wasband’s betrayal and the very bitter divorce that followed it. Writing things down gets them on paper and out of my head. Later, when I’m fully healed, I can go back and revisit them with the 20-20 vision of hindsight.

I’ll consult that journal as I write up this year in review.

Travel

I didn’t do much traveling in 2014, although I really enjoyed the few trips I took.

The big trip was to California’s Central Valley. For the second year in a row, I had a frost control contract with the helicopter. Unlike the 2013 contract the 2014 contract paid a much higher standby fee but required me to live in the area with the helicopter. So just as I’d moved the helicopter and my RV seasonally to Washington state for cherry drying when I lived in Arizona, in February 2014, I moved the helicopter and my RV to the Sacramento area of California for frost control.

Hamming it Up
Penny and I, hanging out at George’s hangar at the airport.

I made some new friends down there — it’s amazing how easy it is to make friends when you’re alone and don’t have to humor a companion who doesn’t seem interested in meeting anyone new. George, a fellow pilot, and Becky, who managed the airport where Penny and I lived, became part of my life for the two months I was there. George and I spent a lot of time flying both his gyroplane and my helicopter. We took my helicopter out to San Carlos Airport for a test flight in an Enstrom 480 and a visit to the Hiller Aviation Museum, where we got a great private tour.

Maria and George in the Cockpit
Here I am with George, sitting in the cockpit of a 747 on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum.

Hot Air Balloon
The hot air balloon flight comped to me by the pilot was one of the highlights of the trip. I hope to return the favor this spring when I go back.

Other things I did in California: during February, March, and April: hot air balloon flight over the Central Valley, wine tasting with visiting Washington friends in Napa Valley, several “joy flying” flights over Napa Valley and the Sutter Buttes, whale watching at Point Reyes, a visit to Muir Woods, kayaking with the members of the Sacramento Paddle Pushers group in the American River, paddling at Lake Solano, and a visit to the food truck extravaganza in downtown Woodland. I also got to see my friend Rod, who lives in Georgetown, and Shirley, who lives in Carmichael. I really like the area I stayed in and hope that this year’s contract lets me base the helicopter at the same airport.

Penny on the Kayak
Penny keeps watch in the kayak’s bow as we head back down the American River in Sacramento with new friends. Not sure why I didn’t blog about this trip; I have tons of photos to share.

I went to the Santa Barbara area of California three times in 2014 to record courses for Lynda.com. In February, I took Penny with me and recorded Up and Running with Twitter, a brand new version of my extremely popular Twitter course. I went back in May, without Penny, to record Word 2013 Power Shortcuts and Up & Running with Meetup. I returned yet again in October to record Word 2013: Creating Long Documents. The first time, I stayed at a hotel in Carpinteria that I didn’t particularly care for. But on the next two trips, I stayed at my preferred hotel on the harbor at Ventura in my “usual room” with harbor view and jacuzzi tub. I really enjoy my trips to Lynda. I work extra hard while I’m there so I finish early and get to enjoy a day at the beach.

Harbor View
The view from my usual room in Ventura isn’t too shabby.

I got to visit the San Juan Islands twice this year. The first time was for a week-long vacation at my friend Steve’s house on Lopez Island. I blogged extensively about that great trip. The second time was for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my friend Bob at Friday Harbor, which I also blogged about. I really like the islands but could never full-time live on that side of the Cascades: too much dreary weather. I was lucky at Lopez Island; the weather was very good all week.

My final trip of the year was my annual Christmas trip to Winthrop for cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley. I haven’t blogged about that trip yet but I hope to find time to do so. The Winthrop/Mazama area is the largest cross-country ski area in the country, with hundreds of miles of groomed trails. I feel extremely fortunate to have such a great place to ski only 100 miles from my home.

Off to go Skiing
Penny and I went skiing over the Christmas holiday for the second year in a row.

Trips planned for 2015 include Arizona and California this spring. My autumn and winter travel schedules are still up in the air.

The Big Project

Backhoe
Jeff of Parkway Excavating rolled down my driveway on April 24 to begin prepping the building pad.

When I returned to Washington after frost season, I started the biggest project of my life: the construction of my new home. Earth work on my lot began in April and construction began soon afterward, continuing through the end of June. The building, which would house all of my possessions — including my helicopter, RV, Jeep, Honda car, and Ford truck, jet boat, motorcycle, and ATV — is a pole building I designed with the assistance of the good folks at Western Ranch Buildings in East Wenatchee. With a total of about 4,000 square feet, 1,200 of which is dedicated to living space, it features a four-car garage, an RV garage big enough for my helicopter and fifth wheel RV, a shop area, comfortable one-bedroom home, and a wrap around deck with windows to take in the amazing views of the Wenatchee Valley.

Roofing
They began roofing the building on June 10.

Electrician
Yes, this is me dressed up for electrical work: toolbelt, kneepads, and warm clothes. Heat is on but without insulation, the building still gets pretty chilly.

Because I was paying cash for the building and because I was interested in saving as much money as possible, I became not only the building’s designer but also the general contractor and electrician. (I was going to do the plumbing, too, but a local plumber offered me a deal that was too good to pass up.) Because my flying work is seasonal and my writing work is flexible, I had no real trouble getting the work done. I did pause in the autumn after getting the framing and roof insulation done, but decided in November to forego a lengthy trip to California and Arizona for the winter months and go full throttle to finish it up as quickly as possible.

What’s done? The building’s entire shell, including concrete floor is done. All doors and windows are installed. My vehicles, including my helicopter RV, are safely tucked inside for the winter. My shop and RV have all utility services. The living space is framed, the furnace and air handler for my HVAC system are installed and running, the ceiling has its first layer of insulation. The electrical system in the garage and living space are about 80% done.

What’s coming up? The plumber comes next week and, if all goes well with the wiring, I’ll get through the inspections needed to close up the walls by January 15. Then I’ll get the insulation and drywall done and the main space painted. The floors go in next. My appliances, custom kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, freestanding soaking tub, glass block shower walls, and many light sconces are on order and will begin arriving as soon as next week. Cabinets will be installed in mid February, appliances at February month-end, and countertops sometime before the middle of March. In the meantime, I’ll put down my deck and the rails around it. At this point, there’s a very real possibility that I’ll be able to move into my new home by March month-end.

If you’ve never built your own home, you likely have no idea what a joy and trial it is. This is, by far, the most challenging thing I’ve ever attempted. It’s a real pleasure — despite the occasional difficulties — to be able to make my own decisions on every aspect of the project without having to wait for a risk adverse, indecisive, and, frankly, cheap partner to weigh in with his decisions. And I cannot begin to describe how rewarding it is to look around what I’m building and know that it came from my mind, my heart, and my hard work.

I’ll continue to blog about the project throughout the coming year.

Other Accomplishments, Activities, New Hobbies

I got the year off to a slow start, not really doing much of anything new. I guess the biggest deal in the spring was learning to fly a gyroplane and soloing in about 7 hours. George taught me in his little Magni M-16 Gyroplane and it was a blast.

Solo Flight
George snapped this photo of me as I taxied off the runway after my first solo flight.

In the spring, when I returned from California, I built a chicken coop and, with the help of some friends, built a secure chicken yard for my flock of six hens. They laid eggs — about three dozen a week! — starting in October and only just slowed down production for the winter. I also had the opportunity to help out at a chicken slaughter.

For the first time in at least 10 years I had a vegetable garden. I planted Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, melons, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, corn, and herbs. Most of my garden occupied pots and raised garden planters I made out of pallets.

I also kept up with my beekeeping activities. I caught a swarm again this year and assisted another beekeeper on a swarm capture. By the end of the season, I had seven hives and had harvested another 3 gallons of honey. I also began selling honey in boutique packaging at local wineries. And I took a mead-making course and put up my first gallon of mead.

Pendant
Here’s one of my upcycled pendants, created from clear and blue wine bottle glass.

At the end of the summer, I purchased a very small kiln and began doing warm glass projects that upcycled wine bottles into Christmas tree ornaments and jewelry. I began making some of these items available for sale online.

I also stayed pretty active locally during the year, going on multiple hikes, boat trips, paddling trips, and Jeep trips with friends. I took over a Meetup group I belonged to and met a bunch of great people on activities with the group.

Friends

I didn’t realize how many good friends I’d made in the area until I had my moving party on June 28. I sent out invitations in email and on paper and on Facebook and Twitter. The party would be two parts: a moving party that started at my hangar and a pot luck barbecue at my mostly completed home. I honestly didn’t expect more than maybe 20 people to show up with only handful for the move. If I got my furniture moved, I’d be thrilled — I could always fetch the boxes myself.

But the attendance — especially at the hangar — blew me away. At least two dozen people showed up there with pickup trucks. One even brought a large horse trailer. Within 2 hours everything in the hangar was loaded up and we were on our way across the river to Malaga. They unloaded even quicker — almost before I realized what was happening. Then they brought out their pot luck dishes and we partied. I think the final party attendance was close to 50.

My social life here in Washington is amazing. If I wanted to, I could do something with friends every day or evening. Wine tasting, boating and paddling, hiking, Jeeping, dinner, movies, parties — there’s no end to it. On some days, I have to choose between activities or squeeze multiple activities with different people into my day. I’ve never been so active with other people. I love it — especially since these are all great, friendly, generous people who like me for who I am.

And yes, I’m dating, too. But not much, and that’s by choice. I’m extremely picky about starting a relationship with a man. I’d rather live life alone than live it with the wrong man again.

Flying Work (and Play)

In addition to the very lucrative frost contract I had in California in early spring, I had my best cherry drying season ever. In 2014, during the “crunch period” of mid June to mid July, I had three other pilots working with me to cover the acreage I was under contract for. I think we did a remarkably good job providing service for my clients in the Quincy and Wenatchee areas. There wasn’t quite as much rain as there was in 2013, but with more acreage to cover — almost 350 acres at one point! — the standby pay made our dedication to staying in the area worthwhile.

I did some charter work during the season, including a winter video shoot for one client that included air-to-air footage of the historic Miss Veedol airplane and an interesting dawn shoot over the Wenatchee Symphony Orchestra playing at Ohme Gardens. The Miss Veedol footage was only part of the aerial footage shot from my helicopter that appeared in the first We Are Wenatchee video. I also did two amazing Seattle video shoots — at sunset and dawn the following day — as well as a video flight up the Duwamish Waterway and Green River to its source near the base of Mt. Rainier. It’s flights like these that make me so glad I became a helicopter pilot.

We are Wenatchee from Voortex Productions on Vimeo.

Although one of my big charter clients wound up opening its own flight department with a leased helicopter and full-time pilot, I still did a bunch of charter work for them, flying management team members to various orchards throughout Central Washington State — and even to Seattle. They’ll continue to use my services on an as-needed basis during the busy season, as long as it doesn’t conflict with my cherry drying work.

Other interesting flights include a handful of wine tasting flights, a flight to the Slate Peak communication facility, a pollination flight, and two Santa flights. And, of course, I can’t forget my flight to and from Lopez Island and the flight around the San Juan Islands I took with my friend Steve. Or those Napa Valley flights. Or the flight for a hamburger at Blustery’s Drive In in Vantage.

Landing Zone Closeup
There was still snow atop Slate Peak in May 2014.

Writing Work

Although writing accounts for only a small part of my income these days, I did do a significant amount of writing work. In addition to the four video courses I authored for Lynda.com (mentioned earlier), I also began writing articles for Lynda.com’s blog.

I also made a new writing contact. Beginning in January 2015, my articles about flying helicopters will begin appearing on AOPA’s Hover Power blog. You’ll find my bio on the About the Authors page there. I’m extremely pleased to be writing about helicopters for an audience beyond blog readers.

As for my blog, it’s readership has pretty much doubled over the past year. I now consistently get between 1,000 and 2,000 page hits each day with visitors from all over the world.

My divorce book, which I blogged about back in April 2013 — has it been that long? — is still being written. I can’t finish it until the divorce bullshit is finally over.

The Divorce Bullshit

A lot of people don’t realize that even though my divorce was finalized in July 2013, it wasn’t over. Not only did my wasband appeal the judge’s decision, but he refused to comply with court orders regarding refinancing our house, which he received in the settlement, and paying me what he owed me. So legal action dragged on throughout the end of 2013 and into much of 2014.

My poor wasband — and yes, I do pity him a lot more than I probably should — got a lot of bad advice from friends and family members. If he’d accepted my very generous original settlement offer — proposed back in November or December of 2012 — he could have saved well over $100K in legal fees and could have kept the house for about 1/5 of its market value, including most of the furniture and other items I would have left behind. And we both could have gotten on with our lives with a minimum of bad feelings. But he took that bad advice, which gave him the idea that he had some sort of legal claim over the business I’d begun building long before we were married and all the assets that went with it. Even when the judge decided he didn’t, more bad advice convinced him to appeal. The appeals court, which handed down its decision just before Thanksgiving, agreed entirely with the original judge. In other words, he lost the appeal.

The result: more than two years of our lives wasted, a life-long friendship shattered with a lot of bad feelings, and more money than I’d like to think about thrown away on legal fees. He could have gotten rid of me — and kept the paid-for house! — for $50K. Instead, it’ll wind up costing him over $200K (including legal fees) and he has to sell the house to pay me. That’s gotta hurt.

My only consolation is that his stupidity and greed cost him far more than it cost me. I’ll recover from the financial setback of the legal battle, mostly because I know how to live within my means and I have substantial retirement investments. My home will be fully paid for within a few years, leaving me as debt-free and financially secure as I was before this all started.

Of course, I’ll actually be far better off than before this started because I won’t be dragged down emotionally by a lying loser incapable of making decisions or taking measured risks to move forward in life.

Solstice
Here’s the note I burned on the yule log at a solstice party — I want to leave this burden behind forever.

And that’s what 2014 has shown me: the 29-year relationship with the man I loved was holding me back, preventing me from moving forward to achieve lifestyle goals and dreams. I thought I shared goals with the man I loved but in the end it was all a lie — he just pretended during those last few years to be on the same page with me to keep the status quo he so loved. He sucked away my self-esteem by blaming me for our dismal social life and making me feel unwelcome in the home he claimed to want to share with me. It wasn’t until he freed me that I regained the self-esteem he’d sucked out of me and I began to move forward with life again.

I’ve accomplished more in 2014 than I had since I married in 2006. I achieved more goals, I made more friends, I learned more things. I stopped waiting for a partner to run out of excuses to hold us back and I began living life again. And believe me, living life alone sure beats the hell out of living life chained to a sad sack old man.

I only wish I’d made the break sooner, before we were married, before he lost his mind and soul. It would have been nice to remain friends with someone I really cared about.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for the house to be sold by a court-appointed master so I can get paid and do my best to put this this nightmare behind me.

After I finish my divorce book.

Looking Forward

2015 promises to be a great year. I have my big construction project to finish up, more writing work ahead of me, and a healthy helicopter charter business to nurture and built. I have more friends than I’ve ever had in my life — good, reliable friends eager to get together for all kinds of fun and even help me make my dreams realities. I have hobbies and interests to keep me busy and plenty of free time to explore them. Best of all, I’m living in a magnificent place that’s full of beauty and life and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Tail Shot
Isn’t it beautiful here?

I’m alive and loving life again.

Happy New Year.

Bad Advice Ruins Lives

Sad to see the dreams of a good man destroyed by taking bad advice.

I got some sad news not long ago. A very close former friend of mine sold his airplane.

He’d owned the plane for more than 10 years and had often told me of the role it would play in his retirement: he planned to become a CFI (certified flight instructor) and use the plane to do biennial flight reviews and some flight training. It was a goal I thought suited him and I supported it to the best of my ability — although there was nothing I could do beyond offering moral support and advice to help him achieve it. My advice: fly as often as you can, build time, build experience.

He didn’t take that advice.

I thought he was serious about that dream — like so many of the others he shared with me. But he never moved forward with any of them beyond making some notes on paper and buying domain names he’d never use. Maybe he wasn’t as serious as he led me to believe. I thought aviation, which we’d discovered around the same time, meant something to him. But apparently, it didn’t.

When he pissed off a friend whose hangar he was sharing and got the plane kicked out, the hangar he got in Scottsdale cost him far more each month, making the plane suddenly very costly to keep. (Some people just don’t know a good deal when they have one.) I suspect that was a factor in the plane’s sale in November 2013.

Not long afterward, he sold a condo he’d bought in Phoenix back in 2008. He’d bought as the housing market was falling but hadn’t quite hit bottom. He got what he thought was a good price, but the thing came with outrageous monthly maintenance fees that, when coupled with the mortgage, was a real financial burden on him. And, in all honesty, the place wasn’t very pleasant — its windows looked out onto a courtyard so there was no privacy unless the blinds were closed — which only made it darker and drearier than it already was. Most of the other units were owned by speculators and either empty or inhabited by renters. I’d advised him to buy the other condo he’d been looking at, a bright and airy second floor unit not far away.

He didn’t take that advice.

When he lost his job and got stuck in one he grew to hate, it seemed to me that he was working primarily to make payments on that condo. He was miserable most of the time, living in the condo part-time instead of the house he owned half of and used as his primary address. The house was completely paid off and far more comfortable, and it had a heck of a lot more light and privacy.

In 2011 and early 2012, I advised him to sell the condo, despite the fact that he owed a bit more than the market value. The loss would help on his tax returns and the sale would stop the bleeding of money for mortgage payments and maintenance fees. It would relieve his financial burden so he could live within his means and wouldn’t be a slave to the job he hated.

He didn’t take that advice.

I even offered to buy the place for what he owed. I’d take the loss. (I was a very good friend.)

He didn’t want to do that, either. Instead, he claimed he wanted to keep it as an investment and rent it out. And he expected me to help him.

But I’d already gone through the nightmarish experience of being a landlord and wanted no part of it. My refusal to get involved was one of the things that began the destruction of our friendship.

When I learned in March that he’d sold the condo in December, it made me sad. I knew that if he’d sold it when I advised, before he turned his back on our friendship, we’d still be friends. I don’t think he ever put a tenant in there, but I really don’t know. I can imagine him stubbornly paying the mortgage and taxes and maintenance fees on the place, month after month, before finally giving up.

The sell-off of his assets doesn’t really come as a big surprise. Nearly two years ago, he initiated a costly legal battle to end a long-term partnership and take possession of assets that weren’t his. He misunderstood the law governing the case. The very last time I had a chance to speak to him directly, back in December 2012, I tried to reason with him. I tried to make him understand how the law would be applied. His angry and defiant response proved that he had no idea what the law was. I urged him to talk to his lawyer, to have his lawyer explain it. I urged him to take the counteroffer he’d received from the other party — a counteroffer I know that party’s lawyers thought was far too generous.

But he didn’t take that advice.

It frustrated me. He’d always been so reasonable. He’d always understood the difference between right and wrong. He’d always had morals and principals that I could respect and look up to. But now he was acting unreasonably, doing something stupid and hurtful that was so obviously wrong. What had happened to him?

It didn’t really matter. By that time he was no longer my friend and never would be again.

AdviceInstead, he listened to other, newer friends — including one he’d only recently met — friends who apparently either didn’t know the law or didn’t know the facts of the case. They told him he could get so much more if he just kept fighting. They fed him lies about the other party, convincing him that the other party had been using and manipulating him for years, convincing him that the other party was now an enemy and couldn’t be trusted.

So he kept feeding his lawyers money — tens of thousands of dollars, month after month. (I don’t know why the lawyers didn’t set him straight; maybe he wouldn’t listen to them, either?) And he kept harassing the other party with legal action, hoping that other party would give in to his outrageous demands.

And while all this was going on, my old friend began to take on the financial responsibilities of his new friend, helping her with mortgage payments and the like. He likely justified this by living with her, leaving the condo that was costing him so much money every month empty. She kept urging him to fight, to take one action after another to wear the other party down. She even began directly issuing orders to his lawyers and feeding them incorrect information that she misinterpreted from things she read online. She was rabid in her hatred, insanely jealous — or maybe, by some accounts, just insane.

But the other party in this legal battle was in the right and wasn’t about to give in, especially after investing in a costly legal defense. The other party needed to win. And unlike my friend, the other party was living within their means so there was money to pay lawyers for the fight. And to keep paying as long as necessary to bring an end to the battle and closure to the wounds it had caused.

In the end, my old friend lost his legal battle. The other party was awarded far more than the December 2012 counteroffer would have given. (After all, it really was a generous offer.)

I suspect my friend thought he would pay his legal fees with the proceeds from his win. I suspect he and his new friend looked forward to celebrating their victory over the other party.

But there was no win, there was no big settlement. Even later accounting for other matters proved disappointing. There was no windfall coming. My friend had acted on bad advice and had lost all the money he’d spent on legal fees plus the additional amount he’d have to pay over that original counteroffer.

Ah, if only he had taken my advice!

My former friend’s downfall fills me with pity for him. Not only do I care very much for him and value the years of our friendship, but I’m sad that he remains so close with the people who led him astray, friends and a lover so full of hate and anger and greed that they can’t see facts and listen to reason. I’m sad that they have his ear and are likely, to this day, giving him advice that will only cost him more in the long run. I’m sad that a man I once thought the world of has become a greedy and delusional puppet.

So he sold the airplane that would give him his retirement “job.” And he sold the condo that he claimed he wanted to keep as an investment. And now he’s trying to sell the house he has part ownership of. Liquidating his assets — one can only assume that he has money problems.

Meanwhile, he’s failed to comply with court orders regarding the case and has to defend himself against legal action related to that. More legal fees because he failed to do the right thing. What will happen next? Who knows?

It’ll be interesting to see if the friends who led him astray step up to the plate and help bail him out of the mess he’s in.

I know that I won’t.

Buying the Land for My Next Home

It’s a done deal. I’m a land owner!

Back in the summer of 2011, I had a chat with a friend of mine from the east coast about my summer job. I told him him how much I liked the Wenatchee area of Washington where I was working. As he reminded me just the other day, he said to me “Looks like you found your next home.”

I didn’t think much of that idea then. After all, I was married and living in Arizona in a house that would soon be paid off. Although I wanted very badly to move — and even started looking for a new place to live as far back as 2005 — my husband was firmly entrenched in a 9 to 5 grind after bouncing from one dead-end job to another. His only two suggestions for a new place to live — Santa Fe or San Diego — would simply not work for me or my business. So in 2011 I was stuck there in Arizona, waiting for him to wake up and dig himself out of the rut he was living in.

But in the summer of 2012, things were different. First, my husband announced that he wanted a divorce. That got me thinking about a life without having to wait around for him to start living again. Next, I started doing a lot of winery tours, including a flight to a winery along the base of the cliffs in Malaga. The winery was on Cathedral Rock Road, a 2-1/2 mile stretch of winding gravel with 10- and 20-acre residential lots overlooking the Wenatchee Valley and Columbia River. What a nice place to build a hangar home, I thought.

I had a friend who owned land along that road and one day, on a whim, I called him to ask who his Realtor was. I told him I was interested in possibly buying a lot on that road.

“It’s funny you should call right now,” he replied. “My wife and I just decided the other day to sell our lot. Do you want to look at it?”

I did. He described which lot it was and I easily found it from the air. I landed there one day, shut down, and got out to walk around. It was amazing.

Two Helicopters
On July 5, 2012, I met my friend Don at the lot — we both flew in by helicopter. I wonder what the neighbors thought?

Over the following weeks, I brought other people to see it. My friend Pete. My friend Jim. My friends Don and Johnie. The day I met Don and Johnie there was the same day I flew in with the owners, Forrest and Sharon. We had two helicopters parked on the driveway. Turns out, Don had worked for Forrest’s dad when he was a kid. Small world, huh?

Forrest pointed out the boundaries of the 10-acre parcel. It sat on a shelf on the river (north) side of the road. A hill on the west side shielded it from the homesite on the next lot — which had also belonged to Forrest and Sharon. There were expansive views to the northwest to southeast — 270° — that included the city of Wenatchee, the river, the airport, and countless orchards. To the south were tall basalt cliffs. Although the land sloped down toward the river, at least 80% of it was completely buildable with a minimum amount of earthwork. Electricity, water, and even fiber-optic cable were already at the ideal homesite. Quiet and private, it was exactly the kind of place I like to live without being too far from town. And with friends living just down the road, it was a real win.

But it was the views that got me. I’ve always been a view person.

I knew before the middle of July that I had finally found the place I wanted to make my next home.

The Deal

The sellers told me what they’d planned to ask for the property and agreed to reduce that price for me since a Realtor wasn’t involved. I would, however, have to cover all the closing costs. I did some math and decided that the cost was reasonable and within my means. After all, my husband had told me he wanted a “fair and amicable divorce.” If we couldn’t patch things up when I got home in October — which I still had hopes we could do — I’d take my share of the value of our paid-for house in Wickenburg and apply it to my new home in Malaga.

Of course, this was before my husband got a lawyer and some very bad divorce advice. Before we began the year-long battle to settle. Someone’s idea of “fair” wasn’t very fair at all.

As far as the land deal was concerned, I wouldn’t be able to close until 2013 anyway. The sellers had sold another lot — the one next door — in 2012 and didn’t want two sales in the same year for tax purposes. Even though things on the divorce front looked bad, I figured that my husband would eventually get smart and take my very generous counter proposal.

I was wrong.

The Long Wait Begins

When Christmas came and went and my husband’s lawyer managed to postpone the court date from January to April, I realized I wouldn’t be closing as soon as I’d hoped. The sellers were very patient, though. We chatted once or twice on the phone during the winter. They weren’t in any kind of rush to close the deal.

In January, I flew out to Wenatchee for a week to see what the place was like during the winter months. I was a bit concerned about that big cliff on the south side of the property, knowing that the low sun angle and short winter days that far north could leave the land in complete shadows for days, weeks, or even months at a time. But in January, the lot did get some sunlight. There was snow on the ground that week but the road was passable — even in a rental car. I only got stuck twice and managed to unstick myself both times by myself. Driving up there in the winter would be fine in my Jeep or 4WD truck.

I got to experience the winter fog so many people had told me about. It hung over the river, right about the level of my lot. I went to visit a friend in Wenatchee Heights and got the pleasure of climbing above it, seeing the Wenatchee Valley as a white puffy blanket of clouds beneath the high hills.

I also talked to a builder and a septic system guy.

In late February I returned with a friend. I had to drive my truck up from Arizona to get my avgas fuel tank installed in the truck bed and move my RV down to California for a frost contract. My friend was very impressed with the land and shared my excitement about moving there.

Time moved on. There was a lot of talk on the news about property values recovering. I knew that property values in Washington were already healthier than those in Arizona. I worried that the owners would change their mind about selling or change the price. Several of my friends had already asked me if I had a contract to buy and I admitted I didn’t. I decided I needed to change that.

Fortunately, the sellers lived in Arizona in the winter, not far from my home in Wickenburg. In late March, I drove down to Sun City to meet with them, bringing along a standard real estate sales agreement I’d picked up in a stationery store in Wenatchee when I was last there. We filled out the form and I gave them a check for $5,000 in earnest money. The following week I opened escrow with Pioneer Title Company in Wenatchee. We’d agreed on a closing date on or before June 30, 2013. My birthday.

Financing Woes

Meanwhile, my divorce dragged on. My husband rejected every attempt I made to settle. He apparently thought he could get more if he let the judge decide.

The divorce put a stain on my finances. The legal fees drained my personal savings and began tapping into my business savings — the money I was setting aside for the helicopter’s costly overhaul. I had originally intended to pay cash for the land and finance the building, but now I didn’t even have enough cash for the land. I had to finance it.

And that was the challenge. Everyone told me I should get a construction loan, but no bank wanted to finance the land and building with the type of building I’d decided to build — a pole building with living space. Understand that my first priority was to get storage space for my helicopter, RV, and vehicles; I’d build temporary living quarters above the garage to live in until I could afford to build a “real” house. I did not want to live in my RV year-round. But banks wouldn’t finance that kind of building because they couldn’t get comps for it for appraisal purposes.

My New View
In April and May, my future home was covered with huge yellow flowers.

So I decided to finance the land and pay cash for the building. And I found a lender who would not only lend me the money on the land, but offer a great deal on that loan. You see, because of the size and location of the land, it qualified for farm credit. I could get a farm credit loan.

In May 2013 I finally applied for the loan. In the financial information section of the application, I listed all of my personal and business assets except my home — after all, my husband wanted it and would likely get it in the divorce. (I certainly didn’t want it.) Being completely debt-free, I look very good on paper. I was sure I’d get the loan.

But there was a snag: the lender said he could not process the loan until my divorce was finalized. I needed the divorce decree.

Once again, I found myself waiting for my husband.

The Bridge Loan

In late June, when I still didn’t have a divorce decree in hand, the owners agreed to push back the closing date to July 31. I had to cough up another $5,000 for the escrow deposit. That wasn’t a problem. I’d been working on cherry drying contracts since the end of May and had a good cash flow again.

But I was getting worried that the sellers would back out. The real estate agent who had sold the lot next door for them was nagging them about listing the lot they were selling to me. I knew that they’d be able to find another seller pretty quickly, perhaps for even more money.

Meanwhile, the lender had already told me that once they got the divorce decree and a preliminary loan approval, they still had to get an appraisal for the land. That could take three to six weeks. They refused to get the appraisal without preliminary approval, even though I offered to pay for the cost without any guarantee of the loan. The loan simply could not move forward without the decree and even when that piece of paper was produced, I could expect to wait up to two months for the loan to be finalized.

There was no way I could meet a July 31 closing deadline.

I racked my brain for options. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m a very resourceful person. But I was coming up empty.

Except for one option.

Early on, the sellers and I had talked about them carrying a loan on the land. I had done this with a condo I sold back in 2008 and it was one of the best deals I’d ever made. Monthly income at a good rate of return — surely two retirees would like that. Yes, they said. But their accountant advised them to not allow me to build on the land until it was paid for in full. Obviously not a workable solution for a long term loan.

But how about short term? Would they be willing to carry it until year-end? By that time I’d surely have the farm credit financing I wanted.

We spoke about it and I was frank about my concerns. They were frank about their Realtor wanting to list the land. They came up with terms I could live with. I requested that I be allowed to put a septic system on the property — the last component I needed to move my RV there — and they agreed. After all, it would increase the value of the property. We went to the title company agent and she drew up papers.

There was only one more requirement: that I get a life insurance policy for the amount of the loan naming the sellers beneficiaries. No problem, I thought.

I was wrong.

The insurance agent informed me that if I got a life insurance policy in the state of Washington I was required by law to list my husband as a beneficiary. While it was true that I could list him for just $1, I had absolutely no intention of listing him on any financial transaction I made. I was told that if I represented myself as an unmarried woman, I would be committing fraud and the policy would be invalid.

And that made me wonder about how the property would be titled if I closed before the divorce decree was filed with the court. As far as I was concerned, it had to be titled, right from the start, to me as an unmarried woman.

So I had to wait.

Closing

Meanwhile, the sellers came to the title company office and signed all the necessary papers to sell to me and set up the loan. I told the title company that I couldn’t get the insurance as quickly as I expected. (No lie there.)

Yesterday’s blog post goes into a bunch of detail about my wait for the divorce decree. It finally arrived on Tuesday, July 30, a day I now consider Freedom Day, the first day of my new life.

I spent most of Tuesday talking on the phone and exchanging email and texts. There were so many people who wanted to know the outcome, so many people I needed to talk to. It was a good day. I ran my phone battery down three times and got all kinds of good wishes from friends, family members, and even business associates.

But on Wednesday morning, I headed down to the insurance company to get that policy taken care of. It took 30 minutes and $70 to get what I needed. I decided to take it over to the title company, which was nearby, and drop it off.

Closing Papers
I’d signed half the papers before I realized I was actually closing on the land deal.

The title company agent was full of congratulations for me. We went into her office where I handed over the insurance paperwork. She pulled out a file and had me start signing papers. I’d signed about four things when I realized something with a start: I was finally closing on the property I’d been trying to acquire for the past year, the property where I planned to build my new home and life.

I voiced this realization and she confirmed it. All she needed was a certified check for my downpayment and a voided check for the automatic loan payments. I handed over the voided check without hesitation, glad that I’d brought along my checkbook, tickled that it included my new physical address as well as my P.O. box mailing address.

Purchaser
It made me very happy to see this line on the closing papers.

Afterward, I went to the bank to get the certified check. I’d already transferred the necessary funds into my personal checking account, so it only took a few minutes. I then drove back to the title company and dropped off the check.

Done.

The deal was filed with the county on Thursday. I’m now the proud owner of 10 acres of view property in Malaga, WA.

Next up: getting a septic system installed, power turned on, water turned on, and bids for my building. You can bet I’ll be pretty darn busy over the next few months.

News I Could Use

I’m finally free.

Regular readers of this blog know that since the end of June 2012, I have been going through an extremely ugly divorce.

I won’t summarize the outrageous chain of events again here. If you want to get an idea of the crap I’d been dealing with for more than a year, read “The Divorce Book” post and follow some of the links in it. Then read any post tagged divorce that was posted afterwards. Give yourself about eight hours — there’s a lot of material to wade through.

Our case went in front of a judge in May. The second of two half-day court dates was May 31. As I left the court with my lawyer, family, and friends, we were happy, in a weird sort of way — more relieved, I guess — that it was finally over.

But it wasn’t. They dished out some more crap, like fish that had flopped themselves out of water, thrashing a few more times in a futile attempt to — well, I really don’t know exactly what they expected to accomplish with that final bit of harassment.

The Wait

The judge told us on May 31 that it would take 2 to 3 weeks for a decision. I waited anxiously, completely unsure of my financial future.

In the meantime, I was chomping at the bit, eager to get on with my life. I’d been in escrow for 10 acres of view property since late March. I couldn’t get financing without a divorce decree. I couldn’t put in a septic system or enter into a contract with a builder until I owned the land. I was living in a fifth wheel travel trailer on a friend’s land. That was fine during the summer months, but what would I do later in the year if I couldn’t get my home completed before it got cold and the snow came?

My anxiousness over the waiting was a strange thing. At first, my attitude was hopeful, sure that my future would be decided any day now and prepared for the worst.

Then, when the third week rolled along, I started getting worried. It would be this week. What would he decide? Could I really deal with the worst? Would that be what I faced?

When the third week passed without the judge’s decision, I felt sort of relieved. And even though I expected the decision any day, I continued to feel sort of relieved every day it didn’t come.

But time was not my friend. No matter what the judge decided about the division of assets, I needed that piece of paper to get on with my life.

The Deadline Approaches

The law gave the judge 60 days to make a decision. As we got closer and closer to that deadline, I started to stress out again. Had the judge forgotten us? Why did he need so much time? I called my lawyer and he had his assistant follow up. That was on Friday. That’s when I did the math on timing. The 60th day would be Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, I was a nervous wreck.

I had a charter on Tuesday morning. I had to be at the local airport with the helicopter at 9:30 AM to fuel and wait for my passengers. They had a meeting at 11:00 AM 60 miles south. I was trying very hard not to think about what I should learn that day. I was trying to stay focused on the charter flight before me, thinking about the TFR we’d have to avoid on our way south, thinking about my fuel load with four people on board on a warm, humid day.

My phone rang at 9:17 AM, just as I was heading out to the helicopter. It was my lawyer’s assistant.

“I got the judgement,” she said. “Do you want to hear it?”

I immediately began to cry. It was finally over, but did I want to hear what the judge had decided?

“Is it good?” I asked through sobs.

“Yes,” she replied. And she began to read.

The Result

It was good. The judge had done the right thing, the fair thing, the thing we expect judges to do.

Throughout this entire ordeal, I had been plagued by unfairness, dishonesty, and a complete lack of ethics and morals from a man I’d loved and trusted for more than half of my life. As I prepared to turn my fate over to a judge, I feared that the legal system would fail me, too. I knew the law, and I knew what was fair. How would the judge interpret the law in our case? Would he allow my husband’s lawyer to wield the law as a weapon against me, forcing me to give up so much that I’ve worked hard for my entire life? That was my fear.

But the answer was no, he would not allow it. He made a decision based on the reality of the situation. He did what was right and fair.

As my lawyer’s assistant read each paragraph of the divorce decree, I sobbed. I cried for joy, mostly — at least I think it was joy. I cried to release the anxiety that had been building up for the past few weeks. I cried because I knew that my year-long ordeal was finally over and that I could get on with my life.

And I cried from sadness. I cried for the man who had been tormenting me for the past year, the man I still loved, knowing full well that he would have been so much better off financially if he’d simply accepted my very generous counterproposal back in October. I cried knowing that if he’d just sat down with me in October with our lawyers and we’d hashed this out then, we could have gotten on with our lives — perhaps even as friends — without the heartache and financial burden he’d forced on both of us. I cried knowing that the man I’d spent 29 years with had a sense of morals and ethics that would have prevented any of this from happening — and that that man had been smothered out of existence by the greedy and vindictive old woman he’d chosen to replace me. I cried because she’d made his bed — by running his side of the divorce for him — and he’d slept in it — by letting her have complete control — and now he was paying the price. I cried because I knew he hated me for reasons they had cooked up to justify his treatment of me — delusions that had taken over his mind. I cried because I felt so sorry for him.

Yes, I cried for the inconsiderate bastard who had asked for a divorce on my birthday, the man who’d locked me out of my only home, the man who had been harassing me for the past year, the man who had dragged me through a costly legal battle to protect what was rightfully mine.

Love is strange.

When my lawyer’s assistant was finished and I hung up the phone, I cried a little more. Then I pulled myself back together, dried my eyes, and headed out to the helicopter. I needed to put the past behind me. I needed to stop thinking and worrying about a person who didn’t give a damn about me and get back to the business at hand: making my new life.

Ball and ChainAt 9:45 AM, I was on the ramp at the airport, waiting with my helicopter for my passengers. It was the first day of my new life as a free woman.

One Pilot’s Stupidity Makes Us All Look Bad

Helicopter pilots: choose your landing zones wisely, please.

As a helicopter pilot, one of the questions I get asked most often is: “Can you land anywhere?”

In most cases, the person asking the question is referring to the legality of landing anywhere — not the ability to land anywhere. Helicopters have the ability to land almost anywhere, but not every landing zone is legal. I address this in quite a bit of detail in a post titled “Finding a Legal Landing Zone” that I wrote back in 2009. The facts still apply.

Unfortunately, not everyone considers the legality — or even the safety — of a landing zone before setting down on it. This brief news piece linked to by Vertical Magazine’s Twitter account is a good example. The gist of the piece:

A Monticello man has been charged by Nassau County Police with landing a helicopter in a grassy area full of pedestrians near the Nassau Coliseum minutes before midnight on Saturday night.

Nassau Coliseum, in case you don’t know, is an indoor arena where the NY Islanders play hockey and concerts are held. I saw quite a few concerts there in my college days. And hockey games.

On the night in question, there were about 100 drunk kids, aged 14 to 18, wandering around the building when the idiot pilot — honestly, what else can I call him? — came in for a landing in his Bell 407. He had to abort one landing before succeeding on a second attempt. At least 20 pedestrians were walking in the area.

I don’t think I need to tell you how stupid this stunt was. Drunk kids in the landing zone? All it takes is for one of them to walk into the tail rotor to turn a fun night of teenage drinking (yes, I’m being sarcastic) into death and mental trauma. Even if the kids weren’t drunk — and the pilot may not have thought they were — they’re still pedestrians in a landing zone. You don’t have to be drunk to walk into a tail rotor, as evidenced here and here.

And it’s not just the tail rotor that’s dangerous. Although visibility around a helicopter is good, it isn’t 360°. The pilot could have struck a pedestrian on the way down — or even landed on one.

Sure — nothing happened in this case. But the cops came, arrested the pilot, and seized his helicopter. And I think he deserves everything he gets.

You see, irresponsible pilots who pull dangerous stunts like this make all helicopter pilots look bad. People connect his action to the group he’s a part of. Hence, all helicopter pilots are reckless individuals who would land among a crowd of drunk teenagers.

We know better. But does the public? Does the local government?

A few years back, the city of Scottsdale, AZ instituted a town ordinance prohibiting the landing of a helicopter anywhere except at an airport or approved helipad. Why? Because an idiot pilot decided it would be fun to land in a culdesac of his subdivision. Neighbors didn’t think it was such a good idea and complained. It went to the city council and they “fixed” the problem by making it illegal.

(Wickenburg has a similar ordinance, although a pilot can get permission, on a case-by-case basis, by talking to the police chief before landing. And the police chief can deny the request.)

My point: think before you land off-airport. Think about the consequences of your actions. Think about the safety of the people on the ground. Think about the potential for complaints.

And don’t be stupid.