Feeling Overwhelmed?

Join the club.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. But it is bothersome — an uncomfortable feeling that makes me question everything about my life.

I’ve made some serious personal decisions recently that are likely to rock my world over the coming months. This is a stressful situation that’s not made any easier by the lack of support by friends and family members. I’m going it alone — as I so often do — and it’s weighing heavily on my mind.

But the feeling of being overwhelmed is primarily due to my workload. As a freelancer, I work when there’s work to do. When there isn’t work to do, I’m usually waiting for or looking for more work. Sometimes I need to make work. Other times, work appears unexpectedly — even when I don’t want it or have time for it. But I have to do it all — to turn down work is to possibly miss out on future work.

Such is the life of a freelancer.

Right now, I’m working on four content creation (writing, video, etc.) projects:

  • Book CoverFinishing up a special iBooks 2 interactive edition of my iBooks Author book. This requires me to record and edit dozens of screencast videos and completely re-layout the book in iBooks Author. The good news: I might be able to finish up today. That is, if Alex the Bird can keep quiet and the landscapers don’t spend much time blowing leaves outside my window. And the neighbor’s dog doesn’t bark nonstop for an hour. Again.
  • Lynda LogoPrepare scripts for a revision of my Twitter Essential Training course on Lynda.com. We’ll be recording this course soon and I want to be fully prepared before I fly out to Lynda to record. And my new producer, wants to see the scripts, too.
  • An aerial photography book. I began writing this last year and have put it aside repeatedly because I need artwork and photos that I can’t produce on my own. I suspect it’ll have to wait until this summer to finish up.
  • A book of helicopter pilot stories. I’m collecting these stories from other pilots and plan to compile them in a book for release later this spring. As I get more and more bogged down with other things, however, the self-imposed deadline keeps slipping. I suspect this will be finished up when I get to Washington, too.

Of course, with Mac OS X Mountain Lion announced, I know what I’ll be doing first when I get to Washington: Revising my Mac OS X Lion book for the new version of the OS. Oh, yeah — and then there’s the videos and Websites I’ve been asked to create for a handful of winemakers up there.

It’s not just writing work and the occasional helicopter flight that’s stacked up before me. It’s all the paperwork that goes with it.

I have two separate businesses, each with their own bank accounts and accounting records. I don’t have an accountant — hell, I am an accountant; my BBA is in accounting. To hire an accountant would be silly, since I could do that work myself and save a bunch of money. So I do. Or I try to. Often, it just stacks up, waiting for me to get to. I haven’t balanced a bank account in several months. And I’m only partially switched from Quicken (since it no longer works in the current version of Mac OS) to iBank (which I really don’t like). It’ll take days to sort out the accounting mess I face when I get around to it.

And then comes tax time. What a freaking nightmare that is.

And then my annual migration back to Washington. That’s a logistics issue. Find someone to fly up to Washington with me to help cover the flight costs. Do the flight. Catch a commercial flight back to Arizona. Pack the RV, get the truck ready. (Did I mention that I might have to buy a new truck this year, too? And take delivery before the end of April?) Make the 1200-mile drive to the Wenatchee area. Retrieve the helicopter from wherever I left it in Washington. Get my contracts set up for summer work.

Of course, that’s if there is summer work. My clients never want to sign up until after the last frost. There’s a chance I might get to Washington with the helicopter and a frost will wipe out the cherry crop. No need for my services then. Ready to fly but no clients. How do you think this possibility affects my stress levels?

On the flip side, there might be too much work for me to take on by myself. Then I have to scramble and find people who are willing to put their life on hold for 3-6 weeks and wait around for the rain in Washington. I’ve already started collecting possible candidate phone numbers. None of them are happy that they’ll have to wait until May to know whether there might be work for them.

Before I leave Arizona, however, I do have to pack up everything I own that’s in our Phoenix condo in case it’s rented or sold while I’m gone. That’s a whole office full of stuff, as well as clothes and other personal effects. Hell, I haven’t had enough time to unpack the boxes that brought some of this stuff here.

And I did mention that I have to travel to Lynda.com for a week to record a course, right?

And there is the possibility of a very big client needing to fly with me in late March or early April, before I go to Washington. Unfortunately, they can’t pin down a date. Once they do, if I’m not available, I’ll lose that job — and it’s not the kind of job I want to lose.

Along the way, I need to start seriously considering where I’m going to live and what I’m going to do when my work in Washington is done this year. I’ve been wanting to relocate for years. I’m sick of Wickenburg’s small-mindedness and the bullshit politics and greed that have ruined the town. Phoenix is no gem, either — except on February days like yesterday when the temperature hovers in the high 70s and there’s not a cloud in the sky. The personal decisions I’ve made recently give me a good opportunity to make the change. Unfortunately, I don’t know where I want to live. I’m leaning toward Oregon — perhaps in the Portland area — but who knows?

So with all this on my plate and on my mind is it any wonder that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed?

But this is typical in my life — and in the life of most hardworking freelancers and business owners. Things don’t get done by themselves. And if things aren’t done, I start feeling it in the bank account. I don’t know about you, but I like to pay my bills on time and eat.

Guess I’d better get back to work.

A Dinner with Friends

Salmon, local wine, and home-made cherry pie with friends.

If you’ve been following this blog or my Twitter or Facebook accounts, you know that I’m in Washington State on the last of several cherry drying contracts. I’m not the only helicopter pilot doing this work. At the peak of the season, there were probably about 20 of us working in central Washington state for a handful of service providers. My company, Flying M Air, is probably the smallest of those service providers; this year I was able to add a second pilot for about half my season.

My friend, Jim, has been doing this work for about fifteen years. He starts the season in the Mattawa area and ends it in the Chelan area. He usually starts before me and finishes before me.

This year, I met Lisa, who was new to this work. She worked for the same service provider as Jim, starting down in Kennewick, moving up to Brewster for a while, and then ending the season in Malaga.

Unfortunately, I only met Lisa last week, on Thursday. I say “unfortunately,” because we really hit it off. She came up to my RV for dinner that evening and accompanied me to the Beaumont Cellars Dinner on the Crushpad event the following evening. We went wine tasting and had dinner together again on Sunday. By then, I felt as if I’d known her a long time.

The End is Here

On Friday, my contract in Wenatchee Heights was extended two weeks. It made sense; they’d barely started picking the 86 acres I was responsible for. Since this particular client picks by color, it would take at least two weeks to finish picking. Lisa was told she’d be needed until Wednesday. Jim, the last pilot left in Chelan, was waiting to get cut loose any day.

Moonset over Squilchuck

My view at dawn.

Weather moved in Sunday night. Asleep in my RV at the edge of a cliff over looking Squilchuck Valley, I was awakened by the wind at 3:30 AM. I looked out the window and realized I couldn’t see any stars. I fired up the Intellicast app on my iPad and was shocked to see the green blob indicating rain mostly to the south of my position. I dozed fitfully for an hour, expecting to hear rain on my roof at any moment. It may have been drizzling when I finally fell back to sleep.

At 7 AM, I woke to the sound of voices, trucks, and construction noise. The mostly blue sky was full of puffy clouds. Down in the lower part of the orchard, the pickers were already at work. There was no rain in the forecast at all.

Jim called at about 10 AM. I knew instinctively what he would say and beat him to the punchline: “You’re calling to tell me they cut you loose.”

“You’re a mind-reader,” he said. “Today’s my last day.”

We chatted for a while and then I remembered that Lisa had an opportunity to do a trip with a friend and would probably be open to letting Jim take over her contract for the next two days. He was also open to that, so I hung up and called Lisa. I told her what we were thinking.

“That’s great,” she said, “but today’s my last day, too. They’ll be done picking in about an hour.”

It was then that I realized that both of them would be gone by the next day.

Errands, Favors, and a Cherry Pie

The end of a cherry drying contract comes with logistical challenges.

Lisa’s challenge was easy. All she had to do was pack up, move out of her motel room, and drive the company pickup truck back to Spokane. Her employers would be sending some pilots in time-building mode out to Malaga to pick up the helicopter. She needed to send them the GPS coordinates for where the helicopter was parked so they could find it. She was toying with the idea of leaving that afternoon so she could spend some time with her family before her trip.

Jim’s challenge was a bit more…well, challenging. His helicopter was four hours from its 100-hour inspection, which needed to be done by his mechanic in Seattle. Flying to Seattle was usually a challenge in itself — the weather in the Cascade Mountains was typically miserable with low ceilings, making it a difficult, if not dangerous, flight. A weather window was required, but you never knew when that would be. After dropping his helicopter off in Seattle, he’d have to come back to Wenatchee to fetch his truck and drive it home to Coeur d’Alene. Of course, both his helicopter and truck were in Chelan, about 40 miles farther up the Columbia River. He needed to move his truck to Wenatchee to stage it there for his return from Seattle by airline. Then he needed to get back to Chelan so he could fly out with his helicopter the next day. He suggested a farewell dinner that evening and I promised to drive him back to Chelan.

I had a bunch of errands to run in Wenatchee and I got around to starting them that afternoon. While I was out and about, Lisa called. She’d decided not to leave that day; she’d leave first thing in the morning instead. What she really wanted to do was make a cherry pie. We’d already planned to do that before she left, but that was before she was cut loose early. I had an oven in my RV, so it made sense to do it at my place.

We decided to do it that afternoon. And instead of Jim and me going out to dinner in a restaurant, I’d pick up a piece of salmon and salad fixings and make dinner for all three of us. I was finishing up my errands and heading back to my RV when Jim called and I told him our revised plan. He was on board.

Lisa showed up around 5 PM. Since Jim was still a half hour out, we each took a bowl and headed into the orchard. Five minutes later, we had enough cherries for a pie — and then some.

Back in the RV, I gave the cherries my usual three-soaking bath in cold water to clean them thoroughly. Then Lisa went to work with my junky cherry pitter. It didn’t surprise me much when it broke when she was only half finished. She pitted the rest by hand. By the time Jim showed up, her hands were stained with cherry juice, making her look like a mass murderer.

Jim helped me put a filled propane tank back into its cabinet on my RV and hook it up. The strap that holds it in place bent and he was determined to fix it — which he did. If I wanted to be mean, I would have shown him the strap on the other tank which had similarly broken but had not been fixed. But instead, we went inside and kept Lisa company while she worked on the pie.

We also drank wine. Both Lisa and I had bottles that we’d opened recently but had never finished. We polished them off, one after the other over the course of the evening. I even opened another bottle to keep the wine flowing.

The Salmon Recipe

When the pie was safely in the oven, I got to work on dinner. That’s when Jim gave me a recipe that another one of the pilots had shared over the summer. Oddly, I happened to have all the ingredients. I reproduce it here because it was so excellent:

Ingredients:

  • Salmon filet
  • Mayonnaise
  • Onions, sliced thinly
  • Bacon, cut into pieces

Instructions:

  1. Place the salmon on a piece of aluminum foil.
  2. Spread mayonnaise on the fleshy side of the salmon.
  3. Sprinkle the onions and bacon pieces over the mayonnaise.
  4. Fold up the foil to make a packet.
  5. Place the packet on a preheated grill set to medium heat. If possible, cover the grill to keep the heat in.
  6. Cook until the salmon is done.

The Summer’s Best Dinner

I’d bought a beautiful 1-3/4 pound Coho salmon filet. It was too large to fit on my portable grill in one piece, so I cut it into three portions and made three packets. I absolutely lucked out with the timing. The fish was fully cooked, but still moist. The onions and bacon were cooked to perfection.

I served it with a salad of mixed greens, cucumber slices, vine-ripened tomato, bacon bits, goat cheese, and bottled balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

At one point, Jim said it was the best dinner he’d had all summer. I thought about it and had to agree.

It was the conversation that made it perfect. We talked about flying and about the surreal situation of a cherry drying contract. They seemed to think I had the best setup, living in my mobile mansion on a cliffside with a view, with 86 acres of cherries just steps away. I agreed that it would be tough to go home in September.

Jim was happy that his contracts had gone long enough to cover his annual insurance bill and the cost of his upcoming maintenance. He added up the hours he’d flown during the ten or so weeks he’d been in the area. It wasn’t a lot — cherry drying is not a time-building job — but it was more than usual.

Lisa said it was the best summer she’d ever had and that she’d do it again if she could. Her future holds bigger and better things, though: she’s starting officer school with the Coast Guard in January. She was already looking forward to the trip she’d be starting on Wednesday with a friend.

After dinner, Lisa sliced up the pie, which had been cooling on the stovetop. I produced some Haagen Daaz vanilla ice cream from my freezer. The cherries were big and plump and tender — not the mush you usually find in a cherry pie. It was a perfect finish to a great dinner.

The Party’s Over — and So Is the Summer

The party broke up after 10 PM. Lisa left to drive back to her motel for one last night. Jim and I climbed into my truck and started the long drive to Chelan. We talked politics on the way. We don’t agree on all points, but we’re both too stubborn to give in to the other. We’re also too smart — and too close as friends — to let our disagreement hurt our friendship.

I dropped him off at the house he’s renting. In the morning, his boss would pick him up and drive him to the orchard where his helicopter is parked. Then, weather permitting, he’d make the one-hour flight to Seattle. I’d pick him up at Wenatchee Airport at 5:12 PM and bring him back to his truck. The plan set, I started on my way back.

I got back to my RV just after midnight. The moon was up by then, casting a gray-blue light over the valley spread out before my RV. I listened to the crickets and looked out over that valley for a while. I had 12 days left in my contract and there was a slight chance that it would be extended again.

Yet with my friends gone, I felt as if my summer was over, too.

Phoenix Dust Storm Time-Lapse

Excellent footage of a desert phenomenon.

No, this isn’t one of mine. But it offers two excellent views of a larger-than-usual dust storm bearing down on Phoenix, AZ.

These storms are nasty. Although they can occur a few times during early “monsoon” season, they’re not usually as big as this one.

[Edit Note: The original title of this post referred to this as a “sandstorm,” although it was properly identified as a “dust storm” within the post. I’ve since fixed the title.]