On Being an Early Riser

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For a long time now, I’ve been an early riser. Sometimes, a very early riser.

While I clearly remember my college days when it was nearly impossible for me to wake up in time for an 8 AM class and my early professional career days when I dreaded hearing the alarm go off at 6:30 AM, I can’t remember when I made the switch from late riser to early riser. I suppose it was a gradual change as I aged, embraced my freelance lifestyle, and allowed my life to go off-schedule.

For the past 20 or more years, I haven’t had much of a need to set an alarm or wake up at a certain time. Every day is different. Although I do occasionally have early appointments or even earlier planes to catch — my favorite flight out of Wenatchee when I’m traveling leaves at 5:40 AM; yes, I do set an alarm for that — there usually isn’t any reason to get out of bed by a certain time.

I go to sleep when I’m tired and wake up naturally when my body is done sleeping. Or thinks it’s done sleeping. Yet these days, I’m invariably up before 6 AM, often before 5 AM, and occasionally before 4 AM. (If you read the blog post about my recent cruise, you learned that I was up most mornings by 4 AM.) I am naturally an early riser.

Some folks seem to think this is a problem. They have encouraged me to stay up later in an effort to shift my body’s clock forward a few hours so it’s more in line with everyone else’s. I’ve tried this. No matter what time I go to sleep, I’m awake before 6 AM — even if I stay up until a crazy time like 3 AM. And I don’t know about you, but I operate better on six hours of sleep than three. It’s fortunate that I apparently don’t need eight.

I like being an early riser. I like getting up around dawn in the summer or in the darkness of a winter morning. I like the quiet and the solitude of those early hours before most people are awake. I like hearing the crickets in the dark as I brew my morning coffee and my rooster crowing almost precisely a half hour before dawn. I even like the sound of the sprayers in the orchards below my home during the summer months, and seeing the headlights of the tractors as they make their way between rows of trees in the dark.

Do you want a more detailed description of a summer sunrise at my home? Read “Sunrise from Lookout Point.”

I like watching each new day being born — the gradual brightening of the sky, the fading of the stars and city lights, the glow to the east, the golden hour sunlight light tentatively touching the mountaintops to the west and then slowly blanketing their slopes all the way down into the valley.

Morning View
I never get tired of the morning view out my windows.

I like the fact that I can experience all of this at my own home, at my own convenience. I like taking my morning coffee out onto the deck and looking out over the new day as cool air caresses my skin and hair and the aroma of a recent rain or my fresh cut lawn competes with the smell of what’s in my mug.

I’m a morning person and get most of my work done in the morning. That’s good and bad. It’s good because it leaves the rest of the day wide open. But it can be bad if I have a lot to do and I run out of steam by 2 PM. I try to manage this drawback by scheduling appointments in the afternoon whenever possible, leaving the morning open to accomplish the things I need to do.

My usual routine consists of morning coffee as soon as I get up — whenever that is — and quiet time to reflect and write in my journal. Then I sit down at my computer and do some writing or paperwork or both. “Paperwork” usually consists of bill paying and filing, website maintenance, correspondence, client communication, and marketing material creation for my businesses. That usually takes me to 10 or 11 AM. Then I switch into more active work around my home or in my garden. There’s always something that needs to be done, especially as I finish up construction work that includes the tedious task of trimming doors, etc.

If I have scheduled an appointment or have errands to run in town, I’ll clean up, dress appropriately, and head down into town with Penny. I always have a list of destinations on a Post-It note stuck to my windshield so I don’t forget anything — I live 10 miles from town and I don’t like to make the trip more than once a day if I don’t have to. I keep shopping lists on my smartphone for the same reason. I can get a lot done on one trip into town if I stay focused and organized.

By 6 PM — especially in the winter when it’s already dark — I’m pretty much physically and mentally done for the day. That’s the time I set aside for socializing with friends and relaxing. I even find it difficult to write during this time, although I’ve been trying hard lately to make that my blogging time, leaving the morning open for writing jobs that bring in revenue. If I went to town earlier in the day, I sometimes meet up with friends in the late afternoon or early evening: wine at Pybus Market, cocktails at the Sidecar Lounge, dinner at Tastebuds, or a movie at Liberty or Gateway Cinema. If I’m home, I sometimes try a new recipe — I’ve recently rediscovered my love of cooking — and read the news or waste time on social media while eating it.

I think I watch too much television these days — more than an hour a day when I’m home in the evening — and it bugs me; my wasband was a slave to the television, channel surfing for hours every evening when he could have been working to achieve one of the life goals he claimed to have. I worry I might end up like him: unproductive and stuck in a rut.

I love to read, but if I do it in bed, I’m usually asleep within minutes. So I try not to read in bed before 9 PM.

I’m usually asleep by 10 PM — unless I’m out with friends or entertaining.

I don’t think I can adequately express how happy I am to be single and have full control of my life and time. There’s no one trying to put me on his schedule or make me share his time-consuming responsibilities. I do the things I want or need to do when I want or need to do them. I don’t have to schedule my life around someone else’s.

Best of all, I can wake up any time I like and not have to tiptoe around my home because someone else is sleeping.

I admit that I’m very fortunate to have the flexible lifestyle I have. But it isn’t “luck.” I’m a firm believer in the notion that we make our own luck. I worked hard to get where I am today and having this lifestyle is the reward for all that work. I’m a morning person and I earned the right to enjoy my mornings.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Washington Healthplanfinder FAIL

When automatic payments go seriously wrong.

I usually get email while traveling and generally keep up with anything important. Although I wasn’t surprised to get an email from Washington Healthplanfinder, my health insurance agent here in Washington State, to say that my monthly payment had been automatically withdrawn from my account, I was surprised at the amount:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15. My monthly premium is $375.14.

I immediately called Washington Healthcarefinder. After pressing numbers to navigate through four different menus — just to ask a billing question — and waiting five minutes on hold, a typical script-reading customer service representative answered. I told her about the problem. After asking for various information to assure I was who I said I was, she read a script that told me that emails had gone out in error. She asked if my bank had processed the withdrawal.

I admitted I hadn’t checked, and whipped out my iPad to check with my bank’s app while she was still on the phone. The transaction had not been processed.

She read another script that assured me that it wouldn’t be processed. That it was just the email that was an error. I suggested that if this was a widespread problem that an email should go out to notify subscribers of the error. She didn’t have a script for that so she didn’t have anything to say. I hung up.

Two days later, on Wednesday, I got an email from my bank confirming a withdrawal from Washington Healthcare Finder:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15.

I just about went ballistic. I called the bank to have the charge reversed and was told that I’d have to fill out a series of forms to get the process started.

Washington Healthcare Finder’s offices were still closed that early, but later in the day, I managed to get yet another idiotic, script-reading customer service representative on the phone. I was not kind, especially when her script informed me that the process could take several days while their accounting department researched the problem. There was lots of time wasted on hold, which further pissed me off. When she got back on the phone, I told her that their error had cost me more than an hour of my time with two calls to them and one to my bank. I asked if I would be getting compensated for my time. She said they wouldn’t compensate me for my time, but they’d “compensate me for the overcharge.”

“That’s not compensation,” I roared over the phone. “That’s a refund for your freaking error!”

Because she obviously didn’t understand the difference, she had nothing to say. I hung up.

But not before I demanded that she turn off automatic payments for my account.

Later yesterday morning — yes, two days after the initial email about the incorrect amount went out, I got this:

Notice of Error

Is there any way they could have screwed this up more?

I’m fortunate in that I had enough money in my account to cover this unexpected withdrawal. Other people who routinely carry smaller checking account balances would likely bounce checks to other payees, setting up a nighmarish experience of explaining the problem for every bounced check and getting overdraft fees reversed. Hours of a person’s time could be wasted on this.

I recently set up automatic withdrawals for a number of organizations I do business with. It should make it easy to pay on time without any additional effort. But I’m going to re-think that strategy and make my payments through my bank’s billpay feature. This puts absolute control in my hands and would certainly prevent something like this from happening again.

Upcycling

Turning trash into useful items.

Over the past year or so, I’ve really embraced the idea of upcycling to make useful things around my home.

According to Wikipedia, coined in 1994, the term upcycling means

the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

Why Upcycle?

I like the idea of upcycling for several reasons:

  • Upcycling really appeals to my scavenger instincts. For most of my life, I’ve wanted to gather discarded items that I think have some use. Hell, back in my college days, I furnished my dorm room with perfectly good items discarded by departing students, including an area rug, lamp, and table with chairs. You know what they say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • Upcycling enables me to have more for less. With my recently limited budget, I have to make do with less money. While that often means doing without, it could also mean building my own solutions.
  • Upcycling reduces waste in landfills and recycling centers. Seriously, don’t we put enough crap in landfills and the ocean? Upcycling is better than recycling because it makes something useful without it first going through a waste stream. That means no transportation costs, no sorting costs, no remanufacturing costs, etc.

First Projects

Coop Construction
A look at my chicken coop under construction.

Pallet Garden
My first pallet planter makes an excellent strawberry patch.

I blogged about my first upcycling project before I even knew the word upcycling existed. In “Chickens Again, Part II: The Coop,” I wrote about the chicken coop I made, in part, from wooden pallets I’d scavenged. Two days later, I wrote “The Pallet Planter,” which showed off one of eventually three raised garden beds I’d built with more scavenged pallets.

Why Now?

All this is pretty new for me. In my old, half-dead life in Arizona, I wasn’t motivated to do much of anything — there just didn’t seem to be a point. And even if I did want to make or build something, I didn’t have tools or a useable workspace.

But here in Washington, things are different. I feel like I have a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning and make things happen. I also have a lot of free time on my hands that’s not filled with the need to try (and mostly fail) to make someone else happy.

I began acquiring decent power tools about a year ago — through purchases and hand-me-downs from friends — and have most of what I need to get projects done. And I have plenty of space; with my RV garage still mostly empty and my shop laid out to give me the best access to tools and workspace, I can tackle almost any sized project.

More Projects

As I work on my home to do all the wiring and plumbing — more on that in other blog posts — I take time out to get creative with “waste” materials.

Rolling Workbench
My first rolling workbench is a masterpiece of usefulness, built with a discarded crate and scrap lumber.

My favorite project to date is turning crates into rolling workbenches. There’s a business I pass when I go into town that gets engines and other parts on pallets and in crates. They discard the pallets and crates on a corner of their property near the road, under a sign that says “Free Wood.” If I’m driving by in my truck and there’s something worth taking, I pull over and load it up. (I actually keep work gloves in the truck just for this purpose.)

Small Rolling Workbench
I built this smaller rolling worktable yesterday. The only cost was the wheels, which I bought for about $10.

I picked up two large crates a few months back and turned one of them into a stand for my garden beehive. The other just sat in the dirt for a while, occasionally used as a work surface for cutting wood. When my building shell was finished, however, I got a brainstorm. Why not lay it on one side, add plywood shelves, and put wheels on the bottom? I had all the scrap wood and even the wheels that I needed. The resulting mobile workbench is perfect for woodworking projects and storing my power tools in a handy place. I even made a smaller version just yesterday.

Woodshed
Yes, I did mark the length of each piece on the end and sort them by size. That makes it extremely quick and easy to find just the piece I need.

Because I’m such a scavenger and because I told the builder to leave behind any scrap wood, I needed a place to store the useable pieces. That meant a sort of woodshed. I built one out of pallets (again), scrap lumber, and leftover metal from my building. The result is a 4 x 10 sort of lean-to with shelves that keeps the lumber out of the rain and snow. And yes, I filled it almost immediately — it’s extremely handy to be able to quickly find exactly the piece of lumber I need for other projects. Best of all, it matches my building so it isn’t an eyesore from the road (which it faces).

I’m also working on glass projects, although I don’t have any photos yet. I start with discarded wine bottles which, because of the sheer number of local wineries, I can get in any number I need. I’ll be melting down glass rings in a kiln for use in wind chimes. And I’ve also been cutting the bottles in half and finishing off the cut edges to make drinking glasses and vases. This is time-consuming, tedious work that I’m not exactly excited about doing. But the results are impressive. I expect to make an entire set of drinking glasses for my new home out of wine bottles. I’d also like to melt small glass pieces in a kiln to make jewelry; we’ll see where I go with that.

Creativity Can Be Rewarding

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these silly little projects. Seeing waste turned into something truly useful that makes my life better or easier is extremely rewarding. Knowing that I’m the one who thought up the design and executed it makes it even better.

What have you upcycled lately? Use the comments to brag about it!