Mentoring a Teenager: Decorating our Mailboxes

This summer, I was asked by the kiddo of a friend of mine to be their mentor, “Just be a positive adult role model that I can do things with.” That seemed easy enough, and for the most part, it has been. We spend nearly every Sunday together, and we do all kinds of fun things. We have volunteered for hiking trail cleanups, seen documentaries examining institutionalized racism, gone to farmers markets, clothing swaps, and backpack giveaways for students. In the course of these activities, we’ve talked about everything from TV to teenage angst, which brings with it many real and serious issues. I’ve learned a lot more about the kid I’m mentoring, and a surprising amount about myself, as well.

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to start sharing some of our Sunday activities, in case you’ve got a teenager, live in Austin, or both.

This weekend, we chose to upgrade our mailboxes, inspired by a post from Lolly Jane. I copied the modern honeycomb-themed project nearly exactly, and the kiddo (with permission from their parents) did their own thing, choosing ombré polka dots, and a glittery yellow mailbox flag. It actually suits their hippie house (complete with VW bus in the driveway) very well!

The project actually started last Wednesday, when we stopped into our local craft store looking for hexagon stencils, and also picked up several cans of spray paint. We probably spent $45 and a couple of hours shopping.

Today, we got started in the early afternoon, solving problems of masking and stenciling together, and generally having a good time. We talked about potential careers, and we’re each starting to formulate some goals for 2018. It’s fun to see what we have in common, so that some of our outings can support our mutual goals. We stopped and went for lunch, and the kiddo, who will be turning 15 soon, inquired as to whether the location might hire students with work permits. There’s a big school trip abroad to save for, so I understand why earning might be a priority at present.

Then, back to the mailboxes, which both ended up being perfectly imperfect, in my opinion. Working with stencils is hard! The finishing details came together at sunset, just in time for us to snap a few photos and call the family out to see them. They “oohed” and “ahhed” appropriately, and we all enjoyed the sunset together before I got in my little car and came back home. Today’s part of the project took about 5 hours, including lunch and cleanup time. It flew by, and I don’t think that was bad at all, since we did two mailboxes.

We aren’t sure what we’re doing next week, but seeing as how it’s already December, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be something holiday-related!

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Can Two Live as Cheaply as One? We’re About to Find Out.

For several months, Mr. Vega has been in slow burnout mode at work. Telecom sales is a constant, high-pressure environment that has been fitting less and less with the person he is becoming. About a month ago, we spent five days camping off-grid, enjoying good food, the company of friends, and time spent in nature. His first day back at work, I got a text from him: I’m sitting here at my desk thinking that I’m wasting my time and my life here… This weekend really did me good.

We spent a week and a half talking about what he wants to do, how we want to live, and how to make that happen. We ran the numbers, and we ran them again. And a few more times, just to be sure.

Ten days later, he resigned.

The plan is for him to start school full-time in January, spending a couple of years training for a career in which he doesn’t have to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything. Or sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed, you know, as a career. *

For the next couple of months, he will be a full-time homemaker, quite literally: there are garden beds to be built, a porch to screen in, rain gutters to install, and a host of other home-improvement projects to tackle in our Little Hippie House. There is a lot that we’ve been wanting to do, but we haven’t had much time for it.

Building Raised Beds

We’ve spent the past few years ensuring that we could handle a shift like this: We are debt-free except for the house, and we made sure to buy a house that we could afford on one income, if it ever came to that. After we paid off all our consumer debt (and before we started saving for a down payment), we built an Emergency Fund that would allow us to continue our lifestyle unchanged for four months with zero income, or for much longer if we reduce our expenses and maintain some kind of income. Since purchasing the house, we have resumed our Emergency Fund contributions, with a long-term goal of saving a full year’s worth of expenses.

We believe that with the right cuts, we can live modestly on my freelance income, without tapping into our Emergency Fund, and maybe even continuing to grow it, little by little. Mr. Vega has committed to getting at least a part-time job if we find ourselves unable to manage, although we would both prefer that he didn’t have to.

There will be sacrifices, mostly involving entertainment and travel, but we’re excited to have the opportunity to walk our talk to live meaningfully, and happily. We’ll continue to work toward making our home as self-sustaining as possible, and welcome all the friends and family who have the means to visit us in Austin. And we’re grateful to be cultivating friendships here with folks who share our values, and who are just as happy as we are to spend a weekend camping or an afternoon playing board games, instead of doing spendier things.

At the end of his training, Mr. Vega will be eminently employable, with a starting income that will at the minimum match what he was earning at his high-stress job, and with the potential to double in a few years’ time. To our farway friends and family, you can expect a visit from us beginning in 2017, but in the meantime, y’all are welcome to come on down any time you like!

*with gratitude to Cameron Crowe, Say Anything (1989)

The Contingency Fund

One of the things we’ve learned from watching home improvement shows on television is that in any project, things will go wrong. Things will break. A simple appliance installation will balloon into the need to open a wall and re-wire part of the house. Your intention to do everything yourself will transform into needing a professional on-site ASAP.

When we found the house we wanted, we were annoyed by the clause in our apartment’s lease that required a 60-day notice to vacate. As it turns out, we will be moving into our new home on Day 59 of that period, because we’ve encountered a few unexpected problems.

Mr. Vega decided he wanted to scrape off the ugly acoustic ceiling before we moved in. Our internet search for “how to scrape a popcorn ceiling” yielded the suggestion to test for asbestos before doing that kind of work on houses built before 1980. We found a local lab that could rush the results for $75. We found out we were indeed the proud owners of a toxic ceiling that would cost $2500 to have professionally and safely removed. Ouch.

Fortunately, we had prepared in advance to expect the unexpected: in addition to our down payment and closing costs, we made sure we had about 5% of the purchase price set aside to make the place feel more like home. We also maintain an Emergency Fund, but as the asbestos only poses a health risk during removal, we agreed that Ugly Ceilings are not an actual emergency. Still, we’d feel better having the job done before we move our furniture, our pets, and our own lungs into the place, so we went ahead and had the work done.

Then when the gas company came out to connect the gas and inspect the appliances, they discovered that the stove that came with the house was leaking gas, which meant they weren’t allowed to connect it. The appliance repair men said it would be an expensive fix, and as it wasn’t a good stove to begin with, we had it hauled away, along with the old, moldy fridge that was in the house. We were lucky enough to find an inexpensive, well-reviewed fridge with a freezer on the bottom and in the smaller “apartment size” that we prefer, but we decided to splurge on a professional-quality gas range, to the tune of about $1800 (which is a great deal for the kind of stove we’re getting, but it’s not pocket change!).

We’ve got some other issues, like non-existent insulation in our central Texas attic, a colony of ants that have chosen that attic as the place to build their home, and a central air condenser unit inexplicably– and quite dangerously– perched on the roof that is not designed to hold that kind of weight. While some of these issues could become emergencies, they aren’t yet, and we’re grateful for our Contingency Fund. It will be completely drained before we even move in, so we’ll have to postpone our plans of replacing the old drafty windows with double-paned ones or installing a rainwater collection system, but we’ll still have our Emergency Fund, and we won’t have gone into debt to fix the problems.