Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes: ode to Susie
The conversation turned to Susie a while ago. She had been toasted multiple times. Thoroughly warmed to his subject and thoroughly warmed by the wine, Susie’s long time companion Matt continued, “I’ve slept with Susie under the stars more times than all the other women I’ve known, including my ex wife.”
“Here’s to Susie,” said a dozen voices in unison.
We were at a party, the original reason for which has long been forgotten, but it could have been for Susie or Matt or for the both of them.
I just met Matt and took an instant liking to him. I’d only heard about him from his sister Doris. She is a good friend of mine and Emmy’s. I had heard her speak of him often. He was in the Coast Guard, he admired and wanted to be a cowboy, and he lived in Montana; he seemed to have chosen that state as home after having drifted around for a number of years. Most of those years, he traveled with Susie, but he was a man who generally had bad luck with women.
Matt had come home to see his family and visit his Susie.
“Susie is the kindest friend a man could have,” said Matt
The chorus saluted, “Here’s to Susie.”
With a tender softness in his voice, Matt said, “I got my first glimpse of her when I was stationed in Michigan. I was in the Coast Guard. We traveled around together, but then I had to leave Susie stateside...”
“Here’s to Susie,” at the mention of the celebrated Susie, the partiers interrupted Matt’s train of thought.
With a slightly annoyed glance at no one in particular Matt started over, “I had to leave… her, with my parents when I went to Puerto Rico.”
When Matt came back to the states, he picked up where he had left off with Susie. He drove his old F 150 pickup that pulled the horse trailer in which his friend and companion Susie, the sweet red roan mare, traveled.
When it was time to settle for the night he would chose an out of the way pull-off, park the trailer and take Susie for a walk. He’d make a small rope paddock for her, roll out his sleeping bag, and he and Susie would spend the night under the stars beside the truck and trailer.
He eventually left the Coast Guard. Their travels brought them to Montana. Matt loved the state, he loved ranches and he loved the life of a cowboy. He worked as a jack of all trades. He had training as a forester, and a mechanic. He could weld and he knew horses, all assets to any ranch at which he took up residence. They were as glad to have him as he was to be there.
Matt dealt with severe migraine headaches and a multitude of other medical symptoms for many years. He was recently diagnosed with adult onset encephalitis, a form of brain swelling, the cause for which could be any number of things.
He was married for a while but never did get along with women as well as he does with horses, it didn’t work out. Their last argument ended when he turned to leave and his wife hit him in the back of the head hard enough to knock him out. She walked out and left him for dead. He was in some bar fights as a young man and did get knocked around a bit as well. Any of these things, or something else entirely could be the cause of his medical condition.
Before he was diagnosed, Matt knew something was wrong. His headaches were so bad he passed out on occasion, but he also drank on occasion, maybe he blamed some of his symptoms on that.
While he and his friends were hunting way up in the mountains, Matt had a ‘spell’ of some sort and passed out. His friends couldn’t revive him and in their efforts to get him to a hospital quickly, Susie was tied to a tree and left to fend for herself.
She was there for three days- the odds weren’t necessarily in favor of Susie’s survival; horses are lower in the food chain than grizzly bears and mountain lions. Matt’s hunting buddies called a ranch in the vicinity of where they had tied Susie and ranch hands from there rescued her and kept her for three months until Matt was back on his feet and could come to get her.
Matt would say, ‘they help each other out in the great state of Montana.’
Matt’s fortunes went downhill from there. His migraines became debilitating and he had other associated medical problems.
When Matt thought he was not taking care of Susie as well as he should, he decided to find her a good home. His sister Doris suggested he bring her back to Western New York, after all, Susie had been around so long Doris felt she was a member of the family. She and husband Jay, built her a nice little barn
Matt lives on a ranch in Montana now. He goes on cattle drives when he is able and copes with his illness as best he can. He tells stories to anyone who will listen about his travels and the best horse he ever knew.
Susie is 29 years old now, her traveling days are done. She lives with a chestnut mare named Velvet in the cozy little barn that Doris and Jay built. The two horses get along well with acres to exercise in and they have their own barn cat named Possum. In Possum’s perspective, he has two large horses. When the mares get close enough, the cat swats at their hooves and legs through the wooden slats in the stall. If things are slow in the barn the cat will climb up one of the horse’s tails and run across their backs and escape by jumping to the nearest timber in the barn.
Anyone who has worked with horses knows each one has their own personality and their own list of ‘tricks’. Susie is known as a gentle animal and an easy ride but she isn’t real talented. However she will give you a big smile after you give her a treat.
I took my five-year-old granddaughter Paige to see Susie. Paige gave her a carrot and Susie took it from Paige with her big hairy lips then gave her a big toothy goofy smile, which in turn gave Paige a giggle and a grin.
Here’s to Susie…
The party to toast Susie was a few years ago. Matt calls periodically to catch up with family and of course to see how Susie is doing. He hasn’t been back “East” for a while though. I can’t wait for Susie’s next party.
Comments? Changinglanesterry@gmail.com or http://changinglanesterry.blogspot.com/


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Money and Quicken

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:dancingwithnumbers:
For years, I’ve used ‘Microsoft Money’ to send out bills, balance my checking account and keep track of finances.
From the first week I started using a computer, I wanted a good money management program. I began using a free version of ‘Quicken’ a dozen years ago. Then my bank, no longer satisfied just giving away toasters, gave away Microsoft’s ‘Money’.
That first software version of ‘Money’ lasted six years. Then Microsoft pushed me to update the program - at a price. They threatened that if I did not upgrade, I would no longer be able to send payments electronically. They hinted of other unknown dire consequences.
I took the threats seriously, grumbled, but paid the thirty or so dollars to keep using the program. There were more upgrades through the years. I objected but I paid. Even though the new software offered more features each time, I felt strong-armed.
I could have gone back to paper and pencil, the old way of taking care of finances, but I wanted the advantages of the series of tubes and wires that mystically bring the internets and their information into my house.
As you can tell from my savvy electronic speak, my knowledge over the years has grown a great deal in the field of computers.
Ms Money has a budget feature; I decided to put into use months ago. I needed a budget, or to specify, one in black and white, recorded and adhered-to, not just the tally I keep in my head.
I began spending long hours filling in figures and moving ‘categories’ around so that it would reflect our spending more accurately. I needed to see where we were going astray. After a week of concentrated work, I had the budget all laid out.
Then I received an email from Microsoft, they were discontinuing the Money software. For years, after the initial setup, I’d spent little time using the software. On a week-to-week basis, it doesn’t require a lot. Then I invested a large amount of effort on my budget and in a Murphy’s Law manner, they took the program away.
I began looking for different software to replace MS Money. I found a trial version of something called YNAB (You Need a Budget), a ‘zero balance’ Excel based budgeting program. I dove in with vigor and spent another week of spare time, filling in numbers and categories, producing another, different budget masterpiece.
Several weeks of juggling figures has caused numbers and categories to dance in my head. In bed at night, nagging questions keep me awake, (Does that expenditure go in the category “Insurance: homeowners,” or “Household expenses: insurance?”).
As I was familiarizing myself with YNAB, I came to realize, it is very simple. You can’t do a lot of the things with YNAB software that you can with MS Money or Quicken, but simplicity can be attractive. I like it; it’s like buying a car with no options, not much to break down.
However, there is something to be said for power windows, AC and a great stereo. I’ve started to look at Quicken again, a full featured product with all the bells and whistles.
Here I am, mired in charts and graphs, columns and numbers. MS Money is leaving. Should I go it alone, pencil in hand? Should I slow dance with YNAB? She has mousy hair and a slightly crooked nose but she is uncomplicated and functions well in her own way.
Or, should I boogie with the ‘Quicken’ girl I brought to the party a decade ago? She’s back, dressed up, experienced with lots of extra equipment. I’m open to suggestions.
Changinglanesterry@gmail.com or