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I am including both the "short version" and the "long version" of our story so that people who would like to know more of the details about what we have been through can read the "long version" and understand how hard we have tried to do good things in our lives and the obstacles we have faced.
What happened (short version):
We have tried several ideas to support ourselves over the years. Some of them could make significant improvements to people’s lives by sharing cultural events and helping to stabilize the environment by reducing human contributions to climate change. Our ideas were innovative and sometimes innovative, new ideas are met with suspicion. Because of this, we were not able to find funding for our businesses so we spent our own money trying to further these businesses and ideas. In trying to build these businesses, we were not able to save money for ourselves.
The recession hit us hard. Our two businesses that were providing income, the moving company and the drum building company both failed during this time. The other ideas we were working on, such as the CO2 reduction project (a project to help reduce CO2 emissions from coal fired power plants) were being developed during this time and found no support due to the politically charged nature of the issue. We got a patent on the CO2 reduction idea using our own money and by filing the applications ourselves without the aid of an attorney. The patent number is US 8,114,266,B2. We tried several times to gain support for the idea including applying for federal grants but were not able to obtain support for it. The reasons given were that our idea did not quite match the goals of the grants we applied for. The idea is sound and good but grants offered by the federal government pertaining to climate change were somewhat narrow in scope. With all that happened afterwards, healthwise and after having spent our own money on the project, we had to table the idea to try to stabilize our own lives.
John’s health has been affected by mold, however, he has no health insurance so he has not been to see a doctor yet. My health has been affected by a car accident resulting in several damaged discs in my spine. One disc in my neck was badly herniated and even though I am able to get around and do most things I need to, the condition is still considered severe and I need surgery. The gel that squeezed out of the disc presses on the nerves going into my arms causing severe pain and it presses against my spinal cord causing some leg numbness and weakness at times. Even less invasive surgeries require a month off work to recover and we don’t have the money either for the surgery or for the recovery time and I am still paying off older medical bills from the accident.
Since we have no savings, we are living hand to mouth. Recent car repairs have left us without means to move ourselves to a different home. The home (where we have lived for 20+ years) is badly dilapidated and our landlord has asked us to move so he can renovate. We need money for a deposit on a rental home. The car needs more repairs as it has a leak in the transmission.
We have tried to do several good things with our lives. The information above is just a brief recounting. Below is a more full picture of what we have tried to do and the obstacles we have faced.
Any amount of support will be greatly appreciated. Please know that we will always pay it forward when we can.
With deep gratitude,
************** The full story (long version)**************
This is a moment of reflection. My husband and I are “middle aged”, approaching “senior status”, and we are still struggling to get on firm financial footing. I keep asking myself, where did I go wrong? How could we have done things better? We came up with several good ideas to both feed ourselves and improve the quality of other people’s lives and yet we find ourselves stuck in a house that we have rented for over 20 years now with no solvency and no savings. The house is under 400 sq feet and is falling apart around us. We need the privacy of a detached house and find the housing market has inflated rental prices by as much as $400 more per month in the last 6 years. A 2 bedroom one bath (no garage or basement) in an untroubled part of town goes for $800 theses days which is almost ½ our monthly income. The price of gas and foods such as apples has tripled in the last 6 -7 years, although gas prices have dropped, food prices have not and housing prices keep going up. Why are we now struggling to remove ourselves from a house we do not wish to stay in?
My husband and I committed to our relationship with one another well before we ever got married. A couple of years after we started life together, we decided we wanted to try to make a life for ourselves where we would call our own shots and find a way to produce a good living for ourselves. We started our journey into self employment by opening a small local moving company. John handled the moves and I took care of sales calls and bookkeeping. I went out to the field to help when packing was needed or supplies were needed. We started out by renting U-Haul trucks for the first few months until we had enough money to buy our own truck. The bank refused our application for a loan to purchase a truck because we had not yet been in business long enough so we bought a 1974 former U-Haul truck from an acquaintance.
Moving furniture for a living is hard and demanding work. It is also “hand to mouth”. John was determined to give all of his customers a good moving experience and keep his crew safe at the same time. He developed ways to move large pieces that used the laws of physics instead of his crew’s backs. He also handled each furniture piece and every box himself twice ensuring that the load was well managed at both ends of the move. Exercise produces endorphins and makes a person feel good. Over exertion is another matter – it doesn’t make a person feel good. We spent a great deal of time either moving furniture or recovering from moving furniture. When we were not moving, John was understandably too tired to do much of anything but recover. Our moving company had the best reputation in town for being time efficient with zero damage and John also kept the crew safe and healthy. I was also given compliments for my professionalism during sales calls and we received a great deal of word of mouth business. Even though he was chronically exhausted, John’s mind was always active, coming up with ways to improve our businesses and contemplating new ideas on a wide range of topics.
John and I met through a mutual appreciation of hand drums. We had both started playing them and teaching ourselves to make them around the same time before we ever met. I did not find real success in making hand drums until after John and I had started our lives together but I had started learning repair work and experimenting with techniques. Prior to our lives together, I had contacted a couple of drum makers here in the US to see if I could apprentice with them but never received a reply. John and I rented a shop space where we continued our exploration of hand drums and started the moving business. As the moving business kept us fed, we allowed the drum making to grow into a business of its own. I taught myself to produce a website with the use of a couple of different forms of software and John designed and made several tools to improve the process of drum making and make it more efficient. We sold drums at several Mid-Missouri festivals and across the nation with web orders. The smiles on customers’ faces were very rewarding. We were sharing a love of an art form with others that brought us both joy. It became clear, however, that hand drums were a niche market in the United States and there was already quite a bit of competition. We could not produce the drums cheaply enough to compete with instruments coming from other countries where $50 would feed a family for a month.
While reading the paper one day and looking at events listings, John came up with an idea for a web-based calendar that would allow people to see events from across the country grouped together on one website instead of jumping from website to website or searching different news papers from different cities. We decided to go for it and found some web designers to work with.
We worked out a partnership with the designers and I helped part-time in their office as bookkeeper and assistant. I also learned to tweak the website in different ways and spent many hours after the moving day was finished working on the design, creating a site map, help files, descriptive text and icons.
During the next few years, we kept the moving company going to feed ourselves, worked on the calendar website and drums. I kept tweaking the drum website in hopes that it would produce more orders but also kept up with repairs and started teaching others to play.
When working on new ideas, it is sometimes difficult to get the proper support. “Dot.coms” had a negative reputation after the internet’s first boom went bust and we started the calendar project not too long after the bust. The smaller dot.coms that survived the bust and even began to thrive focused not on selling products but instead, providing a type of content and selling ad space. Our calendar website was right in line with that idea, however, with the negative reputation dot.coms had received, we were not able to find support for the project so we put our own money into it and supplemented with credit cards. Once we took the site live, we got some interest and created some local advertising to promote the site. We also placed ads on Google to gain interest outside our local area. During this time, the owner of the design company we were working with had to make a difficult decision to back out of the project. We had spent several years working on the site and making sure it functioned correctly but his business was suffering in general and he no longer had the funds to pay his designer to work on the project. We worked with the designer after that for another year before he said he could no longer work on the site. At that time, Google had taken a calendar program of their own live which seem to occlude our website. There was no one else in town who knew the coding language our site had been written in so we packed that idea away.
We had put much of our money into our businesses and maxed out credit cards to the extent that bankruptcy was the only option.
Shortly after the bankruptcy was finalized, the recession hit. The whole economy was affected. Calls for moving services slowed to a trickle and drum orders stopped all together. I was able to find a job as an accounts payable specialist to keep us afloat. I kept hoping that we could get back to the drum making and find a way to produce at least a decent amount of supplemental income from orders so I kept the website up and tried to adjust it for search engines and find cost-free ways to promote online.
Next idea… John and I have always been concerned about protecting the environment. We tried to use sustainably harvested wood for the drums we made and we recycle as much of our trash as we can. With all the talk that had been growing for some time about climate change and global warming, John started thinking about things that could help reduce the amount of CO2 human activity put into the environment. During his 20’s, John had worked at the Columbia municipal power plant where he had suggested several changes that were implemented that made the place a safer and healthier place to work. John encouraged the use of face masks and the removal of asbestos from the interior of the plant. He also came up with an idea to help eliminate large accumulations of waste material known as “clinkers”. Before John’s idea was implemented, workers went into a part of the plant to remove the clinkers. The task was a dangerous one as some clinkers became large enough to cause injury or death if they fell from overhead. After John’s idea was implemented, it was no longer necessary for workers to remove clinkers because the waste material did not accumulate in the same fashion. John and a co-worker also saved the life of another co-worker during an accident at the power plant. One co-worker was trapped in a room that was filling up with toxic gas. The hallway leading to the room was also filling up. John and his co-worker held their breath as they ran down the hall to try to unlock the door that had trapped the man in the room. It took them 3 attempts to reach the door before they ran out of enough oxygen. They finally were able to free the man and help him get out of the area.
John thought about those days at the power plant and remembered some of the engineering and chemistry he had learned pertaining to how a coal fired power plant works. John has always been interested in science and read chemistry books during his time at the power plant. While contemplating the issue of CO2 emissions, he recalled some of what he had read and went to the library to research his ideas. He came up with an idea that would help reduce the CO2 emissions. We decided to pursue the idea – there was no way we could not do something – the problem was and still is too important.
I kept working at the accounts payable job, to allow John time to work on this project. He spent time researching his idea and writing it down in terms others could understand. He went to an old friend with whom he had worked at the power plant. The friend had a degree in chemistry and liked the idea when John ran it past him. He agreed that it was sound and should work. John moved forward with the idea. He went to a business incubator to seek assistance in getting the idea off the ground. We purchased some equipment to perform some tests in our shop but were never able to fully execute any tests due to lack of funds.
The first meeting at the business incubator produced a tepid response. The director dismissed the idea out of hand but said he would help after some persuasion. The next few months we tried to get an appointment to visit with the patent attorney that worked there. After months of calls, we finally got an appointment. The attorney liked the idea and said he would help if he could, however, once we were ready to go for the patent, he was not available. After trying to get support for almost a year, the business incubator made it clear that our project was unwelcome. It was, in fact a conflict of interest for them as there was already another project the director was involved in that would implement a different type of pollution control from power plants that did not impact CO2 emissions but was already taking up resources at the incubator.
We searched the internet for patent attorneys who had the qualifications to write the patent for us and reached out to as many as we could to see if they would write the patent pro bono since it had the potential to help solve a serious problem. (As a side note, we felt this project should be used as a “band aid” for the problem while more environmentally friendly alternatives to coal were being researched and brought to market). No one was interested in helping. Once again, we found ourselves on our own. We had about $1500 in “savings” at the time, just enough to get a house with a USDA loan or file for the patent. We went forward with the project. I went to the USPTO website and learned how to file the paperwork for the patent starting with a filing to expedite the process for green technology ideas that could help reduce global warming. We worked very hard over the next year to file the patent. I went to the library and found a book that helped us immensely. The book was full of detailed information about what forms to file, how to approach writing the abstract for the patent and what to do if the application was rejected. I ended up buying a copy of the book so we could take as much time as we needed with it. John read through the parts of the book that pertained to writing out the abstract and after some time, we had our application ready. We filed and received a fairly quick first response. The patent reviewer had rejected our idea and based the rejection on just a couple of items. We were able to file an amended version and were granted the patent. Just for the record, patent applications are reviewed by people who have PHDs in the field and patents are not given to ideas that don’t work. We were thrilled when we finally had the patent in our hands. The importance of the patent was that it offered the idea legitimacy. Without credentials to show prospective supporters, we needed the patent to move forward with the project. The patent number is US 8,114,266,B2. You can search the USPTO's website using the first 7 digits of the patent number if you would like to see the patent details.
We took the patent and the idea to the City on two separate occasions and to two separate offices and got no response. We approached a local engineering group and a part of the University that each expressed interest but never got back with us. I started focusing on outreach to other cities and learned how to apply for grants with the federal government. I filed 3 applications which were all turned down. During that time, I researched private grants as well. Most private grants organizations did not have grants for climate change and any grants that were available were specific to other more narrow areas of environmental protection. We also applied to start a Kickstarter campaign but our application was denied because the end product was not “art or product oriented”.
We found that the idea of climate change is so politically charged that we were unable to get support for the idea and had to table it. My health took a turn for the worse and I developed a digestive disorder which harmed my health and strength and lasted for 2 years. I finally recovered but it was a long journey as the doctors were never able to clearly identify what was happening and why I could not digest food properly.
John started writing. I hoped to allow him to recuperate from all that we have been through as he bore the brunt of it. His health had also been affected by mold. So I kept working at the accounts payable job, where I still work today. My health improved and I hoped to get back to drums, however, I was rear-ended in a car accident that injured several discs in my back and severely herniated one in my neck. A few months later, the building where we had our shop was sold and we were given a month to vacate. We put everything into storage. The house being so small does not hold any furniture (other than a bed, a plywood desk for the computer and a library chair for John. My chair is a folding chair and our tables are small folding tables.) and couldn’t accommodate anything more than our clothing and a couple of drums. The next 3 years were devoted to my recovery from the accident. The pain radiating down into my arms was almost unbearable. My right arm was the most affected. It was so bad, I wanted to cut off my right arm and shoulder. Pain meds did not help. Months of physical therapy and repeated sessions to the PT clinic and lavender oil were all that helped and it took a full 3 years to recuperate. I kept working even though sitting in a chair was the most painful posture for me. Since my right arm was the most affected by the pain, I learned to use a numeric keypad with my left hand to keep working and take some of the stress off my right arm. The doctors said I was a candidate for surgery (a spinal fusion) but I chose to forego surgery because I still had function in my hands and I had heard many more negative things rather than positive about fusions.
It has been 4 years since the accident now and I can finally play drums again. I am repairing instruments and teaching again to help support us through this difficult time. Earlier this year, however, I was in another accident which involved a blow to the base of my skull. I went to Urgent Care and to see my doctor who got me through the worst of the car accident recovery. The Urgent Care doc ordered a CAT scan to see if there was any soft tissue damage during the last accident. The good news was, there was no new damage. The bad news was the condition of the herniated disc is still considered severe and the swelling from the blow aggravated the old injury. My symptoms came back with severe pain in my arm and neck and numb spots in my legs. My doctor confirmed that the disc has not changed and the severity is a risk to live with. I will probably have to have surgery at some point, however, we can’t afford it right now. Even less invasive surgeries will require a month away from work to recover. In the meantime, I can play drums and teach again.
John is a very dear man. He is full of compassion for humanity and used to share time with people and help them with any problems they might need to talk about or find solutions for. After a days work moving furniture, he would sit at the coffee shop, play chess or talk to folks who needed companionship. Lately he has been more of a hermit but over the years he helped many people sort through difficult life problems or just feel better about themselves.
We have tried to do several good things with our lives and have found a series of events and circumstances have thus far prevented us from finding solvency. I don’t know how we could have worked harder or “smarter”. I don’t know what we could have done better to have increased our chances of success. To be living in what is considered a “tiny” house which is also moldy and badly dilapidated (a house we don’t even own) at this point in our lives and having difficulty finding the means to move ourselves out of the house is very disheartening. I am still paying off doctor’s bills. The thread I am holding onto feels thin. I have a painting studio that I share with a dear friend. Through the recovery after the accident, I was able to paint in short sessions. The owner of the studio was gracious and accepted trades of artwork for rent for some time during my recovery. Today, I am at risk of losing the studio but hope to work out another trade with the owner so I can keep teaching drum classes there and painting. We are also at risk of losing 90% of our possessions, including several drums and all the drum making tools from the shop as the storage company keeps raising the rent for our storage unit every 6 months. The last raise was just shy of $15 more per month.
At this point, with the cost of living having drastically increased over the last 7 years and all that we have been through, we find ourselves in need of assistance with all the necessities of life. We have medical bills to pay and I am living with a serious injury that puts my body at risk, John needs dental work and needs to see a doctor about the mold issue and we do not have health insurance. We need to move into another house and are finding it difficult to get a deposit together due to car repairs and medical bills. The car is running but needs several more urgent repairs (transmission may be giving out). We both feel raw and our lives seem very precarious right now. We needed support for our businesses and we were unable to find it. This puts me in a position of asking for support for our lives and not our businesses. I am asking for help to cover these basic needs and to help us get back on our feet. We have tried to do things that would help improve people’s lives and that would help the environment. We have given everything we could to these endeavors and I feel certain that with a little support, we can get back into the swing again and help our community in other ways.
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