Fortunately I've had a distraction that's kept me from fretting too much.
My oldest daughter has been studying for her own ham radio license.
The First Harmonic Doesn't Fall Far from the Primary
She's been playing with microcontrollers for the past several months, learning the basics of electronics and low level programming. When I talked about some of the things on the amateur radio exam, they sounded familiar to her. I guess I got her interested.
She's been studying for about a month now, in spite of distractions from work and her other hobbies. Tomorrow morning she's going to take the test. A week ago I wasn't sure she'd be ready, her online tests were coming up more fails than passes (the online tests are a really great study tool!) Since then, we've had mini lectures on propagation, capacitors and inductors, and rules & regs. She's also had a chance to focus on her study a lot more this week, and take more tests to see more of the questions. She's scoring much better now, consistently passing the test with 3-5 missed questions. Good enough to drive down to a test tomorrow morning.
Hopefully she'll have a CSCE tomorrow. If not, I'll tell her my stories of how I failed my first attempts at getting my license and reassure her that another test will be available soon. The only way to fail is to stop trying.
My Plan, Revised
To get an HF set-up of the sort I want takes more money than I have now. I started writing down lists of rigs, the necessary bits to get them on the air (power supplies, antenna tuners, etc.) and realized I can afford a single or dual band mobile, not a base station. Kits aren't all that cheap, either, once I look at what I can build without much infrastructure and get something of quality with long term value.
So, 1st step: be patient and build up money for a more realistic station budget--as I learn more.
Step 2: Try some more things to get some QSOs with my 2m FM HT on simplex (like from the parking lot at the store while the wife shops for XMas) plus see if I can get an SSB or CW signal out of my home location with the Kenwood TS-700A 2m rig I've got. Its receiver isn't very sensitive (I think the quartz stones in front of my house convert more signal), but we'll see. Maybe I can adjust that.
I'll also play around with horizontally polarized omnidirectional antennas or put up a beam and reposition it by hand every so often (no rotator yet--something else that'll take money when other things have been dealt with.) I put up a wire yagi last week, but couldn't hear an SSB net that was scheduled with the 700. Maybe I can figure out why this week.
Meanwhile, I'll see what I can log from parking lots with an HT. :)