Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ants in Church

Recently, I sat looking at my shoes.  The flooring.  The texture of the flooring. In church I sat making these observations.  The preacher preached.

A very tiny ant appeared at the bottom of my vision, followed by another.  They marched between my shoes, oblivious to my gaze.   On impulse I lifted up my foot to squish them.

Then I thought.  Maybe those ants have a purpose.  Maybe they'll save the world.  So I let them crawl on.

Sometimes I feel like an ant.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Late 20's Are The Dog Days of Summer

The late 20's feel to me like the dog days of summer.

Summer has been good.  I have vacationed to the tops of mountains and sunny beaches.  My days have been spent hiking, climbing and fishing.  I've enjoyed quality time with family, friends, and great books.  I have gardened and improved my home.  My golf score has been cut by 10 strokes (I'm still terrible).  Afforded all the luxuries of a middle class summer, I am tanner, healthier, and happier than when the summer began.

And yet, summer continues, hot and slow.  I go to bed later, and sleep in longer.  I lay on the couch. Summer drifts, almost aimlessly.  I am eager for the return of work, purpose, cool weather and college football.

In these slower days, I have considered that the late 20's is certainly a transition from everything that came before.  The first 22 years of my life school seemed to be an end in and of itself.  Something to be accomplished, with great freedoms and great successes looming just over the horizon.

Now here I am.  A career I love.  Good friends, good relationships.  A house.   The means to pursue my interests.  I'm happy and comfortable by any reasonable standard (if you think you need millions, or hundreds of thousands to be happy, get your head checked).  Life is good, I have achieved many of my goals.  And yet, at times, life seems to be drifting.

Maybe I'm waiting for that next big milestone:  Marriage, family and kids.  Maybe this is the five year career itch.  Sometimes I want to drop everything and go out and see the world.  Travel non-stop for a year or two.  Or start a business.  Or move to a foreign country.  Or hitchhike across the continent and back.

I don't know why I feel this way, but my best guess is this:  We all need something to pursue.  Something that gives us purpose, drive, and passion.  At the moment, perhaps I've reached most of my goals and plateaued.  I could continue this way for the next 30 years until I retire, and live a very happy, and productive life.  But I imagine the listlessness wouldn't fade.    

Maybe it's time to dream, plan, and pursue.  You only get one life.  Give thanks for what you have, but don't be afraid to do something that's never been done, or that you never dreamed you could do.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Saturdays.  Easily one of my top ten favorite things in life.

My Saturday mornings follow a wonderful routine.

First, I go to garage sales.  Today's haul:

  • A vase for $5.  Before you judge me, understand that his vase is awesome.  And very possibly manly.    Earthhued and etched with grapes, it resembles something a Roman farmer would have stored wine in the ancient days of the Roman Republic. I put an iris in it.  Epic.  Manly.  Vase. 
  • A pair of white shorts for $1.  I needed a pair.  I paid $30 for my last pair.  I saved $29!  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  ARE YOU NOT AMAZED?!
  • A ball of twine for 25 cents.  This was a mistake I regretted immediately.  My friend asked me if I used twine for my garden (I do).  But this twine is much too delicate for my garden.
Next, Farmer's Market.  This time of year you find lots of greens, potatoes, and beets.  I buy kale because I heard it's good for me.  I have not yet independently verified this, but still I buy it every week.  Blindly.  For some odd reason, Kale seems to be water resistant.  Serious.  Water beads up on it and runs off.  Try it out for yourself and see.  You can wear kale in a windstorm.

I then blend it, with an apple, some yogurt, blueberries, and this week, strawberries.  The resulting drink is very green and somewhat chunky.  It makes my teeth look like I just made out with the Seaweed Monster, but I feel my life expectancy growing as I drink it.

This week I also splurged.  Artisan bread from the local baker for $6.  3.5 lbs of free range chicken for $14.   The bread is spendy.  The chicken competitive with what you can find in the grocery stores.  

An added bonus, the money I spend each Saturday--about $30-$50 a week--goes out of my pocket and right into my neighbors.  I'd rather them have it than anyone else.  No big box or grocery store middleman.

Garage sales and farmers market.  All very fun.  All very social in my small town.  I save a ridiculous amount at garage sales.  I spend just a little more than I would at the grocery market, often less for some items, and good food that I know is quality, local and fresh.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

 Picture Above: Manly Vase

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hot New Tip To Lose Weight!

Not really.

This isn't one of those ridiculous ads.

The last few weeks I've seen an older man in a jumpsuit jogging the main drag outside my neighborhood. Nothing unusual about that, you say?

While he jogs he flaps his arms.  Like a bird.  Or a football player trying to pump up the crowd.

Once he had his son or grandson in tow.  The kid shuffled 30 yards behind the flapper.  Clearly miserable, pumped his arms half heartedly while looking for the nearest man hole to jump down.  Like Andy in the Shawshank Redemption, I think this kid would have paid any price for his freedom.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

YOLO Works, 'Til it Doesn't

YOLO.  "You Only Live Once."  Today's ubiquitous battle cry when charging into something you wouldn't normally do.  Applied correctly it leads to a richer, better lived and better examined life.  Applied incorrectly, a license for stupidity and worse.  YOLO, like the Force, can be used for good and evil.  I'll teach you the subtle difference.

GOOD YOLO 1: Make each day, hour and minute of your life count. 
You only get today once.  Live it passionately.  Grow the relationships, knowledge, interests and hobbies you care about.   Much like you should treat every dollar as an investment, minutes of your life.  Don't waste them on things that don't benefit you or others (I'm talking to you, television!).  Don't look ahead to future to the point you ignore and under-appreciate the present.

GOOD YOLO 2: Chart a course to an amazing life.
Set ambitious life goals.  Then, find a way to achieve them.  Right now, write down 10 things you want to accomplish before you die.  Be bold.  Be ridiculous.  Don't let fear or insecurity limit you.  Change your thinking from: "I want to do this, but..."  To, "How can I make this happen?"
And don't just stop at life goals.  Set yearly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals.  Actively try to live the best life possible.  Some goals you will achieve and some you won't.  Either way, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you tried.

GOOD YOLO 3:  Never be afraid to try something positive for fear of failure or rejection.
You only live once.  So go for it!  With most things, you're not going to look back say "I'm glad I didn't," with some exceptions listed below.  YOLO's fatalistic logic trivializes my fears (mostly social).  It convinces me to say yes to invitations I'd otherwise decline, talk to people I'm afraid to talk to, and--with urging and belittlement from my friends--jump from ridiculous heights into water below.

YOLOOOOooooooooooo.....  If I don't die I hope this water washes away the urine smell.
YOLO has its dark side though.  If your YOLO thinking falls into any of these two categories, reconsider:

BAD YOLO 1:  Sacrificing the future for the immediate present.
Doing anything that sacrifices your long term health, finances, or general well-being in stupid.  Examples include:
  • "YOLO!  I will buy this really expensive new car!"  Even though I can't afford it, and the crippling payments will prevent me from doing anything awesome for 5 years.
  • "Girls Gone Wild?!  I want that t-shirt.  YOLO!" 
And what would your mom say?

BAD YOLO 2: Rationalizing anything immoral, illegal, or that you otherwise know to be wrong.
I would argue that since you only live once, you want to do as much good as you can while you're here.  Some people take a different approach.  Examples include:
  • "Heroin?  Well, I'm sure your dealer cut it clean.  YOLO!"
YOLO, so I choose to live in a haze of addiction and wasted potential!
  • Anything you can do in Grand Theft Auto.
  • Lying, stealing, cheating on your significant other, kidnapping, or other general douchery. Look up your state's penal code for more examples.
YOLO good, YOLO bad.  It's all in how you use it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Every Dollar Is An Investment

Before I start, credit where credit is due. Treating every dollar as an investment is the third step in the Motley Fool's 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly.

I read that article awhile ago, leaving the idea percolating in my head.  

In your life, you will only get so much money. That amount can be higher or lower based on a number of things in and out of your control.  But the amount is limited.  As your momma said, "Money doesn't go on trees."

While you might not think twice about buying $3.40 latte (for example), the implications of doing so loom large.  Especially when multiplied hundreds or thousands of time. That $3.40 can never again be spent on anything else.  Is it really worth it?

Another way of looking at it:  Each time you spend a dollar, you value the object purchased more than the dollar.  You also value the object purchased more than anything else you could potentially buy with that dollar.  And some things I'd rather spend money on other than lattes.  For example:
A whole other category of ways to spend that $3.40 exists.  Ways that make my money make more money (reread that part carefully), also known as investing.  For example:
  • Saving towards the down payment for a housem where I can build equity.  
  • Paying off credit card debt, instead of owing the bank 14% or more.
  • Funding my retirement account or otherwise investing in the stock market.
The first options are good and the second superior.  Investing wisely now means more money later to do the things I want. 

Back to the coffee.  Never buy a latte?  Not at all.  At times a latte has been the best money I've ever spent.  Do treat each dollar as an investment.  Consider and value each purchase.  In doing so, you will stretch your money much farther.  Some tips:
  1. Make a Budget and Track Your Expenses:
    Know where your money goes. I estimated $250 a month for food on my first budget.  The reality? $400-$500!  Those Subway stops, Starbucks run, and nights out added up, without me knowing.
  2. Find the Low Hanging Fruit: Once you know where your money goes, you can find ways to save.  Some are easy.  Pack a lunch to work instead of eating out.  Brew your own coffee instead of a daily latte.  The savings add up quick.  Consider the math:

    Home brewed coffee = $.25.  Latte = $3.40.  Weekly Savings = $16.75.

    Ask yourself what's really important to you and what's not.  Are you investing too much money in your car every month?  Sell it and buy a cheaper one.  Can you get by with just using Hulu?  Then cancel TV.
  3. With Your Extra Money Pay Off Debt, Save, and Invest!
    1. First of all, Debt is Dumb. If you have any that's not your home mortgage, pay it off! I've been debt free for about a year now, and the freedom feels great.    
    2. Once that's done, sock money away.  Choose an amount and save it every month.  Once you see your accounts grow, you'll get addicted.  Seriously, it's fun!
    3. Invest.  Make your money work for you.  Fully fund your retirement.  Open an IRA.  Check out a site like Prosper.  Build wealth!

      Read Dave Ramsey for the full scoop.  His baby step plan is great, and I did not do it justice here.
  4. Spend Your Money on What Really Matters To You (In Cash):  
    Use some of your savings to do what you love.  I love travel, but not on Visa's dime.  Gardening and bike riding are also hobbies of mine.  I pay for them in cash.

    Get those season tickets you want.  Go to the ballet.  Buy that motorcycle.  Spend your money on the things that matter to you.  Find a cause you're passionate about and give.  
You work hard for your money.  Use it to live the kind of life you want, without going into debt, while building wealth.  It might sound impossible, but when you think about where your money goes, you'll be amazed at how far your money goes.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Garage Sales: Descent into the Unknown.

Garage sales are the Cracker Jack Boxes of America.  Inside each is a prize.  A musty old sweater of cats for 25 cents.  The surprisingly classy coffee table I'm resting my feet on for $5.  Or a pair of detached baby doll heads, price not listed.

The one on the left kept blinking.  

You will never find better deals than at garage sales.  Not on Craigslist, not in the classifieds, not anywhere. My couches, my coffee table, my driver, and my fishing pole I all got at garage sales.  All are high quality, all are in good condition.  The combined price total?  $137 bucks.  70-90% off retail is common.  Every dollar saved at garage sales is a dollar I can invest elsewhere.

On top of it all, garage sales are fun.  My friends and I hit five different sales last Saturday morning.  Sure, there's loads of junk. Sifting through people's undesirables is its own odd delight.  You will uncover some gems.  Last weekend I found not only those baby heads, I also test drove an electric scooter.

And nothing beats the feeling of finding something you need a great price.  Jackpot.  If you really like to save money, or screw your neighbor, bartering is a totally accepted part of the experience.

If you've never been, it's easy to get started.  Some simple tips:
  1. Bring Cash:  No, the sweet old lady down the street will not take your credit card.
  2. Scout out the sales on Thursday and Friday:  Check the local newspaper, Craigslist, grocery store bulletin boards, and/or that street corner where everyone posts stuff.
  3. Arrive Early:  The best stuff goes fast.  I'm fairly certain this is a top-ten favorite old person activity, and they get up before you do.  But if you can find away to rise and shine early on Saturday morning, sharpen your elbows so you can beat granny to that blender.
  4. Don't Be Afraid To Barter:  Garage sales happen because people want to get rid of stuff.  Most people are willing to take 10-20% off the price listed.  That number goes up the later it is in the day.  Nobody wants to pull their junk back into their garage.
  5. Make It An Outing:  Make it a guys (or girls) day out.  The next date you go on?  Mix it up, take her to a garage sale.  You'll never lack for topics to talk about, and plus you can show of your witty, zany side by trying on the sweater with cats.  Or show her what a tough guy you are by negotiating the price of that remote control truck down to $8 from $12.  The romantic possibilities are endless.
Let me know about your own experiences and tips.  Happy hunting!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Life's Simple Pleasures: Gardening

 Gardening.  Growing your own food and then eating it.  One of the top 10 best things in life.   Why?

1.)  Gardening is something man was meant to do.  We owe all of modern civilization to gardening.  Without it, you'd be out in the woods, half naked, chasing your next meal.  

2.)  It connects you to where you live.  You only eat what your climate and soil can grow. You gain a new appreciation for your local climate, customs and cuisine. 

3.)  It connects you to your food.  Home grown food tastes so much better.  You'll never look at the grocery store the same way again.  All that stuff came from somewhere, and some of it really isn't food any more.

4.)   It's great practice for when I have to feed myself after society's collapse.  

5.)   Gardening replaced 64 square feet of stupid, unproductive, water-hungry grass in my lawn with raised garden beds.  

Below:  Stupid grass. 
Why don't you do something with your life!

While I haven't eaten anything from my garden yet, watching it grow is it's own reward.  

Occasionally I wonder if this is what it's like being a parent.  Ignore the seed planting metaphor (please).  The immense joy at seeing the little guy sprout out of the ground is undeniable.  Based on everything 10th grade health class taught me about childbirth, it's in fact WAY better than seeing the birth of a real baby.  Plus, I've experienced it hundreds of times already this spring.  Which you wouldn't get to do with real babies unless you were Genghis Khan.

It goes on.  Like a parent, I nourish the little sprout.  Water it.  Remove the bad influences around it the best I can.  Make sure it receives the best sunlight.  And now, once a little seed, a tomato I planted looks like this:  

I brought you into the world.  I can take you out of it.                                   

Very rewarding.  Probably how I'd feel if my kid brought home straight A's.  

I got my start gardening as a kid with my dad.  We had a giant dirt field where we'd plant row up on row of potatoes, peas, broccoli and more.  We ate all the produce we could handle and sold the rest at the local Saturday Market.  I hated the weeding.  But nothing was better than as a fourth grader making between $50-$100 on a Saturday morning.  That started my lifetime interest in personal finance.

Gardening does have it's dark sides.  Chemicals (no thanks).  Bugs.  Slugs.  Weird little grubs I find deep in the ground.  But the worst is something you'd least expect.


That's right.  Bambi.  Capable of destroying months of care and nourishment with one night of munching.  Indiscriminate.  Heartless.  And cute as buttons.  On top of everything else, gardening has taught me to hate deer.  Give it a shot.

Monday, April 30, 2012


This weekend a former student of mine passed away.  He was only 15.  His life had been rough by any standard.  Born legally blind.  His father passed away.  His mom in jail.  But hewas always smiling.  Always happy to see you.  His heart was huge.  He loved you.   And he needed your love. He craved affection.  You can see why.   This made him easy to hurt, I think.

I met him when he was in 5th grade.  I was interviewing for my job.   I ate lunch in the cafeteria.  Hesat with me.   For the next three years he would ask me to eat with him almost daily.  Sometimes I would join him.  More often I would not.  

He was needy.  At times I pushed him away.   At times I was busy.  At times, I had no time.  But I hope he knew that at the end of the day, I really cared for him.  

I will remember him.  Eating lunch with him.  When he asked me for advice with a girl he liked.  Endlessly urging him to write neater.  His fascination with Japan.  The time I told him that Japan had been sold to China and turned in to a toy factory.  Yelling "hello" at him from the window of my car as he waited for his bus.

And I will remember the last time I saw him.  His face lit up when he saw me.  He was much bigger than when I had seen him last.  He extended an arm towards me, his hand outstretched, really a paw.  I didn't understand what he was doing.  

"It's good to see you!"  Arm still outstretched, now moving closer.  He wanted a hug.  I hugged him. We chatted, very briefly.  I had to go.  There would be time to catch up later. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Direct TV: Cancelled. Life: Resumed.

On Friday I took a deep breath and made the call that has changed my left.  I cancelled Direct TV.

Actually, to avoid a cancellation fee of $160 I suspended Direct TV until September, which happens to coincide with the start of college football season . I will not be a martyr for this cause.

The benefits are already apparent.  In place of Family Guy, I've found time to cook.  The crock pot never ceases to amaze me.  You put ingredients in, season to taste, and the crock pot cooks it for you overnight into something delicious.  It borders on magical.  And begs you to be bold.  As I write, an odd mixture of sweet potato, potato, celery, carrot, apple, beans, cinnamon, honey, cayenne pepper and sour cream sits simmering.  While I sleep, it will transform into.... something.

Also today, I made a salsa I heard about while listening to The Splendid Table.  Sort of.  Tomato, pineapple, garlic, onion and spices simmered down into a delicious sweet and spicy mix.  

Instead of Sportscenter, I tried to chip golf balls into the raised garden beds I built, but haven't yet filled.  It was nice outside. It smelled like flowers.  And somewhere in the neighborhood someone was barbecuing.  And the whole time, my TV was black.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

TV: The world's biggest time suck.

I sit on my couch.
I laugh at cartoon, and sit.
Time never redeemed.