Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Hero

Heroes are hard to come by.  And when you find one, invariably they let us down.  The fault lies in Human Nature.  We are irrational and emotional.  We keep secrets far from our public personas, and the information age increasingly brings them to light.  Heroes fall to earth and become as human as the rest of us.

Until now.  I've found my hero, and it's this man here:

Meet John Green.  I met him through his online Youtube series Crash Course World History, a channel of quick, funny and totally fresh takes on the story of man.  I loved it, devouring the episodes like a new series on Netflix.  This man has a unique ability to take very complex things and make them understandable.  Though my class couldn't handle too much of the fast paced videos, they enriched my understanding of world history, and made me a better teacher.

As I'm coming to learn, that's just a drop in the bucket of what this guy does.  There's a great primer here, that I won't retype.  He doesn't just make history fun, he's on a bigger mission to fight "world suck."  He does this largely by making videos that take confusing, contentious and often politicized issues and explaining them in a remarkably clear, and remarkably fact based way.  And that gives you hope, once you can grasp the issues and problems in your mind, you know you can find a solution.  This video on why health care in America costs so much opened my eyes, pissed me off, and cheered me up all at the same time.

John Green is who I want to be.  He is why I became a teacher.  Funny and engaging, he inspires me.  To learn.  To understand the world.  And to make the world a better place.  That's essentially what I've been hoping to impart to my students these last seven years.  Who knows if I've made an impact, but I've tried and will keep trying.  And now it's a little bit easier since I've got someone showing me the way.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happy Old People, Drunk-y and Dance-y

I went to the St. Josefs Winery grape stomp celebration today.  Located in Canby, Oregon about 30 minutes southeast of Portland, St Josefs is twice as fun, twice as cheap, and half as pretentious as the more popular Newberg-Dundee wine tasting area.  
The very aged and very friendly owner immigrated here from Hungary, and the whole place looks like an old central European villa. It surprised me to see the grape stomp was another iteration of the ever-popular Oktoberfest celebration.  Same songs.  Same sausages.  Same chicken dance.  German flags at shirts dotted the crowd, a little ironic since the owner was probably alive when Germany invaded Hungary during World War II, before losing it to the Soviet Union.  Hungary then essentially lived out an Orwellian Big Brother nightmare for 45 years under communist rule before winning independence in 1989.

Alcohol makes us all brothers, I suppose.  I've been to many an Oktoberfest, but never have I seen so many happy old people.  The crowd was aged.  Young and middle aged pockets cropped up here and there, but at nearly every table sat lots and lots of old people, in their old people sweaters and old people pants that are always tugged up too high.  And they were rocking.  Singing.  Dancing.  Swigging beer, swigging wine and chowing on bratwurst.

One old timer and his wife hopped and bopped in the conga line, the returned to their seats next to us.  The old man looked at me and my girlfriend, and in a thick, central European accent said "You are weaklings!  You should dance!  I am 82!"

I don't know if they all hailed from Hungary or from the same nursing home, but the event felt like one big family reunion.  Everyone beemed with joy.  The crowd cheered every song.  And everyone just danced.  I find it so heartening to see old people living it up.  30 is almost here for this blogger, and while middle age looms, I learned today I can have at least 52 more good fun years ahead of me.

For a $10 admission (that included a glass and three tastes), I got more fun, more wine, and more life lessons than I could ever have hoped.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Serendipity, Coincidence or Just One Of Those Things

After writing my latest blog post two days ago I headed to bed exhausted and frustrated.  Before nodding off I picked up The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which had been collecting dust on my night stand.  Long ago I perused the first pages about a shepherd boy in Andalusia, before setting it down in favor of The Game of Thrones.

I don't know what inspired me to read a few pages that night, but I did.  And after a evening spent venting and pondering about my direction in life, I read a few pages to find the shepherd meets a very Jesus-like fellow.  What came next gave me goose bumps. 

This Jesus-like guy spoke to the young shepherd about how our life's dreams fade with age.  When we are young, we dream big, but then somewhere along the way, the realities of life weigh in, and we are forced to settle for less.  He pointed out a baker who wanted to travel the world, but feared to leave behind his comfortable lifestyle his job provided.

It was like the book spoke to me!  I can't say that I've ever had something so prescient happen.  The cynic in me says it's just coincidence, but it still was a special moment.  

I once had big, clear dreams.  Dreams I sometimes can't remember.  But seven years ago I started a business with a close friend that was supposed to change the world.  I believed in the power of each and every one of us to affect change.  I wanted to see the world.  Start a business.  Or two.  Make a difference.

I chose another path and became a teacher, which isn't something that I regret.  Indeed, I saw teaching as an avenue to do as much, or more good, than my social enterprise.  Kids are awesome, kids are our future, and our society will only be as good as they are.  If I could do my part to make them well-educated, civicially-aware citizens who were conscious of their effect on the world and empowered to change the world for the better, well, that would be the greatest service of all.

Yet somewhere along the way my aim drifted.  Some mix of professional responsibilities, frustration with co-workers, student apathy, emails from parents, ever changing education standards, Family Guy reruns after work, or who knows what, blunted my purpose.  Things became frustrating.  Things became dull.  Things became routine.  Ideals worn down by the harsh grindstone that is reality.

And all that made me think.

More than pursuing dreams, a secret to a happy life is enjoying the little blessings that happen each day.  A great class discussion.  A conversation with a friend.  A student inviting you to eat lunch with them.  Playing with my dog.   Its amazing how the petty details and frustrations of each day can smear themselves like ash, blotting out all the good we encounter, or preventing us from experiencing the at all.

The last two days I've let go of those gripes the best I am able.  And my last two days have been better than the previous 20 combined.  I'm not fighting the battles that don't matter and focusing on the things that do. Teaching has been more fun than it has in years.  And maybe if I keep this up I can hope to accomplish what I originally wanted to: making a difference. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Was Afraid of This

School has started and my blog has stopped.

It's hard to make time to write, so it seems. Sometimes I don't know what to say.

This is my seventh year in the same place.  And I think I have that seven year itch.  I do like my job.  I love teaching what I teach, and I really like kids.  But most days at work feel stressful.  Maybe I need to slow down and take some time to enjoy what I do a little more.

Sometimes I wonder about all of it.  Work.  Come home.  Do a little this, a little that.  Work again.  On the weekends watch football and hang out with friends.  It's not bad.  It's good actually.  It just all feels a little done before.  Year 7 of Groundhogs Day.

I'm not sure, but it seems that before my everything in my life was a little sharper.  My life had a little more purpose, my views had a little more clarity.  I knew where I was going.  Now I'm not sure exactly.  Life has ups and downs, but this seems to be a flat.  Nothing to do but keep going, looking for a signpost to somewhere.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Some Days

Let me preface this post by saying that I am truly, incredibly blessed.



Been one of those days.

1.)  About two weeks ago I bought a sweet Tag Heuer watch off a community Facebook group.  Now this thing retails at $1,600, but me being the savvy dealer that I am , I got it for $250.  The band was broken, and it wasn't new, but still a great bargain.

So I drop $60 to fix the band, and go to flip it on Ebay.  It sells for $550!  And right as I'm about to sell it, I find out it's fake, it's a replica.

Lesson 1: caveat emptor "buyer beware."  Of course, this woman who I became Facebook friends with to complete the transaction won't refund my money.  She would come out ahead since I fixed her watch.  But no, she says, she'll do it when she gets a job.

2.)  I suck at packing dishes.  Two dish sets I shipped last week arrived with pieces broken.  So I had to endure snarky emails and refund most of the money.  $65 in refunds today alone.

Lesson 2:  Don't sell dishes on Ebay if you suck at packing.

3.)  My dog stays home while I work.  He used to be on my deck, where he would chew the railing, and poop all over.  It was not pleasant.

Being the loving owner I am, I installed an underground fence so he could roam free.  Winston took that as license to dismantle the carefully constructed deer cages I had built around my raised beds.  This year's raised beds featured heirloom tomatoes I had grown from seed, and they were thriving.  Tons of tomatoes, large, and almost ripe.

I replaced the fence.  He tore it down the next time I left.  He came and greeted me with contrition, hunched shoulders and a thumping tail.  I fixed it, my carefully constructed cages now a jumbled mess of bamboo and mesh.  Again he tore it down.  I left it down.  That night, deer feasted.

I fix it.  He destroys it.  I fix it.  He destroys it.  Finally I got smart today and bought him two giant bones.  When I left and came back he was gnawing those peacefully.

Lesson 3:  you'll have to choose dogs or tomatoes at some point in your life.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Breaking Bad: Why Netflix is $700 Better than Cable

One thing I accomplished this summer: watching all of Breaking Bad from Season 1 until now.  And be warned, Breaking Bad is as good as everyone says.  Possibly better.  It may be the best TV show I've ever watched.  The characters have so many facets, I've found myself rooting for or against everyone multiple times.

I'm a late comer to Breaking Bad, like I am to most trendy TV shows.  It usually takes critical mass of 3 or 4 friends saying "You HAVE to see this" to get me tune din.  And once I watch, turns out they were right.  I get hooked.

I didn't start watching the Office until season 3, after years of my friends camping me to Jim Halpert.  Then it became my obession.  I had an Office ring tone.  I dressed like Dwight for Halloween.  I could quote most episodes.  When the finale ran I felt that ache inside, the one you get when someone dear to you leaves, and you know you may never see them again.

The Walking Dead won my heart last year.  Though it's a zombie show, it's not really about zombies.  It's about people and the choices they have to make when the world around them goes bad.  A world where good intentions are often fatal and the cruel thrive really makes you question what kind of person you would be in the zombie apocalypse, and what kind of person you are now.   This spinoff game for my iPad puts you in a survivors shoes, and I've never played anything that has affected me so much emotionally.

As great as those shows are, TV can be an expensive hobby in terms of two of life's most precious commodities: time and money.  I cancelled TV awhile back because I found myself coming home from work and plopping down for an hour of Family Guy.  Then something else (like Office reruns) would grab my attention. Or my roommates would watch something and I'd get sucked in.

The price for all of this time wasting?  $72 a month from Direct TV.  There are so many other things I'd rather do with my life than watch a screen for hours each day.

When it comes down to it, I want a TV for three things:

1.)  To watch my beloved Oregon Ducks play.
2.)  To watch any of my "shows."  The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad at the moment.
3.)  To watch the occasional movie.

That's why Netflix fills my entertainment needs way better than cable, and at a fraction of the cost.

I pay $8.99 a month for streaming service.   Netflix caught me up on season's 1-5 of Breaking Bad this summer.  The current season isn't on Netflix, but I can buy an episode for $2.99, or the whole season for about $20 on iTunes.  If I buy the new season of Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead, then I'm out $40, give or take.  Those two seasons still cost significantly less than one month of Direct TV.

My total savings over a year?  Over $700.  That's not chump change.

As for my Ducks, going to a friends or down to the bar to catch the game is a simple option.  Even better, the new trend around here is to show Duck games at local pub theaters.  At Northern Lights they show most Duck games, admission is free, and they make their money off of food and drink. The atmosphere is the next best thing to being at Autzen Stadium.  People are yelling and screaming, and your view on the movie screen certainly beats your view from most seats in Eugene.  In fact, another local pub theater has started showing new episodes of Breaking Bad every Sunday too.

Bottom line, Netflix meets my entertainment needs with a more efficient use of my time and money.  It's a win win.  It's probably worth looking at in your own budget.  What shows do you really value, and what could you do without?  You could save some real money.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Part Time Summer Job Results: Auction and Ebay

Lazy summer day here.  Got up early and took Winston to Butte Lake and then to Butte Creek Falls.  The water drags in mid-August. Butte Lake appeared more a murky marsh than Cascade Lake.  The Falls tinkle along, shadows of their spring selves.  It's hot.

I did a little accounting today, seeing how much I actually made attending the Woodburn Auction and selling the stuff I bought on Ebay and elsewhere.

Totallng up my Paypal transfers this summer, I transferred in almost exactly $1,550.  This is after the 15% cut that Ebay and Paypal combine to take.

Add a few random sales on Craigslist, Amazon, and from a small and largely unsuccessful yard sale, and that number is more like $1,650.

I probably spent about $700 purchase the items, leaving me with a profit of $850.

Really, it wasn't a bad part time summer job.  The auction is a ton of fun, and I scored a few treasures.  The biggest find easily was a $10 box of Rage: The Collectible Card Game trading cards.  For those of you unfamiliar with Rage, you probably were the unpopular kid in school and for that I'm sorry. It is much like Magic the Gathering or the Pokemon card games.  You build a deck, and play opponents.  Only this game deals with Werewolves that get really angry apparently.  Hence the name, Rage.  That $10 box ended up netting nearly $700, including 1 card that sold for upwards of $100.

The downside?  I collected a lot of stuff I don't need.  I've made three trips to Goodwill last week trying to reclaim my garage.  Two of the weeks I bought a ton of stuff thinking I could turn it all for a profit, when that wasn't the case.  That involved hours of sorting, listing, and packaging for ship.  My girlfriend deserves a huge award for helping me.  Collectible plates?  Turns out they aren't collectible.  Purses?  Only if you want to work full time selling purses and making about $2 a purse.

I've become a lot more selective in what I buy, only getting items I'm sure I can flip for more than $25 gain.  I bought nothing last week, and only spent $5 the week before.   My most consistent money maker?  China sets.

All in all it took up a few hours of my life each Tuesday, but they were fun, social hours.  I brought friends.  We got lunch afterwards.  I'd like to think it was time well spent.  Probably a difficult way to make a living, but not a bad way to make some money on the side.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Top Ten Things I Would Do If I Only Had One Week To Live

Yesterday I found myself in one of those weird little life quandaries of life that occur when two equal options present themselves.

I had to decide between going home, or staying another day with my cousin.  At home: various menial chores, my own bed, and a girlfriend who really wanted me to come back.  At my cousin's:  A sunny day at the beach, a trip up the river, and lots of golf.  The pros and cons of each struck a balance on the scale in my head.  I sat at a cafe, eating calm chowder, pondering.

While doing so my thought train hopped to and fro like a flea escaping my dog, landing on "What would I do if I only had one week to live?"  I still didn't know.  So I Googled it.

Google is surprisingly silent on the issue.  No top ten lists appeared.  And when I got to thinking about it, I didn't really know.  I figure I should know a question like that, so here I go:

1.)  Eat as many meals as possible at Portland's fine dining establishments.  Le Pigeon, Ox, are just a few of Portland's amazing food scene.   I would also eat lots of Pizza Hut's stuffed crust pizza.  And Burgerville.  And Wendy's.

2.)  My last meal though would be my mother's prime rib.  A little bit of Heaven on earth before I go to Heaven.

3.)  Call every friend and family member that has made an impact on my life and tell them what they mean to me.

4.)  Pray, pray, pray a lot.  My "religiousity" has mellowed a lot as I've gotten older, I don't know where I stand on a lot of things.  I do know with death staring me in the face, I certainly would try to make my peace with God.

5.)  Spend my last few days with family, playing Pinochle and Settlers of Catan, and eating as much Nells N and Out as possible.

6.)  If the Ducks were playing at home in Eugene, go to the game.  The same goes if Taylor Swift were playing a show nearby.

7.)  Skydive.  I've always wanted to, but I'm afraid.

8.)  Go on a guided fishing tour with my dad to try to catch a really big fish.  I'm good at catching little guys, but I've never caught a huge fish.  Maybe deep sea fishing.

9.)  Go on a horseback ride with my mom up in the mountains near home.

10.)  Take my dog Winston on a hike every day.  And buy him a lifetime supply of those huge dinosaur bones.

Kind of weird to think about.  But each day here is precious and a gift.  I'm not sure why, but I've been finding myself more and more thankful for the little things life brings.  My health, my family, my friends.  Walking my dog to the field in the morning with a (homemade) latte in my hand.  A nice breeze.  My homegrown tomatoes.   A clear sky at night.

More than anything, if I only had one week left, I would try to enjoy every one of those little things.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dogs Really are Man's Best Friend, and the NSA Really Does Suck. Stuff I Read and Things I Think

This article makes me smile.  When you yawn, your dog has a physiological response and gets tired with you.  I've noticed it with Winston.  If he's not hungry or doesn't have to go take a grumpy, his mood will match mine exactly.

If I'm in bed watching Netflix, he's laying down taking a nap.  I'm on the couch writing this blog, he's laying on his back frozen like a weirdo.  And when I get excited, man oh man, does he get excited too.  His degrees of excitement work like this.

Level 1:  Slow Tail Wag                                    
Trigger:  Doing anything.  Standing up.
Human Translation:  I am kind of excited about whatever you are doing.  Also I will now follow you everywhere.

Level 2:  Biting
Trigger:  Seeing something he likes, or being played with.
Human Translation:  C'mon, I don't really have hands.  I use my mouth to experience the world.  Now let me give you a high five, with my teeth!

Level 3:  Vigorous Tail Thumping
Trigger:  Grabbing his leash or Chuck It.
Human Translation:  OMG!  We are going outside!  I love outside!  OMG!  The thing that makes that little round furry animal fly!  I want to eat them.  I want to eat them both!

Level 4:  Jumping
Trigger:  Coming home.
Human Translation:  I love you!  I missed you!  I love you!  I missed you!  OW!  I'm sorry I know I'm not supposed to jump but I love you!

Level 5:  Sprinting Back and Forth
Trigger:  Unknown, happens spontaneously.  
Human Translation:  Must run.  Must run fast.  Must turn around and run fast.  Must keep running.  Must run faster.  Must run back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Must run!

Yeah, dogs are fun.

I also woke up to new revelations that *gasp!* the NSA has committed privacy violations.  This news isn't shocking, but I'm glad that Snowden and the Guardian are keeping a steady drip of pressure on the NSA and its allies in DC.  Snowden's revelations have really caught traction and the story keeps growing bigger and bigger.  

  • We find out here the House Chair on Intelligence kept info from other members of Congress to make sure the Patriot Act reauthorization passed.  The Republican on Republican combat this caused illustrates the weird political coalitions this issue created.
  • And this interview with the chief judge of the court tasked with policing the NSA really has little power to do so.  Obama trumpets this court's existence as one reason why American's can trust the NSA surveillance programs.
The local paper has had a steady stream of letters lately calling Snowden a traitor.  If that's true, he's in good company with some other famous traitors, like George Washington, Ben Franklin et al.  People who broke the law and risked their personal well-being to stand up for freedom and liberty.

I love America.  I think our ideas and ideals are among the best in the world: That all men are created equal, that government is run for the people and by the people, that everyone should have a fair shot.  Those ideas changed the world.

But ideas are just talk and it's actions that matter.  Our ideals are only as good as us, and I do not think that the NSA collecting and storing American's electronic communications embodies any of those ideals.  That kind of stuff belongs in the past with Soviet Russia or the Stasi of East Germany.  Not in America.

Every day that our government invades the privacy of every American, every time our government lies to the American people about the programs it has to watch us, is a day that Bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorists win.  And they've been winning over, and over, and over.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer, Owning a Home, and Trying to Relax

I've been on the school schedule my whole life.  Work September through May, vacation June to August.  Really the transition is shocking.  Between school and coaching I've spent 14-16 hour days.  Free time comes early in the morning or after 5:00 or 8:00 PM.  

With so little spare time, good intentions fall by the wayside quickly.  Working out?   Sometimes.  Writing daily?  More like monthly.  Calling my mother?  Yeah, I usually do that still.  It's go-go-go until all of a sudden, one June day... it stops.  Summer stretches before you lazy and warm, 11 glorious weeks of free time and nothing to do.  

Oddly though, a lot of this summer I've still felt busy.  "Busy" is a trap that I impose on myself, and am trying to escape.  It comes from good intentions.  With time I want to work out every day.  Read.  Write.  I wanted to take some classes this summer and ended up taking 20 credits.  I want to learn to fly so I started taking flying lessons (few and far between at $150 a pop).

Lately I've been finding things I need to do, but didn't know it until things slowed down I started looking around.  For me it's been my house.  Owning a house is cool.  It really is.  But maintenance needs never sleep.  Ever.  This summer I've:
  • Repainted my deck (which my dog has rechewed in some areas)
  • Replaced rotten decking boards.
  • Rigged a water filter for my sink.
  • Had my gas fireplace fixed.
  • Replace two light switches.
  • Replace an in-sink hot water heater that went bad.
  • Fixed a leaky pipe (got to hammer through dry wall in the garage, very fun)
I've made endless "to do" lists, finished them, only to find, realize or remember something else that needs to be done.  Right now a faulty outdoor electrical socket is staring me in the face.  Part of this owes to the fact my house was a foreclosure, and not in great shape when I bought it.  Part of this owes to the fact that things break. This list doesn't include routine maintenance or yard work which is its own daily burden.

While I love my home and believe it to be a solid long term investment, I do sometimes long for the days when I shared a two bedroom apartment with some dude off of Craigslist and only paid $200 a month rent.  If something broke then, the landlord fixed it.

Even though I'm not working, I don't feel like I have a lot of free time.  This is my fault.  Somewhere my wiring went screwing and I can't just relax.  That electrical socket I mentioned earlier will grind on me until it's fixed.  I've never used it before, but now that it's come to my attention again, I will turn over heaven and earth to make it right.  I've paused typing twice to watch a Youtube video on how to replace it, and searched for parts on Amazon. Endless summer might not be as great for me as the Beach Boys claim.  I need to be doing something so I'm not obsessing over dumb stuff like this.

The time off does have one good consequence.   By August I look forward to going back to school.   I love the start of the school year and all the hope and anticipation it brings.  I love fall. I love college football.  I love fall days.  Apple cider, Thanksgiving, all that jazz.  

As for today, all my to-do's are done.  And I've got an hour before my girlfriend gets off work, so I think I'll take my puppy up to the lake.  The socket can wait!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Interactive Democracy

I've long believed a nation is only as good as its citizens.  An apathetic, uninformed citizenry will probably elect poor leaders.  An involved citzenry will demand an efficient, transparent government.  At least in theory.

The worst thing: apathy.  In a nation of 300,000,000+ it's easy to think that your voice doesn't matter.  Add to that the frustrating gridlock in D.C., billions of dollars spent by special interest groups, and you start to feel like a pretty small fish.

Maybe that's why a lot of people don't vote.  We feel like our voice doesn't matter.  Wrong.

The very thing this country needs is for you, me and everyone else to do the opposite.  Stand up when you see something wrong.  Let your approbation be heard if you see something right.

It's a hard habit to get into, but I've been trying to practice what I preach.  Two examples this week:

I read this article in the local paper.  Long story short: a man flips off a cop, gets pulled over for speeding (the driver insists he wasn't).  It's implied he was pulled over for flipping the cop off.  The man informs the deputy he has a concealed weapons permit and weapon.  The officer draws his gun on the driver and his wife, and takes his gun.  Check the whole thing out.

This bugs me in a lot of ways.  I'm not a huge fan of concealed weapons, but I believe without a doubt that free speech in America needs to be protected, no matter how offensive. A man shouldn't be detained by law enforcement for a distasteful gesture. And if the citizen had his weapon lawfully and wasn't threatening the cop, he shouldn't be drawn on.

So what did I do?  I called the Marion County Sheriff's Office and voiced my complaint to the voice mail of a man named Dan, who incredibly enough called me back.

The other example:

Listened to Oregon Public Radio interview my Congressman Kurt Schrader.  For 20 minutes the guy spoike, and every word he said sounded like it came from my own mind.  I've never agreed so much with a politician!

1.)  He spoke about solving our budget deficet by simplifying the tax code and restructuring entitlements.

2.)  He described how sustainably logging our forests would prevent the catastrophic forest fires we've been suffering.

3.)  Most interestingly, Schrader publically said he doesn't trust the NSA, even what they tell him in the classfied Congressional briefings. He wants to end all the mass survaillence of our phone and email records.

So yeah, check, check, check.

I was so excited I called his local office and told them I supported the Congressman one hundred percent and would be happy to help however I could.  The lady seemed delighted to get a call like that and happily took my info.

So in my own way, I've made my voice heard this week.  I plan on doing it more and more.  It might not make much of a difference, but it will make some.  Now imagine if we ALL did that.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Good with a Little, Good with a Lot

Money.  It's always on my mind.  I like to make budgets, track my finances, set goals, invest, log my spending.  I spend a lot of time thinking about money.

I think I'm good with money.  I'm a Dave Ramsey disciple, though I've taken a few liberties.  I save a ton for retirement, have very little debt, and have a nice cushion of cash in the bank account.

One thing I don't do anymore: Give.  I used to give all the time.  I'd tithe.  I supported Global Giving.  I supported a friend's non-profit.  Now, I do almost none of that.  I support one charity at $38 a month.  That's it.  Mitt Romney gives a considerable larger percent of his income than I do.

The problem with money is that there's never enough.  There's always one more goal to conquer.  Right now I want to buy a second home as an investment house.  Then I could give, I think.  But not really.  Another goal would come up.  Then another.  Then another.

Maybe you understand my thinking.  We all probably think, "if I won the lottery."  But the truth is, if I can't give now with a little, I won't give then with a lot.  It's the same reason why many people who win the lottery end up in financial ruin anyways.  Or that  78% of NFL players end up broke eventually.  If you're not good with nickels and dimes, you won't be good with hundreds and thousands.  If you know how to budget and spend when you're poor, you'll do the same when wealthy.

My goal:  Force myself to give.  Carve some more room in the budget.  Find a project I'm passionate about.  Life is short, and its certainly not about things.  Examples of rich, unhappy people abound.  Where we spend our money really speaks to who we are. I want to be the kind of person who uses what resources I've got to make the world a better place.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to Blogging: Airbnb, Creepy Chalkboards and Small Toilet Seats

Back from a week long trip to Canada.  Hit Victoria then Jasper.  Fantastic stuff.

The real world started today before I woke up.  My dog beat the alarm clock with his barfing unk! unk! unks!  We didn't make it outside.  We didn't even make out of my room.  On the way to the door I stepped in a whole different pile of puke.  Poor guy.

Spent the rest of the day fixing my gas fireplace and ramming my head in the small places under my sink trying to replace my hot water heater.  Now I'm eating canned Progresso soup and drinking wine straight from the bottle.  I deserve this indulgence.  I love owning a home, and even enjoy most of the maintenance on it, but sometimes it can feel endless.

But your house is an asset and it can even generate cash flow, thanks to the latest and greatest from the interwebz: Airbnb.  This site, if you're not familiar with it, essentially lets you turn your house into a bed and breakfast.  You post your listing, people reserve online, and you make a little extra cash.

I've used the service twice, both times while traveling with my girlfriend and puppy.  The first time was in Bend, Oregon.  The room cost $76 a night, Winston had a yard to run around in, and the whole house had a very cool, functional, Oregon fung shui vibe.  Money well spent.

The most recent time was in Victoria, British Columbia.  The place was advertised as a "House with Foodies" for only $49 a night.  It was close to downtown and also had a yard for Winston.  We arrived late.  Everything is so spooky at night, especially if its unknown.  The guy who answered the door, Bernard, seemed friendly enough.  Walking into the main hall way I glanced in the dining room and saw a little kid chalkboard.  Written in child's handwriting was "Help me I'm trapped."  I involuntarily urinated.

I really did have to pee.  But after showing us our tidy little room, Bernard proceeded to go and take a huge dump in the bathroom.  Apparently this house only has one bathroom and 6 people living in it.  His dump stunk forever.  When I finally did muster up the courage to go in there and use the bathroom myself, I found the toilet seat to be impossibly small.  I mean, everything didn't fit.  I thought of this awkward Brian meme:

What bothered me more was that Bernard was a big man.  I had heard stories, terrible stories from a friend who shared a toilet with a very large man, who often left poop smeared on the seat.  Bernard needed a bigger toilet.

The night passed fitfully.  Winston went nuts barking at something around 3:00 AM.  A little light kept flashing, probably a hidden camera.  And somewhere a little boy was trapped.

In the morning we awoke to coffee and our hosts cooking us blueberry pancakes.  Turns out, they were a very nice family, and delicious cooks.  All in all it was a good experience.  Everything is clearer in the daylight.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Best Money You Can Spend To Make America Great

Putting my money where my mouth is, I recently spent a few of my hard earned dollars and got myself a subscription to the local newspaper.  For $20 a month I get a copy of Salem's Statesman Journal delivered to me daily.  I'm hoping to teach my puppy how to fetch it for me.

A smattering of recent headlines illustrate the need for a free press:
  • Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA sucking up every electronic activity of every American.  
  • Attorney General Eric Holder going after Fox News and Associated Press sources to hunt down whistleblowers.  
  • This local piece by the Oregonian about New York based Caithness Energy, and Oregon's own Department of Energy, collaborating together to abuse renewable energy subsidies.
Everywhere you turn, someone is doing something wrong.  Seriously, our government runs a giant, tax funded voyeurism program called the NSA.  Perverts.  Don't be surprised, or depressed about the problems in our government.  It's ran by people and people are imperfect.  There will be abuse, fraud and cover ups.

People are also good.  For every abuse, there is often someone trying to report it to the media.  Whistleblowers are heroes.  Sadly, Barack Obama, who I voted for twice and supported financially, has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any president before him.  This after speaking time and again about the importance of whistleblowers in keeping the government accountable.  Like I linked above, Obama's DOJ hacked reporter's emails to find those sources.  Creepy.

That's why we need the press.  We need journalists who get paid to snoop, uncover and provide transparency to our government.  Whistleblowers need someone who can tell their story.

The press is our first, and best line of defense against government abuse and waste. The antibody to the disease of poor governance.  That's why it's among the first things to go when countries turn totalitarian.  And the more press we have, the better.  Different voices have value, even if we disagree with them.  I might dislike Fox News personally, but I am grateful they will go after Democrats, where other organizations might turn a blind eye.

As long as the press is free, and different voices are tolerated our democracy will have a chance.  And I doubt, for your dollar, the average American can do more to support good governance in our country than subscribing to a newspaper.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Getting to Know the Neighbors

People are the best thing on Earth.  The little interactions, kindnesses and shared moments make life good.  The problem is, I'm not a people person.  I like teaching my students.  I've loved going overseas for various volunteer trips.  But without a defined role, I'd rather stay quiet and in the shadows.

Nowhere is that more true than in my own neighborhood.  Growing up in the country, I had exactly three neighbors.  Now, I estimate there are 60+ homes in my immediate vicinity.  I know very few of those people.  And I don't know how to meet them.

Unexpectedly, my dog has connected me to the neighborhood in ways I never could.  He's a cute puppy.  People want to pet him, to say hello.  I've had a woman stop in her tracks while jogging to come tell me Winston looked just like the yellow lab she had that just passed away.

In the neighborhood Winston has joined a pack of other young, rapscallion puppies.  Four other people on my street have young dogs (three of those are labs or have lab in them), and we often meet in the field nearby.

Around the corner from my house sits a duplex.  On the porch of that duplex often sits an old man and his wife.  I had never spoken to them before until I started walking Winston by.  They would never fail to tell me how much they like my dog, and then share about their own.  The last time I walked by, the man asked me if I'd like some plums from his tree on the way back.  Of course I would!

On my way back he was waiting for me with a big bag of plums.  We formally introduced ourselves.  He told me how much he liked my dog.  And he told me his dog was his best friend with undeniable solemnity and sincerity.

He said he and his wife are realtors, and he put his card in the bag.  Then he added, "Well, retired" with a smile.  I picked out his card.  On the back, in shaky old man script, he had written "retired realtors".

It wasn't much, but it matters.  His small kindness to me made my day better and me feel like I mattered.  I could easily he see he felt good about doing it.  We both left with smiles on our faces.  I think those small interactions are the cornerstone of a happy and contented life.

 We all have opportunities like Jake had everyday to bless someone, no matter how small the blessing.  We just have to be brave enough, or slow down enough, to look for them.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why you are a Socialist, why Marijuana Kills (just not those who smoke it), and why Blake Shelton might not be a Good American

Thought trains lead me to interesting conclusions.

Yesterday I hiked Table Rock with my roommate.  If you're in the Portland area it's an absolutely gorgeous drive and hike.  

We were making good time, and I was sweating a lot.  Then the thought train started:

1.)  I'm sure glad I'm wearing this Nike Dry Fit shirt.
2.)  This shirt only cost around $12 at the Nike Employee Store, globalization and capitalism are amazing!

3.)  I wonder if anyone at those WTO protests in Seattle or elsewhere wore a Nike shirt to the protest?  That would be ironic.

4.)  Those people are probably socialists (if this is inaccurate please understand all these thoughts happened in about .5 of a second).
5.)  If they want to redistribute wealth, they should buy another shirt!  

Eureka!  I'm so smart sometimes.

The term "Redistribution of wealth" pops up during political campaigns, usually to label someone a socialist.   Truth is, every time you spend a dollar you redistribute wealth, and few things  in this world have a bigger impact than how you do so.  And I'd argue that few people appreciate where there money goes.

Back to that Nike t-shirt.  When I bought it, I got a great price on a good product.  Most people's thought process stops there: "What value did I get for my money?"  

And that's the beauty of our economic system, businesses have found ways to get us better products for cheaper and cheaper because it makes them rich.  The average American today lives a better life than all but the wealthiest of people a few hundred years ago.

But my purchase had other effects you might not think of:  
  • It paid the wage of a laborer in Indonesia.
  • It funded its trans-Pacific voyage by plane or ship.
  • It enriched Phil Knight (who in turn enriches my beloved Oregon Ducks).
Or you could put this spin on it:
  • It helped outsource an American job.
  • It contributed to global warming by needing to be shipped thousands of miles.
  • It made an obscenely rich man even richer.
The point isn't to argue the merits of globalization.  Rather, I'd just like you to think about where your dollars go.  Take marijuana.  America likes to light up.  It was such a scary bad thing growing up that it took some adjustment when I realized a lot of my friends, and a lot of adults I know smoke it (the author of this blog has never smoked marijuana).  

When you buy that pot, you get high and get munchies.  And you also help fund cartel violence in Mexico, here in the United States, and even in my beloved Oregon.  This is part of the reason why I think pot should be legal.  Just like Prohibition made Al Capone and other bootleggers rich, so our ban on marijuana artificially limits the supply while doing nothing to the demand.  The result: big money for those that can grow it.  But I digress.

Oil is another one.  All that gas you burn makes a lot of people rich in Venezuela, Russia, and Iran.  These are not exactly America's strategic allies.  So while Blake Shelton celebrates rednecks driving big ole trucks, unless those fellas are hypermiling, he's also celebrating some of American's worst geo-political foes getting rich.  And I bet he didn't know it.

I won't tell you to choose the farmer's market over the grocery store, or to shop local instead of at a big chain.  I'd be happy if more people just started thinking about where their money went and what it supported.  There are more costs than just dollar signs.  Once you start to factor those in, you'll draw your own conclusions.  

You have, are, and will leave an impact on this world.  What kind of world do you want it to be?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Purses, Plates and Broken Ebay Dreams

I have about 30 purses sitting in my garage.  Clutches, Shoulder Bags, Travellers, Hobo Bags, you name it.

Awhile ago I wrote about the auction I went too.  On my second trip there, I decided to try to make some money.  I bought a few things I thought I could resell on Ebay.  A box of old music magazines from the 20's.  An odd piece of Japanese art.  And a box of Rage cards for $10.

I'll assume you don't know about Rage cards, because I didn't. Rage is a collectible card game like Magic the Gathering or Pokemon.  Except you play werewolves.  The cards are gruesome:

Turns out, they're also worth a fortune.  The game is discontinued but still has an avid following.  While little else sold, I was able to get about $600 for the cards.  Not a bad day's work.  I figured I would plan on making about $500 or so every Tuesday from now until the end of summer.

The next two weeks I rummaged through the boxes, smart phone in hand.  I scanned bar codes and looked at what had sold on Ebay.  Eyebrows raised when I snagged not one, but eight purses out of a lot.  There was tuttering over a box of china I snagged.

My girlfriend blushed with embarrassment when I showed her my haul of plates and purses.  Werewolf cards she could understand, but she suggested I stay away from handbags.

Still, I was unashamed.  I figured I made about $30 an hour for the work I put into the box of Rage cards.  Not a bad rate.  Plus I had done my homework, everything I bought had sold on Ebay previously, for lots more than I paid.  Easy money!

I spent hours doing the listings, sweating amidst faux leather in my garage.  Somehow, I talked the girl into helping me.  The auctions started and I waited.

Then a few things didn't sell.

Then many things didn't sell.

And when my auctions ended, most things didn't sell.

Apparently, I am a terrible Ebayer.

Now, one corner of my garage holds:

30 purses
10 bobble heads
16 old magazines
5 pieces of vintage Samsonite Luggage
1 antique chocolate box
1 very creepy doll.
1 clock shaped like a cat
18 various books
3 framed paintings
12 collectible plates that no one wants to collect
8 different sets of china.
1 broken dream.

If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Car Karma

Last Monday I sold my car on Craigslist.  Like I've written before I'm not new to this.  I've bought my last three cars on Craigslist, getting good deals quickly each time. 

This time, I'm not so lucky.  To quickly recap:

1.)  Arranged to buy a 2000 Subaru Outback for $2500.  Shook hands with the woman and agreed to purchase it Wednesday when she returned from a business trip.  She sold it to someone esle the Sunday before.  Curious enough, this woman works at the Oregon Department of Justice.

2.)  Test drove a very nice 1999 Subaru Outback.  Negotiated the price down to $3000.  Was about to buy the car, but on my final walk around spotted rust.  Turned out the entire back left wheel well was rotting out.  I could flick the car apart with my hand.

3.)  Drove 75 minutes to Vancouver, Washington to test and hopefully purchase a 1999 Subaru Outback.  I arrived on time, but was told by the man whose number was listed it was his girlfriend's car and she hadn't arrived yet.  After waiting another hour he told me she wasn't coming.

On one hand, its kind of nice not having a car.  More space in the driveway, I could cancel my insurance, and I have a lot of money in my bank account.  Plus I have to walk or bike everywhere, which is certainly good for me.

On the other hand, I'm quickly becoming that guy who borrows his girlfriend's car.  She's been great about it for a week, but I'm certain there's a time limit.  Most women in their twenties see having a job, a car, and not-living-at-home as the required relational triad.  I don't want her getting flak for dating a dead beat with no car.

So I'll keep beating the Craigslist pavement.  I just want an affordable vehicle I can stick a canoe on and put my dog in, with a clean title and under 200,000 miles.  That's not too much to ask is it!?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sometimes when your puppy wants your attention, he means it.

I was organizing some collector cards on the couch.  They were spread on the coffee table, at my feet, and everywhere else.  Winston came up to me, stepping on the cards.  "Go." I said.  He went a little ways.

Then it started.  Quietly at first.


It built in speed and intensity.


Finally I realized, barf is coming!  "Go! Go!" I yelled and Winston bolted for the door.  I flung it open only to see my sprinkler had gotten stuck and was spraying the entrance to the home.  Winston hates sprinklers.

He came to a screeching halt and barfed on the carpet.  Then he ate it.  I went back to organizing my cards.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New Cars, Used Cars, and People's Word in the Online World

New cars are a tremendous waste of money for anyone making less than $80,000 a year.  I've come to this belief academically through Dave Ramsey, but also by experience.  My only new car was a 2010 Hyundai Elantra.  I spent about $14,000 on it.  It was shiny, black, and came with a $280 car payment.

It also came with unexpected consequences:

First, my insurance tripled to $100 a month.  I didn't think about it at the time, but it obviously cost more to insure a brand new car than my old high school clunker.

Second, I hated driving it to the places I love to go (up mountain roads) because I was afraid of scratching it.

Third, it lost value the second I drove it off the lot.  Edmunds says cars lose 9% the minute you drive it.  Stupid investment.

So I sold it on Autotrader.com and have bought used cars for cash ever since.  No car payments.  My marketplace of choice for buying and selling is Craigslist.  Used car dealers mark cars up extremely high.  Buying from a private party can be up to twice as cheap.  Again, a good tool to see the difference between the retail (dealership) price of a car and the private party price is Kelly Blue Book.  I just sold my 2004 Toyota Corolla LE at the private party blue book price for $4,650.  Dealership price?  $6,200.

Now of course you've got to be careful.  There are shady characters out there.  I always run the cars by a mechanic before I buy, but I've had a lot of success on Craigslist.  Of the five different cars I've bought and sold, I've made a little bit of money on three, and lost a little bit of money on two.  Not bad compared to the value I lost driving my new car off the lot.

Dealing with people there and on other sites has got me thinking about online ethics.  Just this week I had met a woman selling her Subaru Outback.  We went a test drive.  I liked it.  She was asking $2,800 and we negotiated down to $2,500.   We shook hands, and agreed I would buy it when she returned from a business trip.  Two days later she informs me by email she sold it to someone else.

I felt this was wrong.  We didn't sign a contract, but we had a verbal agreement, sealed with a handshake.  Perhaps people are more inclined to renege on their word online because of its depersonalized nature and anonimity it offers.  This woman assumes she'll never see me, or interact with me again.  She feared no social consequences or stigma by breaking her word.

Still, I do believe in the saying "you are only as good as your word."  And I certainly believe our actions towards those who have no power to help us or harm us reveal our character.  Ironically, this woman works for the Oregon Department of Justice.

Back to the car I sold on Craigslist.

My prospective buyer test drove it, liked it and wanted to buy it for his daughter in college.  He negotiated me down from $4,800 to $4,650.  We shook hands, and he said he'd pick it up the next day after arranging financing.  But he didn't show.  He called and said it would be the next day.  Again, no show.  He calls and says he's had trouble with the bank but he'd get it the next day for sure.  That same night I got a better offer for my car, which I declined.

The next afternoon he arrived right when he said he would, cash in hand.  He drove away happy.  His daughter was happy.  And I was glad I kept my word.

Monday, July 1, 2013

People Are Good (Usually)

I've always felt that people are fundamentally good.  Any given person is more likely to help you than hurt you.  I love meeting new people, and chance encounters with strangers have turned into some of the most wonderful opportunities for me.  A good friend of mine disagrees.  She sees people more through the lens of the nightly news.

A recent weekend in Bend, Oregon illustrates both sides of the coin.  My girlfriend and I are walking to a local brewery on the kind of clear warm night you associate with summer.  A few blocks away a nice looking older gentlemen approaches, asking us which establishment we were headed too.  We answer Ten Barrel Brewing, and get a 30 second diatribe about why we should not go there in response.  And so our night with Paul began.

Paul was tall, wiry with a lot of nervous energy.  Jittery.  At first I thought he was drunk.  He informed us he had just been asked to leave Ten Barrel, for dumping a hamburger cooked not to his liking in the garbage.  He clutched a number of menus with handwritten scribbles all over them.  He also had an old digital camera and a notebook.

Paul quickly pulled a U-turn and walked with us to the bar.  I didn't mind the company, he seemed odd, but nice.  Paul spoke in rapid fire clips.  Pointing out his car.  Talking about beer.  Defending his ejection.  Paul rather forcefully suggested we go to Brother John's across the street.  Both places I heard were good, so we went.

We sat down, got our menus.  Moments later, in walks Paul, ejected again from across the street.  He joined our table and recommend some beers, and then announced he was paying.   The night had gotten odder, but there was free beer in the deal so I was game.  He asked me to look at his papers and handed me a stack of loose white notepaper.  It was filled with reviews of local bars.  He wanted to make a newsletter he said.  The conversation jumped around, loudly.  Others in the bar started to turn their heads.  The wait staff looked at me quizzically as they passed by, one eyebrow raised ready to offer support if needed.

Then his questions crossed into the uncomfortable.  Where are you staying?  I made up a place.  Where are you from?  I invented a new home town for us.  He then teared up talking about his long dead father.  Next he called the waiter over asked him to take his beer away, and asked if they had anything actually drinkable.  At this point I felt embarrassed to be sitting with him.  The waiter returned not with more beer, but to kick him out.

Was Paul dangerous?  Probably not.  He was probably lonely, and acting out for other reasons I won't understand.  Still, he made me uncomfortable and my girlfriend ten times more.  If the waiter hadn't kicked him out, I would have found some escape plan for my girlfriend and I.  I apologized to the waiter profusely and left him a generous tip for his troubles.

To contrast that, at the wedding we went to I was recognized by an old friend of my fathers.  I barely knew her, she even forgot my name and had to ask.  Still, she was delighted to see me and promised a spare room and boating trips if we ever came back.  She had no reason to do it, other than being generous to an acquaintance from long ago.

I do believe people are good.  And if your intentions are good, you will attract good people.  A random conversation with an old woman in the streets of Seville, Spain turned into a week stay in an apartment in downtown Paris once.  That same woman's family then flew to the United States to stay with mine, and my brother flew to Paris to stay with them.  All because I was willing to say "hi."  Of course, you need to be careful and use common since.  And always listen to your instincts.

But don't live life scared, you only live it once.  We pass by opportunities of all sorts because we are scared to put ourselves out there.  Saying "hi" to someone could change your life today.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Puppy: 6 Months Later

Right before I got a dog my mother told me that pet owners have less stress and live longer.

At times with Winston, that seems impossible.  Right now he's making noises like he might barf.  All this week he's woken me up at 4 to go to the bathroom (better than the alternative).  I come home, and he's chewed the deck.  He knows he's not supposed to do it.  I know this because as soon as I open the door he starts his guilt walk, a low, scooting waddle like a ferret on rohypnol.  Or like a cobra trying to charm me.  So I look around for what he did wrong, find the chewed wood, and take him over there for some firm "No!"-ing.  

Now dog people might tell me won't know what I'm talking about if I didn't catch him in the act.  But Winston is smart, I think he knows.  Or at least has some idea.  Now he gives me puppy dog eyes, head cocked to one side, tail wagging.  He wants forgiveness.  I pet him and all is well.

Now scratch my belly!

People say labs are people pleasers, and that side of Winston becomes more apparent each day.    He attends my every move, to the point of annoyance.  Sometimes I just watch him watch me.  In all things he wants to make me happy.  Not being able to do what I ask stresses him out, like when I tried to teach him roll over.  He pawed here and there, snorted and turned in circles.  But once he did, he jumped for joy seeing how happy I was.

The bottom line with Winston is this: I clean up a lot of his poop, and I'm sure glad I have him.  He eats my deck, but he loves me unconditionally.  All in all, I'm probably getting the better end of the deal.

Though I'm 29, this is the first time in my life I've been the sole provider for any living thing bigger than a gold fish.  Yes I had dogs and cats growing up, but my mom took care of those.  I've never had a pet since then.  No kids either.  And though he is just a dog, Winston has helped me understand a little better the meaning of unconditional love.

I never intended for this blog to be about dogs.  I've looked through blogger, it seems like every other blog is dedicated to some four legged creature.  When I started this blog I was in the middle of starting a teaching career and running a non-profit.  It was about social change, changing the world, etc etc.  And now, about Winston pooping on deck.  There is probably some significance to that, but I am too tired to find it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Prosper: You Be the Banker

Personal finance has always been a passion of mine.  In another life, I'd be an accountant.

One investment service I really enjoy is Prosper.  Assuming you're first out of debt and already saving for retirement, you probably want to start making whatever money you have left work for you.  The stock market can be complicated and confusing, especially for small investors like myself.  Prosper fills a niche for people like me by letting me make informed investments cheaply. 

Prosper is peer-to-peer funding, essentially replacing banks with everyday people.  You can browse loan applications, and choose to fund loans for as much or as little as you like.  So someone taking out a $7,000 loan might have hundreds of people chipping into fund it.

Prosper gives you a nice financial snapshot of the people attempting to take out the loan.  You can see their credit history, their stated income, whether they have any accounts in default, etc.  Just like in the banking industry, some loans are riskier than others, but the rate of interest they pay is much higher.  For example:

Candidate A has good credit and is likely to repay the loan.  You can fund his loan at 8%.

Candidate B has terrible credit and there is nothing in his credit history to make you believe he will pay you back.  You can fund his loan at 30%.  High risk, high reward.

I've done really well with the website over the years, returning over 11%.  I've funded well over 75 loans.  While some have gone into default, most have been repaid.

My rules are simple:

1.)  Never invest more than $50 in one loan.  My standard investment is $25.  If I really like the application, I will invest $50.
2.)  Know who your're investing in and never fund someone who doesn't fill completely fill out the financial profile.  There is an option for loan candidates to state why they are a good candidate for the loan.  Many people answer this thoughtfully and thoroughly.  Some just skip it.  Most of my defaults fall into the later category.  If they didn't take the time or effort to share their story when asking for your money, then they aren't worth funding. 

3.)  To ensure you follow rule number two, skip the autoinvest option. 

Best of all, the customer service is very easy to work with.  They have a laid back West Coast vibe.  Today I needed to update my bank info.  I called in, pressed the option I needed, and was immediately connected with a guy who sounded like he drinks Chai tea and rides his bike to work.  He took my info and got my bank account linked in about a minute, and I was able to make a transfer as soon as I got off the phone.  Easy peasy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Good Day Illuminates the Importance of the Little Things

Upon arriving at the beach yesterday Winston did two things:

1.)  Urinated into the freshwater stream, upstream of the large pool where a number of children played.

2.)  Ran and pooped in the ocean.

I was unaware he had done the later until it was too late.  Turds bobbing in the surf make slippery targets for my poop bags, so we moved down the beach.  Winston hates the ocean.  It scares him.  Little by little I coaxed him in, until he finally made the plunge and swam.  Onlookers cheered.

Winston, my girlfriend and I had gone to the beach to clam.  Evidently the recent super moon had resulted in historically low tides.  The Siletz Bay was nearly drained at low tide, and we could walk out into the middle of the muddy bottom.  I brought a shovel but didn't need it, we were able to pull clams out with our hands.  Winston bull charged around the muddy flat excitedly, stopping to dig with us now and then.  We quickly limited.  There's a bucket soaking in my garage now that will soon become chowder.

On the way home we broke out of the cloudy Oregon Coast Range and into the Willamette Valley.  The late sun lit up Mt. Hood like a beacon.  It shined brighter than I had ever seen.

I think often about how to best live my life.  I know it is short.  I know I only get one shot.  I struggle to find the balance between leisure and work, both of which make me happy in the right amounts.  I am coming to believe as much as anything, the key to a happy life is finding pleasure in the little moments.  My dog swimming in the ocean for the first time.  My girlfriend's delight at digging out her first clams.  Mt. Hood lit like a torch.  Those small moments pepper every day, it's just up to us whether we choose to enjoy them.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Buying Second Hand and the Craigslist Crazies

Craigslist provides an excellent platform for acquiring things second hand.  My cars, roommates, and some furniture come from the site.

I am a firm believer in buying second hand.  First and foremost, it is significantly cheaper than retail.  My couch and love seat cost $90 at a garage sale, and I've had them for 4 years.  I bought a pair of glass end tables for $20.  A skill saw for $10  And I just wrote about all the insanely cheap stuff I got at the Woodburn Auction.

As for cars, I would never buy from a dealer.  You probably pay 20-50% more when you shop at a dealership than just buying straight from the owner.  Check out your own car's private party versus retail value on kbb.com to see what I'm talking about.

I've developed a habit of immediately trying to resell things I bought cheap on Craigslist things.  You must always list them high, because people will always offer less.  Those end tables?  Listed them for $40, sold them for $30.  And an old cedar bench I sanded and stained went for $40 (full price).  Its not really about the money, I just like the wheeling and dealing.

While Craigslist provides a wide open market to buy and sell your things, its also home to scammers and weirdos.  The Craigslist Crazies.  Scammers are a humorous nuisance.  Their just-not-quite-right English, followed by an offer to buy via PayPal telltale signs of impending fraud.  Take this text, received last night:

"Hi, How are you;

Just I am asking you about a car in craglist website; is it still available or not!!


When listing a car, you'll get a few emails and texts from people who say they will pay full price for the "item", sight unseen, and then ask for my PayPal account number.  Sometimes I text them ridiculous things for fun, but usually just ignore them.  For the experts on messing with scammers, check out the people at 419eater.com 

Then there are the people who make you feel slightly uncomfortable.  Like the fellow who called, speaking in an Indian accent from a Pennsylvania area code (I'm in Oregon).  He offered me $1500 less than I was asking on my car.  When I refused, he kept saying "Please sir, help me out.  Please sir, help me."  He then offered to trade cars with me.  He would not get off the line.  The whole thing felt odd and I eventually hung up on him.  Dealing with strangers it's important to trust your intuition.

If you're willing to look, and willing to own something slightly less than perfect, second hand can't be beat.  It's even worth putting up with the crazies.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Woodburn Auction Yard: The Old West Meets Arabian Bazaar

A fellow teacher invited me to check out the Woodburn Auction Yard, which opens every Tuesday.  Here the old west meets Arabian bazaar.  Auctioneers sing.  Cows bellow.  People herd. 

People bidding on... junk.

Everything from the exotic to the mundane can be bought here.  And possibly the you'll find the exotic disguised as the mundane.  The vague sense you might strike it rich combines with cowboy hats, dust and animals to makes you feel like a prospector in the Old West.  That box here an oil well, that lot here a gold seam.  Is that signed picture of P. Diddy authentic or a print?  It's in a box with 10 other pictures and you can buy them all for $5.

Five or more auctions happen simultaneously.  Livestock, nursery plants, outdoor equipment, and the general auction.  Two auctioneers, miked up on movable ladders, work separate ends of a large warehouse filled with everything our capitalist, consumer society produces.  Paintings. Stuffed animals.  Shotgun shells.  A Βowflex system (went for $20).   Boxes of books.  Boxes of wires.  Chairs.  Sofas.  Clothes.  Trinkets.  Knicknacks.

This child riding a tricycle was subject to a fierce bidding war.

The bidding goes by "lot", typically nine or so boxes lumped together.  The auctioneer starts at $5 for "choice" first pick of the boxes.  Up the bidding goes, until supply meets demand and the box is sold.  First choice went anywhere from $10 to $25.  Then the bidding begins again.   By the end you can snag a box for $2 to $3.  When no one wants to buy the remaining boxes, they lump what's left into one big lot.  One gentlemen, for purposes unknown but presumably creepy, walked away with four boxes of stuffed animals for $2.
All this could be yours for just $5

Most interestingly, the place is a veritable melting pot of the peoples who populate the Mid-Willamette valley.   The Rancher Grandpa predominates.  Old men with sun beaten faces wearing blue jeans, plaid shirts, and lots of suspenders, gather around farm gear.  They bear an uncanny resemblance to my own grandpa who ranches cattle in Washington.  I resist the urge to hug them. 

There are Russian Old Believers, distinguished by their beards or long, silky dresses. Outside a tall German Apostolic woman, head covered, speaks in Spanish to her Ηispanic husband.  Two kids in Carhart gear, make a mess all over themselves with their chew while peacocking by some fishing gear.  

My friend loses a box of old Nintendo gear to a young man who only speaks Spanish.  I bid to $5 on three sealed cigar boxes, but lose to a farmer who goes $6.  A crowd gathers as he opens the boxes: empty.

I end up buying three hanging baskets of flowers for $23.  I paid $10 each for the first two, then got wise and snagged the last one for $3.  I get a brand new Topsy Turvy to hang a tomato plant in for $4, and an old Pendleton Woolen Mills blanket for $2.  My last purchase is  a box of board games for $6.  I wanted the Trivial Pursuit inside, but I get numerous about ten other games also, including two "adult" games that I'm afraid to touch.

All said and done I spent $35.  And it was a lot of fun.  A great way to spend a few hours on a Tuesday.  I'm definitely going back.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fast Food Vices: Everybody Has One

I am health conscious and take pride in being fit and active.  I love to eat healthy and feel tangibly better when I do. I know fast food is bad for me.

Yet Wendy's has an irresistible hold over me.  Wendy's is my fast food vice.  The one place I can't drive by without stopping.  For my mom, it's Burgerville (an infinitely more sustainable choice).  If you are an American, you probably have one too.  If you are not, read on as you will better understand my people.

Wendy's got me young.  It was one of the few fast food options in the town where I grew up.  And before the bacon craze got big, Wendy's had the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger for only 99 cents.  Let me be clear:  this burger is insanely good.  The lettuce, the tomato, the mayonnaise all work perfectly.  And their bacon has improved considerably from the flimsy translucent slices of my youth.

My addiction.  Yours is probably worse!

I will go to great lengths to eat this burger.  I once stopped a dead sprint to make kick-off at an Oregon Ducks game because I ran past a Wendy's advertising new applewood smoked bacon.  I still don't even know exactly what that means, but I had eat one.  My buddy was not so pleased.

Fortunately for my waistline, I don't live near a Wendy's.  I pass one roughly every two weeks.  It's not even a question now if I stop or not.  I order:

1 Junior Bacon Cheese Burger $1.59
1 Value Frosty $.99
1 4 Piece Chicken Nugget with Honey Mustard Sauce $.99

$3.57 later, I'm in heaven.  A little slice of my childhood.  What's your Fast Food Vice?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Weekend Idea: Adult Tree House

Tree houses lose their magic as you grow older.  You get bigger, they get smaller.  Dizzying heights turn into short drops.  Tree houses are for kids.

I was less than excited when a seventh grader invited me to his birthday party last Saturday, which he said was in a tree house.  Not wanting to say no, I drove an hour and a half to arrive at Tree to Tree Adventure Park, near Gaston, Oregon.

And wow.  This place is insanely fun and intensely scary.  It is not your normal tree house.  Think of it more as an obstacle course anywhere from 25 to 60 feet off the ground.  If you are scared of heights like I am, you will find yourself sweating and clammy try to navigate the course 60 feet off the ground.  

Our party did the Aerial Course (there is also a zip line tour).  They harness you up, and run you through a beginner course teaching how to use your "lobster claws," the things that save your life when you inevitably fall.

Then, just as the name says, you spend your time going from tree to tree.  Or trying to.  There are six different, and progressively difficult courses.  The obstacles are called "elements", the majority of which are  wobbly beams and tightropes, with varying amounts of things to hold onto.  Each element does have a guide wire above you, that you're clipped into, but they encourage you not to use it if possible.  The courses also include zip lines.  

Up in the trees, fear is powerful.  Feats I could have done easily on the ground became nearly impossible in the sky.  Still I managed the early courses relatively well, but the fifth course "Red" shook me.  By the time we graduated to the final course, ominously labeled "Black," I got the sense that whoever designed it did so to purposefully and sadistically break my spirit.  I spent the majority of it clutching the guide wire and praying.  

The worst single obstacle was jumping from one platform to another, 60 feet off the ground, with nothing to hold onto.  No beams, no ropes, just my courage.  Which sadly failed.  I held the guide wire and awkwardly stepped across the chasm using my abnormally long legs.  My seventh grade companions made the leap with little to no hesitation.

Pictured:  Easy elements

The course requires faith.  Faith in the equipment.  I know its all rated to thousands of pounds, but still its just little strips of metal and cloth.   I would hate to be the one guy in a million who has his harness break.  And its hard for me not to think about that when I'm putting my life entirely in its hands.

I was I was glad to be done, but unsatisfied with myself.  I'll go back soon and challenge myself a little more.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Winston's Fathers Day Gift

On a walk, Winston started pooping in someone's lawn.  So I drug him to a field across the street, and holding his leash he began his poop spins.

Suddenly, my phone buzzed.  Answering the text I didn't even notice it.  Slowly I became aware of the faintest sensation of something on my foot.  Something barely noticeable, as if it had been heated to near body temperature.  I looked down and saw it.  A turd.  On my foot.

Triumphant, Winston walked the rest of the way home with his head held high.  

Then he taunted me with this face.
Next time it'll be more than your foot!

Don't Forget Me

Teaching you see a lot of faces come and go.  I wish I could say I remember all my kids, but I don't.  Students stick to you by varying degrees, just like you have middle school teachers you can remember, and those you can't.

A fifth grade girl I taught this year will stick.  Sweet and quiet, we shared an interest in the Walking Dead.  She gave a Walking Dead dog tag even.  It hangs from my rear view mirror.

She had a very kind heart, and always brought snacks to share with the class.  But she had every kind of food allergy available it seemed, and couldn't eat many of the same treats she brought.

Once she brought the entire class Jolly Ranchers, but to me she gave a pepperoni stick.  Yum.  But then, about halfway through class she came up to me and said, "I can't eat the Jolly Ranchers, can I have the pepperoni stick back?"  Then I sent her to detention.  Not really, I gave her the stick back.

But what she did last will stick with me.  Her family is moving away this summer.  She made a note for everyone in her class and her teachers that says:

When she handed it to me she said, "don't forget me."  Most kids her age are uncomplicated and genuine, but she especially so.  Emotion was laid bare is powerful, and in this case, touching.  She didn't try to hide it, or laugh it off.  She was sad that she was leaving, and she didn't want the people that she cared about to forget her.  She wants to know that she mattered, and her time spent here mattered.

I can't say how many times I've felt the same at a goodbye.  I comfort myself by rationalizing that if I wasn't sad about leaving, it wasn't worth my time.  My head understands that but my heart doesn't.  Change is the only constant, and on some level I think that is intrinsically sad.

There have been moments in my life, that I wish could last forever.  But they can't.  And I won't forget her.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happiness is Ham

Winston found a piece of ham on the playground.  He is eating it beside me as I type.  A number of large chunks have fallen out of his mouth, but he is oblivious and blissful.

Winston is my 6 month old yellow lab.  He grows at an amazing rate, and is still not half his full grown size.  He can sit, shake, and lay down.  I'm trying to teach him to roll over.  We have a sequence:

"Sit!"  He sits and wags his tail.

"Lie Down!"  He lies down and wags his tail.

"Roll over!"  His ears go back and he looks at me, confused and worried.

So I roll him over, praise him lots like he did it on his own.  He wags his tail!  And we repeat.  We did too much today and he promptly barfed when he was finished.  Luckily he at the barf back up.

So far he hasn't destroyed anything by chewing.  If he gets lonely, the only thing he tears up are magazines I leave out.  The first one he got was the Sports Illustrated swimsuit addition.  While disappointed he does have good taste.

I have learned to read his language and moods a little bit.  Jumps-while annoying-mean he his happy.  Bring the leash or chuck-it out and he starts bounding.  When he has to poop he begins sniffing the ground.  Slowly at first, then faster and faster.  What he is sniffing for I don't know.  When he does find a spot with an appropriate scent for his poop, he then starts whirling around and around like a helicopter, tail kinked and in the air.  Poop circles are a tell tale sign Winston has been there.

Monday, June 10, 2013


The logic of life and time can be suffocating.  Each moment only happens once.  Each day you can never get back.  

I distinctly remember passing the bigger kids in the hall in 3rd grade and saying, "I wish I was a middle schooler!" 

I remember in 6th grade standing on my lawn thinking, "Someday I'll be 20."

Those milestones then seemed impossibly over the horizon.  I know milestones that seem distant now will come.

The present is so powerful, it buries people, memories, friends, songs, and places from the past.  But when triggered, the nostalgia is so powerful in my chest it feels like something is trying to claw out.  There is something very sad in the knowledge, what was will never be.  Sometimes the sadness is beautiful.  Sometimes it is frightening.

In happier moments I embrace change.  The day to day of life is good.  But it is all just borrowed time.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Verizon and Ancient Rome: Who we are and who we will be

We are responsible for the world we live in.

The recent revelation that the U.S. government is tracking data on every phone call made through the Verizon network was a wake up call to me.  I don't want to live in a world where my privacy is sacrificed for security.  I don't want a government with the power to collect data on me without me knowing.  And if I want to change, I have to do something about it.  So I will.

If we are responsible for the world we live in, that is doubly true for American citizens.  Our Founding Fathers fought and died to give us a country where our voice counts.  What we make of that is up to us.

Take ancient Rome.

Few picture Rome as a place of virtue.  What comes to mind is the opposite.  The city of Rome, filthy and opulent.  Christians devoured by animals.  Slaves slaughtering each other to cheers in the Colosseum.  Debauchery.  Treachery.  Betrayal.  Collapse.

Funny thing is, the Romans saw themselves as a virtuous people.  They even give us the word "virtus."  The ideal Roman was courageous, loyal, trustworthy and modest.  Not unlike Jefferson's ideal American, he was a hardworking and thrifty farmer.  Romans in the public sphere were expected to uphold these virtues.  The most successful Emperors cloaked themselves outwardly in Roman virtue, and their short comings were tolerated. Failing to do so, even for an Emperor,  meant disgrace if not death.

The ideal Roman:  Cinncinatus.  With Rome under threat the Senate sought one man to give dictatorial powers to until the crisis passed (this being before the time of Emperors).  Cinncinatus was the obvious choice.  Delegates arrived to his farm to find him the working in the field.  Asked to serve, Cinncinatus called for his wife to bring him his toga.  He returned to Rome, led the army and routed the enemy.   16 days later he resigned his dictatorial powers and went back to his farm.  He was a hero to George Washington who sought to set a similar example by resigning after two terms.

Contrast that with  Didius Julianus, the Emperor who bought the throne at auction.  He was booed and jeered by the public and Senate alike during his short reign for his greed..  Two months later he was killed in his palace.

Furthermore, the Romans were fiercely proud of their Republic.  Rome was a place with rule of law.  Decisions were made by elected representatives.Power was divided into different branches.  Our government is so closely modeled after theirs.

Rome.  A country with a strong sense of its own virtues.  A government founded on limited power, rule of law and representation of its people.  One Republic, Under God(s).

Then something happened.  The Republic fell, and was replaced with an Empire.  The trapping of the Republic remained, but only as window dressing.  The dream that was the Republic of Rome was dead.

How?  The simple answer:  A COUNTRY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS ITS PEOPLE.  All the ideals of virtue and Republic meant nothing if its people were not willing to live them.  The Republic died not because a blood thirsty man took power by force, but because that man, Julius Caesar, was so beloved by the people that the Senate was forced to appoint him Dictator for Life.

The Romans made their own bed.  Each individual chose in their own way to kill the Republic.  Those that supported Caesar.  And those that did nothing are just as responsible.

The same holds true for America.  Our ideals are great.  Our great documents are goose-bump inspiring. But ultimately they mean nothing if we don't live them out.  We make the world we live in, whether you want to realize it or not.  You can bury your head in the sand.  But that is still a choice to abdicate your rights to those more ambitious.  You had better hope they are ambitious for good.

America is too quiet.  Too apathetic.  Too consumed by our bank statements and pocketbooks and too unaware of the bigger picture.  Or, too willing to believe that one person's voice doesn't matter.  That is wrong.  They all matter.

And your choices, your votes (or lack thereof), where you spend your dollars, that all matters.

As for the Verizon scandal, I will write my representatives and voice my displeasure on social media.  I will not support Barack Obama again.  I will support candidates Democrat, Republican, or any other party, that support protecting my Constitutional rights.   I will fight and be heard the way the Founding Fathers intended me too.

You will make this world better, or you will make this world worse.  If you do nothing, that is a choice too. You had better hope that those who making the world better outnumber those making it worse.