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.