Donald Leroy Trimbath Senior

In honor of Father’s Day, my memorial for my father. I thought of him today as I spent my day off volunteering for Whidbey Camano Land Trust by clearing invasive weeds on their property where I’m a Site Steward. The last thing I remember him saying to me was; “Do good work.” I do what I can. – Tom Trimbath, son of Donald Leroy Trimbath, Sr.

Trimbathcreative's Blog (Tom Trimbath)

Photo: Glasgow, Scotland, April 1945, about the time a young sailor was introduced to Guinness Photo: Glasgow, Scotland, April 1945, about the time a young sailor was introduced to Guinness

There were whitecaps on the bay today. They were nothing like the waters of the North Atlantic, or typhoon in the Pacific that my Dad survived aboard ship as a Merchant Marine in World War II. He died, Saturday, September 19, 2015 after a long life of hard work mixed with enough play. He helped raise three sons, including me, and will remain an example of a frugal life and an internal honesty.

He lived a version of the American dream. Born in coal mining country in southwestern Pennsylvania, got out as soon as possible by joining the Merchant Marines because he was too young for the other services, survived (except for a broken nose from a softball game in Marseilles), came home, became a trucker to avoid being a miner (which was wise considering…

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Fighting Depression

At various times, I’ve been cautioned not to write about this, but a string of news stories, fresh data, and conversations with friends came together for this post. It is not easy to write. Challenging taboos isn’t easy. Exposing vulnerabilities threatens facades. I may not do the subject justice, but I decided to join others in trying to talk about depression, depression that I’m hearing about in society and amongst friends and occasionally inside my own head. As one writer friend tweeted;

Even as I write this and paste that, I know I’ll already turn away from two inspirations for this post.

One : Yet another celebrity who seemed to have everything committed suicide.
Two : In the US, 25 states have seen a 30% increase in suicides in the last twenty years.

Depression has been tied to too many of these stories. In particular for this personal finance blog, many of the less public suicides have been tied to personal finance. The Great Recession wasn’t just an economic blip. It hurt. It didn’t just hurt bank accounts and retirement plans. It hurt people. I experienced the emotional assault unleashed by collection agencies. Their attacks left me physically shaking for days. They practice it. They’re good at it. I’m still surprised that I didn’t have a heart attack from people who so expertly knew how to reveal unsettling publicly available information, identify my emotional hot buttons, and hit those buttons with rapid-fire hammer strikes. I’m not surprised that many people decided that the only way out was – well – I guess I will mention suicide after all. One of the things that saved me was the organization that saved my house. Few find them or others like them (Parkview Services), unfortunately. I’m glad I did. (Details: My Mortgage Modification Chronology)

I live on a tourist island where there’s obvious income and wealth inequality. There’s a facade of “welcome to the cheery and pretty place.” And it is a cheery and pretty place. That’s part of why I am here. That facade, however, is propped up by what I call the Pageant of the Pleasant Peasantry. Hotels, restaurants, and shops cater to a clientele that appreciates the natural beauty, art, and culture of the island. The service is high-end, polite, and good at finding a balanced casual quality. Come here to relax and enjoy. It works. I didn’t truly begin learning to relax until I relocated here. Enjoy the service, but it wasn’t until I lost ~98% of my net worth, almost lost my house, and had to work about a half a dozen jobs, seven days a week, for up to twelve hours a day before I began to see behind the facade. The pageant is that polished and powerful.

Too many of the hotel staff, waiters, and baristas live in the woods or in cars. Drive through some of the parking lots farther from the center of the various attractions and see cars that the owners can’t afford to properly fix. Head to the middle of the island, back from the water and the views, and find households that are trying anything and everything to get by.

It isn’t just the people in the public view. On a recent rainy day, I gave a ride to a hitchhiker who was happy to finally get $1,000. He’s a carpenter who will finally be able to buy a cheap car so he no longer has to limit himself to the job sites within walking distance. Browse craigslist, or even better, drewslist, and see proud people selling essentials so they can buy things that are even more essential.

Many people who are smiling are slapping on their version of that facade. Recently, one friend interviewed me as a case study for a class on leadership. Honored to be included. One of his questions was, “How often are you happy?” My answer, about 10% of the time. He was surprised. He expected something more like 80%. I’m not surprised. We frequently base our impression of people from what we experience. I like people. When I’m with people, I smile. When I dance, I smile. But, that’s only part of my life. He also was caught by a data quirk. Ask a geek a question with a number in it and you may get too specific of an answer. About 33% of the time I’m trying to sleep, which I’m quite terrible at. Most of my time is spent working. I enjoy doing good things and getting things done, but the Gig Economy is too chaotic to encourage the flow that I’ve experienced when working with only words, only data, or only playing with ideas. The logistics of switching between the various roles gets in the way. It’s easy to get down to only 10%.

Some readers have cautioned me to not mention such things because it is too real, too much information for clients who want to work with the illusion behind Confidence and the Strong Declarative Statement. I understand that. Go look to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or Mar a Lago for proof that reality isn’t as important as a strong and confident facade. Facts and logic aren’t in style, at least for a while.

We’re seeing the price of listening to those cautions.

I have another blog for “people who are eager and anxious about the future”, The name gets more of a response than the posts. Pretending Not To Panic resonates. I say it, and people smile or laugh or nod their head or some mix of those reactions. They’ll talk about it privately, one-to-one; but won’t publicly admit that they’re pretending not to panic. It cracks the facade, which may mean smaller tips, fewer patrons, more rejections, a shorter list of clients. That’s the fear.

It isn’t just poor people. Anthony Bourdain wasn’t poor. Neither was Robin Williams. Both worked in an industry that paid them very well and provided creative outlets. Yet, behind the facades we placed on them, there were severe troubles.

Depression doesn’t have to reach suicidal levels before it should be addressed. Some countries measure their happiness index. That may sound silly in modern American culture, but wouldn’t it be better to working to that ideal rather than one of “if you struggle hard enough you’ll be allowed to survive?”

Depression isn’t something simple, and certainly not something that can adequately be collected into one blog post. There are many causes. I’m continuing to learn more about mine. I self-diagnose as depressive, because I know good news doesn’t lift me as easily as it did, and because my experience with avoiding foreclosure trained me to flinch at mortgage company emails and any hint of late bills. I also am feeling better. During that phase I flinched at phone calls. At least I don’t do that anymore. Thanks to some amazing support, my situation is improving. Appreciative consulting clients, shared real estate sales, and a financial “buffer” are getting me through some tough times. I’m smiling more. Bodily aches and pains are diminishing. I even had a party the other night and was pleasantly surprised by the joy I felt seeing friends for the fun of it. It’s been a long time.

There are shelves of books about the topic, each with a perspective that matches someone’s needs. Another will be added soon by one of my clients who is working from a pseudonym because they’ve been through a long and successful recovery, have insights, research, and a perspective to share – and yet need to use a pen name because their professional career must be protected by a strong and confident facade. Look for their longer story, soon.

In 2004-2005 I went to counseling for stress-related issues. My counselor pointed out that I had a very thin support network, even though I had a lot of friends. I asked him the blunt question, “Am I crazy?” No. I delved a bit and we got into a conversation about modern psychology and sociology. As dysfunctional as the society was fifty years ago, and before, society and communities and friends were more internally supportive. Pardon the stereotypes, but this was part of his perspective. Fifty years ago, a man would come home from work, then hit the bar. At the bar, he might complain about work, his wife, his life, his kids; but he also may want to share good news with other men who had jobs, wives, and kids. Fifty years ago, a housewife, after taking care of the kids and the house, could get together with other wives and some wine, and similarly complain and celebrate with people who understood her situation. People had emotional outlets. As a society, we’ve worked hard at breaking down gender roles and barriers, reducing drunk driving, and emphasizing openness and diversity – but he pointed out that we also lost those support networks. Our society is in the process of redefining them through “tribes” and bizarre things like social media; but until we replace that network, one of his main jobs is to listen, as much as a barkeep or hairdresser or simply a friend, as a psychologist.

One of the most powerful things he said to me was; “You look like you are in so much pain.” My muscles relaxed so much at hearing those words that my sternum actually cracked. A very freaky moment. A freaky realization that no one else had said those few simple words. My issue at the time wasn’t depression, but stress; but he proved to me the power of listening. Others showed me the same power amplified by holding a hand, or providing a hug. Advice can have the opposite effect. Advice can come across as “Here’s what you are doing wrong”, “It’s all your fault”, “How can you be so stupid as to do…?” A defense must be raised and responded to before getting to the true listening. Try listening first. “I’m sorry to hear you’re in such a situation”, “How does that feel”, “I can’t imagine.” It is also one reason I am training myself to greet people with “It’s good to see you.” Ironically, asking someone “Hey, how are you doing?” in a public place can startle and scare. The same question in private, asked sincerely, however, maybe the best medicine.

I don’t feel that I’ve lived up to Richard’s challenge, “go deep into raw pain, to unleash the fury, the blood”, especially not in a first draft, which is basically what I post. But my eloquence or lack doesn’t matter as much as hopefully helping others know that they are not alone, and hopefully helping others consider other ways to help. We’re all in this together.

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Corporations Meet Owners MVIS 2018

Photo on 2016-06-01 at 16.08

Another year, another stockholders meeting. Another exercise in that dissonance between being able to own a piece of a corporation in America, while being treated as an inconvenience, and dismissed – unless a question is innocuous and positive. One key to wealth generation with the US has been investing in publicly traded corporations. That continues to be possible, but as wealth inequality grows, as companies hide their finances, and as “they who has the gold makes the rules”, it becomes harder to see that the same benefits apply. I just attended the Annual Stockholders’ Meeting for MicroVision (MVIS) and continue to find myself equally fascinated by the possibilities while cautioned by several realities. (I congratulate their graphic designer. This year the poster had proper punctuation, though the presentation did not.)

My book, Dream Invest Live coverDream. Invest. Live. was published so long ago that it is easy to forget that this blog is based on that book. Books are static. Personal finance is dynamic, hence this blog. As I prepare to write the sequel (something this blog is enabling), I wonder if that dynamic has shifted too much.

Paradoxically, even though information flows more freely because of the internet, the Internet Bubble, Enron, and the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) inspired reforms that throttled information flow. If something is made public, it is readily available around the world. Unfortunately, in an attempt to level the “playing field” (as if this was a game) full disclosure requirements and forward looking statement caveats have provided management tools and excuses/reasons to conceal a company’s plans, operational information, and financial expectations from its owners – seemingly unless those owners are officers or managers. In a very well executed presentation of MicroVision’s prospects there were few quantitative facts, not even of publicly released financial data. If the company had proved the value of such secrecy by becoming profitable, it would be easier to believe the reticence was worthy. Competition sensitivity is real, but that reticence can be hard to distinguish from deciding not to mention mistakes.

Personal finance benefits from a person being interested in their finances. Prudent investing benefits from personal research. As research becomes more difficult for an individual, successful investing becomes more difficult. The simpler, more conservative alternatives continue to exist, e.g. no-load index funds; but the more aggressive alternatives become less attractive. If individual investing is only practical to those who have large net worth, then it becomes less possible for people with low net worth to significantly increase their net worth. Wealth inequality expands.

I’ve experienced the ability to grow a portfolio from a few hundred dollars to a over a million through prudent investing, a diversified portfolio, a modicum of research, and frugal living. Hence, my first retirement at 38 years old. Hence, friends encouraging me to write my book on personal finance for frugal folk. It may be possible to do that again, but I’m not so sure, anymore.

Companies seem to be more reticent, and more likely to use tax havens, and to use cash for financial investments rather than investing in research and development. Within the last two decades, automated trading has expanded from a few programs deciding what to trade, to advantages measured in nano-seconds and an emphasis on prices, hedging, and momentum instead of company fundamentals, strategies, and managerial effectiveness. Historically, shorts could be caught in a short-squeeze, an opportunity for longs to benefit from people who bet a stock would go down but instead went up. I hear echoes of investors looking forward to one, but shorting has become more popular and automated that effectively pessimism becomes more profitable.

I have yet to see the data, and it may not exist, but I wonder how much of the increase in market value is transferring to the majority. If the economic recovery feels uneven, is that one reason?

And yet, I continue to invest in the stock market. As my finances recover, I look forward to following my investing strategy: investing in small companies in disruptive technologies, and selling them after they’ve grown substantially. I continue to think that is possibly profitable for stocks like MVIS, AST, GERN, AMSC, and NPTN. (More about those in my Semi-Annual Portfolio Exercise, with a new one due at the end of this month.) Obfuscation, shorts, and computerized trading “should” not contain significant success. There remains the possibility that years of irrational pessimism about a stock can be followed by years of irrational optimism. I look forward to re-retiring.

I continue my journey from Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By, and appreciate you following my progress. There is enough uncertainty in the economy that any of my concerns can be negated by good news for my companies, positive financial reforms, or sadly another Great Recession. Considering history, the most likely future is one we can’t predict. Stay tuned.

For more about the specifics of the 2018 MicroVision stockholders’ meeting, go to Motley Fool, Investor Village, Silicon Investor, Reddit, or some combination. There, you’re likely to find other views and voices. Together we provide more than one perspective, and some do an excellent job at peering behind through the fog of obfuscation.

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Small Towns Rejoice

Small towns rejoice! The data are in. Living in a small town correlates well with happiness. The farther someone is from a city, the happier they tend to be.
Cities rejoice! The data are in. Living in a city makes it easier to make money. The closer someone is to a city center, the easier it is to find a good job at good wages.
Suburbs can rejoice because they have a bit of the best of both, and can mourn because they have a bit of the worst of both.
If you want data, you’re welcome to start with my post on and follow the links. (Which some have done and reached their own conclusions.)
This post is here to skip the data. I gripe about my economic life being tough, but I can pass along an anecdote or two that make me glad I moved to a small town.

Everything is relative.
I live on Whidbey Island, a long island with its southern tip a little less than a 30 mile crow-flight, plane ride, or boat ride from Seattle. That’s close. But, it is also far enough away and un-urban enough that some Seattle-ites couldn’t find it on a map. I know people in Seattle who are proud that they’ve never traveled to the other cities in their county. Whidbey? That’s the wilderness to them.
I live on the south part of Whidbey Island, a place known world-wide for its tourist destination town of Langley, a place that considers itself a city when it comes to naming their building city hall, but brands itself as the Village by the Sea for the tourists.
I live in Clinton, a place that is unincorporated, is a census-designated place, that is best known for the ferry terminal that leads to the mainland. Clinton is known for being a drive-through, a place along the “highway” (really a state route), the connects the southern ferry to the rest of the island. (Check out the Rural Characters having fun with Clinton.)
I may have a Clinton address, but I live so far south on the island that people who’ve lived here for decades don’t drive here on purpose. We aren’t on the way to anything, anything except peace and quiet for most of the year. Summer is a different story. My house is part of a small neighborhood that looks suburban, but it is a bit of suburbia with shoreline, views of the Olympic Mountains, easy access to the Puget Sound and the rest of the world’s oceans (for those intrepid souls), and even a marina. We may be closer to Seattle than the rest of the island, but we’re part of another world.

Scatchet Sunset – from Twelve Months at Cultus Bay

For over 20 years I lived in various urban and suburban parts of Seattle’s metropolis. Each had its virtues. Each made fun of some other part of the area. There were more than enough people, more than enough things to do, enough jobs that meant I frequently had to move, and more than I could see, visit, or do in a lifetime. Seattle is not a dull place. (Flashback irony: One reason Boeing said that hired me was because they had a tough time attracting young people in 1980. The city was seen as too quiet, too dull, and too wet. So much for that image.)

It was only after I moved off the mainland that I learned what my life and world lacked: community.

It isn’t that I didn’t have community. I did. I had a wide range of friends, people that Facebook helps me keep track of. We did a lot together. I didn’t realize, however, how much anonymity I had.

Within a year of moving to the island I ran into the fish bowl effect that small towns are known for. I moved to the center of the fish bowl, Langley. Yes, Langley is a tourist town, but it has residents, otherwise it wouldn’t be a town, or city, or village, or whatever. I was newly single. A single guy in his forties who was retired, active, had parties, liked to dance and cook, and was a writer – well, word got around. Word got around so much that if someone parked a car somewhere near my house overnight, I’d hear stories the next day about who I was with – even if it was just a parked car owned by a stranger visiting someone else. The rumor mill was active, and that’s an understatement.

The gossip was also common enough that it was a worry for the mayor. He sat me down to talk about it. Okay. He sat me down to cut my hair because he was my barber, but he was also the mayor. He asked me what I thought he should do about it. The city’s culture mattered to him and he saw it as detrimental. I agreed, and told him to leave it be. I’d just been through a divorce and retired early because of stress-related health issues (and because I had enough money). While living on the mainland, my immediate circle of friends and family knew some of what was going on, but most of it was hidden. We lived in different neighborhoods, worked and shopped in different places, and had other friends who weren’t part of the circle, the network. When it came to emotional support I had what my counselor (the mental health kind) called “a very thin support network.” They were people who cared, but they also had to care about a lot of other things, too. Within my neighborhood only one neighbor took the time to listen.

On the island, it isn’t true that everyone knows everyone, but if they don’t know you they know someone who does. They gossiped because they cared. If they knew what was going on, they’d cheer or sympathize as appropriate. Gossip happened when they cared but hadn’t heard enough of what was really happening. It was the other end of the spectrum, and could benefit from some moderation (especially those folks who purposely spread hurtful rumors because they thought it was fun). Its benefit, though, far outweighed its cost, usually. I’ve never seen so many instances of spontaneous generosity for people in trouble. They don’t help everyone, no person and no community can, but they don’t wait for the mayor or the preacher to gather and point them towards helping someone. In the best cases (usually in the worst circumstances) help can arrive before someone gets home from an accident or the hospital.

In the city, anonymity is the norm. Want to be rude? You’ll probably never see that person again. Go on a never-ending series of overnight stands? Same thing. Be polite? That’s great, but what goes around takes a lot longer to come around.

In a small town, everyone knows your name, or maybe your face, or they’ve heard of you, or at least you have something in common. Want to be rude? People do, but those are the people who have to avoid people. Want to date around? That’s natural, but there are few secrets. Be polite? Be polite. Be helpful. The local paper regularly runs their Hometown Hero section where someone is profiled for decades of simply being themself in extraordinary ways. Will there be massively inaccurate gossip? Of course. And that’s true for everyone, and everyone knows it. Just don’t expect juicy and wrong gossip to die quickly. There’s not as much to do as in the big city, and a good story can be worth a lot of social capital.

It is an interesting environment to live in. Imagine getting stopped in the grocery store (yes, they weren’t all replaced by supermarkets) by someone with congratulations or condolences. They heard the story, recognized a face, and may have offer a handshake or a hug.

I moved to this neighborhood in Clinton to enjoy the view and the quiet, but also to distance myself from the fish bowl of Langley. Enough can be enough, eh? I make fun of Langley. It’s a tourist town that is proud of itself; but it also may have the best example of community. From Langley Library to Good Cheer Thrift is about a 4 minute walk, according to Google. It can take two hours in reality. Traffic is not the issue, except that it is. Traffic in terms of meeting friends, dropping into shops, enjoying the gardens, and generally moving at an islander’s pace. Within a block or two, nothing may happen; or, folks may want to know about a dance, or have an idea for a business, of have a cause that needs support, or generally are just being friendly. Want a reason to rejoice? There’s one.

Now, excuse me as I skip editing this post. It has been a long day (real estate gets busy this time of year, evidently) and I have a party to prepare. It will be my first in years, and I’m looking forward to celebrating a bit of financial relief thanks to friends, clients, and my perpetually extended exercise in frugality. Step one, clear some room in the fridge. Party fixings are coming in. Oh well, I guess someone has to finish this box of wine. Can’t have my friends drinking the dregs. Cheers!

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A Day In The Gig Economy – 2018

I thought it was silly when I first heard a futurist predict that the next generation would have seven careers in their life. Retirement would take on a new meaning. Allow me to take this opportunity to count whether I did something similar in one day in the Gig Economy.

Two or three career choices was easy enough to imagine while working my way through an engineering job that looked like it was good for a lifetime. Few were as fortunate as me. Within my years with Boeing, I steered myself to the job I aimed for while in college: working on the next generation space shuttle. From the grumblings I heard, it sounded like most people worked in jobs, not careers, that had little to do with their dreams, intentions, and education. My Dad’s generation raised the expectation of one job for life, but then, life didn’t last as long then. A trend that went from a lifetime job, to a couple of jobs in a lifetime, to seven careers seemed unreasonable. The futurist may have been conservative with his estimate.

When I retired at 38 – (pardon the pause as I reflect on that decision made over twenty years ago) – I expected to create a new career. Conventional wisdom for such an unconventional situation was to channel a bit of Monty Python; “And now for something completely different.” Stepping right back into the role of an engineer or manager could unfortunately reinforce a personal identity based on a job title. The answer to “who are you” is not limited to a job description. Who am I? Instead of limiting that to “engineer” I can tell you I am a person who is fascinated by people and ideas – and who enjoys personal powered play time like hiking, skiing, bicycling, dancing, and such. Following that advice, I followed the advice by embarking on something completely different: putting my black belt to use by teaching a very old style of karate.

Skip forward 14 years. The karate business was shelved because of martial arts politics and logistics. Unrelated, I requested and received a divorce (dissolution in Washington State). Independent of that, my portfolio was hit by a Triple Whammy as the nation was struggling with the Great Recession (the Great Depression Part II). When I could no longer pay my bills, I stopped paying my mortgage, and I implemented My Backup Plans. In those years, I accidentally became a writer by bicycling across AmericaJust Keep Pedaling, began teaching about modern self-publishing and social media before they were popular, initiated my management consulting business, and basically fielded invitations to entrepreneurial situations that would begin as soon as they found the right money.

Skip forward about 6 more years and notice that the total of all of that work, effort, networking, and patience was less than enough to pay my bills. At least I was able to negotiate a modified mortgage and keep my house. I needed something else, and became a real estate broker. Stay tuned on that venture, and be encouraged because it turns out that real estate benefits from someone who understands how to run a business, write, speak, take photographs, negotiate contracts, network, treat people and paperwork responsibly and with respect, and communicate that through social media.

At least for today, none of my ventures have been an all-or-nothing success. For today, they mean a full day built from a string of gigs that involve a mind-numbing array of business styles, tax laws, contracts, responsibilities, and discretions.

A Day In The Gig Economy

  • Wake up after a fitful night’s sleep.
  • Before getting out of bed (er, futon couch because the bed was sold years ago) check stocks (because I maintain some hope for my portfolio), news (because the world has gone weird in ways that affect me), and emails (because one email can change my entire day.) By the time I stood up, I’d checked on book publishing and real estate clients. Three aspects of my recovery already reviewed.
  • Turn on the radio until I hear serious news about politics, then switch to online replays of the late night talk shows making serious humor from the same news items.
  • Shower, shave, and make a lunch to go.
  • Today, a special treat, eating out for breakfast as a way to get to know more people on the island that I normally wouldn’t meet.
  • Back to the real estate office for my shift. We make sure there’s always one broker on duty for people who walk in.
  • Switch hats, but not seats, to dive into more non-real estate business details. Decide what to do with a possible class in Modern Self-Publishing. Contact a fellow presenter for a duet of a talk at the local library this fall. Check in with a book publishing client about their paperback and ebook that will follow the recently produced hardback.
  • Settle into managing an online museum for an hour or so, just to make sure the communications are flowing smoothly.
  • Realize my next real estate shift has to be shifted because a real estate client wants to meet at the same time. Be thankful for a supportive group of brokers in our office.
  • Skim then scan news sources for, a side venture that I maintain for people who are eager and anxious about the future, and who prefer news that is apolitical, factual, based on data, and consequential. That task was a lot easier until November 2016. Very little is apolitical anymore; and facts and logic are no longer in style. Consequential, ironically, has never been more consequential.
  • Jump back into real estate by pulling together the paperwork for a hoped-for deal.
  • Lunch! But eat quick because there’s a real estate errand at another office that has to be squeezed in before a meeting with another book publishing client.
  • Sneak in a few minutes with my eyes closed to reset my brain into editor/publisher/consultant mode. Then, meet with an fascinating client to polish and submit their book for publication. Oh Microsoft Word, quit trying to be so helpful. A simple task takes twice as long as we spend as much time making changes as we do undoing the changes the programs makes while trying to help. Success! And, a very happy writer/author. Now, about that next book…
  • Swing back into the real estate office to check emails, hoping to finish early enough for a bicycle ride and writing this blog (without knowing what the topic will be.) Get an email, then a phone call from a client who wants to look at a house in under two hours. Happy to help – and grab a can of soup from the local grocery for a quick, light dinner.
  • Find that I’ve been invited to be part of a panel discussion about the island and security issues.
  • Tour a recently listed house that, in typical Whidbey fashion, was lived in – creatively. Listen to what they want, find something possibly a lot better for less tha 10% more, then head home.
  • On the drive home, decide whether to detour to the site of my next Twelve Month photo seriesDSC_0126, or head directly home to work on this blog. A little later, and the colors would be richer, but too early is too dull, so drive home.
  • Get home. Sigh.
  • Boot the home computer. Check emails. Send out a few to real estate clients based on what I’d just toured, including more details on the nicer properties (that are also a better fit and cheaper to live in, and realize that the blog has to be simple.
  • Decide that the simplest, yet most illuminating and useful blog for one of my next books, is to chronicle most, but not all of the day’s events.
  • Count the gigs.
    • 1) Investing – something to continue because passive wealth generation is powerful, and is something I’m known for as a writer, speaker, and investor.
    • 2) Book Publishing – something I do as a management and project consultant, which I’m well-enough known for that I’m currently working with five clients, none of which are working on similar projects.
    • 3) Real Estate – and its many facets that are known for overwhelming and upsetting schedules
    • 4) Teaching – one of the most powerful ways for me to connect people and ideas.
    • 5) Public Speaking – ditto
    • 6) Museum Management – which can sound out of place, but it is an extension of my consultancy where, according to the executive director, I’ve helped them get more done in a year than they did in a decade
    • 7) News and Merchandising – an odd pairing combined in Pretending Not To Panic, but with the potential of the folks that creating “Life Is Good”
    • 8) Strategic and Community Planning – because evidently someone with a variety of perspectives is appreciated (though uncompensated financially)
    • 9) Photographer – even when deciding not to take a photograph, the decision making process is part of the job.

So, seven careers in a lifetime? How about nine gigs in a day?

The Gig Economy is portrayed as a panacea for those who decide to skip the corporate path. The truth is that most of the job creation since the Great Recession has been in the Gig Economy. They are unsettled jobs with chaotic income streams that require vigilance rarely experienced in large companies (and probably never by politicians – oh yeah, and I planned to run instead of simply making commentaries, but look at what I just wrote and understand why I missed the deadline. That would’ve been gig #10.)

I plan to write a sequel to Dream. Invest. Live. The working title is From Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By23697 Middle Class to Millionaire. If I waited to chronicle days like this, I’d forget too much. It is hard to keep track while in the midst of the muddling. I suspect this it temporary, but this temporary situation has been happening for over six years, there are no guarantees it isn’t permanent, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I have so many opportunities.

By the way, that “lifetime” engineering career probably wasn’t a lifetime option. Almost all of my engineering friends have been laid off or encouraged to spend more time with their families.

It is after a late springtime sunset by the Salish Sea, as is astronomically predictable at this latitude. My literary friends would encourage a more literary ending and conclusion. Accept my apologies that I don’t spend more time editing and polishing before taking what remains of my drink and enjoying it on the deck in the fading light. Tomorrow is another day in the Gig Economy. I wonder what it will bring.

(Doh! I forgot to mention the writing assignment I was arranging today. Oh well, it’s all good – and someday, somehow, good enough.)


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Little Time But Good Food

Hello, clients. Pardon me as I take a break to type during a busy work day in the Gig Economy. There’s plenty of work to do, but the Sun and the horizon are closing on each other, it has been a long day, and somehow dinner is going to happen. Frozen pizzas or nachos are answers, but I like to cook from scratch. Making a pizza crust is going to take too long. Making chips from tortillas would take longer. Decades of experimentation (and a tolerance for culinary excursions) has brought me back around to basics done simply and well – or at least well enough. It is an approach frugal folks recognize; respect time, money, priorities, and basic necessities and pleasures. The approach applies to tonight’s dinner, but it also applies to the work that led to it.

I am not a chef. I was brought up on truck stop food because my Dad drove trucks (and eventually managed the operation), and packaged foods because my Mom was the daughter of immigrants and it seemed that labels and brands were American. In their quick defense, my Dad was also a fan of fresh fruit farm stands before they were popular, and my Mom innovated with cheap cuts of meat in ways I thought were sophisticated. Still, I can be more comfortable around a buffet than ordering from waiters with their priceless menus.

I am a cook, and I enjoy it. My Mom started me with simple recipes, steered me towards cookbooks that relied on Cream of Mushroom soup, and showed me how far she could go with Rice Krispies, Heinz ketchup (and it had to Heinz because we lived just outside Pittsburgh), and bacon grease – not all together. Now, my meals are far from what she cooked (fresh veggies!) and more likely to fit my lifestyle. She had to make our breakfast, prepare jello molds for bridge club and the women’s club, then come home to cook for the two of them, plus three boys, feed us all, then watch my Dad head off to his second job. My dinner table requires far fewer seats, and only has to accommodate one set of tastes (but probably with more dietary restrictions than my entire family.)

I am surprised that more college students don’t learn to cook when they leave home. It is understandable that life in the dorms can also mean prepared meals in the dining hall; but eventually, moving off campus (or getting kicked off, but that’s another story) on a limited budget meant the steepest learning curve of my collegiate career. The first meal couldn’t wait days or weeks. Maybe it was a pizza delivered by another student. I can’t recall. But, I do remember that, of the three of us, the one who labeled himself a gourmet chef only liked to cook one meal a week, my other roommate had a mother who supplied us with groceries which were appreciated and fulfilled his obligation, which left me standing in the kitchen trying to decipher the Betty Crocker Cookbook. Yes. Smoke alarms are exercised by bachelor cooks.

After college, the Joy of Cooking began educating me. Cooking was cheap entertainment, and I entertained myself enough to gain twenty or thirty pounds. More sophisticated cookbooks were distractions that didn’t lead to how I wanted to live. Then, the Food Network came through the cable and I began to learn from Alton Brown. His show, Good Eats, focused on the basics. Why stock makes food taste richer, and how to make stock at home. Why the same energy delivered slow and low cooks differently than fast and hot, and when to use each. One of his themes resonated with my Mom’s cooking and my Dad’s appreciation of it. Recipes that others have turned into sophisticated procedures and elegant presentations frequently started as ways to use cheap ingredients to feed exhausted workers. Roasts, casseroles, and stews didn’t rely on the best ingredients. They relied on slow and low to break down tough tissues and to blend flavors. Fast and hot had their place with quick meals that were enabled by slicing ingredients into smaller or thinner pieces. Hello, stir fry and minute steaks.

Those meals were built around the Industrial Revolution, the nuclear family, and the Baby Boom. My meals are built around the Gig Economy, cooking for myself, and saving the inevitable leftovers. Maybe my college grades would’ve been better if I was able to spend more time studying and less time cooking.

Then, there was one extra lesson I learned that made my life easier, and just as tasty. Make the recipes match my life, rather than making time in my life for recipes.

Photo from an earlier dinner

Read most recipes and they do what they are supposed to do: tell the cook how to gather ingredients, measure, season, prepare, cook, tend as necessary, wait for the timer, portion, plate, present, and eat. It looks like clockwork, and can intimidate those who believe perfectly following the recipe is the only way to succeed at making a meal.

Thanks for the suggestions. Welcome to reality.

Cooking frozen foods. I’m not talking about frozen dinners. I’m talking about ice-hard chunks of meats and vegetables. Sure, thawing them properly is preferred. But, many meals work out fine if cooked a lot slower and a little cooler. Tonight’s dinner is a frozen chunk of chuck steak surrounded by frozen veggies with a huge carrot broken into thirds. Drop it all into a roasting pan, season with whatever seems reasonable, cover, set in the oven at something over 250F and under 300F, and let it cook as I type. The aroma will tell me when it is done. One extra hour is usually enough. No need for a timer (though I set one anyway, just in case.)

Cooking beans and grains. Ah, they are supposed to be soaked. Yeah. But again, I give them more time, keep them moist, and create chilis and casseroles that I enjoy. I even take time with oatmeal. Rather than pay attention to it as it cooks or nukes, I cook it earlier than I need it, set it aside, and let the rehydration commence. Need some heat? Mr. Microwave can add some energy at the end. I had a tough time timing rice because it would burn while simmering. Now, I cook it for a minute, lid it, and take it off the heat. I don’t try to start it fifteen minutes before I need it. Perfection and perfect timing is tiring. I make it up to an hour earlier and let it set.

When I want something fast, sandwiches suffice. If I want something fast and hot, I’ll splurge on a steak – and keep the cost down by keeping the size of the steak down. Eggs cook quick. And, of course, leftovers reheat well enough for a busy worker.

There’s probably a cookbook that already covers all of this; but experience has steered me away from recipes and directed me to techniques.

The same lesson applies to work. In the work world, the recipes are the checklists and procedures that must be followed, frequently because of tradition. Much of the urgency and drama is created by “we’ve always done it that way” and “because they said so.” Preparing tasks early when time allows, then setting them aside, lets some things simmer. Sometimes, while things sit, better ideas and alterations arrive. Rushing to a boil can create messes and occasional alarms. If a diner is paying for a gourmet meal, then give them one; but they may only be hunting for quick something. Don’t make them Eggs Benedict when all they want is a hard-boiled egg and a piece of cheese.

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Stocks Houses Books

They handed me a pink envelope, which means it is time to raise a glass. I also suspect someone is popping champagne corks while others are at least hoisting a beer. It has been a good day, and feels like a prelude to more frequent and larger celebrations.

Let’s start with stocks. MicroVision announced a new $10M contract. That’s not enough for profitability, but it eases some of their money worries, which eases some of the shareholders’ investing anxieties. The $10M is a licensing contract with the usual waffle words that attempt to convey the significance of the situation without revealing the actual customer, product, or terms. But, at least this time there’s a specific number and a specific time: $10M in 2018. They followed that with the quarterly earnings report and conference call suggested better financial reports are coming. Good news now, better news later. Of course, long term MVIS shareholders have heard similar stories before, but the numbers continue to climb. They may not be rocketing upwards, but after years on the launch pad, it is nice to see evidence that the fire may finally be lit. That’s a beer celebration, not champagne.

That pink envelope has nothing to do with pink slips. At least in my real estate office (Coldwell Banker Tara Properties in Bayview – which I spell out as much for legal disclosure as well as marketing reasons) the pink envelope delivers the news that a deal was closed and the money distributed. It’s my first, and is likely to be quickly followed by others that are larger. (Some are already in work as Whidbey’s market gets busy. Give me a call if you want or need some help with such things.) The first deal is definitely welcome and well-timed. It arrived on my six-month anniversary of receiving my license. That means I’m also a quarter of the way through my critical first two years. One friend found a good way to give it perspective. He didn’t want to know the specifics, but he wanted to know if this first check paid for the expenses it took to get here. Yep. So, another beer celebration. But not much more, hence the beer and not the champagne. With my engineering background and familiarity with the island, I’ve been able to parse the data to understand how well things could be. At this point, encouraging – especially thanks to the other brokers who have supported me (as they were supported when they started) and the realization that having left and right brain skills is handy in real estate.

Those champagne corks should be popping for several of my project management clients. These folks are artists working on projects that are nearing completion. For the last month or three I’ve been busier with clients than in a long time. The fun part is that five of them are working on self-publishing books, all of which are either available or about to be available. Some are working incognito, so I won’t get into details about their works but the projects include a cookbook, book of poetry, inspirational/environmental/spiritual novella, a parenting guide, and a novel of ancient Greece set in the homes and the battlefields. I congratulate any writer who writes. Any writer who completes their manuscript has cleared a higher hurdle, and deserves recognition. Those writers who become authors take the largest step from the solitary, introspective work of writing to the gregarious, extroverted activity that is publishing, marketing, and selling a book. Even if the books aren’t profitable, pop those corks. If the books are profitable, pop another one or two – then get back to writing to meet that demand. (By the way, we’re conducting a workshop for those writers who want to become authors by self-publishing. Whidbey is a great escape for writers. The community is supportive, and not surprised to see someone scribbling notes on paper or typing at a laptop almost anywhere. Whidbey also has enough distractions for the partners of writers. Partners may love the writer but would rather spend their time doing something else. Whidbey may provide. One of my other blogs, is a place to start.)

This November will be the tenth anniversary of the book that inspired this blog, Dream. Invest. Live. The unofficial subtitle is “personal finance for frugal folk”. Books are static. Personal finance is and isn’t. Some aspects of personal finance persist: “Spend less than you make. Invest the rest.” Some aspects of personal finance change every day: stock prices, housing prices, income, expenses, interest rates, etc. The book covers the persistent bits. The blog gets to cover the rest, or at least the rest that I decide to write about. Regular readers know that the dynamic aspects of my personal finances were swung far off-center by (as several finance professionals have commented) a perfect storm of bad luck. In America we generally ignore the role of luck, but I no longer do. The last ten years have been a roller coaster ride through America’s wealth classes that inspired me to pursue whatever opportunity I thought could help me recover. Today feels like a major milestone in that effort.

There’s a 10,000 Hour Rule, which isn’t really a rule, but an interesting guideline. Check out the book, Outliers, for a better description. The short version is that a study about success discerned a pattern. People frequently succeed after they’ve devoted 10,000 hours to their effort. It may be 10,000 hours crammed into the fewest years possible (see Bill Gates’ childhood), or stretched out over decades (see late-bloomers and overnight successes that took years to get there. MVIS eventually?) Take that 10,000 rule and apply it to people who work several jobs without taking days off and become part of a great debate about whether 2,000 hours spent on 5 jobs is just as good as 10,000 hours spent on one project. There are no guarantees, and luck does play a role, but considering the number of overworked Americans, I wonder if we’re going to use them up, or if they are about to ignite a necessary renaissance.

A few of my friends have suggested that my workload, typical 4-7 job active schedule, and over 2,000,000 publicly available words might just mean I will finally succeed in many ways at the same time. They wonder if I will swing from trying to find something that will sustain my frugal lifestyle by saying “yes” to almost anything, then swing to having to say “no” to too many opportunities. Check back to find out. I certainly don’t know.

I do know that, the more today’s style of celebration is repeated and escalated, the more likely I’ll get around to using this blog to create the sequel to Dream. Invest. Live. From Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By is the working title for what will probably be a book about that roller coaster ride that is as much about emotion and community as it is about logic and conventional wisdom. With days like this it is easy to imagine stocks, houses, and books all contributing to doing more than simply sustaining my simple lifestyle.

Until then, it is time to consider making my celebration just a little bit bigger. It has been years since I’ve had a party at my house: good people, good conversations, and usually eventually good dancing. Stay tuned.

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My House Appreciation

Curse you, Sean Keeley! I was going to write about house prices and their appreciation. He beat me to it. That’s okay. He’s writing for a national audience from I’m writing about my house and more than just appreciating its price.

Maybe I should put together a personal FAQ list. A real Frequently Asked Question list is not supposed to be some pre-ordained list of questions. A FAQ should provide answers to frequently asked questions, answer that people asked for, not scripted answers and questions that attempt to control the conversation. There are several that are common for me because I: retired early, became a millionaire, wrote a book about personal finance, lost 98% of my net worth, and continue to work at recovering from my Triple Whammy. More succinctly, people ask about my roller-coaster ride through America’s wealth classes and why I haven’t followed their advice, or their friend’s advice, or some other stranger’s advice.

Near the top of the list (I don’t keep count) is why I don’t sell my house. The assumption is that people hold onto houses for emotional reasons that overwhelm logic. The assumption is that someone with tight money issues is ignoring logic and hanging onto their house because they can’t imagine giving it up. I like my house and am glad I’ve been able to keep it, but I also keep it because of math.

Thanks to a difficult but successful mortgage modification struggle, my mortgage payments are now less than a thousand dollars per month. That’s less than most folks spend on an apartment. If I move, even to a smaller place than my small house, my housing bill would probably go up.

Even if my monthly housing expenses went down, they’d have to drop about 33% to equal the total cost and benefit. That’s because about one-third of my mortgage payment goes to paying down the principal on the house. A few hundred of those dollars are dollars I get back when or if I sell. They are an asset being traded for an asset.

Individual results will vary, but in general, housing prices are going up. Here’s the part that Sean Keeley goes into in more detail. Here’s also an exercise for any homeowner. Take your house’s value. Check with a few of the sources of real estate data for your neighborhood’s price rise. (Need help? Check with a broker.) Apply that to your house’s value. That’s how much your house is appreciating, maybe. Compare that to your monthly expenses. For some people, their houses are making more money sitting there than they are working. That asset growth, however, isn’t the same as income – but it is useful.

For me, in my house, in my neighborhood, on Whidbey Island, for the last year, my house’s appreciation is so close to my expenses that they’re effectively equal. For every month I live here, I accumulate one month’s living expenses – as long as the market doesn’t turn down before I sell.

Apply compounding. If my house’s price appreciates faster than my expenses, I should stay in my house as long as possible. For every year that is the case, the excess continues to increase.

Imagine a frugal person living in a house in some of the hottest neighborhoods in the nation. Because they need so little, every increase creates an increasingly larger buffer. If their income meets or exceeds their expenses, then their house becomes an impressive investment. In many ways, that’s the economic model that worked with the post-World War II era when prices started low and people were still frugal from the Great Depression, life-long careers with benefits were common, and housing was cheap because it was expanding into the innovation that was the suburb.

As we’ve experienced, the model can break. Inflation can rise. Housing bubbles can pop. Fixed incomes can be too limiting. Careers can vanish. The long-term general trend, however remains that spending less than you make and investing the rest is a good plan.

I didn’t plan this, but this is the way the world happens. I started this post reflecting on an earlier post. (Sean doesn’t get all of the credit or blame.) One year ago I wrote “My Rule Of 7 – One Day Off“. Check an even earlier post for details of My Rule of 7. Basically, because my house had appreciated enough to raise my net worth by $100,000 I decided to start taking one day off each week. That may not sound radical, but for several years previous I’d been taking off a day every two months.

I’d like to update that by announcing that I can now take two days off each week, but business is down as I took time to pass my real estate exam and get that aspect of my business operating, and neither my house nor my other investments haven’t appreciated by another $100,000.

The appreciation doesn’t trigger the next step in my Rule of 7, but it does continue to approximate my monthly expenses. That’s worth celebrating, too.

Because I’m a real estate broker now I spend more time diving into the data. The engineer in me enjoys pulling apart the various databases and data sources, checking their assumptions and methods, and realizing that no one really knows how much more a house is worth until someone sells it and someone buys it. Even then, the data are noisy because people sell and buy, and people are people, and people aren’t always logical – even when it is the largest purchase most people will make in their life. That’s not a surprise. The thing that changes a house into a home is emotion. A house became a home because someone cared.

I care about my house. Of all the places I’ve lived, it is the only one I consider home. I like it so much that I apologize to it for not taking better care of it. More income will mean better care. One way homeowners can turn some of that asset appreciation into income, or at least cash, is to take out a home equity loan. Depending on my business and several other factors, I might do that to pay for some maintenance. That might even increase the value of the asset, though it does so by increasing debt. I might only do that if I am confident I will also see increased income.

Despite all of that, I regularly review the logic and the math of selling. If I sell, how much do I get? If I sell, how far do I have to move to afford something else, preferably debt-free? I tried selling before, but that was in the slump when there were lots of sellers but few buyers. Now, South Whidbey has just passed through a record low number of sellers, which means some houses are being bought in days instead of months, and that prices are probably appreciated more rapidly. Because everything is changing, I conduct the review regularly.

And then, of course, there’s the other type of appreciation, the appreciation that made this house a home. The walls, windows, and roof protected me from winter. The grass and garden are growing. It’s a sunny day, and a rare one because I’m working from home instead of the real estate office, or the coworks (WIcoWorks in Clinton, WA), or any of my favorite coffeeshops and libraries. It is low tide on Cultus Bay. If I wasn’t writing this blog while waiting for a client’s phone call, I’d wander down to walk the square miles of exposed sand. I’ll enjoy the view of it, the Sound, and the cloud-shrouded Olympic Mountains as I sit and type. It is a small house (868 square feet), the smallest house I’ve owned, and the one I like best. After living in it for the last decade or so, I can imagine living in something even smaller.

I imagine living in other places in other styles, but most of those imaginings are based on the extremes of contingencies plans in case of emergencies, or dreamy possibilities based on winning the lottery jackpot. A tiny house in some place remote and cheap is appealing as a retreat, in case something major goes amiss. There are some nice private islands for sale that are appealing as a different kind of retreat. Coincidentally, my main objective in either case it to take time to recover my health and fitness.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to work (about six days a week, but schedules shift), enjoy the price appreciation of my house, appreciate my home, and continue to playfully shake my fist at Sean for scooping my story.

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Frugal Gardening 2018

It’s that time of year again. Ha! That makes it sound like doing chores is something that’s planned. In the Gig Economy, chores get done when the chores can get done. The weather is warm and clear. My work schedule opened after an intense and fruitful week. Working from home felt like playing hooky even though I worked on at least four different projects. Saving time by not commuting, not worrying about what to wear, or not having to pack a lunch meant I had more time to mow the yard, whack the weeds, and get the garden going. There are some advantages to working in the Gig Economy.

Last year’s harvest teaches lessons about what to plant this year.

The surprise hit was lettuce.
I’ve skipped it in the past because it looked too fragile, too easy for slugs and bunnies to feast first. A few years ago, I realized that containers on my deck are more productive (or more easily defended) than seeds in the backyard’s dirt. The backyard looks like the typical solution: raised beds, fruit trees, and a row of raspberries. The raised beds, however, didn’t raise the plants out of reach of the critters. Now that I’ve found ways to make it harder for pests, fragile plants like lettuce proliferate. I became a much bigger fan of salads when the lettuce was effectively free, fresh, and convenient. Having a diabetes scare helped, too. So, lettuce is already planted. About the only change there is that I am not doing the seeds-in-the-soil-bag arrangement. It works, but my schedule meant working with what I already had: last year’s dirt, my neighbor’s re-used pots, and seeds from several seasons ago.

The biggest fail? That’s a longer list.
The raspberries died. My fault. Not enough weeding or watering.
Gourds. I keep trying to grow them for birdhouses, art objects, or just for fun. Alas. They don’t mature around me.
Spinach should be successful, and it grew, but it wilts to nothing and I can grow a lot more lettuce in the same space.

Perennials and surprises
Slugs and bunnies don’t stop apples and figs. The trees are growing too well. I had to severely trim them this winter to keep within the neighborhood’s covenants. The apple trees seem unaffected. Their blossoms are the heaviest and densest I can remember. My main concern is that there should be a surge in the bee population, but the trees are too quiet. I think the fig tree is scoffing at me. It had such a great surge that I had to cut back branches tall enough for ten foot poles. What’s left is looking reluctant. We’ll see.
I didn’t plant onions and potatoes last year. I planted them years ago, and gave up. They grow, but they don’t grow very large. My naturopath is steering me away from potatoes, and onions can be cheap; so, the loss would be small. They don’t care. They’ve overwintered and are sprouting in the spring warmth. Don’t let me get in the way. That’s probably best.
Fall was months ago, so I excuse myself for forgetting that I collected seeds from a tiny crop of squash, peas, and beans. They all grew, but not enough to make many meals. So, I harvested the seeds, set them aside, and forgot about them. I don’t know if they will grow. That puff of dust or decay that arose when I touched them suggest they may have rotted, but I planted them anyway.
My mushrooms may finally be sprouting, but they may have lost the battle to a different species. My mushroom logs were planted so long ago that I forgot what they’re supposed to look like. I expected mushroom shaped mushrooms. Instead, some look mushed. Others look like tree fungus. I’ll check with the experts before putting one in my mouth.

New stalwarts
The main inspiration for the container garden was hot house plants like tomatoes and peppers. My deck is backed by west facing windows. The deck gets hot. Rather than fight it and complain about it, I decided to treat it like an outdoor greenhouse. Prop the pots on wire pedestals and the slugs can’t climb the skinny wires. Water regularly. Pick up the pots if the wind blows them down, and wait for August. No need to change that strategy. It’s working.

Second tries
I’m trying the peas and beans again. Last year I extended the wire pedestal idea by making a ten foot tall wire hoop with the pots inside, elevated beyond bunny reach, and with plenty of room for the vines to climb. The engineer in me made sure it was stable despite being very light. That worked, but the hoop made it hard to get to the plants for watering and weeding. This year, the hoop has become a half-hoop, a tall semi-circle of a cylinder. Maybe better access will make them grow and me garden better.

Dirt is cheap, or at least I bought a lot of it when I bought the property. I’ve got about 8,000 square feet of dirt. Ironically, dirt, really soil, is the only thing I paid full price for. The pots were donated by a neighbor – as they were on the way to the dump. The heaviest wire is from a scrap pile at the building supply yard. The lighter wire was bought at retail, but is cheap and plentiful. The seeds were bought on sale. One of the wonders of this world is that plants want to grow. We just have to remove their hurdles and get out of their way.

I’m slightly sore. It’s that good soreness that suggests good work was done, and that more such work would mean not being so sore. The Gig Economy has cost me some physical fitness. It will be good to get it back. Of course, now that the heaviest lifting and digging is done, my kind of garden becomes no more than weeding and watering – and apologizing to my garden for when I don’t do either enough.

Each year is a new opportunity. Every past year is a course-load of lessons. They teach, but I have to learn. And not just learn, but act on what I now know. Check back in a few months to learn if I learned anything.

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Medicate And Wait

I’m going to challenge myself tonight. I’m going to attempt eating a pork chop. About two weeks ago a tooth started to ache. Toothaches come and go, but this one stayed. In about a half an hour, while I’m typing, my alarm should go off to take my antibiotics. I’ve never had to take antibiotics for a toothache, but then, I’ve never had a tooth ache this much. It is amazing how one little nerve with a bad message can overwhelm the billions of other nerves that say everything else is fine. The same might be said of the situation that may have kicked off the episode.

Usually, I try to include at least one photo or graphic in my posts. I suspect you’ll pardon my departure from the practice in this instance. There isn’t much to see. The tooth looks normal at a glance, but about ten years ago a previous dentist showed me a microscopic photo of a hairline crack in one of my molars. Some bit of popcorn or a nut provided the opportunity for me to crack a tooth. Since then, it’s been sensitive but manageable. That’s what happens as the decades accumulate, we learn ways to accommodate our imperfections.

The tooth would hurt, but only occasionally. There was actually a benefit. The tooth became a stress indicator. Under normal daily stress, there was very little if any pain because the crack was so small. When the stress built, I’d clench my teeth, which possibly pressed on the nerve, and my tooth would ache. Ironically, when I was most relaxed, my jaw would relax, and it seemed to allow the tooth to open a minute amount sufficient to let hot or cold food and drink to trigger the ache. I can’t prove that was the cause, but the correlation seemed reliable.

So, when the ache arrived again I decided to let it slide and abate as usual. This time wasn’t usual. A few days into the episode, I started applying folk remedies, like homemade clove tinctures. That almost worked. By then, however, it was the weekend and too late to check for an appointment. So, I ramped up the at home medication with over the counter solutions like clove oil and then OraGel. They started to make a difference, but the pain spread. By a week into the event the toothache was joined by an ear ache and a head ache. My head felt tight. The last time my head felt that tight it affected my eyesight until a massage therapist massaged away the pain. My muscles were so tight that they restricted the blood flow to my eyes. A twenty minute session was enough to show me the benefit. I was familiar with the possible cause and effect, but this was worse.

Another end of the week approached and it seemed that the symptoms would diminish. For a day or two, it did. In a sudden reversal, the pain grew until I had to work in 45 minute sprints, then stand until getting vertical rearranged the way my blood flowed. That night felt like a another breakthrough, though; so, I held off scheduling a dentist appointment. Over the weekend, it all escalated. Sunday night I left a message with the dentist asking for a semi-emergency appointment. Monday morning I drove straight to the office as they opened, hoping for a cancellation. They could see me in a day. Cue the ibuprofen. Get to work. And be greatly relieved there was a cancellation that morning that only meant curtailing one client meeting by about fifteen minutes.

The dentist will see you now, and he did. He alleviated my worst fears (which I won’t go into, but were rather extreme because too many friends provide advice via horror stories that are incredibly low probability, evidently.) He confirmed my financial fears. the reason I didn’t get the tooth taken care of ten years ago was because a crown would cost over $2,000. $2,000 for a microscopic crack seemed disproportionate then, and it did now. Add in inflation, and make that at least $2,500. But now, the crown would be coupled with a root canal, a root canal with no assurance that they’d find all of the affected material. It would be possible to spend thousands of dollars without resolving the issue, and then have to spend more to extract the tooth. The good news was that extracting the tooth could be done for about a tenth the cost of the crown and root canal. The bad news was that my mouth, teeth, gums, and jaws are so healthy that extracting that molar would be painful for me and difficult for him.

An axiom in karate is, “Do not move until it is to your advantage to do so.” All of the options involved pain. There was one option, however, that could involve the least pain and possibly the least expense. Leave the tooth in place, wait, and medicate in the interim to fight pain and possible infections. Hence, the ibuprofen and antibiotics, (and it just happens to be the time to take my medication, so pardon me as I step away to pop a pill.)

By the way, it is more than popping a pill. I am not required to eat something at the same time, but it helps. So, my apologies to my naturopath as I have a snack before dinner.

For the last several days, most of my diet has been mush food. A few days of the antibiotics, a few doses of ibuprofen, reassuring (yet cautionary) words from my dentist, and perhaps my body’s natural healing abilities mean the pain has mostly subsided. I’m willing to try eating something that involves a knife and a fork.

I think back two weeks to when the pain started and can’t recall anything I ate that could act as a trigger. It wasn’t until yesterday that I made a connection. Two weeks ago there was an event that caused me to clench my teeth, carry too much stress, and make me worry about my ability to keep my house and stay in my community. I paid my taxes. I paid more in taxes by percent and by dollar amount than I had in years, despite only making 1% more than the year before. Personal finances are personal. Numbers are objective and arguably abstract; but our economy and society rely on currency and numbers. Sudden bills are a threat to anyone without sufficient resources; but they create a threat that isn’t addressed by flight or fight. We are left with the options of grin, grit, or grind and move on.

There are real pains associated with being poor, or at least poor enough to not be able to pay for all of the necessities. Thanks to rising home prices, instead of 40% of Americans having negative net worth, there’s only 20%. I’m one of the lucky ones who has moved up. I make about half the median income, which puts me in the bottom 50%; but doing better than the 43 million who live in poverty. I am amazed at the millions whose situation are dire, and am not surprised that their health can be poor, their health care costs high, and see them falling into a trap.

I’m fortunate enough that my business is doing much better this year by some measures, and that my move into real estate is looking encouraging thanks to supportive friends, brokers, and serendipity. (Thanks to co-listing, I’m now involved in three listings and maybe a sale or two: Dunlap Drive, Otter Way, and Timber Lane.)

Encouragement comes as non-real estate clients advance their projects, buyers visit listings, my portfolio possibly recovers, and a variety of endeavours proceed. Those activities are in a race with my medications, my body’s natural healing efforts, and a wide set of influences in this bizarre world we live in. Stay tuned to see who wins and how. In the meantime, I’ll wait and medicate – and very carefully practice using a knife and fork, again.

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