Summer Fun Update!

Go ahead, say it: “Groovy baby!”

Rachel and I have just started our July 2020, and despite it being a unique summer for obvious reasons, we’re having a ball. As I write, I’m sitting in the sun on the 4th floor balcony, surrounded by towering sunflowers, green tomatoes, a cucumber bush (?), herbs, and listening to Jason Aldean and kids playing Marco Polo in the pool.

Taking over!

We’re just back from several days of camping in Featherville, Idaho, and are preparing to head out again to Stanley, Idaho. We recently purchased all new camping equipment, after having sold it all because we were positive we were done with camping, and absolutely positive (no, honest, really) we were done forever with tent camping. So much for having life figured out, huh? That’s twice now I’ve been taught the “Never say never” lesson. I’m trying very hard for it to be the last.

We love the new truck tent and sleep so well with the fitted air mattress
And we love camping on the water

My profession allows me to have half of June and all of July free from work. Although I pick up some summer add-on hours, my days and weeks are largely mine to fill as I choose. It’s a great time to begin to practice retirement, and I like the arrangement and opportunity. Many people are thrust into retirement with no real time to “dabble.” It can be a real challenge to find meaning and purpose when the profession goes away.

Rachel is still enjoying her year of sabbatical, but has just recently begun applying again. We have a better idea of what she does and does not want to invest in, and we’re leaning strongly toward finding something online full time. We’ve been able to do very well on just my income; again one of the benefits of being debt free.

One financial side note and a good lesson for us: after buying the truck tent, the only real drawback that we found was that it’s a pain to go exploring or run to the nearest town because we have to take down the tent to go anywhere. Although it only takes about 20 minutes (read: first-world problems), we were finding it a pain. So, we started looking at side-by-sides, razors, UTV’s, etc, to add some fun and solve a practical issue. The type of size we wanted would cost us right at $20K, and we wanted one badly. After several days and multiple dealers, we both came to the conclusion (over a fine Martini; gin, of course) that, although it would have been a cash deal, this was not the season of life to buy one. I believe that season is coming, (along with a blog post called Seasons), and soon, but it’s not quite time. I was proud of us (but oh boy someday!)

Zoom zoom!

Our other most recent adventure is Keto, low carb eating; a whole new approach to food for me. Rachel discovered, after years of research and several doctors, that she is challenged with insulin resistance (I’m challenged by liking chocolate fudge whoopie pies. Omg. Colors). She’s been teaching me the ins and outs of the diet, and we even stay on it when camping. It’s hard work, takes discipline and planning, and we’re both seeing incredible results. I’m still dialing it in, as it’s not really designed to support the intense type of workouts that I perform daily, but I can see a physical difference in my abs (at 59, I’m getting obliques back). Kind of fun.

Finally, this summer is allowing me to explore another dream: fly fishing. Ever since I saw the movie A River Runs Through It, I’ve wanted to live in the west and fly fish. Half of that dream has been realized; time for the other half. It looks like such art when performed well (and by well I mean not getting washed downstream screaming “Mayday!”), and it seems like it would pair nicely with camping on the water. Fly fishing seems founded in western rivers and streams, it’s not something I heard much about back east. It’s going to be a very special moment for this Man when he lands his first fly fished fish. Little things (no laughing Fred! I can do this!)

I know you’re out there!

So there it is. Summer 2020. Add in some extra mountain biking, pool time, and writing, and it’ll be a quick 6 weeks of retirement practicing. Lots of good things happening. I’m working on several new blog posts for the fall: Things my mom says (she thinks she might be Hispanic now), The 55 and over world, and the aforementioned Seasons. I’m looking forward to getting those put to page.

Be well and safe my friends.
MP

Good At and Good For

As Rachel and I continue our Middle Age life-journey of discovery, we’re continuing to learn and grow. That is, after all, the purpose, yes? Or at least one of them.

It can be interesting the things we find ourselves doing in making our lives here on the planet. We are often initially measured by the ubiquitous question: “So, what do you do?People mean, of course, how we pay the mortgage, not how we act when we’re home alone for the day (and that’s a very good thing). I get asked it alot when I fly, and despite the kind nod and smile, the look is a dead give away that says, “I have no idea what the words you just said mean.” I’ve tried changing up the phrasing, but the results are the same.

The question is kind and innocuous enough I guess. I suppose what we do might say something about us. Some people seem to know almost from birth their vocation path, as if they are selected and designed for just one option; a calling if you will. Lucky bastards. Most of us, not so much.

Most of of us bang around and eventfully find a niche. We settle in to an acceptable and mostly enjoyable job. Maybe we’re not necessarily designed for it, but maybe we’re the type of people that could do alot of things pretty well (I thought for awhile I’d work at Sears selling furniture and be That Guy who knows an awful lot about recliner construction).

We start a path, grow a family, take on the weight of debt, grow social roots, get comfy, and surround ourselves with what we do. There’s nothing wrong with that. I never intended on doing what I do now. It just sort of unfolded, one step at a time. I really like it, but if you’d have told me I’d be doing what I’m doing 20 years ago, I’d have advised you to cut back on your meds.

Knowing what you should do is hard.
Knowing what you could do it easier.
Sometimes it seems that you didn’t really choose it, you just ended up making some small decisions and ended up there.
Some were decisions of inaction and some were decisions of action.
Some decisions seemed very purposed, and some were not really sure how I got here.

It’s the same with Rachel and me. Some of the places we arrived at were because of our planning and our choices. And some of the things we chose were because they materialized suddenly based on previous choices.

Funny how that is; you can’t see new options until you move forward to a new place.

Gotta move first, and then you see.
Crest the next rise, and there they are.
Blurry shimmering somethings in the distance.
Move first, then see. I wish it was the other way around, but it’s not.

Seems like we’ve been doing alot of moving lately.

When we originally began the journey towards financial independence, it was largely for two reasons. Being debt free would allow for alot of cool options (like tropical hedonistic cruises on chartered catamarans). Paying interest sucks and so do payments. Someone told me once that it’s not how much money you make, it’s how much you owe. If you don’t owe much you can take alot of hedonistic cruises on 50 foot chartered cats (ok, I added that last part, but it’s true).

Additionally, and more importantly, the kind of work Rachel was doing was making her sick. Not metaphorically sick; physically sick. Like killing her sick. She was unwell, diagnosed with several immune deficiencies, on several medications, gaining weight, not sleeping, and was on all fronts circling the drain. We knew being out of debt would allow her to assess her life and have more freedom of choice – like choosing a hedonistic tropical cruise with free martinis. (See how it just keeps getting better?)

We also knew that if we didn’t make some big changes soon, we might be facing options that were not so fun.

But the truth is, Rachel was making alot of money and was really good at what she did. Awards and all that. High-end corporate medical management sounds flashy and important, and in many aspects it was. And at its core it was altruistic, philanthropic, and benevolent: managing people and systems that saved kid’s lives.

The paradox was entangling, at least it was for us. She was so good at it, and it was killing her. We thought maybe if we could just adopt a different mindset. Learn to handle stress better. Meditate. Visualize. Diagnose. exercise. Find just the right combination of any or all. But over time, talks, tears, getting as many perspectives as we could, and trying all sorts of approaches, a truth started to emerge:

Just because we’re good at it doesn’t mean it’s good for us.

Good at and good for.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew life had changed.

The money we had. The Good she was doing. The future it painted. It took very clear eyes and minds to not only discern the situation but also make the call to walk away. And she did walk away. We’re starting our 4th week of one income and there are lots of really cool things going on (like becoming a Sugar Daddy). I won’t steal her show and I’ll let her tell her own story as she sees fit here.

Some of the things we’ve learned and are thankful for:
– Being debt free allowed for a much broader scope of choices
– Money is only fun if life is already fun
– Money’s not worth being miserable
– Being a Sugar Daddy is awesome
– I can get pretty hedonistic in a hot tub
– Meaningful conversation is a critical aspect of life

We’re not sure what the future holds (Lord, do we ever? Do any of us?) Right now we think we’re looking at a one-year-ish sabbatical. There’s alot of healing going on (and I’m learning some really awesome new dance moves). To be honest, I’m a little afraid of what new options might suddenly jump up. I’ve already told her I do not want to be a missionary to Zimbabwe (probably no hot tubs).

The financial goals have adapted, or at least been set to pause for a bit. But get this: our original financial goal was to be debt-free in November of 2020; 11 months from now. So we’re 100% on track to meet our original plan (I just gave myself chills).

The hedonistic free martini cat vacation is still out there, oh trust me. As is the AirBnB for a month in Naples and Vermont and lots of other dreams to come. First things first. Gratefulness, health, love, family, dreams, faith, SugarDaddying, wisdom, smart choices, risk and reaching, knowing when to move, knowing when to hold.

And I guess downsizing to a 40 foot cat with free martinis would still be ok. I mean, the simple life, right?

MP

Middle Age Mark’s Year in Review

I am generally not a big fan of year-end reviews. They depress me. Time has passed, I’m a year older, my bald spot is bigger, famous people have died, it’s tax time and the days are short. I’m not a big looker-backer. Too many people refer to the past when asked how they’re doing, and begin a diatribe of struggle and glum. Makes me insane. But then I throw away old pictures, so I might not be the best litmus when it comes to wrapping up the year.

Having said that, 2019 was a wicked good year (shout out to my Maine peeps). Perhaps one of the best I’ve lived. For reasons I’ll unpack shortly, I saw more beneficial change this year than any year since. The year started in Mesa Arizona with one word, prepare, and little did I know then how that word would help usher in a new era in life.

I start every new year with one word. It’s my Word For The Year (WFTY). Nichole (daughter) created the practice. She’s a beautiful spirit-forward person, which means she senses you way before you have the chance to tell her anything. We spend just about every New Year’s with her and her husband Joey, and it’s a great environment for setting a new word-path for the year. We make drinks, have a little ceremony, and hope to see our spirit animal (ok that last part is just me). More on that in a bit, but if you want to adopt the practice, it’s kind of fun (and it really helps to focus you forward).

As I mentioned, we started 2019 at the Baby House in Mesa. Nic and Joey were down for New Year’s with Rachel and me, and we partied like it was 2099 (see what I did there?) I remember a rousing rendition of how-low-can-you-go on the dance floor and thinking how amazing it all was (I could hardly walk the next morning, but still). It was that trip that Nic first shared that she was having a change of heart, and they were thinking of getting pregnant in a year or two. We shared some very close, quiet conversations. Life stuff.

The word prepare had been on me for some time. I don’t remember where it came from or why, but I sensed something was coming and I wanted to be ready. It was on that trip that Rachel and I decided to put all efforts towards climbing out of debt; the school loans, the cars, the cards. Rachel was sick (literally) of medical management and had had a run of very tough surgeons and situations. I had been reading Dave Ramsey and Fritz Gilbert and knew the first step towards having options was removing drag. We looked at the numbers and set a date for November 2020 to have zero debt. We left there very excited.

It was in the spring that we learned of Nic’s pregnancy. Rachel made me a special martini and delivered the news. All I could repeat was, “You gotta be shittin’ me!” I cried and then I wasn’t able to talk. I’ve never seen any women be so pregnant and yet not at the same time. She said she told God that this was His deal and she didn’t have time to be sick (she’s not had even one day sick) or stop doing yoga.

The summer was wonderful. Rachel took some extra time off, and we decided to try our first July in Mesa. As July’s go there it wasn’t particularly hot. Mornings started between 75-80 and days topped about around 110. In short, we loved it. We did what we needed to do during the mornings and early afternoons, and then hit one of 3 pools with our shaker martinis. It was like our own private resort. We had the “opportunity” to replace the AC, but things like that should be expected.

It was on that trip, during one of our floating finance sessions, that Rachel dropped the bomb: “I think we should sell the house.” We had talked about it on and off for years. So we did it; we left there and went back to Boise and immediately called our realtor friend. After a few weeks of intense prep, it was on the market and sold very quickly. After some research, we used the profits from the house to advance the debt free date, and we began a new phase of life, that of no debt, minimalism, and condo living. Rachel writes a blog on living a minimalist life. The whole package is wonderful (even I’m surprised at how much I like the condo life).

On a more micro note, my approach to fitness changed this year. Although I still crave resistance training, at 58 my joints no longer always love the heavy weight. There’s a difference between good and bad pain (wink), and I knew it was smart to listen to the form. I tightened up the diet (which of course excludes martinis), shaved a bit from the weight stack, and added more cross training. I feel great and look pretty good too.

So we came into fall and the holidays. Rachel got candy in case we were visited by any trick-or-treaters (eternal optimist), and she began to plan for Thanksgiving. It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of Thanksgiving to Rachel. It was one of the challenges of becoming condo-livers; there needed to be a place with enough room for the whole family. Enter the condo clubhouse, with all the amenities for cooking, serving, and enjoying the Thanksgiving day (and 3 big screen TV’s and pool table). A better day was never had.

Christmas has come and gone, and it was wonderful as well. We got a skinny tree and decorated the front door. Rachel and I celebrated early with the kids like we do every year, so that they can be more free to relax or see other family on the actual day. Nic hosted for the first time (after a morning session of maternity yoga), and carried the mantle of easy, relaxed holiday enjoyment perfectly. It felt right, us going there, as soon Kepa will wake us with excitement about what Santa brought. Can hardly wait.

And finally, we ended the year with perhaps one of the biggest life changes in our relationship yet. Rachel tendered her resignation and departed the corporate world for an undetermined sabbatical. Already the change in her spirit is evident. A surgeon friend described her as radiant during a recent small gathering, and I could not disagree. I can see the weight being lifted more every day. She’s coming back to the surface. We both wear smiles most of the day, inside and out.

My 2019 word was prepare.
We got debt free and small.
Kepa is on his way.
My toast each night is Blessed Life.
What a year.

Could SugarDaddy be one word?

A Time of Middle Age Quiet

It’s been quite some time since I published, and I have missed it. I’ve wanted to put out an update, but there is still so much change happening it’s tough to find a stable spot. We’ve sold the house, moved into our 4th floor condo, achieved debt free, enjoyed the fall and the spectacular 4th floor sunrises, and settled into a routine. Most of the time now I even know where things are in the kitchen before I look for them (I still lose my shoes almost daily).

Rachel and I are still living life leaning forward; still no shortage of adventure, change, the unknown, expectancy, and impatience (that last one is mostly me). The reason for the impatience is that there’s a thing still in the development stage and outside of our direct control (C’mon already!), so I can’t share that quite yet.

I’m not so good (horribly awful) at the waiting-to-see-what-happens thing and tend to be action oriented. Someone told me once I’d burn the house down because the bathroom’s dirty (And?). The whole letting Someone else write your story is not my natural state (gimme’ that freakin’ pen!). When I was six I killed a fly with a croquet mallet because the mallet was handy. And the fly needed to die. The fly was on a plate glass window (seemed like a good idea at the time).
I’ve not changed much in that regard.

So during the wait, I focus on the million things I have to celebrate and be thankful for. Condo living is great. And different. We knew it would be different, and some of it is the kind of different that we were expecting and some of it is a different kind of different.

I thought there might be things I really miss. I thought I might dream about the House of Wales. I thought there might be hints of regret. None of that has happened.

I thought we’d always see lots of people; in the halls, in the elevators, in the hot tub. Not so much (my own private 30-person hot-tub-pool every morning at 6am. Down the elevator and across the dark parking lot in robe, slippers, Patriots beanie, coffee, phone, towel. Might as well act like I own the place, right?).
No wonder I never see anybody.

I thought it would be noisy but it hardly ever is. I hear less barking dogs than I did when I owned. Our fridge makes weird noises all the time, like a steel skyscraper just before it collapses. I thought I’d miss raking leaves and splitting wood this fall but I don’t, except for maybe the exercise aspect. I still try to ride my mountain bike more to compensate. I thought I’d miss fires and my wood floor office. Nope.

I thought I would have an issue with a sense of lack of control; a Man and his castle and eminent domain and all. A little at first, but now no.
Funny how that is.

We’re having family Thanksgiving in the condo clubhouse. We reserved it for just the family and we’re baking salmon. The clubhouse has an 8 foot conference table and huge couches and chairs and pillows and a pool table and shuffle board and three 6-foot TV’s and my private hot tub that I might share.

We’ve settled in here. It’s home. The sunrises are truly glorious. We have two garage door openers. We have a routine. Places where we sit. Places where things go. Routines are good. It still takes me about 40 minutes to do my morning chores. Evenings are nice, and, of course, there’s still the end-of-day martini and talk of the day’s events of import before a healthy dinner. We often watch the spinny-wheel show and try to guess the puzzles (Rachel is faster than I am). Then a Netflix episode. We sleep well and rarely see 10pm.

Sometimes I think you can tell a place is getting inside your heart because you know that someday when you leave there’s going to be things you really miss.

This is a really cool thing we’ve done.
The concept of moving towards mobility is exciting.
Being debt free is awesome.

Also, one of the biggest and greatest coming-soon(!) events is a January addition to the family by way of a grandson. Rachel and I already have plans for pool days, bike rides, wagon rides, sleepovers, falling asleep during Disney movies during sleepovers (me), wrestling before bedtime at sleepovers (me), and doing my best James Earl Jones voice for Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein bed time books during sleepovers.

Normally by this time of year we would have spent time at the Arizona Baby House. Not yet this year. We are missing it intensely and daily. Events have arranged (or perhaps more accurately ceased to arrange) to postpone our life there. In that regard, it has been a time of just-when-you-think-you’ve-got a plan: Grr. Shifting ground, rug pulling, not lining up, and all that. Reevaluating. Neither of us like the inability to make goals and march towards them in very measured strides (read: my head is about to fly off and then explode).

We won’t wait much longer (is that fly buzzing I hear?); we’re still evaluating, praying, testing, arranging, allowing time for responses, trying to figure out the better. Depending on what we decide, life could look very different.

The amount of restraint I’m showing ought to be rewardable (like winning a Life-Oscar for Most Patience Ever Since the Beginning of Recorded Time).

It’s a time of Quiet. Some of it is cyclical. Fall brings a time of reflection as days grow shorter, colder, and life pulls in and gets smaller. It’s a time of assessing and quiet conversation and listening. Maybe some of it is that I lived so much change and adventure for so long that it’s time to be quiet for a bit. I don’t like it and want to take it off like an ill fitting jacket.

Maybe downsizing life is more than just downsizing stuff. Maybe in the same way a football receiver takes off at great speed and then pivots to change direction on his route, so too I’m doing a slow-motion life-pivot.
Inertia.
The forced pause.
It makes me twitch (I’m holding my head on).

I am anxious to be on (and write about) the next adventure, but it’s not time yet. Decisions are outside of our control until we get more pieces in place. What I do know is that it’s a time of Quiet.

But if it lasts much longer I’m buying a frickin’ crochet mallet.

MP

Get Debt Free or Invest?

Sometimes we can’t really know a thing from a distance. Often, it’s impossible to really experience the truth of a thing until we get close, or even all the way inside it.

When we start to really get inside something, we start to see it for what it is, not what we thought it would be. Sometimes that’s really cool and amazing and we love it. Other times it starts to get dark and awful. Sometimes we push through because we’re going to finish what we started. Other times we reevaluate and make new decisions. It can be hard to know which way to go; to know if we should hold ’em or fold ’em.

I had a dream of being an attorney since I was a kid. I like to argue and wrestle with abstracts (Ok I like when people listen to me talk too). But being a lawyer is probably nothing like the lawyers I see on the TV shows. I’ve heard and read enough stories of attorneys walking away from practicing law that I probably would not have been happy. Maybe some things are better left dreamed about.

This blog post will be a little different in some ways. It’s a bit of the same in that I’m putting out there our financial plans and where we are so far. It’s a bit different because I’m hoping to get a bit more personal. I’m going to be a little more open about how we fared on selling the House of Wales; not in an attempt to boast as much to help anyone else that might be following.

So let’s just dive right in. Through years of hard work, consistent upkeep, smart upgrades, and market timing, we did very well selling the House of Wales. It’s been one of the major decisions in our lives; not just because we sold the house but also because we changed lifestyles. When all was signed and done, we sold for about $130K more than we owed.

That’s not counting paying off the Baby House, which took about $40K from that profit (debt free Baby Howwwse!) That’s also not counting fees, some upgrades, and other associated costs from the process of selling (If you ever need a realtor, seriously, please contact me), so we put about $70K in a money market fund account until we could settle on the exact plan.

Our current plan was to be debt free by October 1st 2020. We made this plan before we decided to sell the House of Wales. We were killing it. We had our debt whittled down to just three more loans: the car ($20K), the truck ($20K), and my school loan ($25K) and were throwing gobs of money at them every month.

We had originally planned to invest the entire profit and leave it for 10-15 years while we added to it slowly and continued our October 1st 2020 debt free pursuit.

A few weeks ago, like we always do, we began checking down the action plan and reviewing the timing. In other words, we got a very close-up view of our options. One of us (not sure which one) said, “And we’re sure we’d not be better off finishing the debt free journey and then starting to invest?”

Sidebar: You know how when someone asks a question and it’s more than a question and then the person says something like what? I’m just asking only you know their actually not just asking and everything kind of starts to unravel?
Uh huh.
Like that.
(Insert open can of worms).

We started reviewing our options again, making sure of our choice. It really came down to two options: invest 100% of the profit or get clear of 100% of the debt. Right now.

We talked about it alot.
A-lot.
The cool thing about talking about something alot is that often it serves as a catalyst to review other areas of life: plans, dreams, the future (and to have another martini. Gin, of course). It helped us boil down what we were really chasing.

Paying off debt cuts stress and creates a sense of freedom. It takes away some of the “have to’s” of life. Living expenses don’t go away, but the financial drag of payments and interest does. It also creates a really cool sense of accomplishment.

Someone once told me that it’s not how much money we make; it’s how much debt we have. If we don’t have any debt, we don’t need much money. (Just enough, really, for a 1-week trip on a cat in the Bahamas. Every year. With martinis).
Being debt free makes good sense and is never a bad idea.

We also knew we could use the $70K as a quick-start towards creating passive income through investing that would add to my two pensions; one from the Coast Guard (already drawing that one) and one from the state when I eventually stop full-time work. I plan to add another 5-7 years of state employment before taking that step.

Those pensions will create a bedrock income for retirement for the rest of my life (~$3K per month) before any passive investment income and before social security (no plan yet on when to draw). A cool additional benefit of my Coast Guard service is lifetime healthcare (huge, I know).

Rachel also has a 401K that’s worth about $40K right now that we’re also deciding how best to grow.

The investment idea was intriguing because we’re late to that game. I’ve let the awareness of my pensions make me lazy. I also liked the investment idea because I wanted to ride up and down the condo elevator checking my portfolio and saying cool things like “oh yeah, diversified” and “market share” and “Dude this ROI is toasting my nuggs.”

Yes, we would still have time time to invest but we’re losing the amount of wealth a $70K chunk could jump start (and my elevator trips wouldn’t be nearly as cool). It might take us a few years to build that core amount back into an investment with our income. Although we really don’t see ourselves coming to full-stop retirement until we’re really old (like 116), it might be hard to hold down full time work from a 40′ cat in the Bahamas.

When it came right down to it and we could really see everything up close, we decided to bring home the prize that we started chasing 9 months ago:

We’re Debt Free!
Happy Birthday to me!

When we started our debt free journey in January of 2019 we had NO idea what would become of this adventure. It’s been quite the ride!

It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I keep going to the school loan website and flipping it the bird while laughing and dancing around in little circles (I also have a little song I made up but it’s mostly naughty words). It’s fun to keep seeing zeros. It’s a huge chapter finally closed. I might keep doing my dance for awhile (probably close the shades next time though).

It’s the same with the vehicles. That’s not as fun though because we paid by e-check (and I don’t have a song made up for those). Still, the sense of there, that’s finally over feels really good (I might drive past the dealerships and flip them a bird too).

I think we’re going to live in this for awhile.
Small, quiet, 4th floor balcony celebrations are the best.

I guess I’m going to have to find something else to write about.
I don’t think that’s going to be too hard.

I’m proud of us.

Debt free Middle Age life feels really, really good.


Downsizing Life

“Geeze we have alot of stuff”

If you’ve ever moved, you know that it’s a “considerable undertaking” (I originally had a much more profane term), and is usually punctuated with aches, pains, a mountain of boxes, a lot of moving parts, and intermittently questioning one’s sanity (ok, and not a small amount of gin).

The statement at the top of the blog is one that Rachel and I have said back and forth to each other over the preceding year as we began downsizing, and ever increasingly over the last few months. It’s usually accompanied by some sort of verbalization of discomfort (grunt, groan, sigh) as another box is hefted, along with a breathy cuss-word either before or after (I’ll let you fill that one in).

On this blog post, I’ve invited a sexy guest writer to help me unpack the moving adventure (all real blog authors should have sexy guest writers). My wife, published author, and Life-Adventure-Sidekick Rachel is going to help me on this one. She was, after all, the first one to speak the foreboding message: “I think we should sell the house,” so this is all kinda her fault (I try to do a pretty good job of reminding her of that when we’re lifting heavy things and making aforementioned cuss word noises).

Rachel serves as the Middle Age Mark blog editor already, and I’ve asked her to go through and add her thoughts in italics. We’re not so much conversing back and forth as we are just sharing our thoughts. I have no idea what she’s going to write, and have agreed to not edit or revise (like a blogger trust fall. Lord).

Thank you for the invite to be a guest blogger. This is another first in my life, Mr. Plummer. 

It’s one week ago today that the movers came and removed all of the furniture we were keeping from the House of Wales and delivered it to the 4th floor Condo.

Really? Just one week ago?

Even though we’ve been in reduction mode for a year, it’s been surprising how much stuff we still have. But now (thank God) we’re almost out of the House of Wales and it’s on like Donkey Kong.

What does that phrase even mean?

We’re getting everything ready for the new owners, and we naturally want them to be proud of and thankful for their new home.

Ah, the House of Wales. We’ve made some wonderful memories there.

I’ve lost count of the number of trips, boxes, and times we’ve eaten awful fast food in order to keep on the move (how do people eat like that?).

Right?

We’ve been through appointments with A/C guys and furnace guys, a hot water tank guy, a stager, two home inspectors, a handyman, a window guy, and one CT scan team (I SO can move this couch by myself. Watch this).

I’m pretty sure I remember asking if you wanted help. 😉  To be fair though, MP has been through a lot of appointments with all of those people, because at the same time we decided to sell the HofW, I started a brand new job…exact same week. So he has been the one to meet everyone and get the good and sometimes not so good news. Thanks Cowboy.

I came into the House of Wales kitchen last Saturday morning as we were emptying closets and found Rachel standing at the bar eating half a banana and a pickle.
At the same time.
I stopped. I stared.
She said it was all she could find.
Her face was pure rapture.

That was for sure a first. Pickles (think it was three actually) and a banana for breakfast. Minus the sodium, you can’t say it wasn’t healthy. And we had sh*t to do…no time for eggs and bacon. Chop chop….lets’ go!  

We’re selling, downsizing, living smaller, getting out of debt, and moving forward into what we’re calling “Cozy Minimalism.” When we started this debt free adventure last January we had no idea what it would become (probably a good thing), but I’m proud to say we’re still on track to be 100% debt free on October 1st 2020.

It’s been a fun undertaking. Deciding what’s really important shines a light on everything in your life. It gives clarity and appreciation for people and time and a clearer view of what’s not that important after all.

We’re making the hard decisions and erring on the side of frugality. We kept the bed, one recliner, two deck chairs, my work table, Rachel’s art table, and two bar stools. The rest went to a yard sale (gag) or to the Idaho Youth Ranch as a donation.

Much of the impetus has been that not only are we moving and downsizing (which is always a good time to evaluate possessions), but we’re also changing lifestyles. The myriad of possessions that were needed to maintain a home inside and out are no longer required. We’ve reduced our clothes to items that we wear at least twice a month with the exception of the essential seasonal stuff (like all my Tom Brady apparel).

And some incredibly comfy lounge pants.

We’ve also reduced kitchen ware and clothes by more than half (we increased the gin and wine though, so that’s a plus one).

This was a big one for me. I Love to cook. So really looking at what I used and how we eat was important. Just because it was a ‘cool’ kitchen gadget, didn’t mean I needed or used it. Time to donate! Maybe someone else has always wanted a zester.

I even took the side wings off my Man grill so that it would fit on the balcony.

We have definitely sold or donated more than we have kept. The process of downsizing has at times been an emotional journey. I’ve been encouraged along the way by The Minimalists and their view on “things” and how they affect our lives. Listening to their story/podcast most mornings on my drive to work has aided in the processing of how and what to let go of, including photos, family heirlooms, and 45 purses/bags.

We each have our own Baby Garage (his and hers splurge) so that’s kinda fun. The Man Rig just fits (I’ve only run into the back wall twice).

I share my baby garage with the motorcycle. We both agreed it was a must keep. It provides fun rides to the gym for MP, and incredibly enjoyable date night outings.

She meant to say Man-Cycle but that’s ok. Through it all we’ve had no fights, and not really even any bad moods.

He’s being very kind here… I’ve had a couple of cranky moments. One night I got held up late at work, and when he suggested salad for dinner, I snipped something like, ‘Unless I don’t want salad!’. He just smiled. I took a deep breath, apologized for being cranky and we went to dinner. I had a French dip. 

We’ve been very careful to check with each other about arrangements of our new spaces. Since our new home is much smaller, we’re going to be sharing every room. We got good practice doing this in the Mesa Baby House, so now our Condo seems spacious.

I think this might be one of the biggest things to consider when minimizing. Do you like the other person enough to share almost all your space with them? Lucky for us we do. Things like MP’s office was a big consideration as we made this transition. He is VERY tidy and likes his space neat and organized. His office is his domain. I like my space neat too…mostly. Ok, kind of. I am an artist. I make things and create. Scraps of paper on the floor and a little paint on the table make me feel like I’m free and open to create anything that comes to mind. I don’t want to worry about making a mess along the way.

It’s a “growth opportunity” for me. (Lord teach me patience). It is kind of true though; I take 10 minutes every morning to make the bed and fold all the towels and blankets so the tags don’t show.

So, we have a plan to make the space sharable, and an open forum for discussion if either of us isn’t feeling comfortable. We’ll be fine, and good to know we can talk about it if we need to.

As you can tell, we’ve decided to have fun and make it a successful adventure. It does take a lot of communication, allowing for your spouse’s desires, compromising and remembering what’s important, and wanting your spouse to be just as happy to come home as you are.

Smaller life is good. We still end each day on the 4th floor balcony, overlooking the pool, with an adult beverage, and have even ended a few of the late August warmer days with a float in our new pool (and accompanying adult thermos martini beverage) and then a short repose in the new 30-person hot tub.

And here’s the best part: I don’t have to take care of either one of them.              

Debt Free Update

At the time of this writing, the For Sale sign in the front yard got a spanking new upgrade: Sale Pending! (Ok, it doesn’t really have an exclamation point, but it should!) We’re very excited! Our latest adventure is proving to be every bit as exciting as we thought it would be.

The graphic above isn’t really the date that either Rachel or I are considering retiring (we are both blessed with jobs that we love), but we couldn’t find a debt free countdown app so we borrowed a retirement app. It’s fun to watch the date get closer and anticipate the feeling of being debt free.

When we originally decided to get out of debt, our intent was to be debt free minus the mortgage, and continue to use the home as an investment. We started last January with monthly financial goals and took aim at the smallest debts first; furniture, credit cards. We held monthly goal meetings and knocked them out in a few months.

Then we focused on the first school loan, which was about 8K at the time, and this coming Saturday night we have a Student Loan Victory Party date planned! (I might get a gladiator costume and drink from a bronze challis). Death to student loan #1! (Exclamation points everywhere – masses cheering) That will be a very good celebration!

Next in the cross hairs will be the second student loan, which will take us out to September 1st of 2020. One added month to finish the car loans off, and if all goes as planned, we’ll have no debt as of October 1st 2020 and begin a cash-only lifestyle.

Zero financial drag.
Lots of possibilities start coming into focus.
Lots of fun possibilities.
I think I might want to catch a swordfish.
On Jimmy Johnson’s boat.

Throughout this process we’ve kept talking, dreaming, reading, sharing, learning. As we continued to talk about our goals and dreams, we started to really drill down into what we wanted our life to look like and who we wanted to be. Our version of being debt free changed to include the House of Wales as well. We decided it was time to make the decision, do the hard thing (pack / move 713,000x boxes, yard sale (gag)), take our earned equity, and begin investing in earnest.

It’s a life rule: You have to do the hard thing before you get the good thing.

We’re behind in investing. Although I have one federal pension that I’m currently receiving (Coast Guard), and at some point I’ll have the state of Idaho pension (two lifetime pensions = dream), we have some really big plans for our future (have a I mentioned a week on a Cat cruising the Bahamas or the fifth wheel and monster truck with the train horn?) so we want to make sure we’re funding our dreams.

And we’re doing just that.

We’re learning all we can about investment options so that we can add more revenue streams for retirement. There are lots of ideas and choices, and we’re learning about liquid assets and index funds. The equity will be a really nice lump sum investment to get us started. If all goes as planned, we should do very well.

I know the planet suffers the occasional naysayer and joy-sucker. To them I say we’re using all the information we have to do the very best we can with what God has given us. The rest is up to Him. In the meantime we’re on the adventure of our lives.

Becoming non-homeowners is not for everyone, but it’s right for us at this point. Although it’s true I may miss getting tangled up in the rose bush (pokey F’er) or attacking the wood pile bees, the fact is we’re becoming more mobile. We have the Baby House in Mesa and we like being there as much as we can, especially during the Idaho winters. I’ve also reacquired my love for Naples Florida and Vermont cabins. It’ll be nice to know that we can turn down the condo heat, close the door, and go get some real maple syrup sans worries.

Our rent, even with all of the amenities, will be similar to what our mortgage was, and since we’re investing all of the profit, we’ll still be leveraging the compounding effect of our money in much the same way (8% annually?) a home might appreciate.

That’s exciting.

At 58 and I-robbed-the-cradle, Rachel and I are looking forward to being a little more unburdened. Without the duties of keeping a beautiful home beautiful, discretionary time will come back. There’s a mountain bike in the garage that’s been missing me, and a drum kit as well (get the band back together?). There are books I’m waiting to read, places I want to volunteer, side hustles that need hustling, and good non-bottom-shelf gin that needs ‘scrutinizing.’

Moving is hard (!) and funny (!), and there’s another blog coming about that with a guest author (!).

Lord the things we get ourselves into. What a ride!

It’s hard to imagine a better and more optimistic life.
Let’s gooooo!

Poolside Finances

One of our three pools

Rachel and I have been at the Baby House for some time now. We came down to deliver the Baby Car and to spend some time relaxing between the life changes we’re undergoing. We also wanted to experience summer life here; we weren’t sure we’d like the heat or the sparse park population. It’s been between 105-110 degrees most every day (Go ahead, say it: Yeah but it’s a dry heat, right?) and on some days the park resembles a scene from the movie I am Legend where we imagine being the last people on the planet.

Actually, we’re both a little surprised at how much we like it. We might even love it. Ok, we love it. Love it.

Mornings start early, sometimes because sunrise is around 5:30 and sometimes because the tree guys are 150 feet in the air trimming the palm trees before it gets too hot. The first hour or two is spent on the porch under the grapefruit tree with quiet coffee (friendly tree guys notwithstanding) and our choice of morning reading; right now for me it’s The Simple Path to Wealth. It’s helping me understand better the market and how index funds operate. It’s a very peaceful time. We whisper. Humming birds visit the grapefruit tree. Doves are on the roof. We try to refrain from anything that might evoke stress or a reactive mood: social media, news, etc.

After a bit I start my chores (bed, dishes). We hand wash the dishes here (Small confession: I love my Scrub Daddy) and then we make our way to whatever form of fitness we’ll do that day. Rachel has become addicted to morning pool laps and today set a new goal of 27. She also likes to get some meditation time in after her swim. Having the pool all to herself makes that a really cool option.

My own personal gym

I usually spend some time in the gorgeous onsite gym and then swing by one of the pools on the way back, We ride our bikes everywhere.

After that we try to each do one significant thing each day. Rachel found a great deal on a Cricut cutting machine and is currently cranking out cards for the November show. I’ve been catching up on reading, writing, and trimming the cactus that almost killed me last year (take that you prickly effer). I also spend time in the afternoons on my part-time summer job. It’s online so it works out great.

We swim two or three times a day, and are finding it a heavenly way to end the hot day and usher in the hot evenings. We take our floats and an adult beverage in a thermos (Thermos Martinis are the best!). Sometimes we meet a new neighbor that has come out to the oasis after the sun has an angle and some of the beat down has come off, and sometimes we have the whole pool to ourselves. We enjoy meeting new people and learning their stories of how they came to be here.

Last night our pool time also served as a perfect place for our mid-month financial meeting. We’re in our 7th month of a debt free pursuit and the September 30th 2020 date still holds, despite some significant changes (blessings) to Rachel’s career. We bring our life dreams (a week in the Bahamas on a Cat…with Thermos Martinis of course), we compare research, talk about alternate approaches to our goal, we celebrate our trophies and reinvest in the challenge. We talk about what we’re each going to gift ourselves with after we make it (Tim McGraw black cowboy hat!!). We play the Ok So What If We game and test the waters for other ideas that we’ve read about or heard about or thought about.

We also talked about a new free video series that I found from FMTV and how it’s changing the way we think and act. The 5 short videos are about food awareness, stress and they way it suppresses our immune system, how our thoughts create who we become (The one we watched last night), making sure our goals are aligned with our being, and the art of fulfillment. Sometimes my head hurts when we’re done watching one but the videos are rich with provocative information and we feel they’re time well spent.

Additionally, part of last night’s meeting was talking about ideas for the money I’ll make in my part time summer job. It won’t be alot; maybe $1K after taxes. It’s fun to put it in imaginary places and mentally run out the opportunity costs. We thought about investing but pulled that back; we really want to keep our eye on the debt free ball. We think now we’re going to add it to one of the closest debts and soon be able to add a very big trophy to the debt free trophy case.

Dreamcasting, visualizing, bettering, and talking about what our dream realized is going to feel like keeps us jazzed. Thermos Martinis and poolside finance meetings are pretty great too.

And here’s the best part: I don’t have to clean the pool.

We Pushed Pause

Rachel and I are learning all sorts of new things on our mid-life debt free journey. Sometimes the learning is fun and sometimes not so much. Like with all new adventures, there are things that are expected and things that aren’t (hence the term “adventure”). Even the best planned adventures are going to create surprises. 

We knew we’d need to be more aware of our finances. That was good; we wanted to be more aware. Although we are not subscribers to the “every single dollar must be accounted for” school of thought, we compared our income to outflow and set a goal that was seriously challenging: be debt free minus the mortgage by September 2020. We then broke that goal down according to the time we had to work with. We are having fun, working hard, conserving, stretching, and feeling the reward getting closer month by month. It’s happening!  

Recently, though, during our Saturday morning front-porch and coffee (FP&C) finance meeting, we had to make some changes. We both felt it coming but our competitive natures made it tough to admit. We didn’t really know if we wanted to make a change or even talk about making a change. The path looked a bit more precarious (and narrow) than was comfortable.

We were doing our best at hashing out our timelines, pay dates, asset arrangement, and monthly goals. I wish I could say we weren’t both getting a bit stressed (but we were). In order to stay on short term track, we were going to be cutting things really close.

Rachel has the opportunity to take a couple of unplanned trips in June. Her Gran in Oregon is turning 94 and she wants to be at the party. Additionally, our daughter works with an amazing company that allows her to bring a +1 to the June corporate retreat (this one is in California) for a very reduced cost, and our son in law can’t make it.

Additionally, although we sold our boat, I still want to do some fishing from the kayak this spring and getting caught without a license is a pretty stiff fine. We’re also missing the Baby House (badly), and want to make a trip down in July to relax and drop off the Baby Car.

During our FP&C talk I went to get the mail that had just been delivered. It was a pretty hefty stack of envelopes.

Lord.

What are the chances that 3 of our 4 vehicles all needed to be registered in June? I mean, c’mon, seriously right now? (You’d think the red “6” sticker on all the license plates might have tipped me off (you’d be wrong). 

Suddenly I felt like I was getting chased around the ring by Butterbean.

We both sighed. 

And sipped quietly. 

For a long time.    

Storm clouds were gathering.

Birds stopped singing. 

It was hard to breathe.    

I mentioned before that we don’t subscribe to eating only beans and rice until we’re debt free. We had decided when we started our debt free adventure that we were still going to do some things that mattered to us, despite the cost, like date night and keeping the house and yard nice. 

We also had some non-negotiables:

We were not going to adjust our giving

Everything is prepaid or we don’t go or do

The minimum checking account balance stays

We don’t touch savings  

Perhaps I had not done a completely comprehensive job of factoring in every possible cost. I own that. Maybe we started without fully estimating the year. That’s me too. Maybe we set the goals a little more aggressively than we should have.

After a little more reflection, I just grabbed the goal remote: Pause.

There (big breath. Silence). Ok. So.

Let’s take a break; a one month temporary pause from the full-speed-ahead goal pursuit. Just like watching a Netflix movie: let’s push pause and get a snack. We can use the cash that we would have applied to our debt-free pursuit towards making sure the trips are prepaid, our non-negotiables hold, and we enjoy a short-term respite and the fruits of our hard work (Baby House!). We can create a plan for the late summer months to redirect additional funds to get back on track (shouldn’t be too hard; we don’t have any more cars or grandmothers).

As soon the words were out, the birds returned to singing, the sun came back out, the air freshened, and the coffee magically reheated itself. We talked about it a bit more from different angles and decided it was a good move. We’ve been running pretty hard for 6 months and have made unbelievable progress, but sometimes in life you just need a little re-leveling; a return to homeostasis.

I’ve been pondering the events for about week. There was a time when I would have pushed to stay on track; damn the torpedoes, take the pain, get plumb mad-dog mean (how have you not seen that movie?), feel the burn, and all that. Perhaps a life of military service helps create that; meet the objective at any cost.

But at what risk?

The risk of breaking something that might be irrefixable (Rachelism). The risk of crashing the epic quest. The risk of losing the jazz, the fun, the pursuit, and the Trust. The risk of becoming the guy who wrecks all the intoxicated fun by using his tape measure during the block party cornhole game.

And that risk for what gain? One month? 30 days? We already have a plan to regain the time. The right to brag about the hard times we endured? Like anyone cares. What about 2 years from now when Gran has passed and Rachel could have gone to the party?

That’s the stuff nightmares (and life-long regrets) are made of.

No (sorry Clint). None of that is why we chose to get debt-free. This adventure into the good shouldn’t feel like penance. It should build a sense of expectancy, anticipation, and optimism, which it has. It should make life more enjoyable, not less. Self-denial needs to happen, but even that is more like trading short term pleasures for long term (life-long) benefits.

Bending the rules is adventure. Breaking something is regret.

I have to be honest though. I am a little afraid that if we let up we won’t get back to it. But after examination, that fear is unfounded and irrational, and must be addressed as such. Fear is one of those “yeah but what if” things that can run you ragged, become larger than it should be, and create stagnation in middle age. Sometimes us middle-agers might need to do some things just to stay comfortable with change. It’s ok to move forward and be afraid at the same time.

I’m glad we pushed pause. The drive down through the desert to Mesa is pretty. We’ll ride along and listen to podcasts and argue over Dr. Laura’s advice. We’ll stay at the Hoover Damn Lodge where Rachel plays blackjack with a virtual dealer. I’ve picked out some secluded spots where I bet the big bass are hiding. It’s not every day that you get to eat birthday cake with your 94 year old Gran, or sneak away to a cool Cali hotel with your daughter.

All of it: memories waiting to be made.

I’m glad I didn’t break anything. Those movie snacks are the best.

We got knocked off course

If you’re following my blog, you know that Rachel and I are working hard towards getting out of debt. As part of our adventure into Middle Age, we want to be more financially independent. For almost 5 months (!), we’ve been working our monthly goals, denying distractions, and staying focused. There have been some adventure-bumps along the way, but we’ve been rocking it. Huge chunks of money have gone towards school debt (our current focus), and one school loan should be paid off by July 1st! In the preceding months we’ve closed furniture loans, credit cards, and other smaller debts. 

I was feeling so good about how well we were doing that I allowed myself a little dreaming (and man can I dream). I spent some time researching chartered catamarans (yup). One of my dreams is to rent a chartered 40′ cat in the Bahamas for a few days; the captain and mate doing all the sailing and cooking, Rachel and I doing all the sunning and relaxing.

One of the companies I found shows the boat anchored lazily off a pristine, white-sand cay. I could practically see the captain and chef waiving Rachel and me to row back in the dingy because the fresh swordfish (caught somehow by me) and pineapple (picked somehow by me) dinner is ready. Of course, they’d hand me a fine martini (made by them) from the best Bahamian gin (if there is such a thing). The captain would be so impressed with our ability to pay for the whole trip up-front that he’d offer huge discounts for next year. After dinner, there would be an evening snorkel over the secret pirate ship that sank with all that gold (see? Can I dream or what?)  

Dreams, huh? The stuff we build our lives on.   

Like being on a sailboat at sea, the day can go from peaceful to panic with little warning if a squall comes up. When the sea state changes for the worse, everything is called in to question. Am I on the right tack? Do I have too much sheet? Are the pumps working? Is everything tied down? How bad is it going to get? Was this trip even a good idea?

For Rachel and me, April was like that – financially. Our voyage started out as peaceful and calm; we were on track, our goals were good – and then we hit the squall. We thought we were prepared and had accounted for everything, but there were things we overlooked. I wish I could write that we had planned perfectly and for every contingency, but that wouldn’t be honest, or real.

The vehicle insurance came due. The Baby House in Mesa needed sudden work to prevent more costly damage. The Big House needed spring upkeep. We received three more unexpected bills. We were three weeks into the month and trying to navigate $1,300 in extra expenses and still stay on course. 

I knew it wasn’t going to be fatal, or even close, but we were getting knocked around pretty good while trying to make the next paycheck, stay afloat, and stay on track with our goals. I thought there might be some minor damage, but so far we weren’t shooting up flares; a plus one for us. 

We easily had the funds in savings to cover the bills, but we’ve done this “thing” to ourselves: we really, really dislike taking money out of savings once it’s there. Weird, I know. Once it’s in there, it’s kind of sacred. 

But I knew we had to do something.

First, we increased our financial meetings. We brought the situation front and center and didn’t do the “It’ll all work out somehow” thing. We knew we needed to talk more and keep the response as dynamic as the events. We checked the plans every few days and adjusted course as needed.

Second, we changed some specific plans. It’s spring, and with that comes the cost of grass seed, fertilizer, bee spray (war!) , pool salt, filter sand, weed spray (also war!), flower plants, vegetable plants; you get the idea. Keeping a house beautiful can be a spendy venture and we had built that into our budget.

We staggered the process and scrutinized the materials. I bought less bee spray (but it’s still war!), held off on the pool salt (still too cold to swim), picked out the dandelions by hand (also still war!), reused last year’s filter sand, and looked into seeds instead of plants. Little deviations add up, or in this case, don’t add up.

Third, we slowed down a bit temporarily by adding two weeks to one goal. We gave ourselves the option of either pulling from savings or sliding one of April’s goals out until May 15th. We think it will be met before that, but it allowed us to not pull from savings, and, for us, we chose the lesser of evils. Adding a little extra time allowed us to smooth the ride a bit and still meet the goal.

We made a course correction. We knew we were off track but we also knew it wasn’t a lot. We created a May goal to be back on original course by the end. We’ll still get to the same place at the same time, but the May goals will account for the storm we had in April.    

Finally, we congratulated ourselves. By being stubborn, smart, strict, and creative, we absorbed $1,300 of extra bills, took no funds from savings, met April’s goals (except the one that we slid out for two weeks), and already have a plan to end May back on the original track (and when I get my full load of bee spray: Flight of the Valkyrie on level 10. Uh huh, smells like….you know…). It’s good to celebrate the little wins.  

It hasn’t been easy or fun this month, but setbacks and storms are going to happen. It feels good to know we can weather a storm and regain true course. We might have been a bit too aggressive in our plans, and we’re talking about that. We had to remember that we created our goals, we charted our course, we want to be different, and we chose to journey out. We’re doing this for us.

We had to remind ourselves that despite the financial pummeling, we are doing it. Everybody has bumpy financial months, but at least ours are in relation to meeting some pretty cool goals. We are making progress, even if we got a little beat up this month. Getting most of the way there is better than getting none of the way there. 

So we’re choosing to look forward and focus on the good. Look how far we’ve come in just (almost) 5 months! We’ve learned so much already. Here’s another plus one for us: our debt free date of September 30th, 2020 still holds.

April was a bumpy ride, but I’m still plotting a course towards a chartered catamaran and fresh swordfish.