Kitchen Dancing

One of the greatest, I mean greatest, and most undermentioned benefits of being in Middle Age is that the kids are, well, out. Of the house I mean. As parents we did our best to impart what we knew as wisdom and sage teaching (?), and we helped them venture out to Adult; to conquer their world and make their own way.

Our kids are killing it. We’re very proud of each of them.

But (and), that makes us (yep) Empty Nesters. Middle Age Empty Nesters. We Love our kids, each and every one, but those of you that have reached (survived at all costs to crash prostrate and naked on the beach of) Middle Age, know of what I speak (Ceremony, fanfare, salutes deserved).

And one of the greatest benefits of being an Empty Nester is that we get to do things, grown up things, (adult things, uh-huh), without the fear of being walked in on (You know what I’m talking about).

Like Kitchen Dancing.

Oh yeah.
(said really slowly, like Barry White would say it).

Most summer evenings Rachel and I are in the pool that we built. I’ve mentioned it before. I wrap up my summer-off days of bee-wars, wood splitting, garden chores, pool cleaning, lawn care, general repairs, and house cleaning, she gets back from the increasingly-complicated commute, we make an adult beverage, grab the sunscreen, my Cowboy Hat, the top 40 country music and speaker, and we hit the pool.

It’s Heavenly. We float and talk and unpack the day and sing and sip and plan and solve and posit and dream and laugh. We float-dance too (It’s a thing).

We’re usually out too long (Ok, time gets away. We’re always out too long). Suddenly it’s 7:48pm and the Idaho summer sun gains an angle. And we’re starving.

Rachel jumps out and grabs three or four things from the gardens and heads up to figure out a healthy dinner. I close up the pool and umbrella and shed and garage and grab the music (which is still probably only slightly just a bit too loud) and follow.

It happens when I enter the kitchen, music in hand: Jason or Kenny or Luke. We really can’t help it. There’s music in the house. Suddenly it’s just Dance On: barefoot, drippy, Cowboy Hat, hands in the air. Bustin’ our Middle Age groove.

And we get after it. Around the bar. It’s serious. Those of you that have seen us dance know. This is no Moonlight Sonata. It’s a cross between High Intensity Training and sexy combat (?), right in the middle of slicing the zucchini (I even throw in some Pulp Fiction, the Batusi, or a new move I learned on Youtube). And because we’re in our kitchen, and there’s no one to walk in on us, and we’re in that spectacular place that is Middle Age Love, we really get after it (uh huh, you know what).

It’s just The Best.
Idaho summer nights.
Sunned. Pool clean.
Kitchen Dancing.
Breathless.
Starving. Happy.
Middle Age.

Lord we laugh and catch our breath. And we always finish the song.

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.

Living Thankful

Picture courtesy of a new found Friend (thanks Gene).

It’s one of the cooler mornings under the grapefruit tree on the front porch of our Baby House (90 degrees at 8:30). I think it’s going to top out around 108 today. Rachel is inside creating some new cards for the November show. We changed up the workout this morning and instead of spending some time in the gorgeous onsite gym, I created a new regime of 20 any-style laps in the pool (one of three here). Later this morning we’ll visit the Mesa Farmer’s Market and get bags of fresh produce for about $10. It’s the 4th of July. We’ll float again in the pool before dinner (we seem to be going twice a day) with a fine adult beverage (martini of course). We bought two insulated containers at IKEA yesterday (am I the last human on the planet to know about this place?). Maybe grill a bit (who grills when it’s 108?). And maybe a Hulu movie tonight that my son in law said was ‘interesting.’ I trust him.

Simple plans.

We’ve been here for about a week. We wanted to try some summer time to see if we liked it. We weren’t sure we’d like the heat. And because it’s the off season in the resort, we thought it might be a bit deserted for our likes.

We could not have misjudged more (and that’s hard to explain). It’s hard to even articulate how our very spirits seem to be soaking up the peace. Just when we think we’re unwound, and the pace has come off (you know what I’m talking about), a whole new level of unwoundness emerges and we sink down and settle in even more.

In my coffee reading this morning I ended up in the 34th Psalm: Seek Peace and Pursue it (Wholly unplanned. Read: yikes. I might be unpacking that one for some time). I always thought of pursuit as an inherently directed and purposed activity. Maybe I should. Maybe peace isn’t something that just floats to us; maybe we need to go get it.

It was, of course, the perfect message for where we are right now. Rachel and I have been talking a whole lot about peace.

Once again Rachel and I are in Change, and this one is pretty big. Rachel is in the midst a major career change. It was time (perhaps even past due). We are both very excited for the new opportunity. Our goals are still in place, and we’re even more hopeful about the future (ok, I way underserved that; we’re giddy).

Actually, there’s something going on and I can’t quite figure it out.

I can only start to try to define it as simple thankfulness. Quiet thankfulness. Peaceful thankfulness. Constant thankfulness. I wake up every morning just so, well, thankful. I go to bed thankful. I look around sometimes and think how am I so blessed to even be here?

I really (really) like how being thankful makes me feel. Rachel and I sometimes get emotional trying to talk about where we are and how we got here. We just sit on the porch in the evenings and reflect on the day and thank God and smile at each other and cry. (It’s pathetic really and I think the neighbor is concerned). Really good tears.

I try hard not to preach. I don’t How To, or You Should; I don’t even like to suggest. That’s not what I want this place to be for me or anyone else. This place is about my observations and my stories from the journey into and through Midlife. And right now I’m experiencing unrelenting thankfulness.

Maybe thankfulness and peace are related, or causational, or the same thing. I’ve not unpacked it all yet. Maybe we seek something until we find it, and then we chase it for all we’re worth. Maybe those things change based on where we are in life. Maybe peace isn’t something we get, but someone we become. Maybe being aware of simple blessings helps create a sense of heart thanks.

We’re off to the market, and then the pool, and then an easy movie in the cooler evening.
I’m getting emotional trying to close this.
Really good tears.

Opportunity Costs

The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”

Earlier this week Rachel and I were sitting in the sun on the back deck after work. The weather had taken a dip towards the cool so we were not in the pool. It’s not uncommon during our end-of-day unwind that we listen to a portion of a podcast or I read to her something that I’ve read earlier in the day (over an adult beverage of course). I read to her fairly often; parts of some article or book that I find insightful or interesting. It can be a good conversation starter. We typically unpack what we listen to or read, and try to see how it fits into our lives, if at all. Many times we find that the information can have a much broader impact than perhaps was originally intended.

This particular afternoon I was reading a small portion of The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins. I’ll admit to not being very smart about money. I wasn’t raised with any sort of money-awareness. I mean, working hard and paying the bills was the right thing to do, but that’s about as far as it went. No one I knew ever talked (or knew anything about) the stock market. I never heard the terms 401K or return on investment (ROI). Debt was fine as long as you could make the payments. There was not a great sense of driving yourself towards higher goals or being a life learner; I was discouraged from pursuing my dream of being an attorney because they were all “educated idiots.” Mediocrity was perfectly acceptable. My upbringing in that area is probably not unlike some others who are now coming into middle age.

I’ve left most of that behind now; except the part about not (still) knowing much about money and investing. Rachel and I are learning fast, and as we move towards becoming debt free, we want to make smart decisions. We want to be well-informed about all things financial. Once we reach our debt free goal, we should have a very sizeable amount to invest monthly and we want to make sure we’re doing it right. So, after I read an article from an author that I respect that listed Simple Path as one of his foundational readings, I ordered it from Amazon and downloaded it to my phone (so I could read it in the hot tub of course).

I didn’t get very far into the book when I came upon this idea of opportunity costs. I thought I knew what it meant (I didn’t), and the whole concept rocked (is rocking) my world (in more areas than just financial). I’m still fleshing it out.

In chapter 4 of the book (this is what I was reading to Rachel), the author talks about buying a car. Once that car is purchased, the money is spent, and there is an opportunity cost to no longer having that money available to work for me. Financially speaking, opportunity cost is what I give up (lose) when I choose to tie up my resources (money) in one thing (car) over another thing (an investment). The car money (a study in depreciation) won’t be “working” for me in the future. If I had invested the money, it would “work” for me by creating earnings at (maybe) 8-10%, and that money would then make more money, and so on and so on. So in the end the car costs me alot more than the actual price because I both pay interest to the car loan and I don’t earn investment interest. Run that out for 20 years and there’s a huge disparity. I suppose if I had used the car to be the getaway driver for bank robbers, the money might in some way still be “working” for me (if you knew how slow I drove, this would be hilarious and a non-option).

It’s this idea of opportunity cost that really set my head spinning. It’s about alternatives and the way the choices we make run out into the future; both the alternatives we say yes to and the ones that we say no to.

We could have chosen to purchase a bigger Baby House in Mesa. We had that option. But then the extra money that we spent on the higher payments could not be used towards getting out of debt. The money that I chose to spend in obtaining my first Masters degree might have been better invested to create returns. We could have chosen to spend 30K updating the kitchen (the architect had the plans all drawn up), but we chose instead to spend 10k and focus on the real needs. We could have chosen to purchase a newer and more expensive motorcycle, but then we could not have used the extra money towards debt (and I wouldn’t look nearly as cool).

I could have chosen to purchase the Super Duper Double Barrel Master Blaster Wasp Annihilator Spray for the back yard wasps, but there are much less expensive (and less deadly) options and, again, that money can be better used (and the neighbors won’t start dis-inviting me to the barbecues).

The idea of opportunity cost is that options we select create the potential for loss of gain, and it’s a really good idea to consider the options before choosing the path. Is there a better way?

It might sound like I’m advocating for never spending, or spending less, or eating rice and beans until financial independence is achieved (although I kinda like rice and beans). That’s not it at all. Rachel and I have really beautiful things. Truthfully, we could have not bought the Baby House (alternative 1) and used that money to get out of debt even faster (alternative 2). We then could have invested more and sooner (alternative 3), and that money would go on making more money essentially for the rest of our lives. So in the end the opportunity cost of the Baby House will be more than the purchase price, probably alot more. Even with that, we would make that choice again in a New York minute. That opportunity cost is worth every cent and pays every year non-monetarily: helping us escape some of the Idaho winter. It brightens us, gives us hope, and has opened a whole new world of potential.

Not all things are about money. Life is not just a monetary excursion or just about amassing bags of money. Looking back in regret at life can be frustrating, and quite honestly, largely a waste of present life. It only has value if a lesson can be learned and used to make the future better. A lesson can be a very powerful tool. Move on. Do better.

Also, sometimes things just don’t “feel” right. And sometimes things do just feel right. The 30K kitchen didn’t feel right. All of the fifth wheels and monster trucks to pull them so far just have not felt right. Despite the dream, it might be a path we choose not to go down. If we had bought the fifth wheel or truck or more expensive kitchen update, we would not have been able to afford the Baby House. And although I’m also not advocating for sitting cross-legged on the floor and making decisions based on Zen, there is a “gut” that’s valid and should be listened to.

Additionally, Rachel and I are noticing that our age is becoming a significant factor in our consideration of options. As we move into this thing called mid life, we’re understanding that we probably have less time to fix a mistake (even though I’m going to live to be 106). By default, it’s making us more cautious.

What I’m really trying to focus on is understanding that our choices, both financial and non-financial, can earn “interest,” and are both manifested and magnified in life. They create results that last for a lifetime. Like the picture at the top of the post, choosing one path means we can’t choose the other. And down that path will be more alternative paths to choose. We probably can’t ever get back to the other path, and even if we do, we’re changed people.

Every decision creates potential. There are benefits and detriments, advantages and disadvantages. Choosing one means that we negate the other. There is a cost to our decisions, and sometimes the cost is worth it and sometimes not. But it’s always a good idea to work that out and know the cost as best we can.

Opportunity costs are cool to think about. I want to apply the paradigm as we move forward, especially now that middle age is upon us and we’re preparing for our non-working future. While that still might be some years off, I’m finding that even in the daily decisions it can be beneficial. Food choices, activity choices, thought choices, word choices; am I at least trying in some small way to be better than I was yesterday, to factor out the effect of my decisions into the future, to choose better paths? In the long run it could really make a difference.

Why is it so hard to get rid of stuff?

Our Weekend Stuff Pile

This middle age journey I’m on is forcing me to deal with some new realities. One of them is that at some point Rachel and I are probably going to sell The Big House and move to The Baby House. We’re working towards becoming debt free, and we know that this current house is bigger (and costs more to upkeep) than we need.

There are still alot of options and the move might not take place for years, but we know at some point we’ll trade ~2,000 sq. ft of living space, 2-car garage, and 10×12 backyard shed for 640 sq. ft. of living space, no garage, no shed, and very limited storage. It will probably be the next big step in our lives.

One of the natural laws of science (and life) is that only so much stuff will fit into a given space (my daughter packing her suitcase notwithstanding). If we want to avoid being featured on one of those A&E TV shows like Buried Alive or Hoarders, it stands to reason that we’re going to need to get rid of stuff. Downsize. Minimize. Reduce excess possessions. De-materialize. Streamline. Un-stuff.

We spent part of this weekend un-stuffing. We did pretty well, but there were a few moments when the realization sunk in that we were choosing to release things from our lives that we once deemed important. Some of it was bitter-sweet; yes we are moving on, and yes there are good memories represented in that stuff. But the truth is, it can be a tough thing to get rid of stuff.

How do we get so much stuff? It seems like it just sneaks up. Stuff is sneaky. Sneaky stuff. We’re living our everyday life, doing our everyday things, and then it’s like a stuff-avalanche. Stuff is everywhere because it can hide in plain site. We have boxes of stuff, and closets of more stuff, and attics of even more stuff, and sheds of even way more stuff. We never see it until it jumps us. We open a closet to get a coat and get stuff-jumped for no reason. There’s a kitchen smudge so we look under the sink for the Smudge-Off and stuff has taken it hostage. Stuff sneaks into our car at night and hides until we give someone a ride. Then it’s a mobile stuff party. Some people who have too much stuff sell their stuff on Saturday mornings to other people who have too much stuff. It just goes back and forth like that. Some people give up or run out of space to hide stuff. Then it’s called clutter and they’re called hoarders.

And stuff can morph. Like a shape-shifter. Or the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Gremlins. It starts out as something cool and Must Have and then ends up in a box or closet or under the bed as stuff.

There are smart people who know alot about having stuff. Authors have built their entire profession on writing about stuff. There are professional Stuff Managers for hire that will deal with your stuff for you. Apparently U.S. homes have more stuff per house than any society in global history. It’s called Hyper-consumerism. The average home has 300,000 items in it (no way. I started counting). That’s a wicked-lot of stuff. Some people need more space to store stuff and they pay for it. The U.S. has roughly 50,000 storage facilities (5 times more than Starbucks) and there’s 7 1/2 sq. ft. of stuff storage space for every man, woman and child.

I confess: I hate stuff. It’s one of my hot buttons. It makes me insane. I once had a job that required me to go to people’s homes; maybe a thousand a year. Some had so much stuff there was nowhere to sit. I would fantasize about taking a push broom or firehose to the whole place while laughing maniacally and when I was done they would gather round and clap and cheer and thank me for saving them. Stuff makes me grumpy.

I was in the Coast Guard for 20+ years; much of it lived on a ship. There’s not much space for stuff on ships. Maybe that’s where my anti-stuff persuasion comes from. Most of the time stuff is very hard to describe (What’s in that box? I don’t know, just stuff. What kind of stuff. Just stuff stuff).

We save stuff over the years. Most of it is useless, but we save it anyway, because it’s perfectly good. We use words like perfectly good or might come in handy someday to describe things we’ll never use again but feel the overwhelming need to keep. We also use just in case and then describe a ridiculous situation that has never happened and never will (we’ll save it just in case we win the lottery and move to Mexico and can’t find a 2006 iphone case). 13 unused spiral notebooks (just in case we need to write a letter), 31 elastic banded pens that all work (might come in handy for writing all those letters), 7 nail clippers (just in case the other 6 break), every book we’ve ever read (throwing away a book is a sin), old eyeglasses (just in case my eyes ever go back to my prescription 7 years ago), various cables (just in case we need to hook something up); all perfectly good stuff that might come in handy just in case.

Pictures are the worst. The worst. We have boxes and boxes of pictures that we don’t look at until we’re deciding to get rid of them, which we never do (I threw away pictures this time. Rachel is pretty sure I now have it in me to be an ax murderer).

We have to Go Through stuff before we get rid of stuff. That’s the rule. It’s just about the only time in life that we ever Go Through anything, which automatically defines it as stuff. We have to be in the right frame of mind to Go Through stuff. Some people Go Through stuff but that’s as far as they get and it makes them feel like they’ve done enough for today.

Sometimes getting rid of stuff feels like we’re being disrespectful. Or wasteful. Or careless. Or cold. It’s our stuff and it belongs to us. We might not want to display our stuff, or use it, or ever really even see it, but we want to know it’s there. Where it’s safe. Under our control. Getting rid of it is so final. Stuff represents our past and reminds us of our mortality. Maybe that’s part of the reason we have so much stuff. Marie Kondo advises that we hold each item in our hand and thank it for the enjoyment it brought us before getting rid of it. Some people might need to thank a whole dumpster.

Stuff can cause big fights if both people aren’t on the same stuff-page. Some people are stuff keepers. Some are stuff get-rid-of-ers. Some people over-identify with their stuff; it becomes who they are. I tend to be a little reckless on the stuff reduction front and am definitely a get-rid-of-er. It makes me feel good (I hear the Rocky theme in my head). I’ve gotten rid of stuff that I shouldn’t have. I know I shouldn’t have because I got caught (stupid trash man).

I learned a lesson once from my grandfather about stuff. He explained that life is like a garden. We need to tend our Life Garden, and on a regular basis purposely pull out everything that’s not helping us get what we want. Weeds, bugs, last year’s old crop, too many of one thing, harvesting: at some point we need to remove instead of add. This removing process is natural and healthy, and makes us better and more purposed people. The tendency is to want to keep growing and growing, adding and adding, but that’s not how life works (and would make for a really messy and unfruitful garden). Stuff is like that. We add and add and if we don’t regularly remove, it’s going to get really messy and hard to grow.

I mentioned in an earlier post that we’re learning that right and hard can be friends, and just because a thing is hard does not mean it’s not right. Overall, it felt good to downsize and get rid of stuff. We still have a good amount of stuff to Go Through, but so far we’ve emptied the attic, 2 big closets, and most of the garage shelves. Some we donated and some we threw away. We’re doing a little bit each month. There were a few bumps but it’s fun to be taking tangible steps in moving towards our dream.

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.

Be Careful What You Take in

As I move onto my latter 50’s (ok, geeze, 58 in September), I continue to marvel at my phone (little things that aren’t so little, huh?). My Google Pixel is a 5″x3″ portal to the planet: libraries, pictures, people, weather, news, work, stocks, directions, answers, movies, games, and adventures (Oh, yeah, it makes calls too). I’m pretty sure my kids, born into a world of ubiquitous technology, don’t get it.

The morning was like most: drag out around 6, coffee-shuffle to the hot tub, song birds, gorgeous Idaho sunrise, ducks in flight, and the phone held carefully (it’s gone in twice but still keeps working). I planned to catch up on some of the blogs that I follow like The Retirement Manifesto and ESI Money. They’re really good. 

After the blogs, I checked the Facebook to see if I had earned any Likes on some barefoot lawn pics I posted the day before. Nope. But I did notice a post in my feed from a group that focused on remembering the 70’s. In the fun post pic the Osmond brothers were dancing with Cher. The bait worked (like you could resist sequined bell bottoms and yes I was being task avoidant about work).

One of the posts on the site was someone starting a Who Remembers These thread. Despite the misspellings and bad punctuation (seems to be the hallmarks of my generation), I became a 1970’s kid again: HR PufnStuf (that witch still freaks me out), Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman (Bob landed a lunker!), Dark Shadows (that music still freaks me out), electric can openers, a Rupp minibike, clothing styles from the period (man could I rock that white denim suit), and even a music video (Living Next Door to Alice. If you Google it, that’s on you). I suddenly remembered why my kids laugh at me. 

I was having fun and laughing out loud (in the hot tub. Sorry neighbors). A bit further down the page someone asked what advice would you give to the 13-year-old-you if you could go back in time. Fun idea! I was expecting things like buying Apple and Microsoft stock, being careful about teen drinking, keeping dad’s ’73 Charger, listening to parents more, and keeping the puka shell necklace (what? I was a stud in that!).

But that’s not what I read. That’s not what I read at all. 

It would have been impossible (and psychologically damaging) to review all of the 1,273 responses, but I read quite a few until I realized I had stopped laughing and was getting depressed.

While there were some light and insightful answers like wishing they’d kissed the girl or been nice to the fat kid or been less shy or focused on education or told mom they loved her more, those types of responses were actually pretty scarce.

Most of the replies were angry, cynical, and dark:

Run from the bitch and never look back.
Never get married, ever.
Men are jerks.
Never trust a woman, she’ll take everything you have. And your kids.
Teachers were wrong, there is no good life waiting.

He was the worst mistake of my life and ruined it.
I would change everything.  Life is hard and there is no rainbow.

It went on and on. 

I stopped reading. I felt a little sick. Some fun person had asked a fun question. It should have been fun. I had wanted it to be fun. Maybe I could even find a cool quote and capture it for my day. What I thought would be an insightful look at the past with my peers turned into a reading of bitterness. 

I made the mistake (slow learner here) of tracing some of the more spitting comments back to the headwaters. Wow, these were some angry people. Angry at just about anything you could think of: politics, climate, animals, genders, tourists, culture, the past, the future, and the unknown enigmatic “they” for causing all of the disappointment, underachievement, unfairness, and mistreatment.

I finally closed it. Even work was more fun that this. I sank down in the warm water and reoriented myself. That was dumb of me. Dumb to keep reading and dumb to take it in. No Generation Groovy, teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, Doobies (no, the singing group. Really?) or peace signs. I de-hot tubbed and headed in to do my chores. Morning chores make me feel better; like I’ve done something good.

The Facebook post reminded me of something(s): I need to get better at staying away from pessimistic, cynical people. I need to get better at surrounding myself with bright, optimistic, energetic, witty, purposed people (hello Mesa!). I need to be more vigilant about what I let inside. I become what I take in.

I’m becoming more aware (and less tolerant) of people that trade fun and energetic conversation for a trip down Awfulness Avenue. The people that can more quickly list the wrongs than the rights and are better at feasting at the table of doom than offering hopeful solutions or recommendations. The people that complain about the free lunches at the free conference and the ones that know we must be in the end times because it’s never been this bad (Ummm…what?) and the ones that just. can’t. shut up. about politics and the ones that for whatever reason just can’t be happy (and yes I know that was one giant run-on sentence).

Those people leave me wanting a scrubby shower and a drink (not necessarily in the order. Or maybe both at the same time).

Sure life is challenging and there are some awful things that happen. There are real dangers and bad people and bad places. That’s just the truth of life on the planet; it always has been and it’s always going to be.

Sure there are things we could have done better. We’ve all looked back and sucked our teeth (probably could have handled that a little differently) over things we should have (or not have) done. They’re on our timeline forever. We can’t un-ring a bell. We Imperfects bang around and crash in to people and make messes.

But we can choose to focus forward, learn a lesson, look up, hope for good, apologize, forgive, and be better. We can re-think, re-frame, reconsider, and grant the benefit of the doubt. We can seek higher ground and a better outcome. We can let it go. Stop looking back. Move into the sun. We can. We should. We owe that to ourselves. Maybe it’s not easy, but it’s better for us.

We have tremendous and crazy access to the world, but it’s not without risk, as I’m learning. Technology can bring good to our lives if we choose it. There is so much positive content, good music, fun games, and quality social media that can enhance life. Technology can also bring us incessant sensationalized news, the push to be globally aware every second, endless polarizing social and political issues; it’s easier than ever to perseverate on the negative or become a back in my day-er (I gave Rachel the ok to hit me with the kayak paddle if I ever say that). It’s all in how we use it, or in how we allow it to use us.

Not everything written needs to be read; not everything spoken needs to be heard. Solomon advised that it’s most important to guard our hearts (and eyes and ears), because it’s where our life comes from (he seems like a pretty smart dude). I need to be more vigilant about protecting my optimism; it’s where my energy comes from. It’s too easy as we age to become cynical, or fearful, or grumpy (or to get whacked with a kayak paddle). I’m much better than I used to be at being optimistic and it’s good to keep reminding myself how awesome life is.

After this morning, I’m going to be more careful about what I take in on social media, and faster to hit the x. Social media and technology is a knife that cuts both ways and should be handled as such. I’m going to be better at directing negative thoughts and conversations towards the positive.

Life is sweet. I love and am loved. My job is way cool. I have good family. We have big dreams. I can pedal really fast for an hour on the spin bike. I read good blogs that have pictures of people with big smiles. My life is richer than any pharaoh or king or Caesar that ever lived (even without the puka shell necklace). People are good and they’re doing good things. Life is good, and more good is coming.

Thanks for reading. If you comment, it damn well better be cheery.

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.  

What’s our Debt-Free Why?

“Knowing your why” is all the rage. It’s become a common theme in the corporate world. The idea is that, sooner or later, doing something just because you have to do it gets really old. If there is a “why” behind what you do, it’s easier to maintain motivation and energy because you see beyond the task; you know the real reason you do what you do. The work becomes personal and means something to you

Rachel and I have a “Why” for becoming debt free. Sure, it will be amazingly cool not having debt, but in order for us to navigate the challenges and stay on course, we needed to know our why. It wasn’t something we just decided to do. We talked alot. We weren’t sure at first that we wanted to do it. We both had different ideas of what the process might look like.

I think most people would agree that debt starts easily and naturally. Modern life and debt are joined at the hip. We’re encouraged to take on debt in our early 20’s so that we can “earn” a good credit rating. College, cars, wedding, kids, and a mortgage really pile it on. We find ourselves in a sea of monthly minimums. Payments become innocuous and just part of “adulting,” like Mondays and traffic. 

Rachel and I were no different. We had college debt, card debt, car debt, furniture debt; the usual successful checklist of American life, and with it, the debt. As we started reading more blogs, listening to more podcasts, and assessing our own life, we started talking more and more about the idea of getting out of debt. I guess there might be some truth to the axiom: you become what you take in. 

A short time ago we had the chance to purchase a small “snow-bird” vacation home (aka: The Baby House) in an over-55 resort in Mesa, Arizona. Most of the people there don’t work; and if they do, it’s because they truly enjoy it. They come from all over the northern U.S. and Canada to Mesa to escape the winter. Although we were new there and younger than most, we soaked it in and listened, learned, and watched. These were some happy, dancing, energetic, fun-loving people. They were smart with their lives, with their choices, and with their finances, and had earned the right to be dancing in the sun while most of the nation froze.

The place made an impact on us. A big impact. It’s still making an impact. We can’t stop talking and thinking about it. Couples there have done something right, together. As we watched, talked, and listened, Rachel and I started to imagine where we could be, what we could do, if we had no debt. 

Then something happened that’s hard to explain. It just sort of clicked. We became hungry to be clear from the life-drag of debt. Life was great, but we were not getting where we wanted to be. 

It was January of 2019, and we had our Why.

Being debt free can be defined in many ways. It’s not about being retired, or not working, or doing nothing all day, at least not for us. That’s just not who we are. For us it means having no debt except our home mortgage (still an investment that should appreciate). It means being smart about what we really want, and then living purposefully to reduce debt every month. It means setting a goal date (Sept. 2020) and creating a plan to pay off all debt by then.

We are making ourselves students. It’s proving to be quite the challenge. There’s lots we still don’t know, but we’re learning every day. Rachel listens to financial podcasts during her commutes. I read several blogs that are focused on the idea of being money smart and becoming debt free. We know the goal is there, the dream is there, the reward is there, but it’s going to take hard work to dig it out an bring it to light.  

To be honest, though, it’s a bit of a misnomer. You don’t just become debt free. It’s proving to be hard work. We’re planning, and talking. We’re downsizing financially and making sure our fiances are behaving. And it’s important that we’re honest enough to say that we don’t always agree on a specific path, but we do talk it through until a solution is reached. 

It takes (big one here, read requires), both people to be on the same page financially. One saver and one spender is going to get someone pushed down the stairs. It’s important that both people create the goal, create the monthly plans, and then help each other stay on track. Honesty is crucial, and so is consistent and open communication.

We make lists, have weekly meetings, set our monthly goals, revisit our debt-free date, and we added a debt-free countdown app to our phones. We talk about every purchase before we make it. It’s not easy to always remember that (crap! Did I not tell you?). Did I say it’s not always easy? I’m from Maine; it’s wicked not easy and wicked not fun, but it is going to be worth it.

It took us a bit to get it all going in the right direction, and for us that was the hardest part. Momentum is a formidable enemy but a powerful friend. At first, there were things that we forgot. We figured out our income (We’re rich!) and our debt (We’re poor!). We forgot a furniture bill until it came in (seriously?), and had to regroup and start again. But we kept going. Little by little, like a learning to water ski, we’re getting up on a plane. Once we can stop face-planting, we think it’s going to open a whole new world.  

We use Google Keep for our goals. We create and check them off each month. It’s important for me to keep monthly goals so I can celebrate (martini!) when we check one off. and then celebrate (two martinis!) when we complete a successful month. Celebrations and little victory parties along the way are important. Like trophies on the shelf, they show progress and the success of hard work. They remind us of our Why. 

We had to learn that Hard and Right can be friends. We sold the camper. We sold the boat. They went to nice families but those were quiet nights. We canceled the car wash and Dish and created weekly meal plans to reduce groceries. Rachel sold some jewelry. We put all the money towards debt. 

The 12 year old push lawn mower vibrates like a gym butt exerciser, but it still cuts the grass. I changed to a barber (no girl washing my hair. Talk about sacrifice). Rachel is looking at coloring her hair at home. I hid the good gin (kidding. Kind of). Nothing goes on the card. Monthly bills for essentials (food, utilities, clothing, entertainment) are all debit transactions. All future purchases are saved for and paid for with cash, which means a healthy savings program. There are no loans and nothing to be “paid off.” 

We also learned that there were some things we were not going to cancel, because of the value to us. We kept our Friday night We-Didn’t-Kill-Anyone-This-Week celebration dates. We try to split a meal and go to less expensive places, but we’re still out. Adjustments like appetizers, happy hour, and learning (me) not to gag over well drinks is helping. We are still planning some shorter summer trips, all paid in cash beforehand.  

We know that some would disagree with spending any amount of discretionary cash along the way, but this is how we’ve chosen to reach our goals and keep our relationship healthy. It’s amazing how much more we appreciate the little things now, like one of Rachel’s lemon-jalapeno gin martinis or fresh grapefruit from our tree. They’re an extravagance.

It really is an adventure for us and we talk often about our challenges and progress. Much more awaits. We really want to be out of debt. Looking forward, we want to invest. We want to give more.

It’s amazing how this is keeping us future-focused and optimistic about where we’re going. Instead of being down and feeling deprived, there’s an energy and excitement in the air. We’re using the power of now to create a future we can hardly wait for.

September 30th, 2020 will be here before we know it. We’re keeping focused on our Why. We’re so excited!

 

So What’s with the Blog?

A friend recently asked me why I started a blog. It made me stop and think about it. I’ve been writing and blogging for years, just never quite so publicly. 

There’s lots of speculation today about why people do things, especially in social media, and rightly so. Sometimes the reader is expecting the other shoe to drop (or maybe that’s just me). I don’t blame them. Much of what takes place on social media is disguised sales; the bait and switch.

Maybe I’m overly cynical. I dislike (strongly) being led into a sales situation unexpectedly by clever questions. It feels like answering the door to solicitors. Now that you’re reading, you should buy my… (No thanks, and now I’m done reading). Many of the blogs I read have alerts about external monetized links – both pro and con. I think that’s cool: make the intent clear right from the start. 

So I thought I’d make my intent clear, right from the start:

I enjoy writing. I can sit and blog for hours. It’s my way of being creative. Last Saturday morning I started at 7:30am and it was 11:10am before I noticed. I’m not sure how that happens. I’ve learned not to even open my blog during the workday. What I think might be a quick check turns into an hour. 

This is not an income and most likely never will be. I’ve read a few blogs where the authors claim that it makes them six figures (healthy skepticism abounds). I think there are a few that do ok and the authors make it a post-retirement side hustle, and good for them. They write well and have found a topic that readers enjoy; me included. I guess if Elon Musk offered me a bag of money because he finds my writing indispensable, I might give it some thought (I’m also reasonably confident that’s not going to happen). No other shoe is dropping here.  

Writing relaxes me. I have a small table in my home office that looks out over the front lawn, a big maple tree, and a very quiet street. Kids on bikes or skates go up and down. There are lots of birds. Writing gives me the opportunity to jot down my thoughts while staring out the window without looking like a creepy guy staring out the window. I play Max Richter music and live in my abstract world. When I’m done it feels like I’ve had a fine meal.

It feels a bit like leaving a legacy. I imagine that someday my kids might read what I write. Maybe they are now; I haven’t asked. Maybe some of my eulogy will be pulled from here; if so, you’re welcome. Blogging is a little like keeping a diary, only I get really jazzed at the thought of hundreds of people reading it. I get to open up my inside life a little bit. Like the pictures on Instagram or Facebook, blog posts remind me it’s an awesome life.

Blogging helps me assess my life. I like to reflect on who I am, what I’m doing, where I’m going, and what life will look like in 10 years; sort of being a reflective life practitioner: (So what is it you do? Me? Oh, I’m a Reflective Life Practitioner. Ohhhh…). At almost 58, I’ve entered a new phase of life (act 3 of 4?). I’ve done and thought about things in the preceding year I just never thought I’d do or think about. Life is changing significantly and I want to be ready. I want to do it right, and well, and have fun, and do good things. The process of organizing my thoughts into becoming words helps me better consider my time spent in this realm, at this age, and if I’m doing it the best way I can. If I’m not, I’d like to fix that.

It feels like a conversation. I often wonder if I’d be surprised by who reads my writing, which makes it all the more cool. If you’re reading, thank you, and feel free to comment. Different perspectives help me better understand who I am. I seek and value insight.

Something I write might help someone else. I think Rachel and I are doing some pretty cool things as we enter into a new phase of life. Call it act 3 of 4 maybe. While there may not be any belief-shattering revelations here, perhaps there might be a phrase or line that resonates with you the reader. Maybe you’ll think about some aspect of what we’re doing, and weave in to the fabric of your own life. I tend to do that with the blogs and podcasts that I take in. Usually the phrase or line is not life-changing in itself, but I use their words and ideas to extrapolate new adventures in my own life. It happens often in our life: “So I found this blog today that was pretty cool. The writer said….”

So if you’re reading (thank you) and are worried where this is going, I’ll be honest and say I have no idea. Please follow. And please be relaxed and know there won’t be a sales pitch or a “you should think / act / believe” like I do (Elon, if you’re reading, HMU).