Thirty Steaks

But it was such a good deal. And it still is. It’s just a bit odd, that’s all. I accidentally have thirty steaks in my freezer. And there’s room for more. Maybe I’ll buy some frozen veggies to go with them. Good deals can me do silly things, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad, just – odd. And in this case, tasty.

Four years ago I wrote about the joy, relief, satisfaction of having a Full Pantry.

“I knew finances were improving the first time I bought enough of something that it was silly to store any more.”

At the time it felt like a luxury, because it was. Too many people barely have enough for a few meals at home. Either they’re too busy, don’t know how to cook, and only make enough to buy enough for the next few days.

This is 2020. My full pantry which was a culinary playground and a part of my emergency preparedness kit became closer to a necessity than a luxury. Remember March and April? I’m continuing to wear a mask (~200,000 dead in the US and ~1,000,000 globally, with months to go unless more people act more responsibly.) But, now it is easier to shop. Fewer shelves are empty. And the grocery store is running sales, again.

On Sale! New York Strip steaks for $5.99/pound. Hello! That’s less than what I spend on the local ranch’s ground beef (#ShopLocal). Life as real estate broker doesn’t mean I have a steak diet. I prefer roasts: beef, pork, chicken, ham, turkey; but my work schedule now means more dynamic meal planning. I continue to rely on cheap cuts like pork chops (as low as $1.29/pound when on a good sale); especially because I’ve learned that a frozen pork chop can be cooked low and slow without having to be thawed. Get home. Pop a chop into the oven, maybe with some veggies to roast, and handle those household chores and possibly work emails while dinner cooks itself. But sometimes an already thawed steak is the better and much quicker way to go, minutes instead of a couple of hours.

I’m frugal. That shouldn’t be news. I cruise the discount meat bin when shopping and judiciously buy discounted meat, sometimes steaks. Even at that discount, $5.99/pound wins.

But.

This is America. The land where the steaks should be big and thick and juicy. And that’s the way the butchers cut them.

This is me. My time in the steel mill altered my taste buds (don’t ask unless you want a very long story about real masks and being surprised by people complaining about a strip of cloth after I spent 100F days sounding like Darth Vader), so juicy can taste mushy. I want well done, which can take a long time with a thick steak. I have more years and pounds so I prefer smaller cuts. Besides, smaller, thinner cuts thaw and cook more quickly.

Good news. They were selling the steaks pre-cut. For no charge, they’d cut to my specifications. The trick, I had to buy a twenty pound slab. Do the math. Gulp. OK. Let’s hope they fit in the freezer.

Pick out the meat. Hand it to the butcher. Tell them what I want. Come back in ten minutes. Such a deal.

When I got home I noticed that they cut them a little thinner, but not by much. Most of them were still about 12 ounces when I wanted about 6 ounces. That’s OK. I have a knife, a cutting board, wax paper, and storage bags. After keeping some of them full-size (hey, celebrations do happen), the rest were cut in half. Twenty pounds of meat becomes thirty steaks, meals almost ready to go.

Ah, but would they all fit in the freezer? All I have is a regular refrigerator, with the freezer on top – which is usually nearly full from shopping for sales. Veggies, homemade baked beans, chilis, soups, stock, maybe some chicken, definitely fish and pork, a roast or two, ground beef – and a bunch of discounted and frozen steaks from before. Oops. I have over thirty steaks in my freezer.

This is not optimum. It is also not something to moan about. Burp? Yes. But not complain. Whine? No. Wine? Yes, in the fridge, on the counter and in the utility room.

Some of my frugal friends are far better at managing meal plans and pantries. I run into Use-by Dates and mismatches (Dining By Due Date), like the one time I had everything I needed to bake cookies, had almost everything mixed and the oven warmed up – and realized I didn’t have baking powder or soda. Oops.

I have enough steaks to have one per day for a month. Like I mentioned above, I prefer roasts, chops, and some fish for variety. Mix it up a bit and I don’t have to shop for steaks for months.

Recently I posted about having More Than Enough, and how that doesn’t always apply to money. Well, I certainly have more than enough of that course – for a while.

Tonight the forecast is for the first storm of the season. I am working from home, which makes it easier to make roasts (though tomorrow’s culinary accomplishment will be baked beans); but if the power goes out, it might be a good idea to have a steak or two thawed out and ready to be cooked outside on the grill. And, if I end up going to the office (I recently moved to Dalton Realty in Clinton, for those who are more familiar with Whidbey Island and real estate), it will be good to know I’ll have a quick meal waiting for me when I eventually get home.

It might be more than enough. It might be a silly thing. It might mean a frozen jigsaw puzzle to squeeze in that frozen whole organic chicken I saw on sale for $1.09/pound, but maybe it’s about time for a little celebration every couple of days or so.

Hmm. With that much red meat I might have to stock up on red wine. There are some slots in the wine rack in the utility room, and maybe a sale coming up.

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Science Fiction Novel 1 – First Draft

Play with your ideas. They can be a great excuse to do silly things and get something done. Several years ago an image came to mind. It was just one image, but something about it suggested it would be a book cover, and the inspiration for a book, a sci-fi novel, my first. Great; but I was busy at the time trying to survive the early stages of My Triple Whammy. Within a year, I walked into a friend and artist’s studio and gallery. Standing on the easel was a sketch of the same image, an image I didn’t share with anyone. HINT. Last night I finished the first draft. And no, you don’t get to read it, yet. Yet. Patience, for me, too. Believe it or not, this isn’t just about writing or science fiction.

I started writing the first draft about two years ago, er, almost four years ago? Wow. Thanks, computer, for a more reliable memory than mine. For me, that’s painfully slow. These blog posts, and even my non-fiction narratives, are typically written at about 1,000 words an hour. A typical novel is about 60,000 to 80,000 words. Writing about science can work that well (at least for first drafts.) Writing about science fiction, well, that takes longer. 

adding another book to my shelf

I won’t describe the entire book because: 1) it will change with the next draft, and 2) why would you buy the book if you knew how the story ended? 


Here’s a teaser, though, 

“She stood in the fire, her arms cradling a fresh supply of wood, and smiled. He sat beside the ring of stones wondering how he would live in this new world, this new life. This wasn’t what he expected when they left Earth. He reminded himself this was their home – and that they could love each other, here.”

Watch and read some science fiction. I did and do. Most of the aliens aren’t very alien. If the writer makes things too alien, most humans won’t take the time to understand it. Ah, one of the advantages of self-publishing and personally writing to explore personal thoughts. What would it be like to encounter an alien with no eyes, ears, mouth; no gender or concept of generations; an alien race that’s never encountered animals, only plants; aliens on another planet that can’t see the stars so they think their sun is the only thing in the sky? Oh yeah, and for some reason, I decided to make the ecosystem based on silicon instead of carbon. Hey, that’s the fun and challenge of fiction. Imagine a world, then make it happen – or at least try.

Those first couple of years had great gaps in my writing as I had to invent or understand different physics, biology, geology, meteorology and climatology, as well as the alien’s physiology and sociology. That’s a lot of ‘-ology’s. That’s a lot to study. That was intriguing and has taught me a lot. 

But that wasn’t the only fun study material. Watch and read some science fiction – and notice what you like and don’t like. I did. Thanks to Covid and #WorkFromHome, I was able to complete a binge of bingewatching that I’d already started about two years ago. I watched good and bad, partly to fill the silence as I worked at home, partly to recognize what I liked and didn’t like about various series. Here’s the list. It isn’t every sci-fi show or movie series, but it was long enough for me.

TV Series (ordered from good examples to bad, in my opinion – Opinion, get it, Opinion!)

  • Firefly (cancelled while they were ahead, and therefore never to fall)
  • Babylon 5 (great long story arc, and alien aliens, and alien motivations)
  • Deep Space Nine (a near tie with Babylon 5, both with excellent characters)
  • Stargate SG1 (come on, MacGyer in Space, plus science and a diverse team)
  • Expanse (rising fast, with a budget that helps)
  • Star Trek Enterprise (if only they weren’t burdened with TOS’ canon, and modern expectations)
  • Star Trek – The Original Series (ST TOS, where TOS does not mean Terms Of Service)
  • Star Trek Next Generation (a welcome revival, with very clean characters) 
  • Andromeda (Hercules in Space, destiny, and a bit of wit)
  • Farscape (Muppets in Space, that would benefit from CGI and a reboot)
  • Star Trek Voyager (great idea and characters, but it was like they couldn’t figure out how to put a woman in charge – at least not compared to the strong women leaders I’ve worked for)
  • UFO (Sorry, Marc, just didn’t get into it)
  • 1999 (watching 1999 in 2019, well, they skipped science class, even 1950s science class)

Movie Series (a tie, but for different reasons)

  • Star Wars 
  • Star Trek

Star Wars and Star Trek are great examples of two approaches to science fiction: science and fiction. Another way of looking at it is that Star Wars is science fantasy. Things happen without explanations, while Star Trek had engineers who at least had to spout realistic-sounding jargon. 

Believe it or not, this isn’t just about writing or science fiction.

I applied lessons learned from photography. They also apply to life. 

Humans react. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, sometimes purposely neutral. When I am on a photo trip, I pay attention to what attracts my eye. Attractions are also distractions. What made me look away from one thing to notice another thing? Pay attention to that. Literally focus on that, or if it is distracting for the opposite reason, purposely put that out of focus. 

Star Trek with Kirk and Spock is laughed at for being campy, cheap, and poorly acted. But it redefined the genre. It was cancelled, but that happens to almost all shows. (Except the Simpsons, who are ageless and immortal and invulnerable). But, don’t compare it to what’s on in 2020. Compare it to its competition. Star Trek had people. Every character was more real because every character had a flaw. They had real conversations about real topics, not just another space battle with everyone throwing themselves around the room. Fascinating. And also influencing our world with ideas and inventions from 1967. 

I don’t intend to reach those ranks, and considering my book, I’m not sure how it could be filmed. It is inevitable, though, that many aspects of my book are reflections of themes, plots, and devices from those shows. That’s true of language in general. Take away every word or phrase used or invented by Shakespeare and English falls apart – not that it is stone solid, anyway.

As for novels, for me that list is short and strong: Larry Niven, and Dan Simmons. If I reach those heights, well, first I need to write for myself.

So, the challenge I gave myself was to take that image mentioned above, imagine alien aliens and their reality, respect the necessary changes in vocabulary (someone without eyes can’t see, someone without gender may not understand marriage or sex, and their vocabulary won’t have those words), and deal with real topics with at least plausible science. (Well, except for one bit of physics and one bit of biology I use which are highly speculative.)

Here are some of the benefits of writing:
– It doesn’t cost much money.
– The writer gets to express themself without being interrupted.
– Do it enough and writing a story becomes more entertaining than watching some other writer’s story. (Bored with what’s on TV/Netflix/YouTube? Write your own!)

Here are some of the costs of writing:

  • It costs time, and time is more valuable than money. (But if all you have is time, then it might be a way to make money.)
  • The writer becomes emotionally vulnerable. Everyone’s a critic, eh? That includes the writer. Self-criticism is necessary and hard to avoid.
  • Dive in too deep and your dreams can change. 

The details above are the mechanics for letting me play with some personally pertinent ideas: digital singularity, climate change, social justice, a definition of life, good intentions gone bad, sustainability, theoretical physics and mathematics, and the interconnections of everything. Vibrations and imaginary numbers. Cool. 

As a friend mentioned; “You’re not making this easy on yourself, are you?”

Like any new skill, practice makes it easier. Now that I’ve invented a reality, editing it will be easier. I’ll have one fellow writer read the first draft. Instructions will be necessary because the characters don’t have their final names, and certain themes must be woven throughout. In the model of the best science fiction, I hope to make the characters less fictional. And, it has to be a good, or at least good enough, story. The next drafts can take less time, but it may be a couple of years before I am done. 

This is actually part of a bigger plan. Without intending to, the backstory for my book describes what happens on Earth in about 2045, a time which can also be the backstory for a book Don Scoby (co-host and co-producer of the podcast WritingOnWhideyIsland.com). If our books work well enough, we may invite other Whidbey Island writers to expand into the same universe. 

The world runs on unintended consequences. An image came to mind, and then I saw it, too. Our world is changing in ways that I want to explore before we get there. My finances improved enough that I could spend more time writing. Covid hit, which accelerated the process; and wildfire smoke kept me inside long enough to sprint to the finish – of the first draft. 

Stay tuned, be patient, and thanks for the inspirations and support. Oh yeah, and I’m not quitting my day job over this. 

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Just Keep Pedaling – Twenty Years Later

What a weird and wild ride it was and has been, both on the bicycle and in my life. Twenty years ago I rode across America from an island north of Seattle (San Juan Island) to an island south of Miami (Key West). I didn’t do much planning, didn’t expect to finish, and yet I got there. Friends convinced me to write a book about it. (Just Keep Pedaling) I didn’t plan it, didn’t know if I could finish, did finish, and that led to a journey that has been unexpected. I try to guess what’s ahead, because that’s what we humans do. I also know the world doesn’t work that way. That’s okay. The journey continues.

For those who are just now finding my story, here’s a synopsis: retired at 38, had poor body image without knowing it, decided to lose weight via weeks of low-impact aerobics with stretching and a restricted diet, decided bicycling in laps around my neighborhood would be boring, started riding from the northwest corner of the lower 48, aimed at the southeast corner of the lower 48, eventually got there, spent $15,000 in the process, didn’t lose any weight or percentage body fat or waist size, and yet must have been in good enough shape because I managed to diagonally ride across the continent without crossing borders. Oh yeah, and along the way I learned a lot about me, people, the country, culture – and accidentally wrote about America before and after 9/11. Like I said, plans and guesses get laughed at.

I write this to celebrate that.

The book is my best seller, but it is not a best seller; yet it continues to sell after twenty years. It may be my best seller, but it was also my first book so don’t be surprised that my subsequent books are much better written. It added ‘writer’ and ‘author’ to my resume. Being an author led to public speaking, coaching others about self-publishing, led to selling photographs, learning about social media before it had the name, and consulting others about many of those aspects.

The bicycle survives. I do, too. Both of us have signs of wear, use, and embody more stories than fit into books or images or words. In many ways, time and age mean both of us have parts that can’t be repaired or replaced – and yet we continue.

That book led to the start of my Twelve Month series, first as narratives of lakes in the Washington Cascades, later as photo essays of Whidbey Island.

To celebrate the ten year anniversary of the ride, I walked across Scotland in 2010. (Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland)

To celebrate the ten year anniversary of the Scotland walk and the twenty year anniversary of the American bicycle ride, I hoped to do something similar in 2020.

2020.

So much for that plan.

But, maybe that will work out, too.

I am a marathoner in many ways. I ran a few. But I also tend to take on long projects with uncertain outcomes that few others do. I climbed Mt. Rainier in a year when about 8,000 tried and 4,000 summited. That same year, I estimated that only a few hundred rode across the North American continent. A commentator covering a marathon said something like; “These people are having the time of their lives.” (Insert raspberry, thumb to nose, or similarly obnoxious response.) As I said in the book, “I can’t say that it was fun, but I’m glad I did it.”

My life certainly has not followed any conscious plan. I am a minimalist, have a higher risk tolerance than many but not as high as true adventurers, and am more likely to set a goal with a sketch of a plan that is written in pencil. Somehow I get through, but that hasn’t been a given. Doubts have been part of every endeavor.

And here I sit, typing, and wondering how to commemorate something as simple as a bicycle ride that slowly, dramatically changed and redefined my life. One plan was to ride my bicycle from Mexico to Canada, from Brownsville, Texas to Winnipeg, Canada. (No mountain ranges involved.) Another was to return to Stranraer, Scotland and walk to Dover, England; or take the Stranraer ferry to Ireland and walk around the island. Maybe try some other human-powered journey like rowing or hiking, but I don’t have a boat or experience cruising, and hiking would involve lots of resupply. Besides, 2020.

Maybe the challenge this time is to do something similarly extended but close to home, within a reduced budget, that can somehow weave into my real estate career.

Maybe I can win the lottery jackpot and do whatever I want, or nothing at all.

Nothing at all is not an option. After writing one book, I wrote five more, and am currently working on three (sci-fi, tea, and a personal finance story that is a rollercoaster ride through America’s wealth classes.) I’m busy.

Must order new copies of Twelve Months at Double Bluff

Hmm.

This is 2020. A pandemic, climate change, social injustice, an unstable economy, an unstable political situation, wildfires, and only 2/3 of the way through the year.

Maybe the best journey will be inwards, something no one can witness, experiencing things that defy explanation, that costs little and can be done from home or wherever. Maybe this is the end of my decadal epics because the next one would happen when I am 70. And even that could be a sailing voyage – assuming the planet hasn’t coughed us up by then.

For a change, maybe my next journey won’t be chronicled. But, I didn’t plan to write Just Keep Pedaling. As I said, I was talked into it. I didn’t plan to my other book that sells well, Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland. That was true until I experienced a moment of joy that arrived without a cause. How could I ignore that? I now know at a deep level how close joy is, as well as how easily our economic system can enable layers of anxieties that make joy a bit more distant.

What comes next? Dinner with friends, chasing emails in a crazy real estate market (I’m a broker, and didn’t see that coming either), finding ways to visit wilderness safely, while retiring anxieties, and adapting, adapting, adapting.

The journey continues. I can’t say it’s always been fun, but I’m glad I am doing it. What journey awaits any of us that starts with a crank of the pedals, a single step, or a few words?

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Toilet Truck Telephone

Do not put those three things together, at least not at my house. Sure, most folks have phones, and people with the right rig will have a truck that can pull an RV that comes equipped with a toilet; but this isn’t about that. I’m continuing to retire anxieties. The three most recent ones are about my house’s toilet, the truck passed to me by my Dad, and the telephone and internet service delivered to my house. Just like me, though, two of these three may only be semi-retired.

Toilet

When every contractor contacted says, “I’ve never heard of that happening.” anxieties can creep in. I had a weird toilet. Actually, it wasn’t a weird toilet, but it was doing weird things. The toilet was not very old. In April 2016 I wrote about retiring some anxieties associated with the even older toilet and the septic system. One step was to get a new toilet. It was good to be able to flush again – until it didn’t. As of about a year ago, a few times a week I’d have to use the plunger, ugh, ick, really not that bad but inconvenient at best. I’m glad there isn’t a video of me waddling around with my pants down trying to work the plunger without getting me or the bathroom wet.

That wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t desirable, but the problem was the noise my toilet made. At random times throughout the day and night, it would sound like an old-fashioned coffee percolator. Bloop. Bloop. Bloop. It took me weeks to find the source of the sound because it would usually stop before I got to it. Then, it made the sound while I was sitting on it. That significantly reduced the search.

I was worried about water leaking out, but couldn’t find a puddle, or a drip, or a damp spot on the floor. That’s because the water wasn’t leaking out. Air was leaking in. One time I took off the tank cover and saw bubbles rising from the inlet connection – but nothing dripping out. Maybe it did that all along and I only noticed with #StayHome and #WorkFromHome, but I knew better. The plumbers, however, didn’t know how to fix it, but they knew how to replace it. Besides, as one of them pointed out, the labor charges involved in troubleshooting it would be more than the price of a new toilet. OK, get me on that schedule.

Now, I have a toilet that is quiet – until I flush. Hit that lever and it sounds like a jet engine, a very effective jet engine, for a very short time.

Abstract anxieties are bad enough. An anxiety that’s associated with a necessary and natural act that is as immediate as a toilet seat, that was an anxiety trigger at least once a day.

Two consequences: The bill was about $600 (which almost included a charge for the plumber to wear a mask – but that’s a separate story.) And I don’t feel the urge to visit porta-potties and public restrooms.

Truck

Chuck the Truck, 2000 Chevy Silverado, over 180,000 miles, tow package, cap, a few lights that wink on and off at a whim, nothing elegant, a working truck. It is a rugged truck, equipped for a trades contractor, which I am not. But, my Dad gave it to me when he moved from his wife’s ranch after she died. We’re not the best match, but we get along, the truck and me.

About those lights. It’s one thing when the interior lights ignore the switches and buttons. It’s another thing when the light that lights says, “Service Engine Soon.” According to the gauges, oil, water, electrical were all doing fine. The fuel gauge has issues like the lights, sometimes working, sometimes not, sometimes bouncing around in the middle. Service Engine Soon is NOT the big red flashing lights from the two occasions when Chuck broke down; but is the required service necessary or only recommended? No way to tell but take it to the shop and let the mechanic’s computer talk to the truck’s computer. Error Code 1416 or 1419.

That was an obscure enough code that even the mechanic’s computer couldn’t recognize it. We did some research and found that the anxieties weren’t warranted. There’s an air pump in the (California State – where the ranch was) emission control system that needed to be replaced. Whew.

Order the $35 part. Spend a total of ~$300 to get it installed – and the warning light went off! And then came back on.

So, Service Engine Soon has been done but the light isn’t gone. That means another error might not get noticed; but the excuse of having fixed something stands in for worrying about what else could be going wrong. Rather than heighten the anxiety, it passed me through to a period of; “Well, it’s old, and maybe I just drive it until I can get a Jeep, again.” And cover that part of the dashboard with a bit of tape. (Advice remembered from Click and Clack.) And don’t drive too far up mountain roads, which means missing out on some of the better hikes – for now.

Telephone

The real estate office is closed and not. I am a real estate broker at Coldwell Banker 360 Team on Whidbey Island. We moved offices as Covid hit, so I never quite moved into the new location. Now, we’re open by appointment only, which has necessarily taken some of the spontaneity out of clients dropping by, which has reduced the incentive to work from the office. So, #WorkFromHome.

Well, if I am going to work from home, really work from home, it is time to upgrade the internet connectivity. There’s a long story that means I was one of the first to research and write about true one gig internet service being installed on Whidbey Island. I signed up early, years ago, because I liked how quickly it could upload files, a handy feature for those uploading videos (check out my YouTube channel), or participating in online meetings. Not much of an issue in 2019. This is 2020. Give me the Gig!

So they did. It took about four months to negotiate the installation. The good news was that I still got the early rate – which included getting some of the installation for free. Cool. I’d held off because of price, as well, but evidently I also got the early and much lower rate. I’d barely be paying more for a service that should provide much more.

But, it didn’t; not at the start. For a month my anxiety built because this new vital link meant removing the old proven link. But according to the online speed tests, the new system wasn’t downloading much faster than before. Instead of a potential hundred-fold increase, I got a doubling that wasn’t noticeable. The upload speeds were much higher, but only a fifth of what was advertised. And, the new phone service was so scratchy that folks asked me to switch to my smartphone instead of the house phone.

Sounds bad? It felt that way, especially because it was about my business. A month of trying to resolve the technical issues or retreat to my old service was useless. I was ready to switch to a completely different system, abandoning my old phone number. My plan, call the competitor on Monday morning.

Life in a small-town community. Sunday night I got a call from the co-CEO of the telephone company asking how things were going. He didn’t know. He verbally walked into my frustration. The next day he and his main tech guru came to my house, tested this and that, went through the traditional troubleshooting steps and convinced themselves that their system was working on their side of the equipment, and that my side wasn’t working as it should. Then, the breakthrough.

The tech guru noticed that the new modem/router was placed within inches of my house’s cordless phone. That’s where the installer placed the two units. The radio waves from the two units were scrambling each other’s signals. Then, they decided to test something mentioned by the most helpful Help Desk employee a week or so previous. Maybe the online test was the problem. Software does make mistakes. Sure enough, try a different site, get a better answer.

Piece by piece, my anxieties were removed. I may not be getting the full 1,000 Meg, but last night I had a regular chore involving downloading and uploading big files. I help co-produce a podcast: WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com. Click to Download, and usually wait for the progress bar to load, then watch it creep along, play online Yahtzee while waiting, then do it again to upload to the other site. Except, both the download and the upload happened so quickly I had to double check that the files were transferred. The system is so quick that the Progress Bar gave up before it loaded because the file had already reached its destination. Whew.

Maybe this working from home thing will work. Gotta clean up that bedroom/office, though.

Retired Anxieties

The new toilet is a great relief. Yes. Play with the straight line however you want. Being able to flush without worry is something easy to ignore; but is easy to celebrate after it was lost for a while. We appreciate most what we’ve lost and regained. Relief!

Chuck is still acting like a truck. It turns out that the truck really likes to be loaded with loads: garden stuff, firewood, etc. Loaded up, the truck’s handling improved. One of the neighbors pointed out that the shocks and springs are so stout that they barely compressed under the load. That’s possibly why it does so terribly on Forest Service roads, that stiff suspension bounces around when there’s nothing to tame it. Still have that warning staring at me.

The computer and the internet seem to be working like the truck, better under load. The phone is better, though not as good as a direct landline. The uploads and downloads are fine, but I haven’t tested it during an online meeting. Maybe I’ll finally unmute. Maybe. My poor Roku sat beside the old router, but now struggles to catch the signal from the other corner of the (fairly small) house.

Now

I write about retiring anxieties because, like with the toilet, it can be easy to forget about life before and after. We humans are great at selective amnesia. So, I chronicle it here. Chronicling it here is one way for me to compile my notes, but it serves another purpose.

The news can be blind. Well-paid commentators lose touch with the struggles people go through. Mine is not the only toilet with troubles, but many can’t afford a $600 plumber’s visit. I couldn’t until recently. How many trucks and cars do you see with a light out, or a dented fender, or a bit of smoke coming out of the tailpipe? The driver would probably like to have that and other things fixed; but that takes money. As for the magic of the internet and telephone service, there are people trying to get through these times who can’t visit some web pages. The idea of uploading or downloading is something to avoid, yet class and office work may require it – and require patience from them and their compatriots.

These issues are common and observable. Layer enough of these issues on someone without the resources to respond to them, and that person can be overwhelmed, over-stressed, and driven to poor health. It doesn’t take much to resolve them, yet too many don’t have even that much.

I’m glad I’m able to at least semi-retire some of these issues. The list continues, and will persist as I work and wait to get the resources that will let me retire them, too.

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From Complexity To Simplicity

“Those old people, that generation that came before us, they were so silly. They came up with all these convoluted explanations for how the world works, but it was really so simple. But, they couldn’t see it because they were so locked into an archaic way of thinking.” I took a full-year course in the history of science when I was in college. After sifting through all of the course work, the homework, the research, I did well enough in the class. It changed my perspective on the world, partly because I understood better how we got to this technological age; but equally important was the understanding that hindsight makes previous struggles seem trivial, and that complex systems are frequently replaced by something simpler and more fundamental. So, how complex does your world seem, lately?

DSC_8470_That Brilliant Moment

The Sun isn’t going down. The planet is rolling and the horizon is rising.

Humans like and expect simplicity. The Sun moves around the Earth; it must because we can see it move. Oops. The Earth moves around the Sun, but we don’t know how. Everything in the heavens moves in perfect circles because heaven is in the heavens therefore the heavens can’t be imperfect so the path of the Earth around the Sun should be a circle, except that the idea didn’t accurately match the observations. Ah, but add circular orbits to circular orbits and epicycles can almost but not quite predict the planets’ motions. Then someone had the radical idea that maybe it wasn’t circles, maybe it was ellipses – and suddenly the simpler idea worked better than anything that came before. So, now we knew what the paths looked like but couldn’t explain it. Hello, Isaac Newton and folkloric apple. Gravity explains a lot, but nothing explained gravity. Hello, Albert Einstein who discovered that gravity wasn’t a force; it was bent space-time, which sounds complex but is far simpler for those who have to deal with astronomy and orbital mechanics. Now, complexities are building in physics, again; and I suspect someone will make a simple insight that clarifies mysteries, again.

Similar complexities exist in genetics and tectonics. In genetics, the origin of life and species went from a great mystery to understanding active versus recessive traits, to survival of the fittest, to discovering genes, to appreciating the effect of mutations acting over many generations. The Earth is eternal, expect it shakes and blows up occasionally, and South America and Africa fit like puzzle pieces, and eventually someone realized that the planet is mostly molten and we’re riding round on rafts of rock. Simpler. A bit spooky maybe, but simpler – and more useful.

Taxes don’t have to be this complex. Navigating social services like healthcare and unemployment and child care should be easier. Trying to get something done usually involves bureaucracies and delays and costs. Layers of legislation with great and good intentions have kept the word ‘byzantine’ alive.

Complexity creates arcane occupations and belief systems that perpetuate those who know how to navigate them. It is easy to create a long list of reasons to keep doing what’s been done, leave the initiated in charge, and don’t expect change.

For me, the response to the pandemic appears to be passing from complexity to simplicity. Early in the pandemic there was great confusion: masks or no, distancing or no or how much, wipe down groceries or no, exercise or not, is it just the old folks or all, etc. We still don’t have all the answers, but the responses are simplifying. I think one of the extra reasons to look forward to a vaccine is simply because it will simplify life. Effectiveness is secondary to enabling a return to an apparent ‘normal.’

I am expecting that part of the new normal is going to be a simplification in existing complex systems. What role does college play, what are students paying for, and what benefit should they expect considering the recent costs? A commute to a job seems like a simple thing, but isn’t it simpler for many to skip the commute and work from home? Urbanization was highly acclaimed, until recently with #RuralDistancing. Now that density seems to add complexity. People hunting the simpler life are usually describing moving from, not to, urban areas.

In the midst of complexity, at least within the sciences, processes are inefficient and imprecise. The results don’t always justify the effort. To me, that seems to describe our current economy and society. Correcting current injustices shouldn’t be this complicated. We the People. The Golden Rule (the original one, not the cynical one.) Even in personal finance. I’ve been told one of the things people like about my book, Dream. Invest. Live. Dream Invest Live cover, is how I take a seemingly complicated system and describe it simply. Tens of thousands of words, most of which can be reduced to “Spend less than you make. Invest the rest.” So much for complexity.

The world is in a series of overlapping messy situations. Mathematically it is probably a non-linear, chaotic, multi-variable system lacking sufficient controls, driven by unobservable forcing functions that are unaware of their influence working beside actors who think they’re in charge even though they really aren’t. No computer can simulate or control such a system. Neither can we pesky humans.

I’m not expecting some global revelation that will come out of our collective catharsis – though that would be welcome. I am expecting that an upset as significant as this pandemic and the reactions to injustices will result in change. If all we do is layer new systems on old ones, we may be able to cope; but this is an opportunity to fundamentally change much more than whether we shake hands or not.

For me, this is the time to watch for trends that are redefining our way of life, and to prepare to adapt and adjust rather than retreat. I don’t know what that will be, but I suspect it includes less commuting, more delivery services, more self-directing education, broader internet access, and less urbanization. My hopes are for better healthcare, less injustice, and a reduction in wealth and income disparity.

Screenshot 2020-08-26 at 21.07.30

I can’t say that I’m glad we’re going through this. Some are only pointing at silver linings, even if they are only hints of slivers of silver. Over 800,000 people have died, including 180,000 people in the US. There are silver linings, but I can’t ignore a cloud that’s that dark. Some of the possible changes could’ve saved tens of thousands of lives, but that’s that perfect hindsight, again. We humans, however, are frequently only convinced to change by reacting to crises instead of proactively avoiding them. Crises demonstrate needs versus wants, necessities versus luxuries, what is truly essential versus what can be ignored.

Now is the time to watch for those changes, and maybe take a part in making some of them happen.

Oh yeah, and vote, and wash those hands, and wear a mask (really, compared to what I had to wear in the steel mill, these cloth things are barely even a nuisance.) Sounds simple enough.

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Weeds In The Community

Oh, come on, people. Pull some weeds. But many don’t. My neighborhood has rules about these things. Curse homeowner’s associations if you will, but I admit that I like some of the rules, like the one about keeping the weeds down. Unfortunately, some of the rules are also frequently broken, like the one about keeping the weeds down. A bright yellow intrusive weed made me think about the community, the election, the stock market, and society in general.

20200818_143352What’s a weed? Enough of them are pretty enough that even the invasive ones get planted on purpose. Ah, a field of yellow. Dandelions are switching from being attacked to celebrated, at least by fans of honeybees, and by innovative foodies. Every yellow flower is not a replacement for sunflowers. Scotch Broom, the dreaded Yellow Tansy, and for some, those pesky dandelions are colorful additions. Many are so bad that the state of Washington requires their removal. The plants I plant on purpose aren’t as colorful as one of the plants in the untended vacant lot across the street.

My yard isn’t worth noticing, but at least I keep it mowed. I have to, otherwise the prickly plants like thistle and blackberry would take over. Until this year, one of the neighboring vacant lots was covered in six foot tall blackberry bushes. They hired someone to knock it all down, carry it away, and then replant with something safe. Yay! And thanks for sending far fewer weed seeds my way. Across the street from it, though, is a lot that’s a wash of yellow fading to tan, brown, and grey in a Salish Sea summer. Clouds drift up from it as the wind spreads the worries.

I’ve talked to neighbors who let their weeds run over vacant lots. They might only own the lot so they can use the neighborhood amenities like the marina or pool. They really don’t care what happens to the weeds because it doesn’t bother their real home, which might be in a neighborhood miles away. They also don’t care about the rules, partly because no one thinks the issue is bad enough to enforce.

20200818_143401

They know there are rules, but they choose to ignore them. This isn’t just a style or control issue. Weeds can mess up a suburban lawn, and ruin a working farm. We’re all in this together. Weeds, viruses, injustices. We have rules, regulations, and ways to control these things. We have laws that can be enforced; but white-color crime, corruption, insider trading, stock manipulation, are part of a long list of weeds that society’s gardeners decide to let grow. Oh, there’s some trimming occasionally; but to actually prosecute someone who acknowledges that they’ve broken the rules, the laws, well, that’s so uncommon that transgressions are becoming overt instead of covert. Criminals can admit their crimes in public, not be arrested, and not even lose their jobs

And, I don’t expect the lack of governance and enforcement to change soon. It is easy to drop into a cynical perspective with so much unchallenged evidence on public display. Even a new administration would require years, maybe generations, to unravel the injustices.

Looking at the weeds I realized that the attitude people can take about ignoring the spread of weed seeds is basically the same attitude people can take about containing viruses by wearing masks. (And do they even wash their hands? What else do I not want to know about them?) If their vacant lot doesn’t affect the lawn at their home, they may not care. Besides, pulling weeds isn’t fun. If they feel fine and don’t understand science, they may not care about wearing a mask. Where’s the fun in that? Scale this attitude up to greater injustices and masses of people who aren’t directly affected, and we have a weedy and risky community and society.

Thinking ahead is planning. Personal financial plans benefit from thinking ahead. An election is approaching (or at least should be.) There will be changes, but the injustices have too much societal inertia to suddenly stop. 2021 is getting closer, and will at least change a digit; and maybe that’s all that will change. An inauguration is approaching, and changes, and yet there’s that inertia maintaining traditions.

For the next six months of my financial planning I’m assuming no changes. I expect the economy to swing wildly as the pandemic continues, hopes for a miraculous cure rise and fall, and disruptive politics reaches new extremes. The range of possibilities beyond our current troubles are so diverse that picking one is more like wishing than planning.

We are in an era when fundamental values are being actively challenged. It is messy. It is necessary. We’re probably witnessing only the first few pebbles of a landslide that can dramatically change the landscape. Anachronisms and archaic attitudes look increasingly ridiculous, not to everyone, but to growing crowds. What and who are essential? What is the role of government from health to protection to defense to – every role in the executive branch’s Cabinet? We might finally be able to begin the real debate about budgets relative to each other, and where the money is coming from. That won’t be a quick conversation; but a real debate with real action about the modern reality of government is welcome, necessary, and messy – and will threaten wealthy institutions and individuals while providing hope for those who aren’t wealthy.

But, there are no guarantees. (Can we return or exchange 2020 for another year?)

This is a long way around for me to convince me to assume little is going to change, at least within the fundamentals of the economic system. There’s great potential for a grand awakening; but there’s also the terrible potential for tragedies to continue.

We are in the midst of unstoppable change. We just don’t know what that change is or where it is going. There are more than enough changes to manage: work from home, teach from home, learn from home, mask up, wash those hands, skip the hugs, restock the pantry, and check and check and check with the doctors on a personal level and scientists on a societal level. At least for now, at least for my financial plans, I’ll return to the basic message from my book on personal finance, Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover; Spend less than I make. Invest the rest. That hasn’t changed. And the fact that others will continue to proudly continue bad and dangerous habits hasn’t changed, either.

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More Than Enough

“I’ve had enough!” Call them prayers, visualizations, manifestations, I’ve asked the Universe for “more than enough.” There’s ‘not enough’, which is poverty. There’s ‘enough’, which is balancing on a razor’s edge, where a slip is a dangerous thing. Then there are at least two versions of “more than enough”: prepared for an emergency, and beyond that is arguably greed. (And, no, the world isn’t as simple as that, but generalizations are handy ways to organize the world.) I asked for ‘more than enough’, and got it. Maybe I should’ve been more specific.

One thing that there’s more than enough of is advice about envisioning the world you want to live in. Ask and you will receive. While I like the sentiment, the lottery is proof that not every request is immediately and perfectly answered.

And yet, I understand the concept and the philosophy of manifesting a personal existence. Rather than make it an emphatic statement though, I temper it with a bit of reality for myself. Setting a goal is one way to improve the chances that you’ll achieve it. All we’re ever doing is improving the odds. There are no guarantees. Fortunately, setting goals doesn’t cost anything but time. Working towards them, well, that can take a lifetime.

Forget the pundits and their advice about visualizing things like success. Be careful what you wish for because you may get exactly what you want. Comedians and D&D players know how such things can go agley. You wanted a mountain of gold? Congratulations! It is being delivered from above and is about to land directly on your head. Wording. Wording.

I asked for ‘more than enough’, not too much more, just enough more. I’ve seen ‘not enough’. I feel like I have ‘just about enough’. I know having ‘more than enough’ is comfortable. And I’ve seen what can happen to those who have ‘far more than enough’. Thinking about how to preserve or what to do with the excess can consume their life as much as a poor person can be consumed with the need to find enough. The pain of any anxiety can be real; but the impact on their lives is completely different, of course.

So, what did I do wrong? Well, maybe nothing. This is a busy time to be in real estate, especially on Whidbey Island. The historic reaction to a pandemic is repeating. People want to get out of the city and its density, and out to somewhere with distance built in. Business has been good enough that my business, and therefore I, might make enough, and maybe a bit more.

Why would I think I did something wrong? Well, after months of staying and working from home, I’ve become more aware of what I have. There are a lot of things I have more than enough of.

(The following list is not comprehensive. This is a blog, not an academic survey of my life.)


More than enough, much more

Weight – Yep. Prior to working as a real estate broker, there was a time when I could bike commute to a coworks. Twenty miles a day, that’s probably how I fit into those clothes that are shoved to the side of my closet. Bike commuting for real estate? Not on one of the longest islands in the US.

20200713_145405Herbs – After buying my house I decided to save money by landscaping with transplanted plants. Aside from two apple trees, a fig tree, and a bay laurel, the rest of the landscaping is transplanted from somewhere else on the property. Left basically untended for about a decade, my yard now produces far more herbs than I can use: rosemary, lavender, sage, lemon balm – with mint finally showing through. Just enough would be something that can fit in a few pots. Instead, I have loads of herbs that must be cut, which I then leave out as free fresh herbs, which become yard waste if no one wants any.

Fruit – Those fruit trees are doing well. For most of the year they stand there, slowly growing. For a few weeks they produce far more than I can eat, or at least should eat. There are limits. Figs, figs, figs. Apples. Apples. Apples. I’m not complaining. The deer aren’t either. They get the excess after I toss it across the fence and into the yard.

Stuff – I am a minimalist but not an extremist. There are those who proudly live with only 200 possessions. That’s fine – for them. I don’t have much but i have much more than that. After months of bumping around things that I never use I have even less. Free or trash, lots of stuff has gone. Sure, some of it could be repaired, but then again, maybe not.

Art – Anyone want some art? Like most artists/writers, I have a more than ample supply of unsold inventory. Ah, but some day, some day, I’ll find a way to sell it all – maybe after the pandemic.

Incoming January


More, but not too much more, than enough

Clothes – Within the last two years I’ve finally refilled my wardrobe. After years of carefully wearing holey things, I’ve been able to replace most of the old clothes, or upgrade for work while using the old clothes for chores.

House/home – My house, my home, may be one of the things were I have just a bit more than enough. In 868 square feet I have enough, plus a bit more. Two bedrooms, but really one office and one workout space; because I sleep in the living room on a futon couch. Someday I might buy a bed, but there’s a long list of things to repair or replace before I get there. Another room would simply become storage, and I don’t have that much to store.

Pantry – The pandemic has emphasized necessities that can become unavailable. My earthquake preparedness kit has doubled. Noticing Use-By dates has adjusted my stockpile of perishables. My pantry is almost full, but I’m not going to obsess about it because having too much more than just enough can become that same issue of how to store it and protect it. My freezer can’t expand, but I’m keeping it stocked – even though that means re-arranging a frozen 3-D jigsaw puzzle every time I take something out or put something in. Avalanches can happen indoors.

20200417_161843


A bit more, please

Money – Money continues to be a taboo topic, but ignoring that taboo is partly what this blog is about. Studies try to quantify what is enough, but they do so statistically. Personal finance is personal. Enough, or just a bit more than enough, is different for everyone, and changes throughout their lives. I frequently quote one of the themes in my book Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover; Spend less than you make. Invest the rest. The ability to spend less than you make is an accomplishment. Basic necessities represent a lower limit, a minimum expense/income balancing act. Too many people can’t reduce expenses any further without threatening their lives. The ‘minimum’ part of ‘minimum wage’ is a political choice, not what’s necessary to afford necessities. (Maybe we should change the discussion to one about a Living Wage.) Being able to spend less than you make means, at least as some level, there’s more than enough. Being able to invest the rest, to put it somewhere where it isn’t immediately available is even better. Currently, I am moving that balance point to simultaneously get out of debt, pay bills, set money aside for taxes, repair and replace as necessary but with strict prioritization, and have hopes of investing more. Retiring anxieties is an action that may take just as long as it took for the anxieties to accrue.


At least for me, life is about balance. What’s necessary? What’s sustainable? What’s enough? What’s too much? And. When is it appropriate to have just a bit more than enough? There is more to mention, but this post already has more than enough words. A writer’s lament; “If I had more time I could’ve made it shorter.” #IIHMTICHMIS

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AMSC Out LCTX In

Can a title be more dull? Sure. The stories, however, they are what keep me interested in stock investing. Stories alone are not a reason to invest, unless you have lots more money to lose than most. Stocks without stories can perform well, but I’ve also noticed that it is easier to track a stock if there’s more than a financial reason to hope it succeeds. Stories help put the ‘personal’ in personal finance. AMSC (originally called AMerican SuperConductor) hoped to do for electricity what fiber optics did for telecommunications. Maybe they still hope for that, but I can’t see how they will get there, anymore. LCTX (Lineage Cell Therapeutics) is developing a few medical treatments to tackle ailments like accidents, eye issues, and maybe some cancers and vaccines. I can see how they can get there. AMSC out. LCTX in.

For a short version of my investing strategy, read my semi-annual portfolio exercise from July 31, 2020. For a longer version, read my book, Dream. Invest. Live. For the longest version, read this entire blog – No! Don’t do that! Have a life! There are probably over a million words in this blog. That’s a lot of reading. Dream Invest Live cover

I tend to invest in companies that can positively disrupt entrenched industries. (Examples in the book of some that worked and some that didn’t.) I also tend to invest in companies whose business model or technology is uncommon. Analysts for large financial institutions have a great advantage analyzing giant companies in conventional businesses. So, innovators get overlooked.

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win – hopefully.

In investing that can mean buying overlooked and therefore hopefully undervalued stocks, hold through the laughter and the struggles, then sell when the stocks ‘suddenly’ become popular.

American Superconductor had, and may have, great promise. Decades ago they found a way to manufacture relatively high-temperature superconducting cables in commercial quantities. The world’s electrical grid is old, inefficient, and due for some massive upgrades. We can’t afford to waste energy. Superconducting cables would decrease the losses in transmitting electricity. The bonus was that the cables could also make better motors, utility-scale voltage regulators, possibly tie the US grids together, and help renewable energies like solar and wind farms. Great!

Fortunately, while they were building the cable capacity, they merged or acquired a company concentrating on wind turbine design. Even better, they had a key customer in China that produced impressive revenues. The stock did well, and the company hadn’t even launched its key product, those cables, in my opinion.

Oops. Intellectual property theft happens. A customer becomes a competitor using AMSC’s technology. AMSC’s stock crashes. Years later, after potentially losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, the company settles for far less.

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 14.15.34

source: Google Finance

AMSC just announced earnings. They are proceeding to profitability, but I have lost the confidence that they will disrupt the industry. I’ve held the stock since 2003. I think I’ve been patient enough.

As I wrote in July; “AMSC may not be dying off, but it also seems to be growing like a low ground cover rather than the towering tree that was supposed to “do for electricity what fiber optics did for telecommunications.” Of the five, it is my most likely candidate to sell, despite the need for its technologies that improve the efficiency of the power grid.”

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 14.17.10

source: Google Finance

It announced earnings and started to climb. An investor’s dilemma; getting ready to sell a stock, seeing it rise, and wondering whether to let it run a bit more. I missed selling AMSC about a year ago. Friday morning I noticed it was getting close to that old price. If I’d heard of some change in corporate strategy, or shift in the industry, maybe I’d hold longer. I haven’t. I sold. That’s a fat load of annual reports headed from my shelves to the recycle bin.

At the same time, I’ve been watching Lineage Cell (LCTX is easier). Again, as I wrote in July; “LCTX includes one of those GERN prime technologies (stem cells) that is inspiring as it has the potential and has proven somewhat to repair damaged nerves in accident victims without the use of mechanical devices or implants.” Add in their work on eye issues, and cancers and vaccines and witness that possibility of a positively disruptive technology(ies). The treatments aren’t approved, are in early human trials, and typically would take years to get to profitability. That timeline may still be true, but I am encouraged by the results of the trials which aren’t theoretical. From what I understand, some accident victims are regaining some muscle control, and some with eye issues are regaining some sight.

AMSC has taken so long to develop that I believe competing technologies like graphene and other superconducting materials may have caught up enough to out-compete AMSC.

LCTX’s technologies are some of the most advanced, and in may be one of the earliest to market to an unmet need.

“AMSC may not be dying off, but it also seems to be growing like a low ground cover rather than the towering tree…” – me

Meanwhile; “Compassionate approvals may be possible when there are few or no alternatives, which might be the case with Lineage’s treatments.” – me

I hesitated selling AMSC. Maybe I sold just before a future dramatic rise. By selling AMSC I have reduced the diversification in what had been a diverse portfolio. By buying LTCX, however, I am balancing what remains of my portfolio. If LCTX was to succeed, my holdings were so small that my bragging rights might exceed the value of my stock.

People ask me why I conduct my semi-annual portfolio exercise. This is why. I can look back over years (decades?) and read how my expectations and understanding have changed. Notes are never complete, but human memory is fallible. Why did I buy that stock? Did that prove to be true years later? If so, great. If not, should I buy, hold, or sell?

This is the end of a era for my AMSC holdings. Superconductivity now changes into stem cell therapies – at least within my portfolio. I intend to buy a bit more LCTX to better balance my portfolio. That will take funds, revenues, profits, income from my business (and I also buy lottery tickets.) After that, I plan to save to be ready to buy something else. Maybe I’ll buy back into AMSC. I’ve performed such returns before. But I also look forward to diving into a full stock screen as I haven’t done for years. Normal is gone. New and positively disruptive technologies and businesses are needed. It will be time to look ahead, not back.

 

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Returning To Rural

Masks on. Proper distancing. Nice weather for sitting outside and considering the world and where it is heading. (I know, it’s spiraling through this universe at insane speeds, but too few care about that.) I met with someone recently about some other topics, but the topic that couldn’t be ignored was “What comes next?”. We know the pandemic is changing things. Normal is so far in the past that it won’t catch up. A conversation about pandemics, economics, psychology, and personal finance was fascinating and welcome; but one theme I want to share here is where people may want to live. I suspect we’re witnessing the rebound from years of urbanization. At least some are going to change addresses that described which floor they lived on, for addresses that have enormous gaps between house numbers. The other benefit of the conversation; I sold three books. Yay!

I’ve been considering the move to rural spaces for years. I did it myself 15 years ago. Before I moved to the island 15 years ago the topic was academic. Since I became a real estate broker I’m seeing the practical application of the possibility.

Imagine being confined to an apartment or a condo for months. (Many of you won’t have to imagine it.) In some cases that means sharing the hallway, the elevator, and the laundry. Stay within those walls until the pandemic passes, and wonder how long that will be. Days were doable. Weeks were acceptable. Months get to be a bit much. Years? Oh, no.

The economy may be in trouble, but real estate is crazy busy. Since the Great Recession, the trend has been to lower inventories. On Whidbey Island, that drop has been about half in the last ten years. (See my presentation on AboutWhidbey.com for lots of details.) Just as the spring rise was about to temporarily increase inventory, the shut down shut that down. We now have less inventory in this summer than in recent winters. Supply is down. Demand may be up. Prices rise, and so they have. The lack of inventory may be why land is also selling rapidly, sometimes with multiple offers.

811 812 813 number of homes - monthly

As one family summarized and paraphrased;

We want a place where we (the parents) can work from home with a nice view, and the kids can play outside, maybe even in the water without anyone having to use a car or a bus.

Whidbey Island isn’t the only place with water and views, and it is also not the only place getting lots of attention.

The other enabler of such a move is high-speed internet. The WorkFromHome orders encouraged people and businesses to find new ways to work. Get good enough internet access, and trade commutes and noisy neighborhoods for online meetings and natural surroundings.

Overlay the maps of places with views, places to play, and a way to work, and realize that the answer is more likely to be out of town than in the city.

Add in the desire to grow some veggies, maybe have some chickens, or even just have a lawn to relax and play on, and find that suburbia has that ‘-urbia’ root.

Hobby farms get popular. So do gardening gloves, fencing, and the realization of where food, water, and waste come from and go to.

I don’t expect the trend to the countryside to empty the cities. Only 16% of the US population lives outside cities. Of the urban 84%, even 10% of them moving (8.4% of the population) would overwhelm rural populations. That economic boost may be welcome in many small towns that have been struggling. The towns that lost the kids to the big city may be getting them, and others, back. Culturally, well, there may be some adjustments.

I watch such things as an investor as much as I do as a real estate broker, as well as a resident of a rural county.

Aside from the money needed to move, the enablers are communications and delivery services. There may be an increase in seed sales, but streaming services, online meeting platforms, and a variety of ways to get goods to and from the house’s front door may be more profitable investments.

People may move from the city, but they tend to bring their city sensibilities with them. Rural life is casual and pragmatic. Urban life tends to bureaucratic. City regulations are tighter, or have more people in the bureaucracy to enforce the rules. Rural counties have people scattered by design, which also makes it harder for governing bodies to check on every house, every permit, to peek into every barn to see if there’s a house inside. (Yes, that’s a thing. Finding it difficult to legally get a permit for a house? In some places some resort to a less, um, approved method. Build a barn. Build a barn, then build something house-like inside, maybe simply park a nice RV inside – for storage, yeah, that’s it, for storage. Not a recommended solution, but it does happen.)

(Personal peeve. City folks also take a while to dial down the volume. City voices need to shout over a background hubbub of sirens, traffic, air conditions, and backup horns. At my house, outside the tourist season, the loudest voices at night may be a seal or coyotes a mile away. In summer, they have to compete with shouts and music cranked to 11. Newbies eventually quiet down and realize that too many lights at night make houses look like concentration camps. Go subtle.)

It may not make much difference in this election, but a switch and city values and people moving to rural areas may change representations and power centers.

A simple desire to have a quiet, pleasant place to work, raise a family, and play a bit may have long-term implications for politics and investments. I haven’t done much with retail lately, and I certainly won’t be as interested in businesses that rely on storefronts – unless they are hardware and farm supply stores.

As I mentioned in #RuralDistancing, rural means space. Take a place’s population and divide by acres and the area of a circle. In parts of Seattle; “That translates to 13.9 people per acre. Not bad considering acres. That’s a 32 foot radius around each person.” On Whidbey that’s; “0.5 people per acre. That’s a 160 foot radius around each resident.” You want room? We got room. We may not have enough water or septic-friendly land for much more than that, but we have room.

A little fiber-optic cabling, a lot of space, some appealing nature, and it is easy to see why there may just be an return to rural living. It certainly has meant the right environment for great conversations for me.

dsc_6733

Apples from the garden. What the worst that could happen?

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Buying Time

I got paid! Yay! I got paid twice this month! Yay! Yay! (One was actually from selling a house in June, but paychecks can take a while to arrive in the time of Covid.) So, what am I going to buy? A new car? Nope. A long vacation? Not traveling far this month. I’m buying time instead of things.

OK. There was one big bill. I paid my taxes. That was a luxurious necessity because I had to pay (necessity) and was able to pay on time, in full, without borrowing to do it (luxury). (Side note to helpful friends: Cash buffers from friends definitely have helped, but fortunately, I haven’t spent all of those funds and was actually able to pay from my earnings. Sweet.)

OK. And I have started crossing items off my Retire Anxiety list (see my post Furnace Bicycle Mower.)  About a decade of deferred maintenance means that’s a long list.

And yet, I’m not going to eliminate that list all at once. Call it risk management. If you haven’t noticed, 2020 has been a year of Mondays, or Friday the 13ths. What new crisis, today? Really? The federal government’s secret police force teargassed the mayor of a major city? Didn’t see that one coming.

My main income source lately has been real estate. (State required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker 360 Team on Whidbey Island.) Other industries are having trouble, but across the country there’s a demand for rural real estate. #RuralDistancing Urban living has its appeal, but people are finding it hard to grow more than a few veggies and herbs on an apartment balcony. Over 4,000,000 people in the Seattle metropolitan area. Fewer than 200 houses for sale on Whidbey Island. It doesn’t take much for one population to overwhelm one island. And Whidbey is known far beyond Seattle. But, I digress. (But, that’s also why I got paid.) (See Whidbey Real Estate During Covid19 – July 2020, over on one of my other blogs: AboutWhidbey.com.)

It is tempting to retire anxieties, and maybe buy a few luxuries. From what I can see, Jeep is offering so many new car incentives that new cars look like they can cost less than used cars. My doctor and I agree that trading in my long truck for something that’s better suited for maneuvering around mountain hairpin roads would ease some tension, as well as help me get back into the alpine zone – a place where I truly relax. But, just because I can, doesn’t mean I should – yet.

One advantage of living a frugal life is that a little money goes a long way. Real estate may be busy now, but folks who are watching the pandemic data can see the possibility of re-tightening restrictions. If we’d done that back in March, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation now, but we didn’t, so we are. Every bit of cash I can save translates into a cash cushion that can see me through between paydays. There are other anxieties to retire, but knowing I have enough saved up for six months of frugal living is relaxing (my goal is twelve months), or at least not enabling the fear so many rightly feel about how they are going to pay their bills if the economy retreats.

(By the way, there’s a stereotype about how much money real estate brokers make. The commissions are large, but usually that’s split between the buyer’s firm and the seller’s firm, then those slices are sliced again depending on the firm’s policies. That’s the broker’s gross revenue. Subtract the cost of doing business and many (if not most) brokers are making less than minimum wage. A tough business; but at least one that is currently in demand.)

Assuming no major disaster happens (in 2020? Ha!) I now may have enough to live frugally for several months. That’s not a brag. I’m pleased about it; but I mention it because I see other people making the same choices. Maybe this is why Jeep is offering such good deals.

There’s a myth that poor people are poor because they waste whatever money they get. Allow me to shift that. It isn’t poor people. It’s people. People tend to waste money. Frugality isn’t common. From what I’ve witnessed, poor people are less likely to waste money because their needs aren’t met and losing money hurts them harder. The amount that a poor person may waste on a six-pack is very small compared to the amount someone wastes on a fancier trim package for their car that can do 180 mph, but shouldn’t because there are speed limits. All that extra power is a waste, and a dangerous one.

And there’s where the debate about a universal basic income begins…which I’ll leave to others.

Today, I splurged. I find it fun to wander the grocery and hardware aisles and break out of my normal shopping pattern. What do I usually walk right past? What have I denied myself from habit? I’ve found satisfaction in a herbs and spices, kitchen gadgets, maybe a better outdoor grill (one that isn’t rusted), a cheap car-camping tent to retreat to on hot nights.

I can imagine the frustration those in government feel when stimulus packages don’t stimulate the economy enough. People have the pesky habit of paying their taxes, paying down their debt, maybe taking care of medical expenses, and even saving the money in case they need it later. {sarcasm on} It’s almost as if they are responsible adults (which mystifies those who rely too much on stereotypes.) {sarcasm off}

Granted, it is hard to celebrate without a receipt in modern America. It’s almost as if true celebrations can’t be found in concocted advertisements. No one runs ads for living responsibly or frugally. A celebration based on personal values may not make sense to anyone else, but it may be the most valuable thing a person can do for themself. And, if that means months of money, well, few celebrations last as long or can mean as much.

 

But, it is fun shopping…

Screenshot 2020-07-23 at 17.11.26

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