The Great Resignation

(The following is an expansion of post from

The middle class was born about 650 yeas ago. It wasn’t by governmental decree, though there were probably some declarations declared. It wasn’t by some great grass-roots organization, though there was probably some organization. At its core was the simple sentiment, “We’re not going to take it, anymore.” And so economies, governments, and personal lifestyles change. And it may be happening, again.

The Bubonic Plague did it. The Bubonic Plague killed approximately 1/3 of the population of Europe. That’s worse than today’s pandemic, but not as severe as the epidemic that killed so many in the Americas a few hundred years later. 

By losing so much of the population, peasants became in low supply but in high demand because they were the ones that supplied the essential services of things like food. Europe’s institutions either adapted to power shifting to the peasants, or the institutions simply faded. Monarchies continue, but there are few of them. Democracies had been talked about, but noting much happened until old power structures weakened. People’s perspectives changed. The world changed. 

So what?

Well, for the people who survived that epidemic, their lifestyles could improve dramatically. The basic concept of personal finance became more personal because finances were finally involved. Lords and ladies weren’t as important as income and expense, assets and liabilities, taxes and inheritances. Families could build wealth. It didn’t work for everyone, but for those it worked for, it worked well enough to propagate around the planet and through the years.

Kind of a big thing. (understatement)

We’re going through a pandemic, not just an epidemic. Prior to the pandemic worker satisfaction was declining. Since about the early 80s there was a disconnect between a worker’s productivity and their income. Wealth began to accumulate in corporations, financial institutions, and the people who controlled them. Meanwhile, population is up, global problems intensified, but a greater percentage of the money flow flowed out of the economy and into havens. You may have noticed. 

Prior to the pandemic worker satisfaction was declining to the extent that, while about half of the employees are at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs, many do not see them as careers, and many considered changing jobs. Even with ~50% satisfaction, only ~20% were enthused with their worklife. The trend was noticeable enough that the term The Great Resignation was born.

Then came the epidemic which we turned into a pandemic. If the crisis had been handled swiftly, the pandemic would’ve had less of a chance to mutate into worse strains. Because the pandemic has been going on for not just months but years, many habits and institutions have been challenged. The term ‘essential worker’ has become more than a label. Everyone from doctors and nurses to grocery clerks and delivery drivers are now seen as essential, and seen as deserving of appropriate compensation. 

The peasants were essential and finally found an opportunity to change their lives. 

Today’s workforce may be going through a similar transition. 

Since the pandemic, job dissatisfaction has become less of a reason to gripe and more of a reason to act. Recent studies show over 40% of the working population is dissatisfied enough that they are considering quitting for another job or retirement. Few political movements generate that sort of size without great effort. This is an effort that is happening with a few slogans ($15/hour), organizations, government initiatives, or really not much more than enough people saying “We’re not going to take it, anymore.”

There are many enabling technologies, particularly the internet. Why show up at an office when all of the work is done online? Some places rely on teams and a physical presence, but enough do not, so why spend time and money to commute? 

Enough businesses are adapting by increasing benefits because they realize that may be necessary to stay in business. It shouldn’t be a radical idea that treating your workers well does good things for your business, but some do not see the trend that’s been moving towards personal empowerment since the start of the middle class. 

I am encouraged by such peaceful, legal, and quiet movements.

Governments may have subsidized renewable energy and electric vehicles, but it has been individuals deciding to make the choice to buy an electric car and install solar systems at home that enabled the undermining (an ironic choice of words) the fossil fuel industry. 

Our situation is different from the Middle Ages. They had too few people but a lot of work to do. We have overpopulation and increasing automation. They didn’t know what caused the deaths. We do. They couldn’t coordinate their efforts as well as we can. And the pace of change back then meant change happened over decades, while today social changes can happen with a tweet.

Regardless of those and other differences, the fundamental change affects anyone with a personal finance plan that is based on old assumptions. Unfortunately, those people who know we need new economic models also know that no one knows that those models will be.

Will we have Universal Basic Income? Universal health care, and family care? Will mega-corporations be challenged as if they are modern-day sects and empires? While we work out these issues will the pandemic and the climate mean that nothing will be certain for decades? If nothing is certain, how does a personal plan? 

Nothing has been certain for – ever. But, back then uncertainty happened over generations instead like the dramatic shift we are witnessing in the last two years. 

By the time we get past this pandemic (optimism) electric cars will be much more common, there will be less need to connect to a grid for electricity and telecommunications. Work and school from home coupled with delivery services means urbanization may peak and rural areas can gain back population. Fundamental aspects of everyday life are being redefined. 

When I get overwhelmed with trying to understand such change and how to manage it I remind myself of my simple rules and philosophy of frugality. (Dream. Invest. Live.)

Know and understand my values.

Spend less than I make. 

Invest the rest.

Live my own life.

Those may not be grand schemes involving higher math and intricate spreadsheets, but my values and the way I handle my are in my control. There are still assumptions inherent in this approach. Spend less than I make is a goal, but if income is basically zero, then it becomes dangerous to spend less than what is required for the essentials. Advice makes more sense ‘As Long As You Can Pay Your Bills’ (#ALAYCPYB), or the more personal version ‘As Long As I Can Pay My Bills’ (#ALAICPMB).

The pandemic continues. Vaccines are making progress. So is masking and social distancing. But enough forces are actively keeping the graph from leveling off. Every day is another day removed from the old normal. Every day is another day of millions of people trying to find a new way to live. I’m discouraged by the pandemic’s trend. I am encouraged by the survivors’ trend. I wonder what this new world will look like. It may be that we’ll have to wait for the historians to tell us the full tale, but in the meantime I’ll do what I can – and hopefully my own eventual resignation when I re-retire.

IHME – global
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A Home Loan To Retire Anxieties

A nice way to start the day, sending out a ‘thank you’ email, arranging to pay an overdue bill, contacting a doctor I actually enjoy visiting, and a hopefully scheduling a massage. Money makes things move. For several months I’ve done very little moving because there wasn’t much money to move, which meant I almost had to move myself. Now, thanks to a local bank, I have resources, cash, a loan. – And a better appreciation of the process and why it isn’t instantaneous.

That’s who the thank you went to, a loan officer. That may seem like an odd thing to celebrate, but I recognize some of what they have to do to make a loan work. Her efforts made a lot possible, possibly a lot more than she can realize.

My business is still busy, but it hasn’t been profitable. As I’ve written about before, when there are several offers for every house that’s for sale, then the seller and their broker may be happy, the successful buyer and their broker have reason to smile – but all of the other buyers and brokers must move on to the next listing or decide to do something else. It’s easy to imagine a crowd of disappointed buyers loading themselves into a bus to get delivered to the next possibility. Just prior to the pandemic I decided to concentrate on representing buyers. Bad timing, that was. (And, of course, the optimist in me knows it can all change with a phone call or email or chance encounter.) (Required Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.)

Browse back through this blog and find when I started finding other sources of funds. Social Security came first. There was the interruption with the truck, the Jeep, and the good news that I had a great credit rating (which was a surprise considering almost losing my house about ten years ago.) For a while there I realized I might have to sell my house and move – somewhere. 

The news about the credit rating meant I had another possible option or two: refinancing the house, or getting a Home Equity Line Of Credit. A quick talk with a friendly and patient banker was encouraging. 

Refinancing – My mortgage was low to start with back in 2007, but the Great Recession and My Triple Whammy meant I almost lost my house, which led to a mortgage modification that dropped the rate (and extended the period) to historic lows. Now, the rates are even lower, which is why the refinance business and everyone in the process is busy, very busy. That’s certainly one way to get a lot of money out of the house, refinance for the max, take the money, and pay off bills and reinvest the rest maybe with some set aside for some fun. The mortgage payments reflect the new debt and terms. People can frequently lower their monthly expenses that way. Tempting.

Home Equity Line Of Credit – Sometimes I think refinancing is more popular than some of the other options simply because refinancing is one word instead of a phrase like Home Equity Line Of Credit – which also is called a HELOC, which sounds like someone in a superhero movie. (He-Man’s banker?) A HELOC utilizes the difference between the house’s mortgage and a conservative market value of the house. A refinance basically does that too, but as I understand HELOC, it doesn’t affect my existing mortgage, and it only calculates payments based on how much I borrow. Here’s the thing. I don’t have to borrow the maximum amount. If I get a HELOC for $100,000, but only use $1,000, I only pay interest on the $1,000. Then, if I want to borrow $10,000 later, I can get $10,000 from the HELOC, and the payments are adjusted on that, too. It is a nice way to create a buffer while giving me more control over how much debt I’ll deal with. 

Cool. Cool; especially because estimates of my house’s market value are much higher than they were three years ago.

OK. Sounds simple enough. Sign me up! A HELOC sounds like a good choice for me.

Here’s why it is not instantaneous.

Pick a lender. I made it easy on myself by choosing local, not a national. It’s more personal that way. Good luck to all who do a much more thorough search.

Collect the paperwork. Fortunately, the paperwork I collected for Social Security was also used for my Jeep loan and was also what the bank needed. Those folders have been sitting on the kitchen table or shoved into a briefcase for months. Someday they’ll be put back in storage. 

Deliver the paperwork to the bank after also signing some disclosure information, as I recall. 

Await the answer of Yes or No, which was quick. 

Yes! Well, yes; but provisionally. The bank verifies my information, so wait while they do that. 

OK, that’s done; but only provisionally. The bank needs to verify my house’s information. That wait is longer, and expensive. Because there are so many people refinancing, appraisers are busy and have raised their rates. I could either spend $850 for an appraisal within about three weeks, $950 for one within ten days, or over $1,000 which wasn’t competitive. 

Three weeks. Groan. I started this process because I needed the money. Social Security can help, but isn’t enough. A promising customer decided to buy somewhere else. I didn’t like having to do it, but I sold a sliver of MVIS from inside my IRA to fill that gap. In the last ten years I’ve done that so much that more than half my original position is gone. Sigh. Everyday, however, optimist me hoped the appraisal would come in early. 

Ha! They stuck to their schedule. Well, at least it wasn’t late. Also, at least the bank will have everything they need in enough time to release the funds before the end of the month. Maybe that stock money can go right back into the account and get turned back into shares. 

Nope. And watch the end of the month go whooshing by.

It takes a few days for the appraiser’s report, then there’s a required third party review period, then for my own additional protection I was given a few business days during which I could back out if necessary, but then finally I’ll have the money.

OK. Got through the protections layered on protections while I’m left vulnerable to the situation that prompted the actions. Finally, I can pay those bills.

Nope. Setting up a checking account was simple enough, and done earlier. We still had to wait for the County to record the loan. Then, it took some time for the bank’s system to set up the loan’s account. Then, it took a while for system to acknowledge my login, and my ability and authority to transfer the funds. 

From the outside and from the eventual future, the process is remarkably straightforward and quick. From the inside while worrying about the possibility of failure and dealing with the reality of a large late bill and a desire to pay off a car loan, every day was an exercise in waiting while doing nothing. It is easy to assume that the loan will be approved. As the homeowner, though, I had to consider the possibility that the loan would not be approved, in which case I would have to sell my house.

For the last month and a few weeks before that, I prepared myself and my house in case I had to move. The sale would probably go quickly. The record I’ve seen was a house listed and sold within about two weeks. That part didn’t worry me. I’m a real estate broker. I’ve seen how much and how little is required of sellers in a market with more buyers than sellers.

My biggest task was to begin clearing the property of a decade of postponed projects. Old repurposed lumber wasn’t going to find a new purpose. Off it goes to the dump. Old concrete, same thing, recycled. The same for metal fencing. A heat-scorched garden, sad to see it not succeed; but dismal dried flowers don’t add to curb appeal. Lots of trips to recycle and dump yards cleaned up the lot, and would make it easier for me to move if I sold.

As a real estate broker, I also can not advertise the sale of my house until it is listed. So, for over a month I was on edge about finances, keeping myself busy by doing house chores, and wondering every day about whether I’d have to move. Partway through I’d run out of chores, had to be careful with my money, and found myself in limbo while waiting for news to come. I also couldn’t tell all my friends about what was going on, which shrunk the opportunities for social distractions. 

In the midst of worry, a marvelous bit of generosity from long-time friends who actually knew what was going on, could guess the rest. They offered one of their well-equipped tiny houses as a retreat and refuge. Ah. A major anxiety managed.

Now that the money and the accounts and the uncertainties have been resolved, it is time to get busy, again. The adage of “It takes money to make money” comes to mind. Without money I spent a lot of time trying to not spend any money. Poverty means having insufficient funds. I can see the contrast between too little and hopefully enough. I’m glad this has worked out for me.

The processes involved in accessing funds sound supportive, but each avenue I’ve pursued has required significant effort, has impacted life in the process, and aren’t guaranteed. In the last three months I’ve listened to people who didn’t get their stimulus checks, to folks who haven’t been able to pay the rent, whose businesses are severely hindered, who’ve suffered from bureaucratic mistakes that suspended their benefits – and sometimes being threatened with fines as a result. 

I am fortunate enough to have kept this house on this island and to be made aware of the possibilities. I hope others can take advantage of their situations, as needed; but I wanted to also chronicle what it may require procedurally, logistically, financially, and emotionally. If it feels like it is tougher than it should be, you’re probably right, and you’re undoubtedly not alone; but good things can happen. I wish you good luck.

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A Three Month Long Country Music Song-ish

I almost moved. I’m not surprised that others have found it a necessity, and that others find that they can’t. Three months of unexpected financial weirdness seem to be almost over. Somewhere in those three months are enough episodes for an album of country music songs, or maybe the basis for some dark comedy routine. In the end, it may seem that little has changed. Ha! And, yes, some day this will seem funny.

The overture was about when I signed up for Social Security in June, reached a clashing crescendo in July, swirled through August, and is finally settling out in September. From beginning to end it required daily maneuvering, or at least an excess of strategizing. It also involved hearing too many stories about too many struggles, and yet being glad that others would share. OK. So, maybe this entire period of our lives is going to generate entire bookshelves and film libraries of stories to amaze generations. Dust Bowls? Ha! We’ve had the literal and figurative equivalent of fires and floods.

Let’s see how concisely I can chronicle this so we can get on to the useful stuff like lessons and straight lines. (My note as I edit: Not concise, but as I’ve said before: If I Had More Time I Would Have Made It Shorter If I Had More Time I Would Have Made It Shorter. #IIHMTIWHMIS)

Covid – The pandemic confuses everyone and everything which also means real estate, especially in remote places like Whidbey Island, gets busy as few people want to sell and leave while far more people want to move here to get away from their version of ‘here’. Prices rise which is great for the brokers who help sell a house, and for the equal number who help buy a house; but with more brokers than houses many brokers don’t make much money. Ah, selling in a chaotic market while also wiping down the houses that clients visit. I look for another source of funds. (Required Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.)

(MVIS fans can appreciate that this would’ve been a great time for great news or even a more dramatic short squeeze.)

Social Security – I signed up! A bit early, but more money later doesn’t matter if there isn’t enough money now. Wait a while and I get my first deposit. That was easier and harder than I expected, but at least I got exercise pulling every old box of old official papers out of the attic crawlspace. The payments aren’t enough for retirement, but they’ll take care of my mortgage plus a bit. Time to relax, but while also maintaining the business. So, don’t look scruffy, but don’t spend much money; sort of seeing if mildly distressed jeans are mildly in style.

Hacked – I rarely sign up from Notifications from businesses because they spend more time selling than helping; but this time the credit card company notified me, we caught it in time, and they’ll issue and send me a new credit card. It was probably just a result from a global database hack, but I get the opportunity to update every web site I use that needs my credit card information. Oh fun. Oh joy. Oh, what were those passwords, again? The hacker may know.

The Truck – Covid relaxed enough, or at least the data relaxed enough, that street dances began, again. Yay! I smile, I dance, and I needed to smile. Alas, none of my dancing friends were there and ready to dance, so I left early. And about a half a mile later the truck breaks down at a rather important intersection in the tourist town of Langley. It is a pity that no one grabbed the video of me directing traffic while on the phone answering twenty questions with the AAA dispatcher who has a new questionnaire to try out. It is a weekend night (a good time for a dance, duh), which also meant no garages would be open until Monday. Oh well, get it towed, and catch a ride home in the tow truck. Oops. Covid. Only the truck gets a ride. (Resourceful friends get me home. Thanks.) 

Typically, temporarily replace a broken vehicle with a rental vehicle – but I don’t have a credit card.

On Monday find out that, because of Covid and summertime in a tourist town, the first garage that can even have time to see if the truck is out of gas is more than thirty five miles up the island. 

The Jeep and My Credit Score – I contacted that specific garage because they are on the bus line, and beside a Jeep dealership. My business requires a vehicle. The truck is becoming too unreliable. Grit those teeth. Prepare to implode my IRA to find the funds for a new used car, preferably one that can carry four, drive down long and rutted gravel driveways (and mountain roads, but they come later), and turn around tight enough to not have to back up the entire way. Their used car selection was as strained as the housing inventory. But, there’s a bright red Renegade which will do well. I ask about a loan, get them some data, and rather than wait for days find that within a few minutes that, as they put it, I “…have the highest credit rating they’ve ever seen.” I can qualify for two of those used Jeeps. One will suffice, but the image is entertaining. From a big white pickup, I find myself with a little red Jeep; or for islanders, I go from paying a surcharge to use the ferry because the truck is so big to getting a discount.

Credit Card – The credit card arrives a few days later; just late enough that it was as if the universe wanted to force me to buy the Jeep. OK.

The Truck Second Act – The truck and the Jeep and the credit card successfully bring me back to ‘normalcy’, but with two vehicles and over $20K in new debt.

Credit Score and Loans – With such a stellar credit score, maybe it makes sense to get a loan on the house to take care of the Jeep, some unpaid bills, and create a buffer if my business continues to languish. Why, yes! My house is worth about 50% than what I paid, more than 100% more than the remaining mortgage. Ah. With such low interest rates, this is a nice opportunity – to take on a new loan to pay off a loan that is only days old. Paperwork and emails begin to fly back and forth to a confusing degree. All it takes is a month (a month?!) but they need to check out me and my house. OK. OK. Such is life being prudent and responsible. All I have to do is wait – after paying over $800 for an appraisal in a few weeks or over $900 for an appraisal within ten days. Wait. Wait. Wait.

MVIS – The waiting isn’t easy or cheap, so I sell some stock out of my IRA (which also means taxes) just in case the loan takes too long, or doesn’t come through. 

House – Doesn’t come through? Another real estate client or two either back out of the market or buy somewhere outside my region. If that loan doesn’t come through, and business doesn’t pick up, and MVIS doesn’t suddenly rise, and I don’t win the lottery jackpot, then I might have to sell the house. So, while waiting and worrying, I start cleaning and clearing my stuff, the house, and the yard. Maybe at least it will look nicer for the appraiser – who will show up when?

Loans – You know how it goes. Spend money in one place – and start get unsolicited offers from too many places. I got so many offers from so many places that I started to think that my car loan was already being sold off to other loan companies. The loan company on the paperwork hadn’t sent me a statement. Maybe that’s what was happening. Cue the scene where the person is buried in “Important Document” envelopes.

Governmental Meetings – I also started getting emails, letters, and texts referring to meeting with various government agencies. Eep! I called on one or two (I won’t go into those details but some agencies sound more like bill collectors, even when they’re just asking for data), got so confused that I resorted to advice I received from a counselor about a decade ago; only pay attention to the mail. Still overwhelming, but more manageable, and something to handle while I handle the earlier things, like the loans I know I applied for.

Time to Stew and Simmer – No news is good news, right? Nope. No news is an opportunity to consider all of the possibilities, including having to sell the house. So, keep cleaning and clearing, and almost get sweetly tearful when a couple of dear friends offer their excellent tiny home as a refugee for either a little while or as long as I need – within reason, of course. At least I wouldn’t be homeless, I’d be with friends, and get to enjoy a panoramic view. (I just realized, their view covers more territory than the view from many million dollar homes, and they got it by enjoying a tiny house and a barn.) Hey, but at least my house is lighter, and ten years of abandoned projects have been swept away.

Jeep Loan – No news went on too long. If there was a problem with the Jeep loan I wanted to be prepared to buy it if necessary. But, that means paying the balance by the end of the month, which means having the funds in the right account by a day or two ahead of that, which means selling some stock and transferring those funds days before that. Just a few hours before that I call the loan company to ask about my statement. Oh, a statement? They don’t send those out. They just expect people to either have auto-pay set up, or call to pay. Whew. The Jeep is good. That loan is good. One hurdle cleared. 

House Loan – Still waiting on that appraisal, oh and then a review period that should delay things about another week. Another week means another month which means bills that need to be paid without a loan. 

Governmental Meetings (hacked) – I finally got a consistent series of text messages from a .gov account, confirmed the meeting, then saw something odd about the notification. Someone else’s name was on it, which I assumed was my contact in the agency. Nope. That was where my name should be. A day before the meeting I called the agency to find out what was happening. They didn’t know either. The note had my phone number and email address, but that name was someone else who was trying to schedule a meeting. Hello Fraud Department, which after a day tells me that someone needed a phone number and email address to schedule meeting, probably didn’t want to give theirs, found mine somehow (not hard considering how many business cards real estate brokers hand out), and expected to have the meeting that way. The Fraud Department said I didn’t have to worry about it. Another hurdle crossed. 

House Loan – Signed! Today I signed the paperwork for a Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC, which sounds like some superhero or villain). So, do I immediately pay bills? No. ‘For my protection’ the government instituted a required waiting period (for money but not for guns?) in case I decide to back out of the deal. 

Next Week – Next week will be another flurry of financial activity. Get the funds. Pay off the Jeep and get title to it. Pay off my credit card. Pay one outstanding but not critical bill. Refill some checking account buffers. Buy back some stocks to re-establish stock positions. Get a new credit card because the old one won’t change my interest rate even though my credit score is ‘stellar’. And start preparing the house for winter rather than preparing my house to sell. And do what I can to find the funds to pay down the debt.

Serious Note – Also set up appointments with a mental health counselor. Sorry for the downer, but one reason for this blog is to point out the realities of personal finance. While this chronicle can make an excellent farce, it also has a real cost. The stresses we joke about can reach the point where the side effects are more than something a massage can handle; and a good massage can also be necessary to alleviate some physical side effects (and while I am a fan of openness, those details are Too Much Information and I know some don’t want internal disturbances described in graphic detail.) About the time of the beginning of the pandemic I was retiring anxieties. Their bigger cousins just had an opportunity to take over and I am going to fight them, and I don’t plan on doing it alone. Sadly and ironically, I can only sign up to help resolve financial anxieties when I have healthy enough finances to address those anxieties. It costs money to be healthy.

Second Serious Note – Throughout this, as I’ve shared aspects that are commonly taboos, I’ve heard too many stories from too many people who are in such vulnerable situations that they can’t mention them to co-workers, customers, or even friends. We continue to live in a society that blames victims, and equates wealth with self-worth. My story isn’t the worst or the weirdest, but I tell it because too many others can’t tell theirs.

Serious And Positive Note – Throughout this I found support from expected places, but also from people who are unexpectedly incredibly generous. Some are generous with buffers of money. Some with hugs, hugs that last as long as needed and without reservation. Some with epic listening skills. Some with experience who may have gone through the same or at least similar things. Some who can tell when the main thing to do is to do anything except remind you of what you’re going through; consider it a conversation vacation from unpleasantness. It is unrealistic to expect one person to do it all.

Next Moves – I’m going to follow my doctor’s orders. She’s finally found a prescription that I’m likely to actually follow: Go for a hike a week. That’s one reason why I bought new boots today. It is time to schedule those various healing sessions – after the funds arrive. It is always a good time to thank my friends. And I guess it would be handy if someone could help me get those boxes of papers back up into the attic crawlspace. The spiders might want to go back home.

Hmm. Imagine seeing these three months from the multiple eyes of a spider that was born in a folder, then borne to various meetings, then borne back again. Well, at least my creativity hasn’t hit a hurdle.

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Writing And Frugality

Which story is more important, yours or someone else’s? Civilization provides overwhelming opportunities to watch someone else’s story. That’s true with news, sports, shows, even documentaries. There’s more than enough out there, and yet, sometime there’s nothing to watch. I’ve decided to take a hint from watching nothing by switching the perspective to creating something. The good news that it is cheap to do, may create something valuable, and provides an opportunity to say something without being interrupted. Writing, it’s an exercise in frugality, in a good way.

Think back a century, or find a friend who was alive then. There were options, but I suspect many people were still more likely to create their own music, trade stories with friends, maybe watch one of the best shows on Earth – a sunset, maybe a fire inside the hearth or outside in a firepit. With enough light and time it was possible to work on art or a craft – though it was probably considered a chore, and probably created something functional. Radio would start to change that. So would record players. Things got done. Skills were developed. Friends and family were included. 

The simple introduction of three broadcast networks on television swept that aside, and that was for content that ended around midnight. 

People blame governments and institutions for the decline of community and social interactions. I think it is more likely that it became simpler to listen to scripted strangers than listening to each other. 

I catch myself doing the same thing. 

Living alone means not knowing whether calling someone is interrupting them. People living in the same house announce their activities simply by living. Bumps in the hallway, dishes clattering in a sink, water running in a shower, a puppy running back and forth trying to visit everyone at once are all unscripted, and can be more readily engaged. 

People move about the planet, so time zones get in the way. Schedules aren’t coordinated because businesses, schools, and events happen at times convenient to them. Robo-calls train people to not pick up the phone at all, or at least wait to see if the caller has hung up or has started to leave a message. CallerID makes it easier to check for real people, but that’s been spoofed, too.

Calling a friend can be a scheduling task trying to squeeze between both people’s dinners and bedtimes. 

Visiting a friend has become uncommon enough that, instead of dropping by and knocking on a door people will text before calling to arrange a visit before knocking on the door. So much for spontaneity. 

For the last year I’ve found myself less limited by what’s being presented. The available content on the internet is effectively infinite compared to my lifespan, but the real limit is how long it takes to find something that I want to watch. Social media could fill the gap, but social media is being filled with repeated headlines and outrageous claims instead of truly social things happening to people inside my social circles. Me, I’m writing a couple of books, producing a photo series, and finding myself better entertained.

Last September I finished the first draft of my first science fiction novel. The inspiration came suddenly, about a decade ago. Developing the story in my head took over seven years. The first draft took over a year and a half. (Science Fiction Novel 1 – First Draft) Partly because of Covid, I was able to devote more time to it, so the second draft took seven months. I’m halfway through the third draft in less than two months. Each draft takes less time. It looks like I have several more drafts to do.

And I am enjoying it. That’s one of the best reasons to keep doing it.

I look forward to working on the book. Keep in mind that I rarely edit blog posts, partly because I don’t enjoy it, partly because the important part is that the message usually doesn’t get lost because of typos, and partly because much of what I write about is topical and delays can make the writing moot. I look forward to visiting my characters, and letting them help me tell their story. I enjoy using my mind to create instead of consume.

Whether anyone will ever read, or buy, or be inspired or entertained is almost, almost, secondary. Caring about the story and the readers gives me reasons to care about what I have to say and how I say it.

By the way, for those who are curious about why there are so many drafts, here’s an analogy. Imagine making a chair. (Furniture builders note that I am terrible at woodworking, but this is just to give folks an idea.) Draft 0 = deciding to make a chair. Draft 1 = cutting a bunch of lumber into about the right sizes and shapes. Draft 2 = getting closer to the right shapes enough to be able to tie or tape the pieces into something that looks like a chair. Draft 3 = making enough progress to maybe be able to sit on it while it wobbles. Draft 4 = all the right pieces and shapes, but in desperate need of sanding. Draft 5 = more sanding, polishing, maybe even adding fasteners. Draft 6 = painting, staining, and maybe even finishing it.

For this first novel, I can tell the story, now; but the characters don’t have names, the settings need better descriptions, and there’s a lot of literary sanding to get rid of phrases that would cause splinters for readers.

And then there’s the first draft of the light-hearted book about tea, and the ongoing series of twelve month photo essays of Whidbey Island, and blogs, and, and…

And it has been a long time since I’ve been bored after sunset.

We’re spending more time at home, with fewer opportunities to be with people, in an economy that means tight times for too many. One of the benefits of studying history is learning from it, and sometimes the lesson is simple, creative, and frugal. 

the ever-growing bookshelf (Amazon and Blurb)

A note about writing: As I write this I know I will have #WritersRemorse after I hit ‘Publish’. Don’t be surprised if it happens to you, too. And don’t let it stop you. Write. And then write some more.

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Crisis Fatigue And Hope

It was been a tough week, month, year, yeah whatever. Some friends invited me over for tea, ah, just to visit. They were courageous enough to ask “So, how are things?” Silly people. I actually answer questions like that, but only with close friends.They heard a lot. One of my main hopes is to visit and share good news, which is something that can happen at any time. Crises, however, are easier to notice. Crises are more dramatic, can require more thought and action, and trigger those skills our species has developed to continue the existence of the species. It is how we’ve gotten this far. But. There have been so many obvious crises that it is not a surprise that people are experiencing crisis fatigue. Hope and progress happen, too; but we’re so accustomed to crises that sometimes hope and progress are met with criticism and scorn. This all made me go, hmm. How do we get by? How do people plan and live?

One of my almost-daily tasks is searching for “news for people who are eager and anxious about the future” to feed one of my other blogs, Pretending Not To Panic. The traffic has slowed over the last five years because too much of the news doesn’t fit the criteria of socially significant, factual, apolitical, and based on logic. After the first few years, some of the news is so repetitive that it has already been covered. There’s more news, but too little of it is new.

Maintaining that feed can be demoralizing, especially as a lack of morals and compassion in the world has become evident.

As we sipped our tea and the conversation slid into some current crisis, I realized that crisis has become our norm. It was easy to create a list that covers the past sixty years.

Political Unrest
Climate Change
Great Recession (Second Great Depression)
Internet Bubble
1987 Crash
Cold War
Iran Contra/Iran hostage crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis

You are welcome to add to the list, but my list already convinced me that I’ve always lived in crisis. Even when I was too young to notice, I paid attention to the location of Fallout Shelters and the likelihood of my neighborhood getting nuked. So much for a Disney childhood.

And yet, despite those crises or maybe because of them, we continue on. Here are some observations. (I limited the sources to one aggregator OurWorldInData.Org simply to keep my life simple.)

Life expectancy is up.Globally the life expectancy increased from an average of 29 to 73 years in 2019.” An optimist says, “Yay!” A pessimist cries, “Overpopulation!”

Child deaths are down.In less than three decades child mortality has more than halved…” That’s a hard one for folks to complain about, though it is part of that overpopulation issue, but it also ties into people no longer needing to have larger families.

Diseases are down. Some diseases are not only down but are eradicated. Vaccines can do that. I still have the scar from my polio vaccine and am glad for that small price.

Famines are smaller. Famines continue to exist, but in the past they have been ten times worse, and that was in a smaller population so the percentages were higher.

Sanitation has improved. Globally, it has almost doubled in about twenty years, from 28.6% to 54.0%.

Air pollution is down. We continue to pollute the air, but that, too, is down by about 40% in just over two decades.

Renewable Energy is up, way up. Since 1965, about the time of the first Earth Day, renewable energy has risen seven-fold and is growing.

Fossil Fuel use also grew during that time, but recently fossil fuels are finding themselves caught in a financial spiral. As renewables gain market share, the large fixed costs of fossil fuel production and distribution are spread over fewer customers, thereby raising their per-capita costs, which make renewables more competitive and attractive.

War is killing fewer people. War, what is it good for? Nothing. And governments are learning that. War gets the headlines, but even if governments think war is necessary, people and businesses have learned that peace is cheaper, lasts longer, and is good for jobs. Investors might like stocks in weapons companies, but even some governments are realizing that commerce is a better way to make a change.

Literacy is up. More people can read. What they read may be worrisome, but this may just be a phase in the maturation of our society as we communally learn who to trust and respect for important information. Within the last two hundred years, the world’s population has gone from 20/80 where only ~20% are literate, to 80/20 where ~80% are literate. Whether we agree on anything, well, we’re still human.

Optimism and Pessimism continue to be about the same. The balance of the two has not changed much compared to the dramatic shifts in some of these other issues. Is that a sign of how adaptable we are, or how much we don’t pay attention outside personal bubbles?

Happiness is making progress. Happiness is improving, more in some places than others; which shouldn’t be a surprise. Some places are in deeper crises while others may be farther along in recovery from theirs.

I see news like billionaires going to space and watch the technological progress and the backlash. I think billionaires launching themselves out of the atmosphere is proof that there’s a need for a lot more maturation; but I’m glad they’ve able to do so. Elon Musk is a better model, as silly as that sounds. He focuses on orbital issues, even if it is launching a car to(wards) Mars. Collectively they are taking the steps necessary for the lifeboats we may need, as well as enabling the advance of more sustainable and less-polluting industries. There are businesses that are turning threats (asteroids) into opportunities. Why dig up the planet when we can turn potential colliders into raw materials?

I think back to where we would be with resources, pollution, and global overshoots if we hadn’t abandoned progress in space made in the 60s and 70s. Imagine if Earth Day had inspired today’s level of action fifty years ago? If civil rights for all hadn’t stalled? If the UN had been given authority (and maybe a different structure) at its inception? I’m sure you can add your own to the list.

We can all list optimisms and pessimisms; things we are eager and anxious about. And yet, such thoughts distill down to what will you do about them, as well as what will you do with decisions in your daily life?

At some point such issues come down to the personal level. When I am in financial crisis, I have to concentrate on the basics of personal finance: assets, liabilities, income, expenses. As I come out of crisis it becomes easier to think and act more broadly. When I come out of crisis it is also easier to see the basic optimism that our society and civilization have always been in crisis, and somehow we manage to continue and grow. Past performance is no guarantee of future performance, but it is encouraging.

Now, pardon me as my mind deep dives into choices I’ve made through all of these times, what I’m in the midst of, and how I hope things will go – and how silly and important decades of plans can be.

(Isn’t it amazing what can come from a visit with friends and some cups of tea?)

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Unlicensed Knowledge

How much do you know that you don’t even know you know? I’ll wait if you have to read that a few times. College degrees, professional licenses, certificates are the things that are hung on walls and listed on resumes. They are accomplishments and in many cases necessary. I know when I fly I prefer the pilot to be properly trained, tested, and licensed. But not every question needs to be answered by someone who clocked a lot of hours in class, or checked all the right boxes in tests. Communities are valuable because many of life’s problems can be solved by friends who have enough experience and insight to have your answers, even if neither they nor you realize it. The idea for this post started with tea.

OK. So sometimes a tea bag is handy. Maybe it is time for me to educate a local coffeeshop or two.

I am Not a tea sommelier. I simply like tea. I’m writing a book about tea, but one that has more to do with the quirks of being a tea fan in a Starbucks world. I tweet about tea often enough that a friend inspired the hashtag #TomTea. It isn’t trending, yet. I am not an expert, but I am known for knowing enough about it that I get tea questions, occasionally. A simple question inspired a much longer answer than they asked for, but it made me think.

Question (paraphrased): What is the difference between black and breakfast tea?

Answer (edited because I’ve learned more since responding):

There’s stuff commonly called ‘tea’.

That breaks into ‘tea’ = usually hot water over dead leaves from a particular species of plant (camellia sinensis).
and infusions = herbal tea, basically any other dead leaves in hot water.

Tea breaks into:
black tea = same plant but different process than
green tea = same plant but different process and
white tea, pu-erhs, oolongs, etc.
(I’m saving you from my ignorance of the details and the deep dive that happens after this.)

Except for diving into:
breakfast teas which are blends of black teas grown in different regions on slightly different strains of the plant, primarily Assam (Indian) and Keemun (China).

I think English Breakfast is two parts Assam and one part Keemun. Irish and Scottish blends use different proportions.

Then there’s Chinese Breakfast but I lose the thread there. Early Grey is an example of flavored teas (Bergamot), and spiced teas which become a very wide set of choices.

I buy Assam and Keemun in bulk, then mix them by dumping a bit of each into the teapot depending on my mood that morning.

Ah, that more than answered their question.

A few days later I was talking about the details with a friend who understands teas far better than I do. (Visit Dandelion Botanical for that source.) I realized that I could’ve gone into more detail about other varieties, blends, flavorings (Earl Grey, hot) and preparations. I think tea bricks are fascinating, particularly because of their history as money.

My knowledge of tea is hardly exemplary or valuable. Some people follow tea careers like some follow wine careers to become sommeliers. I’m guessing the wine industry has more to spend on such expertise considering the cost of a bottle of wine versus the price of a pot of tea. Evidently tea sommeliers can make >$50,000/year, but there aren’t many jobs out there for such a skill. A friend who knows a bit about tea might suffice.

I had an electrical problem earlier today. I flipped switches, toggled things in the breaker box, tested various possibilities, but still had lost power to three outlets. Not an emergency, and I didn’t want to call an electrician for such a simple problem. So, I called a friend. Evidently, I’d done the right things, but I reset something in the opposite order. Problem fixed without much drama, or expense.

There are definitely times when certified and licensed professionals are necessary, but sometimes someone, like the person in the hardware store, can show how to fix a faucet by changing a washer, or fix a crack with just the right adhesive, etc. They know these things without requiring the same training, and without requiring the same fees.

Every time we ask a question we have the opportunity to learn something. Ask enough questions, learn from enough answers, and eventually begin giving back by helping others – with the caution that always know you might be wrong and that critical judgment is called ‘critical’ for good reasons. I’m willing to try fixing a drain because the drain may be limited to how much water is in the sink. I’m less willing to fix a faucet because the inlet is limited to how much water is in the water tower.

And, of course, as part of my profession as a real estate broker I advise everyone to use licensed and bonded professionals because any such situation is much more important: more people are involved, it is probably part of a contractual obligation, a record of the work may be required, lawsuits happen. (Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.)

This week I resigned as Site Steward after over 12 years of volunteering for the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. It wasn’t about them. It was about me, but that story won’t be told for a while. There were no classes involved. Much of the training was verbal and sporadic. But spend twelve years working on something and something sinks in, besides dirt and scratches. I’m much more familiar the challenges of preserving and stewarding lands for this and following generations. I’m definitely much more aware of noxious and invasive weeds, how they’re supposed to be removed, how some pragmatism can be required, and how massive the problem is. I’m not a fan of blackberries, anymore; but I also know how gratifying it can be to uproot Engish Ivy. I even learned how to make baskets from the vines.

Emphasis is placed on college degrees, and for good reasons; though I think it has gone too far. Training and education are valuable, but some skills, even some advanced skills can be learned in less time by people with the right talents. I’m glad I finished my Masters in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering that helped me in my career in aerodynamics and flight controls at Boeing. That involves flight safety issues. I suspect some counselors can benefit from years of psychology and such, but their listening skills may be inherent and more important.

Communities are impressive when overlapping skills create a network of support that is unofficial, informal, and based on shared benefits instead of certificates and invoices.

You may not know how much you know that you don’t even know you know. That knowledge may seem trivial to you, but it may be crucial to someone else. Volunteer organizations exist because of that fact. One way to contribute is to respect yourself, your experience, and your energy. You may be far more valuable than you know.

For now, I know that I’m ready for another cup of tea. Lapsang Souchong is today’s choice. I don’t even know how to spell it properly or where it comes from or whether it a straight or blended tea, but I can find the answers. You see, I know a someone…

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Triple Whammy – Tenth And Last Anniversary

Two days ago I looked forward to writing this post to celebrate significant progress in my recovery from my Triple Whammy of August 2011. Back then, three major events imploded then depleted my net worth. My net worth has not regained those levels, but within the last 18 months my net worth improved enough for me to begin relaxing anxieties. One bureaucratic mistake two days ago severely threatens enough aspects of my life that I do not, and to some extent can not relay them here. This blog, however, is about personal finance; and not just personal finance but personal finance that challenges taboos to some extent. It’s easy to tell the stories when the news is good. The lessons from when news is bad can be more valuable.

As someone put it,
If you want to learn about sex, don’t ask someone who has always been celibate.”
(Variations on that theme can be tuned to your needs.
I know I can think of several alternatives.)

Hindsight is handy. In 2011 my bad news seem to come from several directions, each largely uncoupled from each other. Back then a friend researched instead of just reacted to the parts of my news. As they put it, I was hit by a perfect storm of bad luck. The odds that someone is bound to have five dice rolls all go their way is about the same as someone having those dice rolls go the wrong me. (Bad) lucky me.

Ironically, this happened after the Great Recession began. I’d just released my book on personal finance (Dream. Invest. Live.). After the initial global market impact, my portfolio began to rise because three of my investments were in positively disruptive technologies that weren’t affected by the markets as much.

Then (and pardon me for forgetting the exact order),

American Superconductor (AMSC), a developer or more efficient electrical infrastructure components, found that their biggest customer decided to steal the intellectual property and become a competitor. The loss of several hundred millions a year almost eliminated the company. Fast forward and find that AMSC won the court case; but only after several years and only receiving a fraction of one year’s revenue. I lost about 40% of my portfolio within weeks.

Dendreon (DNDN) developed an FDA approved cancer vaccine. Reread that one that most folks don’t know. They were succeeding, though at a somewhat slower pace than expected; not surprising considering how revolutionary their treatment was. Shareholders commented on machinations that seemed criminal. Regardless, a takeover of the company bankrupted the company. Fast forward and find that the takeover was challenged in court, it was confirmed that some were found guilty; but the damage was done. Allow me to copy and paste the closing line from the previous paragraph. I lost about 40% of my portfolio within weeks.

MicroVision (MVIS) was expected to produce a projector that could fit in a smartphone, a projector only slightly larger than the cameras already showing in them. According to a Wired interview, the CEO of Corning was going to demonstrate to the CEO of Apple the key subcomponent that Corning was developing with MicroVision. Apple felt that a stronger glass was more important and MicroVision’s effort was stalled. Shareholders didn’t know why things were delayed until years later. MVIS eventually fell to as low as $0.15 in April 2020. (Thankfully, it is recovering, but that’s a much longer story.)

As those three issues played through, all of my fallback positions of getting a better job or selling my house, or various other “lines in the water” fell through thanks to the Great Recession. Soon, I had to sell off almost my entire conventional and IRA portfolios. I ended up down 98%within a few years. I almost lost my house. (Another long story.)

As I wrote in various posts within the last 12 months, my net worth has been increasing thanks primarily because of my house’s value and MVIS’ recovery.

Within the last few months, I also learned that my credit rating has recovered to almost the maximum possible. That meant it would be easier to refinance, or get some equity out of my house, or generally relax and celebrate at least that accomplishment. I also started receiving Social Security, another anxiety relaxer.

Here is where the celebration has been postponed.

I don’t know all of details yet, which is why I will write about those later when they are facts rather than speculations. But, from the high of an anticipated celebration to a low from a surprise pronouncement – well – I feel devastated. The oddest part remains that I don’t know the entire story, either.

I have become a larger proponent of loosening that taboo about talking about money, at least with close friends. In today’s internet, revealing much more can put assets and livelihoods at risk. In person, however, and as I asked for help, people shared their situations, too.

There are far too many having to deal with problems that are too large, but which have no ready resolution. Move to a better job? That takes money. Pandemic hurt your business? You’re not alone, and the recovery may be painfully slow. As lifestyles change because of health care and housing issues, the solution may be to move – which again leads to ‘move where?’ I only have me to worry about. Others are dealing with families, generations, and generally compassionate responses to others without support.

I’ve been described conflicting ways. Some say they are impressed with my optimism. Some say they are dismayed by my pessimism. Maybe I can carry both of those perspectives in my head simultaneously. I’ll go with that.

Learning about the biographies of many famous people, almost all mention some bit of good luck that was out of their control. We get to hear about the people who’ve benefited from such encounters. We don’t get to hear about the others as readily. Luck, whether good or bad, can happen in an instant. Some developments take longer. I wish I wrote down a phrase someone used earlier today. Something like, “Plans are useful; and you have to have them; and all you can do is what you can when it’s necessary because you don’t know what’s really going to happen.” They extended that old adage more eloquently.

It is difficult to ascribe everything to luck. It is also unrealistic to ascribe nothing to luck. The world is too chaotic and random. We are not in as much control as pundits may make it sound.

I’ll continue the blog. Only the Triple Whammy updates will end. Ten years are enough, I’m now over 60, the pandemic changed so much, and I am sure the pandemic will not be the largest change I’ll witness. I think technology, economy, climate, and society are all being redefined by necessity. Each is a big enough topic to overwhelm most people. Combined, I think their effects become a guessing game.

How’s my life, our lives, going to turn out? It’s a guess, but I intend to continue writing about it. Stay tuned.

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Hiking And Health

Yesterday was a good day. By the end of it, my Jeep was dusty, I was sweaty, I’d spent four hours driving and another three hours sitting in traffic delays, and I had a lot of laundry to do. I was waiting for my knees to cast their vote. I went on a hike and I felt the best I’ve felt in months. I’d like to do that again, which I intend to do.

Barclay Lake

A friend once said something like; “After reading your book, you’ve convinced me to never go hiking, again.” That’s one of the issues with writing about hiking and nature, human communication is best at describing drama and struggle, not at describing serenity and peacefulness. Think of the classics. Dante’s Inferno is well known. It’s about Hell. Dante’s other two books in the series are less well known. They’re about Purgatory and Paradise (as I recall from college days.) The last one is particularly repetitive and dull. Bliss, bliss, bliss. Great, but it didn’t sell as well. Think of social media. Cute cat videos are popular, but drama and conspiracy are so dominant that major governments are being destabilized. The good parts about hiking? They’re harder to convey. 

The good parts of hiking are easier to experience, though. 

Thanks to the recent good fortune of my truck breaking down and someone stealing my credit card – yes, this good news started with that country-music kind of bad news (A Jeep Dancing And Credit) – I went on a hike yesterday.

I need more than a hike. That’s gone from missed opportunities, to broken habits, to getting out of shape, to not just a want but a need, to affecting many aspects of my health. Hiking is not the issue. Time to heal and time to enjoy and time to relax is the issue. Nature is a healing place. I’ve spent too little time there. I intend to spend much more time there, again – which is much easier now that I have a Jeep.

Video ads show SUVs bouncing along gravel roads, churning up rooster tails of dust as people hit the power while letting the wind blow in the open windows and through their hair. Ads can be so funny. Drive that fast on many trail head roads and find that potholes are more abrupt than most realize, wheel rims less forgiving, and letting all that dust in means turning the car into a job for a detailer and turning hair into an excuse for many showers or for wearing a very tight hat, and glasses, and maybe a shirt buttoned up and sleeves rolled down.

A typical drive to a hike in Western Washington can be a hundred miles on highways, followed by a slow, bouncy, and squiggly drive up a scratch of gravel that might have room for two vehicles. Much of that width may be taken up by having to maneuver from the far left to the far right just to get a few miles to the trailhead. It can take concentration to avoid going terribly off-road as in into-the-forest or over-the-edge, or into a confrontation with another driver’s skills and grill as they try to drive the same way. It’s enough to make you want to take a break between driving and hiking when you get to the trailhead.

Now imagine a small, organic parking lot and greater demand than supply for places to park. My Jeep ended up with its red nose in the bushes, just to fit in. (Another comment about SUV ads. Big brawny trucks look powerful, but if they can’t fit between the edges of the gravel or can’t turn around at the end, they begin to look silly, like a football player trying to tackle a task by fitting into a space ideally dealt with by a petite plumber.) Whew. At least I didn’t have to turn around and try the next trail.

Hiking is seen as frugal, and it definitely benefits from that mindset. Only carry what you need; that includes emergency materials, but it also includes snacks. Hiking is not cheap, however. Gas and gear can add up to enough for a cheap hotel stay instead. That’s the cost, not the benefit. Too many conversations only look at one or the other.

This was a short hike because I try to be careful. Everything takes practice, even walking in the woods. Did I bring the right gear? Am I in good enough shape? My new Jeep is designed differently than my previous Jeeps. Can it handle the reality of Forest Service roads that may not have enough budget for maintenance? (I’ll save you the suspence. Yes, it all worked out well, or at least well enough.)

For two hours (see, I said it was short), my concentration was on walking without stumbling. Sounds simple? Sure; but I was also part of a rescue operation because one person injured their ankle. Getting them out involved dozens of volunteers. Things that are easy to take for granted in the paved part of the world can be vitally serious in the reality we’ve yet to flatten. 

Concentrating on walking is meditative, for me. Hiking along a trail through natural forest is a long string of opportunities to stop and notice the world (and pant and catch some breaths.) These flowers are blooming. Those streams are trickling. Sunshine is coming into this meadow now, but not earlier and not later. 

Getting to the destination is an accomplishment which varies for every individual. Some are there for lunch. A few were there like me, testing what it will take to get back in shape, or into a new shape. A family was camping, introducing a child to something beside a video game. One couple reportedly BASE jumped off Baring Peak, almost four thousand fee above the lake. Another was there to try summiting it for the first time, for them. Another wanted to explore rumors of a third lake, which we talked about when I mentioned that I wrote a book about Barclay Lake in 2004. 

The overwhelming and shifting collection of lifestyle, economic, and worldly issues in my thoughts didn’t immediately evaporate. Maneuvering around tree roots, uneven rocky spots, or long and hopefully strong log bridges over streams quickly reassign priorities. Thinking about stocks? Bump. Good thing my boots protect my toes. Wondering how my business will recover? Bonk. Forehead, meet a fallen tree that’s sticking out. Wrapped up in my thoughts? Scratch. Vines can have thorns, you know.

Eventually, I realize there’s nothing to do about any of those everyday issues while I’m beyond the trailhead. Inspirations may come, but that’s almost by accident.

A nature walk is not an escape. A nature walk is a return to reality.

What’s that worth? 

What’s it worth to see a dozen families heading to the lake, each with pre-teens in tow?

What’s it worth to be glad that I’m not camping there that night?

What’s it worth to talk to people who are more likely to talk about bugs instead of politics?

What’s it worth to find a self-selected group of strangers who have at least something in common with you?

Construction hassles, a long ferry line, and a hotter than usual day made the drive home memorable in a different sense. Logging on after I got home refreshed too many of those anxieties, reminded me of so many societal issues. It reminded me of a lack of manners and tolerance. A literal stack of bills was a reminder of a different reality that must be dealt with. There was also a lot of laundry thanks to dusty roads, my sweat, and then baking it all on the drive.

There’s a saying about personal growth; “Chop wood. Carry water. Reach enlightenment. Chop wood. Carry water.” My modern version uses, “Pay Bills. Do Laundry.”

Here I sit, the day after the hike. Things are better than I expected. The Jeep may not be the same, but it did much better than I expected. It wears road dust well. The need for ibuprofen didn’t arise. That was a surprise. My knee that’s been causing such a problem with my running and even with my dancing actually feels and moves better. Maybe it needed more natural movement. Maybe I needed more natural movement. Maybe I needed more nature. There’s no ‘maybe’ about that need.

This blog is about personal finance. It is about personal values, and resources. Money and time are important in our daily lives. Time is naturally vital. Money is arbitrarily vital. I’ve spent so much time trying to make enough money that I’ve spent some of my health. It is easy to say, “Duh, just hike more.” I hear such things said, as if it was obvious. Just as it can be difficult to describe the peacefulness and serenity of nature, it can be difficult to describe the reality of the struggle of people who can’t pay the bills. That was me, and in some ways still is me; but I’m now able to get back into nature because I have a Jeep (that I had to go into debt to buy), and some income thanks to Social Security, and time thanks to business being so slow that I could hike for a day without missing any vital calls. 

I’m glad I’m having a good day. Those days have been too few. Now, I can at least trade off priorities enough to afford a few, and hopefully more. I am also reminded of how many are told to “Just Do It” as if that’s simple and trivial. It can be; 


That’s a reality, too.

(Disclosure: I wrote Twelve Months at Barclay Lake. It’s available for sale online, though possibly through some stores. This post was not about plugging the book – which may partly explain my financial situation – but it and the others in the series are for sale, Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla, and Twelve Months at Merritt Lake, a simple chronologies of pockets of nature, two of many places that have affected my perspective. Don’t be surprised if they don’t match what you see in the ads.)

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Terms And Conditions Changing

The world is changing. Duh. If you feel like you’re having a tough time following all of the updates, revisions, and error corrections associated with your stuff, then congratulate yourself on being perceptive. Even for folks who strive to keep it simple, but not too simple, it may effectively be impossible to know exactly what has been agreed to if anything electronic is involved. Time is more precious than money. Terms and conditions are complicated enough that free services aren’t truly free. But what to do about it?

A common frustration when writing these posts is knowing I’ve seen the data I’d like to reference, but not being able to find it quickly enough. The data is out there, but it would take too much time to find. So, as I recall, the average length of time spent agreeing to a web site or product registration’s Terms and Conditions is less than five seconds. Terms and Conditions for social media sites can take more than an hour to read. Comprehension is necessarily longer, and also more difficult because comprehension requires the reader to understand the company’s lawyer(s).

I imagine most folks find themselves shunted off to the “I Agree” button and click away. If you’re not intending to do anything illegal, illicit, or even rude, then why not agree? Of course, if you are intending to do something illegal, illicit, or rude, then you may not care about the agreement. But, the lawyers are there to protect the company, so we’re steered to agreeing to things we may not truly understand.

Terms and Conditions are like the hot dogs of the Internet. People assume it’s meaty, but don’t ask questions about what’s inside.

Corporate Terms and Conditions can exceed the number of pages I see as part of real estate transactions. (Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.) A real estate transaction is frequently involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, and transferring the stewardship, rights, and responsibilities for a portion of the planet from one person to another person. For some reason, social media sites and electronic component manufacturers require our agreement to include more details than society requires of serious commitments to neighbors, the community, the municipality, and even the country. More effort goes into protecting corporations than goes into transferring the responsibility for a house and the land it sits on.

And then things change.

I can hit I Agree, and not be surprised if two days later they change the conditions of the agreement.

From Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back; Darth Vader:

I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.” –

Ideally, every time a company changes its Terms and Conditions I should reread and re-agree, or decide to discontinue my association with that company. Every update and revision release adds additional costs, or requires the acceptance of additional and unknown risks.

Pragmatically, most people take the risk. It costs too much in time to do anything else. Or, it costs time in discontinuing the service and finding a replacement.

Corporations can also change the Terms and Conditions that we call Laws. Copyright laws were supposed to protect the person who created the work, but eventually transfer those rights to the public after a few decades. Lobbying has now changed those laws and conditions to allow corporations to hold art ransom far beyond the life of the artist. Instead of protecting the rights of an author for long enough for them to make a profit, those laws now embolden monopolies to the point that it is hard to imagine Micky Mouse ever becoming something people can use without being sued. Locked down content makes it easier for monopolies to put entire universes of movies and shows out of reach of the general public who at some level helped support those corporations with the infrastructure that is the government under which those corporations are chartered.

We can’t all be lawyers. Government could and may revise such laws and enforce anti-monopolistic actions, but that is such a radical notion that it would be a major news item and initiative, not the simple fact of the government doing its job.

It is easy to become cynical. It is easy to revert to extreme pragmatism. For me, it makes sense to use judgment, to assess the importance of the Terms and Conditions. A house transaction involves real world issues of housing, a biological necessity; and finances, a societal necessity. A web site or contract that will affect my business or a major element of my life, like health care deserves a review, too. As for social media and other information web sites, I pay attention to reports and reviews from others, and research more if my values, or expectations are significantly challenged. Life is about balance. Ideally every one of us would know everything about everything, and the lawyers can say we were told everything, but we don’t have infinite resources, and we certainly don’t have infinite lifespans. A life spent reading fine print is bad for more than the eyes because it is a life spent not living.

There are many web sites I no longer visit. There’s more than enough information on the internet that I don’t have to have it all. I have a life to live and while some things are necessary, not everything needs to be treated the same way. Will government restrain corporations from imposing impossible Terms and Conditions, or dismantle monopolies, or return to the idea that knowledge and creativity must find a balance between protecting an artist while also enriching the society? I don’t know. But, I find it interesting noticing how many times I’m expected to agree to things, and those thing’s updates and revisions, far out of proportion to their usefulness or common benefit.

As in so many endeavors: Keep it simple, but not too simple. Use judgment. Be willing to do without. And the most powerful tool any of us have is the ability to say No. Hmm. Maybe those are my Terms and Conditions.

Now, about the recent revisions to this blog platform’s software…Grrr…

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A Jeep Dancing And Credit

Pardon me as I crack open a beer, because this story starts out like a country song. Don’t worry, no dogs die. A credit card did. Along the way there is a troublesome truck, dancing, and some impressive efforts from some islanders. By the end there are high-fives (that only some can appreciate). It actually starts a week or two ago.

I was hacked. Not me, my credit card was. Someone stole my credit card information. Nods to Chase Credit for catching it. Their response was to cut off the card and issue me a new one. That was unfortunately because credit card numbers as so integral to so many subscription services and online purchases that for the next year I’ll be replying to dozens of requests to update my account information. The cost of identity theft is more than the amount they charge, it is also the time involved in correcting the situation. The new card will be in the mail!, they assured me.

Have you heard that the US Postal Service has been undermined? Chase promised (with appropriate caveats and waffle words) that I’d have the new card in 3-5 business days. Sigh. I tend not to use my credit card, but had been doing so for a short while as I waited to sell some stock. Real estate sales have been great for sellers, but I’m representing buyers. (Required Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.) So, while waiting for sales to come in and as I’ve been waiting for MVIS to rise I’ve been using the credit card a bit more. So much for that. Every day goes by, and nothing.

Five business days go by and no card. Late on Saturday it is apparent that the credit card won’t be available until Monday afternoon at the earliest. Oh well, that’s okay. It was only a buffer, not a lifeline.

It’s Saturday, time to go to the (free) street dance in downtown Langley. Hundreds of people, a good local band, a closed street, and the end of a work week. That’s all great, but I’m basically shy when it comes to asking someone to dance. If I know them, great, but otherwise I don’t want to look like some guy trying to – do something other than dance for the fun of it. Alas, and oh well, going home and relaxing isn’t so bad. I get in the truck to head home, still with my dancing shoes on. At the top of one of Langley’s bigger streets I turn the wheel at the intersection and the engine dies. I’ll skip the diagnostics, because the more important issue was that my truck was completely blocking one lane on one street and nosed into a lane of the intersection. Say yay for small towns and not much traffic. Also say yay for smartphones.

Hello, 911. I’m blocking a lane of traffic. Yes, it is blocking. Yes, I am going to call AAA. No, I can’t move it because it might roll back down the hill into town. OK, glad to hear that you’ll have someone come by soon.

Hello, AAA. Hello, voice menu. For six and a half minutes AAA’s system repeatedly asks if I want to use the automated system, or go online. I’m holding the phone while directing traffic! I’m not in a position to squint at a small screen in glaring sunlight while also directing traffic! That’s not safe! Harumph. I was frustrated. 

AAA finally answers at the same time that the local officer (it’s a small town, there’s only one on duty at a time on Saturday nights, evidently) arrives. I walk up to the officer, tell him it is AAA finally on the line, and let the two of them decide who I should talk to first. Officer Don smiles and waves me towards AAA while he takes over waving traffic around my truck. For the next several minutes I answer questions that are more appropriate to an office environment when there is no urgency. The questions get so detailed with little relevance to towing a truck with a tow truck that it takes longer to answer the questions than it would for the tow truck to drive to the scene and get their own answers. Officer Don only hears my patient yet increasingly terse answers and starts shaking his head and grinning with each of my responses. 

Everything is finally answered. The tow truck, which is only ten stoplight-less miles away will be there in two hours. Now, I know they can get called out to greater distances and have to respond, but I digress.

The Officer, Don wasn’t sure that his cruiser’s push bars were tall enough to reach the bumper of my truck, but he expertly connected and got the truck out of the intersection and off the road – and into a No Parking Zone. Thank you, Don, for patience and humor – and recognizing the circumstances by not ticketing me.

Welcome now to the nature of small towns. While I didn’t see any of my friends at the dance, I did have three different visits while sitting beside the road. It was a very social event. I even arranged an interview for a podcast I co-produce (

Recall: AAA said the tow truck would take about two hours to get to me. Reality: Here he comes about ten minutes later. 

My truck is a rather large white Chevy pickup. AAA sent the tow truck driver directions to a Honda sedan. Well, that wasn’t me, but at least he knew where to find me. We worked out his probably destination and I sat back to waiting again. 

Only ten minutes later he’s back having solved their much simpler problem. My truck’s problem could be simple, too. Out of gas? Fuse blown? Loose wire? Regardless, it was Saturday night. I asked him to take it back to the garage beside their shop. He knew the way. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions meant the tow truck driver couldn’t take me home. My truck had a ride home. I had to find my own. 

Fortunately, I knew a friend was in town because I saw them at the grocery, earlier. They’re on their way! In the meantime, I had so many offers of rides home that they could’ve set up a relay race with me as the baton. Cavalry Run #1 (Let’s see if we can keep track.)

One treat for the night: sitting with my saviors on my front deck watching the Sun set. A nice, yet stranded way to end the week.

About an hour after AAA’s two hour deadline AAA gave me a call to assure me they are doing everything they can to get the tow truck to me. They were surprised to hear that we’d all resolved the issue already. (Oh yeah, and I won’t get into the fiasco of them not understanding local places names which confused them when they tried to give directions. And then there was the AAA representative’s venting about their system, an emotion they thought would resonate with me. Different issue. It took several minutes for them to realize that.)

Oh, no problem. The next day I’d just go rent a car. Hmm. Sunday. Maybe not. Or maybe, but I needed a credit card to rent a car. I only have the one, and I didn’t have it. Doubly stranded.

Well, Monday will resolve everything.

Monday resolves almost nothing. Every shop on the south half of the island was so booked with work that they couldn’t even tell me if it was out of gas until a week later. As for when they’d fix it, well, that was a mystery because they hadn’t diagnosed it, and if it involved spare parts they might not be available.

I’m a real estate broker. That’s hard to do by bicycle. Finally I found a shop on the north half of the island, about 45 miles away, that would at least diagnose it the next day, and was within AAA’s system so the towing was free. Whew.

Prepare for a dramatic shift, at least within my life.

Later Monday the truck ends up at the shop. I implore them to fix my truck because my business, my main source of income relies on it. They’ll see what they can do.

And then, there’s dancing. Monday night is a very informal dance practice. It’s couple’s social dancing, things like waltz, swing, latin. If you’re doing it right, but you’re not smiling you’re doing it wrong. If you’re smiling even though you’re doing it ‘wrong’, you’re doing it right. A fellow dancer had been having a very tough time lately. They wanted to dance. I wanted to dance. They could drive. I couldn’t. They could drive me to the shop and get a direct prognosis for my truck, just before closing. (Cavalry #2) The truck had something serious, something much more than a fuse. They’d look at it next week. Next week again? Aargh! Whatever. Dance it off.

I dance, I smile. Whew.

Another bit of good news: The new credit card arrived. Ah.

Tuesday, the shop assures me there’s nothing they can do for a week. Sigh. It might just be time to get a different vehicle, something more appropriate, something with four doors, a turning radius that doesn’t require 15-point turns in narrow driveways, but that still has good ground clearance for driving across lots that had just been logged. And, it better not cost much because I suspect my episode with nearly being foreclosed must have ruined my credit rating. Decades of frugality evaporated during the Great Recession. Well, the dealership beside the garage is a Jeep dealership. Hey, miracles could happen.

Ironically, I almost bought a used Jeep just before car prices spiked. About $12K could’ve gotten me a ten-year-old Jeep, and at the time I had about that much cash. (Thanks, MVIS.) But, I held onto that money in case my home buyer customers couldn’t buy a home, which also meant me not getting a commission. And so it was. 

Instead, the Jeeps and SUVs were about double that price. Part of that must also be the luck of what’s on the lot. Oh well. Let’s take a look. 

After preliminary research, and after many, many, many questions to Emma, the ever-patient, pleasant, and capable salesperson, we find two Jeep Renegades that might suffice. Suffice? Duh. A twenty-year old ailing truck versus a new Jeep. Yeah. Suffice.

It will take me some time to sell off a significant portion of my retirement account. That’s what money is for. Saving it for some time down the road is best, but this pothole was here and now. I now feel at least somewhat committed to buying a replacement. 

About an hour later the garage calls. They felt sorry for me, so they think they can get it done by Monday at the latest. That will make two vehicles – ah, but if I trade the truck in…

Call Emma at the car dealership again. Was it Emma or me that decided to consider a loan. What can it hurt? Let’s see what my credit rating will allow… How about being pre-qualified for about $35,000? Wha? Huh? No. Yes? OK. Evidently I’ve been frugal enough for long enough that, as the dealership’s finance manager mentioned, I have the highest credit score they can remember seeing, only six points shy of the maximum. 

I think that’s called good news.

Another call from the shop comes in. They think they can get it done this week. OK with that, too.

I segue back to the credit card company because with a credit rating like that maybe they can adjust my credit limit and interest rate back to what it was the last time I had that credit rating, a decade ago. Nope. No? No. They, the credit card company, Chase Credit, doesn’t care about credit ratings. Really? Oh, well. I foresee shopping for a different credit card company soon.

Another call from the shop. They might get it done by Friday, or Thursday, but they hesitate to say Wednesday.

But, there’s a dance on Wednesday. Ah, but that would only be bonus points. 

Wednesday starts with marketing meetings, of course; and I research deeper into my vehicle and financing options. With a credit rating like this, maybe I can pay for the car in cash by accessing the equity in the house. Ah, but that is a 3-6 week process. I’ll save it for later. But, it also means that I don’t have to take anything out of my retirement account; and, within two months I might have enough cash to get out of car debt and credit card debt, and pay off some generous folks who’ve helped me through these tough times.

Other good news: I thought my Social Security application might be reviewed in August, with the first check either then or within four months. Or. The first payment was directly deposited last week. Surprise! It isn’t enough for retirement, but it is enough for a mortgage payment and a car payment.

Almost shyly, the garage calls back and hints that they might be done late Wednesday afternoon. They close at 5:30. It is a one-hour bus ride to them, and a fifteen-minute drive from my house to the bus stop. All I have is a bicycle that’s missing about half of its shifts. I moan about it on Facebook, and another member of the cavalry (#3) offers to help – if the garage calls in enough time to get me to the bus. Two bites into their lunch the call comes in, they leap into action, I read while I ride, get there with about fifteen minutes to spare, and find them to be helpful, fun, and also better to understand in person than over the phone. The truck needed a new fuel pump, a fuel pump that broke about five years ago. This time the cost sounded like twice the earlier (and possibly too-cheap) repair, at about $1,500. In person, $1,005. Whew. Yay. Ah.

Note the 3mph oops

Thanks all around for Pioneer Automotive in Oak Harbor for working so hard on the truck, their schedule, and also understanding that my original urgency was replaced by the realization that a truck with 200,000 miles on it might need to be replaced.

With a few minutes to spare I thank them, drive to the dealership (Oak Harbor Motors), which is the lot next door, and finally meet the salesperson (Emma) who has been so helpful, and at least sit in the cars to see if they fit. For me, it would be too much to handle the repair and the purchase in the same day, so I tell her I’ll be back on Thursday.

The dance was on the way home. It was another free street dance with hundreds of people. I was tired but I wanted to visit a bit. That’s where I met friends who are even more frugal than me. That’s where the news about a high credit score scores high-fives as if some sports team had won their division. That’s also where I disappointed some of them because there are more frugal transportation choices, but it has been a long time since I had a major indulgence.

And yet, I pull back from calling a fixed truck and a potential replacement vehicle an indulgence. My stress load has been significant enough that it is a major topic with my doctor. She’s a climber. I am, or was, an avid hiker. She recognizes the benefits of being in nature, and for some like me, in nature at altitude. Alpine is serene. She only half-jokingly said she’d like to prescribe a Jeep for me so I can get to the really good trailheads, spend time up there decompressing, and get healthier, again. An indulgence? Maybe. How indulgent is it to want good health?

Home after the dance, another opportunity to sit on the deck and consider options. Yes, the truck was back home. But, it’s value to the dealership was only about $1,000. That was the price of the fuel pump. The truck’s replacement value, however, is several thousand higher. It might not be the right truck for real estate, but it is designed to haul stuff. It’s a work truck. I can keep it, see if I use it as such, and when I am done, find someone else who can make best use of it. And, I have a backup that’s faster than my bicycle.

Thursday morning, get to the bus, again; but this time with my truck. Get to the dealership with forms, papers, and checkbooks. Pester patient Emma with more comparison questions about the two (and congratulate her on my unspoken third choice which she was able to sell the previous day), test drive them both on local sedate roads and a bit of gravel, and find myself buying a Red Renegade Jeep. Red has to be capitalized because this is not a subtle red. This is Red, which can be handy if Search And Rescue is on the hunt. Hey, I think of such things after accidentally assisting in a couple other episodes.

Emma must have stories to tell as she watched me adjust to 2021. My first Jeep was a Cherokee in 1987. The term SUV was new. Nav was maps on paper. No cruise control. Manual everything except steering and braking – and I was glad. My second Jeep was a 2000 Cherokee (note: not a Grand or anything fancy) with the exotic touches of cruise control, power windows, a rear window wiper, oh yeah, and a CD player. This is a 2016 Renegade and oh dear, please tell me how to turn off almost all of these features – except the backup camera, and, that’s about it. Goodbye, CDs.

Throughout, my criteria have been reliability, ruggedness (check out my books about hiking and skiing in the Cascades to get a hint of what I ask of a vehicle), good ground clearance, goor maneuverability (turning radius), and enough storage (Cherokee = yes, Renegade = TBD). All the other stuff, whatever. 

The drive home was a learning experience. For a while the windshield wipers were on intermittent, and I left them there until there was no traffic. Before she encouraged this fledgling out of the nest, Emma connected my phone to the car, something I would’ve left for weeks. I got a call from one of my best friends, someone who has actually met all of the vehicles; then from another dear friend and dancer I’ve been trying to connect with, and even a business call. I took the calls because it was easier and safer than trying to figure out how to send them to voicemail. 

Now the paperwork (insurance, et al.) begins. The more physical bits are emergency kits for both vehicles, copies of said paperwork, and adjusting seats and mirrors and such. There’s also a lot of reading to do, far more than the earlier versions, and for far less important systems. (But $300 for a spare key? Ouch!)

There are times when life’s threads intersect without warning. After these two weeks I now know that I have Social Security, a recovered credit rating, a relatively new vehicle and a practical backup vehicle, options for accessing the equity in my house rather than relying and hoping for stocks to rise, etc., etc., etc. I’ve mentioned stress relief in this post. More frequent readers may recall I’ve had several anxiety-relieving initiatives, recently. My stress level really has been that high, and I know so many for whom it is significantly higher. 

It is good and responsible to exercise virtues and follow advice, but it is possible to take such actions to extremes. If I hadn’t been so focussed on limiting my expenses, I might have been able to leverage my credit score earlier. That would’ve begun stress reduction months or years ago. By waiting so long and basically being forced into the option of borrowing, I lost the opportunity to have saved about $10,000 in the cost of a replacement vehicle, I spent about an extra $2,000 in truck maintenance, and missed that much time doing things that reduce my stress whether by not worrying as much about whether the truck would fail and by not spending time in healthier environments like the nature I best appreciate. 

These two weeks will represent a shift in many aspects of my life. It started with elements of a country music song, flowed through a period that proves the value of being adaptable, included dancing and high-fives, and a reminder that taking things to extremes can be an expensive direction. 

Now, about that credit card, that user’s manual, that trail pass that must be bought, finding the times to use it, and maybe, and not just maybe but definitely finding time, energy, and resources to do something beside work and worry.

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