Cute Unintended Consequences

What to write about? What to write about? What the…? Well, thank you, world; I’ll write about that. Unintended consequences happen, and one just happened while I was wondering about what today’s topic will be. Evidently, I can take a hint, especially if it is an obvious one. A deer just gave birth by my wood pile. Cuteness happens.

Wooden fences fall down. Wood can survive for centuries or millennia as part of a healthy tree. Wood can survive just as long as part of a well-maintained and protected building. Wood can also have trouble when weather gets to work on it, as some of my house’s trim pieces can prove. Wooden fences in the maritime climate around the Salish Sea have to survive wind, rain, moss, critters, and nature in general. Rot happens. Part of my fence fell down – again.

My fence falling down isn’t too much of a surprise. It is old, and my neighborhood is one of the windier and rainier parts of Whidbey Island. Put the fence adjacent to vacant fields (which are probably about to become house construction sites), and dirt and weeds can pile up against the outside of the fence. Hello, rot.

For years I planned on improving or replacing the fence, but spare time and money have been in short supply. I try to be resourceful and creative, so I was curious about other options. Stone is best, but I’m not trying to build a fortress. That wouldn’t fit a seaside cottage style. Replacing with wood is typical, but 1) I’d like to find something that didn’t require injecting chemicals into the wood making it harder to recycle, and 2) wood prices spiked during the pandemic. That leaves metal. Metal is fine. It will rust, but at least mold and bugs won’t break it down. Besides, I’m from Pittsburgh and I’ve worked in a mill. Steel or aluminum make sense to me because they are recyclable. And of course, there’s always having no fence at all.

I’m guessing that having no fence at all is the preferred solution according to the deer, the bunnies, the raccoons, and a wide variety of other critters. Having at least a small garden is my preference. I guess the critters would like it best if I had a garden and didn’t have a fence. Since my fence fell they’ve proved that by nibbling the lower branches of the fruit trees, or in the case of a struggling apple tree, all of its branches. Sigh.

This spring has been setting records for wet and cold in the area. It probably wasn’t the best season for growing (though the weirdness of the world encourages some home growing, just in case.) So, I haven’t done much about the fence. Besides, finishing three books, arranging for public speaking events, and ramping up real estate has kept me busy.

Finally, I have a design that minimizes the use of expensive lumber, is simplified by using metal posts, avoids concrete, and reuses fencing that didn’t break when it fell (even though it damaged me in the process, but that’s another story.)

Ah, but there was writing to do and nothing was coming to mind. One solution: do some yardwork. So, go into the bedroom to change into my grubbies, peek through the curtains to check the weather, and notice a doe with two fawns. Surprise! Sweet. I actually saw it earlier and nodded at it because it was resting beside the wood pile, out of the way of aggressive dogs that I’ve seen attack other deer. It looked a little chubby, but I don’t judge. But now, two fawns. What a weightloss program!

Because my fence fell down a deer was able to find a safe place to give birth to the next generation. That’s not the consequence I intended or expected; but I’m glad for it.

Unintended consequences are common in my life. The world laughs at plans, and yet things get done. There’s chaos under heaven and the situation is excellent, which is just another way of acknowledging that trying to control reality is a silly endeavour.

I have some friends who are already demonstrating their skills, but it doesn’t seem to be enough for them to pay their bills. I can see some solutions (that’s what consultants and engineers do), but my energies and attempts barely nudge them. I know they think the same thing about me. We talk, but we rarely actually do what the other thinks should be done. That’s human nature because many times there are other reasons those things don’t happen.

At the same time, I’ve been thanked by many people who’ve told me that I inspired them because of something I wrote, a casual comment, or a bit of body language at just the right time in just the right way to lead them to success. Great! How’d I do that? I don’t know; I was just being me (and not charging, which may be worth exploring.) One started a large project that was intimidating. One eventually produced a movie and TV series. One became a multi-millionaire. I didn’t make those things happen directly, but evidently I helped.

Just as I accidentally enabled a deer to give birth to two fawns (who were nursing and nuzzling a few minutes ago.)

This isn’t about me as much as it is about you. It is easy to be demoralized in today’s world. Work can seem pointless. Compliments can exceed compensation. Progress can be challenged by pointless commentaries. 

But you can’t know everything you’ve done that’s made a difference. (Cue up A Wonderful Life, though out of season.) 

This week I found two comments online about me and some of my work that no one told me about. No Notifications, that I noticed. Nothing that was being used for marketing. Just simply nice things. By not notifying me they weren’t intending any consequences for me, but the consequence was that their words felt more sincere, and were more welcome.

The same is probably true for you, too.

My unintended consequences aren’t paying the bills. (Yet.) I can’t deposit them (yet), but I can value them for my own well-being.

Two fawns are cute, and having them outside my bedroom window was not intended, but they are a fine consequence. 

A more personal consequence is that, because they are there, I have a great excuse to skip working in the yard. Hey, that’s valuable!

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Searching For A New Normal In Real Estate And Affordability

(Disclosure required because I’m writing about real estate: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/. Not a plug for my services, but evidently you know where to find me.)

One big thing makes me think about bigger things, and I know I can only know a part of the story. Later this month I’ll make my first public presentation since the pandemic began, the update to my somewhat regular talk about real estate and affordability on Whidbey Island. (The Ever-Changing World of Whidbey Real Estate) The local libraries are starting to open up for public events, again. I get to be one of the first. Public speaking returns! Thanks, Langley Library and the Sno-Isle Library system. Thinking about that local story made me think about the larger story, which could be a presentation, too; but can also be a blog post here. Affordable housing and the sustainability of the real estate industry, there’s yet another place where the New Normal is being sketched in.

It is easy to assume that real estate news is only happening where you live. Everywhere must be different, right? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

In the previous year, real estate prices where I live (Whidbey Island) have risen about 15% to 19% depending on the part of the island. Those percentages are a worry. The island has been seen as unaffordable for years. Rather than temper that, the pandemic accelerated the trend. With price rises that exceed historical norms of a few percent it is easy to assume it is an isolated incident, maybe a consequence of city folks escaping to a place where there’s more room between people. (Rural Distancing)

It isn’t only here.

Here are some sketches of my opinions. 

Inventory is down. Twenty years ago people were more mobile. Families grew and shrunk. Upward mobility was followed by downsizing. Kids moved out, started families, and started households. Repeat. The Internet Bubble burst and 9/11 didn’t help. Instead of switching addresses every 6 or 7 years, people stayed in one place longer, like 10 years. The Great Recession hit. (The Second Great Depression in my opinion.) The typical length of a stay became more like 12 or 13 years. Double the time in one place, halve the number of house sales. It wouldn’t be a surprise that more felt it was difficult to move. Low inventory means low supply; so, if everything else stays the same prices will rise. Multiple buyers can find themselves competing which is frustrating, and drives the prices higher. The same number of realtors are trying to earn a living from fewer sales.

A common response is to build more houses. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Building more houses makes sense – as long as it is one house per household. There’s nothing illegal about celebrating career success and frugal money management by buying a second house; but the consequence is that buyers lose an opportunity. A first-time home buyer may have saved up for a mortgage, but in a competitive market their offer may lose out to a cash offer from the buyer who wants a vacation house, or two, or three. Nothing illegal about that. Building more houses is popular though because it means jobs for builders, regardless of who those houses are being built for.

Building more houses isn’t simple, either. Not-In-My-Back-Yard, zoning restrictions, resource limitations, and time complicate and delay the process.

One of my more Frequently Asked Questions is roughly; “Where can I find a fixer-upper, or maybe some land where I can park or build a tiny house?” That fixer may not nice enough for a lender, but is fine for a cash buyer. As for tiny, or even small, or maybe manufactured houses – they may be fine for that person, but the municipality, or the homeowners’ association may say no. The person who wants a house and is willing to compromise is blocked by policies that frequently reach back 50 years to a different world. 

Got lumber? It’s expensive, at least for now. Steel stud houses exist, but they aren’t common. Are there enough contractors who know how to build them? Even conventional houses can be delayed because conventional contractors are also in short supply.

Lets go back to that idea of moving. It was easier to “Go west, young man.” But we’ve gone west and are now bouncing around inside settled borders; and ‘young man’ has expanded beyond ‘man’ and ‘young’. West was affordable. Now, west is expensive. People in ‘more affordable regions’ may be able to find opportunities somewhere else, but they may not be able to move there. They are effectively trapped, having to wait for jobs to come to them.

Affordability is an interesting term. Housing is affordable. When every house is selling then someone, or some company, can afford it. A million dollar house is affordable, at least for a while, to whoever bought it. But. Affordability typically refers to the perspective of people who can’t afford a house. The solution is commonly to build more houses that are affordable because, as mentioned before, building is popular (when possible.) To me, solving that affordability has less to do with real estate and more to do with economics. We cheer wages when they increase 5%, but if real estate prices rise 6%, then real estate becomes less affordable for those people. Here comes a copy&paste from earlier. “In the previous year, real estate prices where I live (Whidbey Island) have risen about 15% to 19% depending on the part of the island.” That’s a problem, and it isn’t just a Whidbey Island issue. 

Hmm. If the people who want to move to better opportunities could become the contractors building the homes, but they’d need to be able to move here, but they can’t afford that, and … So the situation sits.

Real estate markets are confused. While prices are rising, inventories are falling. It is a seller’s market. It has happened before, but this time the buyers are changing. Corporations and investors are about 18% of the market. Some are buying to rent, diminishing the number of homeowners and raising the number of renters. That also means more people who don’t get the benefit of building equity, instead paying more out for the expense called rent. A bigger concern can be the number of houses that are treated as assets, commodities. Many stocks don’t return 15% to 19%. A stock can become worthless but land almost always has some value. Renting produces income, but renters are a risk that something might go wrong. Even if it is typical wear and usage, an investor has to manage the property or hire someone to do so. Some let it sit and  wait for a good time to sell. Those houses are no longer available. A house built for ‘affordable housing’ can be pristine and taken out of consideration while a corporation waits for the proper appreciation.

As a stock investor, the author of a book about personal finance (Dream. Invest. Live., the basis for this blog), and a realtor I may look at the real estate industry differently. I’ve only been a broker for a few years, not a few decades as some of my experienced co-workers. Before then I wrote about real estate for Curbed.com. I watched the rise of Zillow, Redfin, Estately, etc.; and it became apparent that they were probably going to do to real estate what Expedia did to travel. Travel was much more of a commodity because there is little variation in airplane seats, so it was possible to mechanize the process of buying tickets. Houses don’t work that way, except for where they do at least somewhat. Condos and developments are easier to see that way. If the approach works well enough there, would it also work in older, less regimented neighborhoods? How about rural spaces? These corporations act more quickly than the industry. They are willing to try ideas and see if they succeed or fail. That is the disruptive nature of capitalism. No judgment, here.

No judgment, but definitely conversations, especially among the other brokers who got their license about the same time as me. I recall one conversation where three of us agreed that the industry would probably radically change within the next 4-5 years; and of course I mention it because that conversation was about 3-4 years ago. There have been changes, and they aren’t done, yet.

Last year I did a quick analysis and found that in my area about 1/3 of the transactions included discount brokerages. To brokers that means reduced commissions and reduced opportunities in existing careers. Within the last month a senior and experienced broker pointed out that 3/4 of the listings were from outside the area. We are close to Seattle which has many more brokers. They are in a similar situation, so if even a few of them extend their range our way our market drastically shifts, especially when inventories are so low.

People hear about how hot and busy the real estate market is. It is easy to understand why it seems like everyone is making money. But, if there are 12 offers on a house that is good news for the seller and their broker, the winning buyer and their broker (assuming the deal closes), and 11 pairs of buyers and brokers who spent a lot of time and money moving on to the next offering. That’s 12 offers here on an island. I talked to one broker in Seattle who has been involved in listings with over 70 offers. That is a sale, but I also see about 70 frustrated sellers and brokers. Imagine the buyers’ frustrations and understand why they’re willing to bid higher next time.

As I frequently add to social media posts (but not to Twitter because this takes too many characters);

Interesting times for #realestate sellers, buyers, and brokers
(Disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/).

(By the way, that disclosure is required, but it is also an example of why real estate communications can seem stilted and stiff.)

‘Interesting times’ is a massive understatement.

I am also convinced that these times are not the New Normal, though they are leading to it. Within the world of finance and economics money flows from assets to assets, regardless of their target’s necessity. Money has been flowing into real estate. Money attracts innovation and challengers. Long-established industries can change when innovation succeeds. Eventually, at least some of the speculative money will move on to the next commodity. Real estate will adjust again, but it will be changed; especially in commoditized markets. The old industry Normal may not be sustainable in such a situation; except possibly in custom and niche markets. Vacation rentals, vacant speculative homes, and a backlog of housing demand will be affecting the New Normal. None of those trends and goals, however, are likely to provide sufficient housing for those who can’t afford it until economies change and personal finances improve to where housing becomes affordable for more, many more.

Discount brokerages are not new. Travel agencies acting as brokerages changed, or vanished. Stock brokerages changed, with some becoming more exclusive and some becoming so affordable that commissions are barely noticeable. The change in real estate brokerages has begun, which might bifurcate into housing that can be commoditized more readily (condos, etc.) and more exclusive (custom houses and rural areas.) 

This is happening as inflation rises, a pandemic sweeps through, refugees from disasters struggle to find any kind of place to live. 

I don’t have answers (except in my dreams), but at least I can try to answer questions about my area – which I just realized I can use a plug for my talk at Langley Library on May 17 at 6:30PM. It may not be live-streamed (I don’t know, yet), but I hope to record it and post it to YouTube. 

As I mentioned above, interesting times.

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Not Good Enough

Don’t worry. I’m not talking about you or me or any other human, not even pets. Yesterday I had a bit of mail I’ve been eagerly waiting for: the proof copy of my book about tea, Kettle Pot Cup. Eager (optimistic) and anxious (pessimistic.) I was cool, waiting until I finished a chore or three before carefully opening the package of what is a first edition. Looks good, er, well not great, but, but, is it good enough? For once my answer was No. Sometimes not good enough really is not good enough, because good is subjective; and sometimes good enough is something to treat with respect.

For those who don’t follow every one of my social media posts it may come as a surprise that I like tea and that I’ve been writing a book about tea. (#TomTea) This is not a book about High Tea, though there are comments about getting high on tea. There are rituals around tea, but I drink tea because I like tea. I guess that the majority of tea is consumed (because saying tea is drunk sounds like tea has an issue that requires intervention), that tea is consumed by people at work, or at home, or in the car. We’ve created informal rituals about those too, but they don’t get as much attention. Tea is simple: dead leaves, hot water, wait a bit, and sip. No ritual required, though some will make a ritual out of how it fits into their life. Do you compost the leaves, reuse them, or dump them and the bag they came in into the trash as soon as the water turns the right shade of brown? It’s personal, and it isn’t formal. That’s what this book is about.

This book is also about the people who pick the leaves. Thanks to Starbucks (really), I became aware of the conditions of coffee growers. They don’t get much money from each multi-dollar cup of mocha whatever. It didn’t take much research to realize the same was true of the people who hand-pick tea leaves in the few hours of the day that are the best for harvesting. I don’t have much money to donate (Ha! #massiveunderstatement), but I realized it was possible to raise funds for them by writing a book about tea, and giving them the book proceeds from a nice, small, hardback book that would be easy to buy and ship as a gift. Hence, Kettle Pot Cup.

With tempered relief I sent off the book ready to print (I hoped). It arrived yesterday. Books might seem like they’re about words, but there’s a lot of work that goes into designing the cover, laying out the pages, finding a publisher or at least a printer, spreading the word (thanks for reading and sharing), and generally finding yet another detail to resolve. 

At a glance it looked and felt like I expected. This isn’t an ebook, so the tactile sensation matters. It was fine. But, there within minutes I found three things that may never be noticed by most, but even I could identify as something to improve.

The battle to find the balance point of good enough is something I’m very familiar with. In engineering there were specific objective criteria. Could a 747 with one engine failed turn by a certain amount in a specified time? (Yes, and that’s another story about good enough, but I don’t want to tread on the FAA’s toes.) The more frequent battle is within the arts. Listen to almost any podcast of WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com, a podcast Don Scobie(y) and I co-produce and we’ll probably mention that line in the artistic sand. 

Most advice I receive tends towards, “It is probably good enough.” (Just like the punctuation of that sentence.) Advice frequently comes from people who haven’t even seen the product. In general, I usually tend that way, too. Books can’t be perfect. Have you found a typo in a book? Don’t be surprised. A 99% error-free book means 1,000 errors in a 100,000 word book. (Imagine how many typos there are in my millions of words online.) Writers frequently write to an error rate of over 99.9%, better than 100 errors, at a guess. 

The issues I found weren’t errors, but were things that could be easily improved and would remove distractions – and hopefully increase sales, and hence increase donations to the tea pickers’ charities.

And that was the thing that made me say, Not good enough. I’m trying to help someone else, and if a three week delay amplifies the benefit, then that’s probably worth it – as long as I don’t get detoured in the meantime.

Some may know that last week I also produced a book of nature photos of Whidbey Island, Twelve Months at Dugualla Bay. (Ninth in the five book series, which is another story.) The professional who helps me with cleaning and polishing those photos (Joe Menth) has much higher standards than me. We frequently have discussions about a photo which leaves him asking something like; “How can you not see that smudge?” If I have to stare, it is probably good enough for me. Not for him. ‘Good enough’ is subjective and situational dependent. (BTW His work is excellent. Feather And Fox Print Co)

With a bit of his help and maybe another person or two Kettle Pot Cup can be a dramatically better book. The words won’t change, but they’ll look better; and people do judge books by their covers.

I hoped to celebrate and announce the completion of the book in April, but it will now take until late May (which means missing Mother’s Day). It also means doubling up, or tripling up as I return to working on my science fiction novel (due this fall), and a busy real estate schedule (with my first public speaking gig due in a week or two.) Pardon me as I sip a cup of tea as that workload sinks in.

Good enough, or not, has more than one answer. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. For Twelve Months at Dugualla Bay, yes. For Kettle Pot Cup, not yet. Stay tuned, and maybe enough a cup or a mug of hot water poured over the right dead leaves. Remember, you are good enough.


PS
For those post to be good enough the state requires that I add:
(Disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/).

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Big Slow Changes

Trend watchers, it is a job, a gig, an excuse to cruise social media watching for every nuanced shift in memes. Ukrainian farm equipment towing Russian tanks is one as I type. I watch trends to better understand where I want to invest (even if I don’t have the spare funds.) A personal trend lately has been to watch old black&white movies. Trends? You can guess at a movie’s age by watching the everyday things: hairstyles, clothes, etc. Guessing at fashions is not for me. I’m a minimalist and frugal; bland works for me. But those trends make me wonder about what is next in the trends in phones, cars, computers.


Phones

This is an easy one. Go back early enough and see the candlestick phones that you operated by jiggling the handset’s cradle to get the attention of the real operator, usually a woman working in front of a switchboard. Making a connection really was connecting the wire from your phone to a wire from the other phone because she physically moved wires. 

Pardon me as I skip a few steps because otherwise this would be a historical treatise.

Many of the operators lost their jobs as the connections were automated, partly because users could dial the number themself (unless it was long distance.) Switchboards of wires were too cumbersome as the number of phones grew, but most people didn’t see the shift behind the scenes. A major change in the house was to the bakelite phones where the handset and the cradle and the dial were more compact. Then someone got the idea (from de-regulation?) to try other shapes when push buttons and their tone provided new technology and new style. Wireless happened. Phones were chained to an outlet, but we could wander the house and talk. Cell (mobile) phones crept in via radio phones as designers tried to decide on shapes and features. Clamshells rule! And then the iPhone changed everything.

It wasn’t that long ago

And things we encounter less are operators, party lines, busy signals, that tone that told you the phone was working, and curly wires connecting a phone and its user to an outlet. 

Long distance? No problem unless it is to another country.

Busy signals? Hah! But good luck getting past the modern equivalent of an answering machine.

But we still talk about making a connection, ringing someone up, dialing, hanging up, picking it up,…

Our icon is an old fashioned handset, maybe because smartphones have become bland (and expensive) rectangles.

When phones are incorporated into our smartglasses will we use the same old words?


Cars

It may be quaint to look at old phones, but look at old cars. Iconic? Sure, in the horseless carriage era. After that was elegance, or sturdy as a tank, or unreliable. Eventually energy crises created design crises as car companies tried to discover how to balance operational efficiency, corporate financial efficiency, safety, pollution – and oh yes, style.

We’ve gone from handcranks to start, to keys, to push buttons, to wireless fobs.

We’ve gone from sweating to steer and brake because power came from humans not hydraulics or electronics, to autonomous operation (but keep your hands on the wheel and your feet on the pedals – ha!)

We’ve gone from dedicating time and money on maintenance, to using shops for the tough stuff, to relinquishing all control because there’s little left we can fix – all while frustration and a lack of control are balanced with greater reliability.

We’ve gone from carrying extra gas to service with a smile (can I wash your window and check your oil? – which wasn’t an innuendo) to self-serve to where can I plug this in?

Our icons are sedans from the dull days, yet the introduction of electric vehicles can change that as new styles are available; but autonomous vehicles can change it again. Will people even own a car?

Seeing someone in a movie pumping gas may make as much sense as watching someone try to get an operator on the line.


Computers

IBM ruled. Secretaries at typewriters, librarians at card catalogs, bookkeepers at adding machines – yes, they exist; but machines automated much of it, until mainframes took on some of it, until mini-computers the size of refrigerators took on more, until workstations, then personal computers put it all in the user’s hands. 

Paper tape and punch cards were replaced with magnetic tape, which was replaced with floppies, which were replaced with a variety of short-lived but denser media like Zip Drives, CDs, DVDs, and then USB for small things, then USBs that can do almost everything, then SD cards, the microSD cards.

And yet, our icon for storage remains the Mac floppy which wasn’t floppy. 

Paper was slow, but archival. Newer media hold more and retrieve it faster, but can fade or become obsolete within a few years. A recent study by archivists found that the longest lasting media is to chisel the letters into stone (with an update using lasers and quartz crystals.)

Apple rules – for now.


Watch a movie and notice how well it can be dated by phones, cars, and computers. The same must be true, now, too.

Of course now the three have blended. My phone is connected to my car via an array of computers that can communicate.

I think we’re at the end of an era when phones are still visible, rather than integrated into apparel; when computers aren’t just in our stuff but are in us; and when cars need to be fueled with gas or electrons, but may not be something to own because autonomy may allow on-demand delivery of robot taxis. Elements of today’s phones, cars, and computers will remain, just as we still have operators standing by, the call of the open road, and computers that quit shrinking because our fingers and eyes are the limiting factors. 

How bizarre will this era appear as people pick up a phone, drive, and rely on computers that require desks or laps?

Finger swiping in empty air may be a phone call, virtual travel, and the main interface with our information.

And here’s where personal finance comes in. What am I invested in that won’t survive the shifts; and how long until some of those shifts happen? (Futurists in the audience have been making commentary throughout, I’m sure. That’s what the Comment section is for.)

Subconsciously that may be why I invest in virtual displays (MVIS), electric vehicles (SOLO). Another trend for another blog post could be about decentralization, a trend I am watching which is why I am investing in solar power.

Thanks for staying with this stream of thought as I work through this realization. There is an awareness that we’re entering a time of a New Normal. I think it will be much more significant, and more subtle, than not wearing a mask.

I wonder how Hollywood is going to cope. I wonder how we will.

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Not According To Plan

That didn’t go according to plan; but, it is 2022. What does? Serendipity helped.

About a week ago I finished my book about tea, Kettle Pot Cup (assuming the proof copy proves good enough, due in two weeks). It is a gift book and a fundraiser. Thirty real life tales and observations about tea. There’s enough out there describing Japanese and British tea ceremonies, but I thought someone should write about the realities of tea in America. We have our rituals, too; but they are in coffeeshops, commuting, in the office, or maybe just having something to drink. The book is only semi-serious, so as a gift book I decided to make it small, hardback, and glossy so it is easier to wrap and ship. While writing it I also learned that it should be a fundraiser because the people who pick the tea deserve better than what they’ve received.

That was planned, but with a slight acceleration in the schedule.

I was tired, partly because I am also getting ready to return to public speaking. In May I’ll start with a talk (or more) at my local library by giving my regular (interrupted) library presentation on Whidbey Island real estate and affordability trends. (May 17, Langley Library)

That wasn’t planned, but it was anticipated.

The talk points out that I’ve been busy with real estate throughout, including lots of classes (a requirement I planned to get out of the way before the tourists return). (Required disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/).

I even received my newest design for a car magnet, one of those ovals that proudly proclaim where the driver considers home. I see lots of them around, but none of them applauded my favorite place to live, hence, PE as in Planet Earth. (With a side note that I’m willing to consider relocating.)

Throw in springtime yard work, and I was tired enough to sneakily take a morning off. That was the plan. That didn’t work.

After about an hour of practicing lounging (hey, I’m out of practice, and don’t want to lose the skill), I felt the need to get up. It wasn’t a call of Nature, but an intuitive bet that I could upload the photos from the essay into my online gallery. It is tedious because each photo has its own title and keywords/hashtags, but I felt somewhat compelled to take on the challenge. 

Just before lunch while uploading the last photo I got the word that the book was ready to be uploaded. That plan was slid earlier because I did something that looked good until an earlier proof proved that it did the exactly wrong thing. That’s happening now? OK. 

After lunch I drove to the expert’s shop (Joe Menth of Feather And Fox). That way I could ask him questions if I had any trouble uploading the interior or the exterior of the book. (Those two pieces are all there is, but there’s a lot of work to create them.)

Uploaded! And now waiting two weeks for the hardcover proof of three proof that it all worked well enough, at least. That’s the plan.

Langley is designated as a Creative District (the 4th in Washington State), so it wasn’t a surprise to meet Drew Kampion (writer, author, journalist, editor, surfer, and community activist). Always a good conversation, which this time resulted in me being encouraged to submit my recent blog post about the Ukraine Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, circa 1997 to The New Yorker. Heady, but intuition, a minor compulsion, some auspicious timing, and a chance encounter led to an unexpected opportunity. 

Head home and hit submit.

Then try to unwind and untangle such a disparate set of topics to see if I missed anything. Yes. I had one idea planned for this blog, forgot to write it down, and decided I evidently forgot that so I could write this.

It was a good thing that I got an updated set of business cards because it looks like I might need them.

Oh yeah, and I received a useful improvement to my Tidal Power invention, another totally unplanned event.

It really is empowering to plan with the expectation that the plan can be executed. As has been said so many ways, ‘Gods laugh at people who plan.”

Most of those items had plans. They were staggered to keep from bunching up and overworking me. Plans = laughs. Maybe it was because it is spring that so many things decided to layer themselves into this time. Or, random happens.

Authors and creatives know that, while it makes sense to celebrate the completion of piece of art or an invention or even just a job, the work truly begins as the tasks shift to marketing and sales. I know of some great books that are published, but that the author doesn’t feel comfortable mentioning. Our loss.

My life is about to get busy with marketing, selling, promoting, presenting, and following through with contacts. I realized that which is why I planned to accommodate completing my sci-fi novel (due this autumn), and developing my board game about Whidbey (in review with a potential collaborative organization), because real estate is getting busy, again. Don’t be surprised by real estate can eat entire schedules regardless of plans.

No plan survives reality. Duh.

The world does not have a discernible plan. People, organizations, and businesses plan but also must recognize the hints and encouragements when they reveal themselves. Serendipity isn’t a plan nor does it come with guarantees; but as I described a few posts ago, serendipity, persistence, patience, and a sense of play can pay. At least, that’s my plan.

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Wars Words Worlds Changing

War exposess realities; not all of them, but war is actions over words. Soft words can’t hide a fist. A person talking about peace has no credibility when they’re shooting at the same time. It took me a while to realize that was why I am drawn to military news and history; actions do speak louder than words. This war in Ukraine has demonstrated that, but it has also demonstrated the power of words that are followed by non-physical action. I think we’re seeing a new awareness of the realities of power, and I suspect that will extend beyond Ukraine’s borders and beyond the battlegrounds.

Karate has taught me much. While many are distracted by the aggression, I also saw the reality of traditional karate that was taught as defense, not offense. 1) Most fights don’t have to be fought. 2) Anyone who starts a fight must first expose a vulnerability, and must at least temporarily lose their balance. 

The Ukrainians seem to understand that. Block and counter. Defend against the assault, then take advantage of that moment of vulnerability and a loss of balance. 

Just like this war, this set of thoughts is in progress, not resolved.

The Ukrainians are impressing people with their ability to respond. They didn’t try to match power with power. I am sure they would’ve liked to keep the Russians out, but once the Russian tanks were in, the Ukrainians had success because they used weapons that fought weapons. They used missiles that cost tens of thousands to beat tanks that cost millions. Their army may be one-tenth the size, but they were also spending far less and risking far fewer of their soldiers. They are being hurt, but the Russian attacks are providing opportunities for the Russians to be hurt worse.

Stay with me and I’ll get past the armament stuff, but I want to emphasize what is happening in the drone world, too.

Russia has a bigger, badder air force. But, again, the Ukrainians are doing much with much cheaper drones. If Russia loses a fighter, they’ve lost millions of dollars and a skilled pilot. If Ukraine loses a drone, they’ve lost far less. And the drones have been successful because the Russian motorized forces must expose themselves even just to maneuver to attack.

Alone, however, drones and missiles are probably not enough.

There’s a power shift in progress. It looks like someone has finally understood how to properly apply sanctions. They’re going after the oligarchs. The oligarchs don’t command the military. They don’t run the government. They operate for their mutual, and sometimes conflicting, self-interests. They prop up their privileges, and prop up the government because it enables their privileges. While the sanctions may look mis-directed, it is possible that they can undermine the attacks because the sanctions undermine their privileges. For a good description of how autocrats must rely on oligarchs I recommend watching CGP Grey’s video “The Rules for Rulers“; which makes the case that even autocrats can’t rule without some support.

This is also why I am watching the seizure of luxuries like yachts because they are removing tangible privileges.

See, I told you I’d get past the armaments.

And then there’s social media; the power of words, even if they are just memes or tweets.

Prior to the invasion Putin was seen as powerful. Zelensky was known, but not as well. After the invasion Putin was exposed as out-of-touch, possibly delusional, and untrustworthy. Rather than meet Putin on Putin’s grounds, Zelensky operated on social media. Short, terse, pointed posts and tweets and videos helped rally support that was more than Shares and Likes. Ukraine found itself with volunteers from every aspect of the conflict – except those aspects that were too close to World War III. I appreciate that restraint. 

The tanks, the air force, the sanctions, and the Ukrainians knew, or learned very quickly, that trying to match the Russians directly was a way to lose. They may not win, but they knew to fight this year’s battle with this year’s weapons and attitudes. They aren’t fighting a Cold War that got hot. They aren’t trapped by anachronisms and archaic thinking.

Just like in karate, that first punch might get through or be at least somewhat blocked, but the response is what matters. Use your opponent’s energy against them, and they can defeat themself.

That’s Ukraine. I believe it has revealed something more global.

We now know that a big army does not equate to victory. Smaller can win, or at least stop the fight.

Oligarchs don’t have many fans. When their power structure is threatened, there are millions of allies cheering on the assault. Swap the word oligarch with its Russian connotations for mega-rich and its Western equivalents. Will there be similar support in enough countries when their privileges are assaulted? The Panama Papers already documented a significant level of tax havens, concealed ownerships, and money flows that operate in a different realm outside government control and taxation. Does Bezos think nothing of the comments about his celebration of flying to space? I’m glad we have billionaires funding space travel, commercialization, and colonization; but that feeling doesn’t extend to them flaunting it. Will the exposure of Russian oligarchs create a trend to upsetting other oligarchs? Corporate monopolies?

It is easy to make fun of social media, just a few words, maybe a photo or a video, nothing much. But. “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” That is more memorable than the speeches from the world leaders maneuvering their way around this war. Zelensky is living and acting in the modern world. How many institutions are going to be upset as others learn the power of communicating that way? I struggle with it even as I am aware of writing hundreds of words that some poet could condense into 17 syllables, a tweet, a TikTok expressionistic dance.

The war has highlighted decades-old rhetoric that wasn’t backed up with actions, and which words spoken in new ways can create an alliance around the world. War, climate change, economics, social justice may all find themselves using this conflict as a model for change. This may not be the new normal, but we may be witnessing the old normal passing.

So, I’ll keep watching new ideas rather than old ones. Many somethings or someones that are considered to be too-big-to-fail might prove readily capable of reaching too far, and exposing privileged positions to have less of a foundation that they claimed. 

Interesting times. Thoughtful times. New times.

(For more of my experience in Ukraine read, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, circa 1997.)

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Unwrapping Tea

“In daily life, tea is less pretentious. Tea is practical, pragmatic, and frugal.” And opening a shipment of tea is fun if you order more than one kind at a time. And I did. And I’m glad. And it is a good thing I did because I almost had to – gasp – use a tea bag. And a reminder about frugality.

Seriously. I let my tea supply run so low because I thought I’d drive over to Sequim where I could visit my friends and their tea shop (Dandelion Botanical). OK. It’s an herbal apothecary, but they have tea! But, life got in the way so I had to order online. Alas.

Alas, but when the package arrived I got to unwrap a dozen presents that will I will get to play with and enjoy daily for months. (Mostly, but I’ll get to that.) Christmas presents rarely are that appreciated for that long.

This was not like shopping on Amazon. The box fit. It wasn’t packed so tightly that it would burst, and it wasn’t like a tea bag bumping around in a milk carton. 

Pardon me for losing count, but I’d ordered so many different teas, herbs, and spices that I can’t remember all of them. You see, they do more than sell tea. Remember that ‘herbal apothecary” label? I ordered three teas that were just that, teas, two black teas and a pu-erh. Two massive pouches of mint, massive because mint is light enough to be a mini-pillow, and mint because it can be used in tea, more correctly an infusion, and other concoctions. Some minty vodka may be in my future. Two more spices for herbal tea, though I guess it should be spiced something. One of them sounds like the name of a Bond Girl (throwback alert), Honeybush. And then there were things for cooking: ginger, white peppercorns, cumin, and tarragon. 

I said mostly because, being human, I ordered the wrong ginger (easily fixed with a grinder), and got distracted enough to forget to re-order turmeric. Aargh! I might just have to put in another order.

Next came the part that is unlike Christmas, the repackaging.

Everything arrived in zipped baggies, which is fine for transport, and is actually fine for storage in my case because I am not that picky; but glass jars are better for storage and for reaching in when I want to use some herb. But really, I do it because glass jars aren’t floppy. An herb drawer of baggies isn’t very organized, and looks like something hiding drugs. By the time I was done I was almost out of jars. Time for more canning jars, and I don’t do any canning.

Then comes the experiments that start now and take months. The blending begins. Some will methodically sift and sort and mix and combine. I dump a bunch of this, an equal amount of that, a little less of these two, and maybe some of another. Make a pot of tea. Drink it up. Adjust. None of this sipping to savor and fine tune the flavor. Drink a pot throughout the day. Maybe it is better in the morning, or after it has mellowed through the day. Drink. Adjust. It is hard to go very wrong, and if it does taste bad the total cost is less than a dollar.

Appreciating wine requires refinement and drinking responsibly – and money. The same is true of beer. Doing the same with liquor is self-limiting. Are there taste testings of chocolates and doughnuts? Cigars get the squinty eye treatment. There are probably experts on things like popcorn. Fine.

For those who missed it, almost every year I watch dozens of Super Bowl ads to see what companies are trying to get people to buy. Cars deliver exhilaration, but in reality drivers must stay within the legal limits. Perfume and cologne ads entice with fantasies that involve unrealistic dress codes, bodies, and attitudes. Junk food ads are for cheap food, but not when you consider how much exercise time is required to work off that sugar..

Real teas like Assam and Keemun aren’t brands. They’re regions, places, dead leaves treated well enough to store flavors that only require hot water to unpack in a cup or mug.

Does that sound like hype? Yes, but no. Tea is dead leaves in hot water. After a few minutes it becomes a drink that doesn’t come in a wrapper with a cute saying attached. I suspect the majority of tea is consumed without the flavor being noticed. It is a cup of tea sitting beside someone who is working or having a meal. Work and the meal is more important.

But consider how many other things we’re sold that are expensive and readily forgotten. How many trips to the store are for retail therapy, which makes spending money the goal regardless of what is bought? 

Frugality can be the simple yet difficult act of appreciating something for what it is, appreciating resources for what they can really deliver. I’m sure most people don’t have my reaction to a shipment of dead plants parts. That’s fine. But for the next few months I get to enjoy something a little different that doesn’t cost much, that is a unique experience.

PS

I gotta get me some more turmeric, though. Oh, maybe I can order up the powdered ginger, and take another look at my spice collection. And then there are the flavored teas, but that will be a different story about a different friend who also sells teas. So much to look forward to. Lets see, that web site is https://dandelionbotanical.com/. Surprisingly, I don’t have it bookmarked.

PPS

My book about tea is coming along. Stay tuned. I hope to finish it this year. Follow #TomTea on Twitter for random tea-related comments.

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Not Doing Nothing

Do. Do. Do. Do. Do. Do. Do. Not. Oops. Doing, again. Sigh. In today’s work world it can be hard to stop the do do. Something must be done about that.

I’ve been doing a lot lately. ‘Lately’ refers to the last twelve years. Things are better than they were about eight years ago when I was working seven days a week, usually at least ten hours a day, with about one day off every four months. Yep. That happened. (My Rule Of 7) Lately I’ve only been working about six days a week and with more reasonable hours, yet I need a break. 

I remember talking to a shop owner about taking time off. We laughed. I recalled working a 40 hour work week with two days off every week, three weeks off a year – and getting paid to do nothing. She thought it was a joke, and quickly realized that it shouldn’t be. Despite her efforts, her business closed within a couple of years. It would be nice to know that lots of work led to more than enough compensation, but there are no guarantees.

The good news is that I am old enough to recognize when it is time for me to take some time off. Well, almost. I usually recognize that I need time off about a week after I should take a vacation. But hey, at least I finally notice. That’s an achievement.

Last week I noticed the signs: tight muscles, eye strain, muscles that want to move but must sit in one place for just another hour or three as the fingers work on the keyboard. OK. OK. I’ll take some time off.

Ah, but some things have to be done as soon as they are ready. Want to buy a house? That’s a limited time offer in this market. (required disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/). I have four publications in work, and each has its own timing. The lawn must be mowed in the dry windows between storms. My photo essays require photos from every month, no excuses for bad weather or lighting. 

No. No! NO! I’m going to take some time off. Ah, but there’s a company meeting and then there’s a class, and – doing becomes such a habit that not doing becomes something that requires practice.

Most people I know are energetic people. Even the people who are sitting on the couch watching shows are usually also doing art work or exercising at the same time. Freshly retired people find enough deferred tasks to tackle to fill about a year, but eventually there can be a sheepish moment when they realize they can take some time off without abandoning a project. (Pets and gardens can be temporarily tended by others. Really.)

The idea of doing nothing can almost feel like a threat.

I keep hearing news items about lazy people, but I don’t know any.

Here’s my solution. You’re reading it. When I finally realize that taking time off is no longer optional, I cheat. If I am taking more than a day off I spend the first day tending my guilt and my work anxiety. I take one small aspect of each job, touch on it enough to accomplish something, and move on. No expectations. No grand effort. Just do enough to keep the dust from settling. And move on to the next until that transition has transited.

A friend had a heart attack. Did that catch your attention? It caught mine. 

It is hard to find the balance between doing and not doing when the doing hasn’t produced enough to fund the not doing. The pandemic made that even harder. The entrepreneurial life has always been known for its lack of guarantees of getting paid for the work that is done. A two year hiatus hasn’t helped. I suspect I am not alone in having spent the last two years working, and having the energy needed just as life is trying to come back to normal. 

Is this the time to take time off, or is it the time to push just a bit more for a bit longer?

There is no one answer. 

Partly inspired by my friend’s situation, I’m taking some time off, just a day or so because there’s a major work item due next week, but I and others are hoping for work finally working, doing leading to being able to do nothing, at least for a while without guilt and maybe even with some ease.

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Catching Falling Knives

Apologies to anyone who expected to read about an attempt at juggling. This is duller than that, but can be more important. “Catching a falling knife” is one way to describe buying a stock that’s share price has been falling. Congratulations, you caught it! Ouch. It is safer to pick up a kitchen knife after it has hit the kitchen floor. Trying to catch it too soon can be too painful. Doing the same thing with stocks is more difficult because there’s no real floor (stocks rarely reach $0.00), but fortunately there’s no blood lost, only money. Catching a falling knife, or not, is one of those investment decisions with no clear answer. Here’s how I almost bought a stock this week but didn’t because I’m trying to decide where the floor is.

Thanks to some conservative money management, I have enough discretionary cash to round out one of my portfolio’s positions (buying enough shares to bring the total to a number that’s easier to remember and manage.) My next target was and is Solar Windows (WNDW), a company that makes transparent solar panels. Transparent panels mean solar panels aren’t limited to rooftops, acreage, or special structures. Transparent solar panels may be handy and appealing for residences, but they are even more effective on buildings with more glass like office buildings and greenhouses.

Let me check the price of oil as I type. (NASDAQ – Crude Oil (CL:NMX) = $102.98)

NASDAQ.com

Every rise in the price of fossil fuels tips the balance towards renewable energies. About the time I bought my first shares of WNDW the price of oil had risen from ~$60 to ~$80. At the beginning of March oil was priced at over $120. The price has come down, though not in direct correlation with pump prices, but it reflects the volatility and vulnerability of commodity pricing. Solar power isn’t as sensitive. Enabling technologies should be in demand.

This week WNDW closed at $2.84, down from the $4.96 I paid in November, down from the 25-week high of $16.55. Eep.

Google.com – finance

A pessimist can look at a fall from $16 to $3 and say it is going to continue to fall.

An optimist can look at a fall from $16 to $3 and say it is bound to go back up.

They are both guessing. They may be making intelligent guesses, but they are guessing. So am I.

I was prepared to buy a few hundred shares, thought about falling knives, and decided to wait.

While this is happening, I’ve been watching another stock fall and then rebound, MVIS. (Yes, that one again.) Within the last twelve months it has fallen from $28 to a low of $2.61 about two months ago. I thought about buying then, but didn’t buy. 1) I already have a large enough number of shares that I could re-retire if it rose enough past that $28 point. 2) I didn’t know how far the knife could fall. 3) A more prudent approach might be to have a more balanced and diversified portfolio. All logical reasons. MVIS has risen to $4.60, a 76% gain in two months. Logically, any investment that beats the market is a good investment; so, by that measure I made a mistake.

I also put MVIS in a broader perspective. Two years ago MVIS was priced at under $0.20. Throughout that time there has been no positive, significant, quantifiable progress that correlates with a price going from $0.15 to over $28 to $2.61 to $4.60. That’s the market. There are rationalizations for the moves, but nothing objectively demonstrable.

Google.com – finance

Within the last two years WNDW has risen from ~$1.40 to a peak of over $34 to its bumpy falling knife trend to today’s $2.84. Pardon the copy and paste but… Throughout that time there has been no positive, significant, quantifiable progress that correlates with those prices… That’s the market. There are rationalizations for the moves, but nothing objectively demonstrable.

Stocks are bouncy. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be realistic investments, at least in our economic system. Buying into an irrationally optimistic rise is more dangerous than buying into an irrationally pessimistic fall. Booms and busts are common. Booms and busts are only identifiable in retrospect. For purely mechanical reasons I failed to buy Bitcoin at ~$220, and that was after a rise from ~$20. It is now over $41,600. Buy my book (Dream. Invest. Live., the basis for this blog) for details on a few purchases that went bankrupt, where ever-more-affordable prices were a knife I kept catching, unfortunately.

The biggest losses I’ve made were by not buying more, not by selling too late. I’ve lost tens of thousands by selling one stock too late (DNDN, et al), but I’ve missed out on millions (SBUX, et al) by not buying more of another stock. Neither was obvious at the time.

Writing about most topics benefits from strong, simple, declarative statements. They make the writer sound confident and assured, and can provide the reader with the same feeling, at least vicariously. The truth is messier. Falling knives are messy and risky.

I don’t expect WNDW to fall like a knife, hit the floor, and let me casually pick it up. Especially with stocks based on speculations about future revenues the valuations can vary widely, quickly, and dramatically. Neither WNDW nor MVIS have proven earnings that meet or exceed their company’s potential, in my opinion. A projector in every phone and home? Solar windows dramatically reducing fossil fuel dependence while improving utility costs, sustainability and reliability? Sure. Both are possible. Whether they are probable will only be tested in the real world and in time.

I will probably buy more WNDW next week. While it might be more prudent to wait until the knife is done falling, I also don’t want to miss a bounce that is actually a return to earlier valuations. In those two years companies, technologies, and global circumstances have shifted in favor of both companies. Whether I catch a stock at $2.60 or $4.60 doesn’t matter much if it subsequently is worth $28 or $34 or more. I miss the optimization, but a ten-fold increase is called profit. The rest is details, bragging rights at parties.

Listen to the caveats included with ads from financial firms describing investments. Investing includes risk of loss. Investing also includes the possibility of gains. If those gains are in companies that improve the world, and those stocks are most affordable before they’ve proven themselves, then those are opportunities that let my money help me live a lifestyle in a world with a surplus of uncertainties.

Stay tuned, and be careful out there. I know I will be.

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Taxes Stocks Electric Cars

OK. There’s so much going on that it has been hard to know where to start. So, pardon me as I literally roll up my sleeves. I didn’t need to roll them up, but that act let me think a little more before the typing begins. The world has gone weird. Today has also been weird for my personal finances, not all good or bad, but weird. Weird taxes. Weird stocks. Weird technology. And like most people, the weird world is affecting personal finances. Have you seen the hurt people are feeling to fill their tank? That gets touched, too.

Today I got the yearly call from a professional that has to start with paragraphs of caveats, clarifications, and questions. The suspense isn’t calming, but my tax accountant called to make sure she got the numbers and forms right. She couldn’t tell me the final number until she understood all of the details of my 2021 finances. In the end, she gave me good and weird news.

You can feel sorry for her. When I was retired my taxes were simple. One or two stock trades a year, nothing fancy, and I could fill out my taxes myself. After a while I started selling photos and books, so I stepped up to TurboTax, just to make sure. After I became a real estate broker (required disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/ ) my list of jobs, or as friends call it my “lines in the water” (Real Estate Broker, Consultant, Writer, Speaker, Teacher, Photographer, Engineer, Entrepreneur, etc.) got long enough that I gave up and called in a professional. Oh yeah, and there was a modified pension, early withdrawals from my IRA, Social Security, and an emergency Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC). Oh yeah, and the regular stuff like health insurance, subsidies. It’s a ridiculous list. It was even more ridiculous because of the pandemic with its impact on my business slightly balanced with some stimulus checks, and aargh! 

My taxes are no longer simple, which is ironic because almost all of the work is proving that I didn’t make much money in any of the categories. I think there’s bait on those lines in the water; but sometimes think there’s no bait on the hooks, or maybe not even any hooks. 

When I lived off stock trades my tax rate was almost zero because I could balance gains against losses, and spent so little because I was frugal by choice before I was frugal by necessity. 

When I was re-retired my income rose to where it was almost paying all of my bills for that frugal lifestyle, and I was startled to see my entrepreneurial efforts kicked up my income tax. It wasn’t because I had too much income. My taxes were higher because I had to pay a self-employment tax. Working hard to make my way was making my taxes higher and more complex. 

Skip ahead to 2021 with a mess of accounts and unexpected changes, and she calculated that I will be getting back a few thousand dollars. Huh? Wha? Evidently, various subsidies and personally conservative accounting practices meant that, even with essentially only paying state business taxes I will be getting back a bunch of money. Put that checkbook back into my pocket – after paying her a well-deserved fee. If I’d filled out my taxes and got a result like that I would’ve guessed I did something wrong.

Federal taxes may follow some version of cause and effect, but they do not correlate with work harder, pay your dues, and know that the more you make the more you pay. I’m not complaining, but if I shake my head too much I might have to pay for a massage treatment because of a sore neck. Of course, I will be able to afford that.

I’ll get back to that story, but first I have to tell you this one, too.

I buy stocks. For most of my readers that is not news, but there are always new readers. This blog is old enough to drive and vote, and is based on my book, Dream. Invest. Live. The fundamentals of my approach to frugal finance are in there. This blog is about the more daily details. 

Driving is part of being a real estate broker. The price of gas is hard to ignore. The war (or whatever Orwellian propaganda phrase is being used) drove up the price of gas. Bummer (major understatement all around) but supply and demand and sentiment drive prices in familiar, though unpredictable ways. Ah, but those clever (and rich enough) folks who could afford an electric vehicle aren’t directly affected. Hence, one of my investments. 

Recently I bought stock in an electric vehicle manufacturer, Elecrameccanica ($SOLO). It was only a small position. Start small. Learn more. Buy more if feasible. Monday I decided to squeeze a bit more out of my IRA and add to that position. Log in. Check the price. Check the cash balance. And watch the OCD part of me decide to wait until Tuesday because I was $11 shy of being able to buy just enough to make my holding a nice round number of shares. Tuesday the stock goes up, again. Grump. Tuesday night I decide to loosen up and buy the shares from money held in reserve for things like taxes. I probably had enough for taxes, but if not, there’s my Home Equity Line Of Credit. Wednesday morning buy the stock – which promptly goes down.

Just to keep the weirdness going, the electric vehicle (called the SOLO), is an enclosed three-wheeled – vehicle? that sits in that style desert between motorcycles and sedans. I think it is innovative and interesting. Others may think it is too weird. But, with gas prices setting records, weird might be just right; especially because the price is about half that of most cheap new cars. A new SOLO is cheaper than my used 2016 Jeep. I think they’d make an interesting pair but: 1) I don’t need a Jeep and a SOLO, 2) I need the Jeep for several reasons, but only want the SOLO, 3) whatever emissions I could save by buying an electric vehicle is probably offset by the extra materials needed to make another vehicle. Besides, my higher priority is replacing my old two-wheeled human-powered vehicle with a newer two-wheeled human-powered vehicle, and No, I am Not replacing the human. 

So, I buy the stock; and watch the price come down. Grumble. Despite that I want to rebuild my portfolio, and instead of having to go into debt to pay a few thousand dollars in taxes, I will be getting a refund that will let me pay off some debts, reinvest the money, and maybe get that bicycle. (Don’t worry. I’m frugal enough that I’ll probably wait for a sale, and sales for items in short supply like bicycles won’t be common in this economy.)

Almost everyone is watching history, while millions are too intimately experiencing its reality. The pandemic inspired changes. Give people two years of chaos to consider their options and we create the #GreatResignation, et al. Now, as if the world wasn’t weird enough, a war that is ridiculous even for a war has possibly done more to undermine oligarchs, tax havens, and anachronistic institutions. A year from now will probably be how long it takes for us to recognize hints of the New Normal. I don’t know if it will be a world of three-wheeled electric vehicles, or projectors embedded in smartphones, or major financial and investment reforms; but I suspect that yet again I’ll box up a private world of weirdness and deliver it to a professional who actually thrives in the world of taxes; and I’ll wait for that suspenseful call with checkbook in hand, just in case.

What a weird world it is. Congratulations to all who manage to maneuver their way through it.

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