My Healthcare Plan For 2021

For folks in Washington State (and probably other places, too) it is that time of year to pick a healthcare plan for 2021. At least that’s true for people using the Washington State health insurance marketplace. The entire process took me less than thirty minutes, as far as the state is concerned. Great. That’s the insurance policy. My real healthcare plan costs less and has been far more valuable for several years.

First, don’t make the mistake I made last year that stretched into early this year. I trusted and misread the various emails and letters I received thinking I didn’t have to do a thing because everything would carry over. For a bit of that fiasco, read Health Insurance Confusion 2019-2020-. My personal remembrance was that my mistakes in dealing with health insurance companies and the health insurance marketplace was unhealthy. It was eventually successful, but the extra costs in money, time, and stress were expensive.

This year, selecting an insurance plan for next year I decided to make a change. Ironically, while real estate prices are rising (I’m a broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. – required disclosure), it is because inventory is falling – at least on Whidbey Island. Each sale can be more profitable, but there are fewer sales. Currently, the number of brokers exceeds the number of listings by about a factor of three. Those listings where sixteen offers are submitted mean a potentially good day for the seller, their broker, and one of those buyers and their broker; and fifteen pairs of buyers and brokers who pull back and wait for the next listing, possibly competing with the same crowd minus one. I’ve had a better year than many, but I’m not taking that for granted. So, I must reduce my monthly expenses. The irony is that, because of a health care crisis, I have to cut back on my health insurance expenses.

There’s good news. Changing my insurance plan only took about that half hour I mentioned above, and that included on conversation via Chat and one call to a real conversation at Washington Healthplan Finder. I think, I think, I’ve now reduced my monthly premium by about $300 or $400 per month. That happened by raising my deductible from $1,150 to $6,000, as well as paying out of pocket for more on the copays and prescriptions.

The comparison between the old and the new plans was easy. Thinking back over the last four years, and further, my total copays and prescriptions through the healthcare provider associated with the health insurance company was – let me run the numbers again – zero. Zero. My experiences with that health care provider and conventional health care have been so traumatic that I no longer use their services. I continue to carry insurance because: 1) accidents happen, and 2) insurance is required.

Yet again, another insurance policy that I’m required to pay for but that is effectively useless. Health, house, and car insurance have been a greater expense that what I’ve spent on healthcare, house maintenance and repair, and maybe truck repairs. (That last one is close because the truck is 20 years old, though the house is 56 years old, and I’m older than both of them.) I can’t cut back much more on house and car insurance, but I can at least cut back on health insurance, and that’s only because subsidies will pay the rest. Without subsidies, I wouldn’t have any health insurance.

Over $1,000 per month for insurance is ridiculous. Imagine instead, paying a health care provider that much per month. That would be great health care.

Imagine instead, paying a health care provider something more like $100 per month, getting a professional who spends thirty minutes per appointment or more as necessary, being able to work with them more than once a month, and working on treatments that are specific to my lifestyle, my finances, and my history. That is welcome and healthy considering the rare ten minute consultation when so little background and understanding are available that the main treatments are based generalities, stereotypes, and assuming every patient is essentially the same.

Working outside the health insurance company’s healthcare provider also means eliminating a lot of insurance and corporate paperwork, and the subsequent negotiations with insurance and corporate bureaucracies. Unhealthy experiences, at least for me.

Health insurance is not an insurance of health. Health insurance is not health care.

At least in my experience, conventional health care is centered on how I am going to die, while a more personal approach can be about how I am going to live.

I am fortunate. I’ve mentioned my health care provider before Water’s Edge Wellness Center in Langley, WA. They operate from a business model that sounds radical and innovative, but I suspect it is more similar to the way doctors worked fifty years ago. One difference is that, instead of paying per visit, I pay per month. Because of my financial constraints (and my frugality), we work from supplements and tests that rarely cost more than that monthly premium. Compare that to just the subsidy I receive, which is seven to ten times higher (depending on how it is calculated.)

Water’s Edge’s business model can probably be replicated. That’s one reason I write this post. I think… I know their business model and caring approach are better than any health care plan I’ve experienced in twenty years. Prior to that I had an impressive health care plan while I was an engineer at Boeing, but that was back in the era of personal ignorance of medical costs, and even then the visits were corporate.

I’m glad I live in Washington State because it has such things as a Healthplan Finder, and people who support it well. I’m also glad I live in a state that is taking Covid seriously. Because of Covid and life in general, someday I might need the full suite of services of a hospital and whichever doctor they assign me (my previous preferred provider left them.) That’s why I keep the insurance. But lately, health insurance has become all expense and no benefit; while my health care has been the most beneficial and the least expensive I’ve experienced.

Good ideas happen. Innovations succeed. Such ideas deserve to be spread around. I’m glad someone was willing to try. I’m a lot healthier because of it. (And am also old enough to have had an interesting enough life that there’s plenty to work on. Now, about that hyper-extended knee, and the compressed disk, and pandemic-dictated restrictions on exercise like dancing. Hmm. Plenty to work on.)

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What Has Not Changed

OK, peoples. I purposely took four days off from work, largely for medical reasons (busy, busy); purposely did so over Election Day because I already voted so there was nothing I could do about the outcome; didn’t really get any time off (real estate is that busy on Whidbey Island); and checked back in to social media and the news to learn that we do not know who has won in too many races. The political situation will change. But comparing the news before and after my election hiatus taught me how little has changed.

For those who are late to my blog, it is based on my book about personal finance, Dream. Invest. Live. I should’ve subtitled it something like Personal Finance for Frugal Folk. The book was published as the economy crashed in November 2008. November 2008. The first post on the original blog was circa election night, 2008, the night Barack Obama was elected. I’d like to link to that post but that blog went away when Apple quit supporting the blog software. Allow me to paraphrase a memory of one line;

“And now the work begins.”

Celebrations are great, and change is the only constant; but waiting for the change can take too long.

Personal finance in our economy requires people to make assumptions about the economy, finance, society, culture, and the world in general. Personal finance plans need to adapt to changes in those influences. What has and has not changed since that election twelve years ago, since my ill-timed book was published?

Economy & Finance

The prominent NASDAQ index fell from just under 3,000 to about half that within a few weeks. Now, the NASDAQ is just below 12,000, a four-fold increase. In retrospect, yet again, a simple index fund could have done very well.

Mortgage rates were ~6%, now they’re ~3%; both of which are far lower than the terrible times of the early 80s.

US unemployment went from ~5% to ~10%, during the long recovery gradually fell to ~3.5%, and recently spiked up to then back down from ~15%.

Of the three, arguably jobs have been the most chaotic.

But.

Primarily because of Covid, there are worries that a wide swath of businesses and hence employment are at threat as stimulus packages fade. Increased government debt is worrisome in the long term.

Regardless of Covid, wealth inequality continues to rise, further fracturing society. Several governments and banks are responding to wealth that is being accumulated and kept out of the economy by instituting negative interest rates. In some places that’s led to negative mortgage rates. Negative rates can scare economists that are worried about deflation because deflation is harder to manage that inflation.

Society and Culture

How people live, think, and feel is hard to quantify. Society and culture are basically subjective characteristics of our civilization. It is relatively easy to suggest that progress is being made, most readily visible in the greater variety of people recently elected to office. It is also clear that injustices are as egregious as ever. The main thing that may have changed is the transparency of the situation. Videos may be doing for social justice what independent war correspondent footage did for our awareness of the inhumanity of war.

Technology

Those videos are happening more frequently because we no longer need to rely on a limited population of correspondents. The smartphone, sites like YouTube, social media, and better internet speeds now mean news has fewer gateways to pass through. It also means there’s a lower percentage of fact checking, a decrease in privacy, and a fascinated audience.

People are cancelling their land lines. Cable companies are now competing with free content. And yet, media companies are cordoning off their content behind paywalls. You can watch any movie you want, as long as you can afford it.

The internet has graduated from luxury to necessity.

Energy

Solar panels have advanced from curiosity to inefficient luxury to pragmatic and economic preference. The power grid is decentralizing. It is now cheaper at the utility level as well, to build power plants based on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.

Electric cars are becoming so common that they don’t grab the attention they did when the industry was new.

LED lights are so efficient that the debate over incandescent lights is being negated by lights that are cooler to touch, last long, and can run off batteries, no wiring required.

Climate Change

The climate continues to change. Sadly, as predicted, the change is accelerated. Also sadly, the conservative estimates discussed over a decade ago proved to be too conservative. It was difficult to discuss nominal or worst case scenarios because they sounded too extreme. Now we’re finding the changes are happening sooner than expected and it appears unknown feedback loops are accelerating the change. Look to Siberia that recently hit 100F. So much for that old stereotype.

The public’s perception of the change has changed. Now that the effects are becoming more apparent, people are beginning to react, but it may be too little too late.

Pandemic

Health professionals around the world have always been fighting pandemics, and were so good at it that few of us were affected or even aware. And yet, a review of the literature reveals their worries that a bigger pandemic was likely. The scary part is that many of today’s defenders fear that Covid-19 is a practice pandemic – serious, very serious, but not as bad as a pandemic that has a higher fatality rate, is more contagious, and is discovered too late. One consequence of having almost eight billion people on the planet.

Me

Me? I’d be amazed at anyone who has read every post in this blog. Currently, that’s about one million words. If you try it, make sure your eyes get a break, regularly.

What hasn’t changed

What hasn’t changed is that change is accelerating, but if trying to understand every shift, retreat, and advance is too difficult, then focus on those things that haven’t changed.

While some of the details I described in my book have changed (hence the sequel that I am working on), some of the frugal elements remain; Spend less than you make. Invest the rest.

While the world is in turmoil, it still makes sense to Thinking globally. Act locally.

While it seems like there’s an infinity of divisiveness, there’s still the Golden Rule; Treat others as you wish they’d treat you. Or as I put it; Treat people as if they are people, because that is one thing we have in common. No other labels need to be applied.

PS

Of those four days I tried to take off, one went to a long list of household chores, one went to a marathon writing/editing session for the sci-fi novel I’m writing; which left two days off, which went to a couple of twelve hour days working real estate as clients try to get things done before the end of the year. (Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. in Clinton, WA on Whidbey Island.) So, maybe I’ll take Sunday off?

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Do Not Wait Live

Are you still waiting? It’s the week before the US election. There’s a lot of waiting going on. People are waiting for the election, ah, the Electoral College, ah, the start of the new year, ah, the Inauguration, ah, the first 100 Days (assuming a peaceful enough resolution and conclusion to the election), ah… Add them all up and find yourself at April 10, 2021. Look back to April 2020. What were we waiting for then? With infinite time and immortality, waiting forever can work. Mere mortals can only wait a finite amount of time. At some point it makes sense to get back to living.

I can’t say that I’m immune to waiting. Sometimes it is necessary to follow that phrase from Sun Tzu (paraphrased from The Art of War); “Only move when it is to your advantage to do so.” If it isn’t to your advantage, then wait until it is to your advantage. But there are limits to that. If what you’re waiting for is never going to happen, then you’re trading living for waiting for nothing.

Many people are waiting. Waiting for political shifts. Waiting for economic shifts. Waiting for pandemics to shift. Waiting for things to shift or be shifted.

Think back six months. An impeachment had no effective change in politics. The economy was shifting, yet since then the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. The pandemic, which was hopefully only going to last a few months was now obviously only getting started.

US politics may settle down in a week, but I don’t expect that. The economy won’t stabilize for quarters or years because the pandemic doesn’t seem to be going away, any vaccine seems to be something that will take a long time to administer, and people continue to not wear masks.

Few expect things to get back to normal, but a new normal isn’t going to be delivered on one day in one announcement for everyone. The new normal will be defined by those who do something more than wait – and they may not realize they’re doing it.

For the last six months we’ve been experimenting with new lifestyles. First, the idea of staying home was like an unpaid and uncertain staycation. Now, we’re redefining work, and school, and socializing. A few weeks of adaptations could easily be rewound. A few months have revealed real reasons to accept new ways to work, learn, and meet. Maybe waiting through those times made sense, but those changes happened because some people didn’t wait. Either they couldn’t or they decided not to.

It is easy to imagine almost every aspect of life continuing to change for the next several months, and maybe years. Waiting might have felt fine for a while, but wait too long and it gets to become difficult to move.

Throughout this post I’ve used the word “you”. I really meant “me”. I could argue that I’m not waiting. My work schedule certainly hasn’t consisted of just waiting; neither has my writing routine. But I’m recognizing that I should take some time and consider what changes I have avoided because I was waiting for something to change.

I’m old enough that it is apparent that there are a finite number of seasons left. I haven’t hiked or skied much for the last few years. Not a problem for someone in their twenties. But, even if I live thirty more years, I don’t know how many of them I’ll be able to hike, or ski, or dance, or whatever. My knees are already vetoing some excursions. Rather than waiting for them to recover, I’m shifting to other exercises like walking and bicycling. If finances improve enough, maybe I’ll add rowing and sailing.

It’s happening in investing. The markets are uncertain. Maybe it makes sense to wait for things to settle down. Ah, if you haven’t noticed, the markets are always uncertain. A good investment strategy is probably still a good investment strategy; if not, maybe it is not a good investment strategy.

It’s happening in real estate (required disclosure: I’m a broker with Dalton Realty, Inc.). People don’t want to move until it is to their advantage to do so. But the advantage expected six months ago may never happen. Instead of moving from one house to another similar house, it might be time to consider moving from a house to an RV, or a boat, or to a property that is defined more by what projects can be tackled. Instead of a condo, how about a house with a garden? Instead of a house with a garden, how about a place with room for building things, or growing crops, or tending livestock, or finally creating a personal retreat?

I challenge myself to consider what I could do if I sold my house. At least on Whidbey Island, small houses on small lots sell relatively quickly. Mine even has a view and is in a neighborhood with a marina. As a real estate broker it is easier for me to estimate how much I’d make. With that much, could I try a new lifestyle, one that is better suited for such an uncertain world, or am I already in the right place for such a situation? (A thought work in progress.)

the view from my house – power lines, deer, Cultus Bay, Olympic Mountains, and a bit of the universe

Conventional jobs, in conventional offices, for conventional pay and benefits are no longer conventional. Unfortunately, we can’t know what the new conventions will be. We have to define them, and lives must be lived in the meantime.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Six months from now, most people will be living where they’re living now, they’ll be in the same jobs, they’ll probably be in the same schools. We might still be wearing masks and missing personal social contact. (How long until we can hug each other, again?)

The only constant is change. While many accept that, the rate of change is accelerating, with harder ratchets clicking in behind us as we leave behind conventions that are becoming anachronisms.

Some reasons to change, now, instead of waiting: interest rates are low, there are so few houses for sale that new listings can get more attention, as businesses are disrupted new opportunities are produced, innovation will probably rule over convention, and people are eager for answers.

Waiting is time. Time is irreplaceable. Time is precious. Waiting is spending something irreplaceable and precious. Only move when it is to your advantage; but not moving sometimes means spending something without gaining something in return. Move when it is to your advantage to do so; but keep in mind that not moving isn’t free, spends something valuable, and may miss opportunities that can’t be seen without a change in perspective. Live.

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Friends In Tea Places

It is good to have friends in tea places. It’s also good to have friends in high places, which can either be powerful, spiritual, or recreational (as in recreational marijuana). I do have friends in each of those spheres, but none can frugally deliver a bit of flavor to my mailbox. My supply of loose leaf tea was diminishing. My resupply arrived, just in time. Winter weather is trying to arrive, as well. Forget tea bags. The months ahead are going to require pots of camellia sinensis, black tea.

Why not just use tea bags? They’re convenient, tidy, readily available, and reasonably inexpensive compared to other caffeine options like coffee or soda.

Don’t ask a tea connoisseur about such choices. Loose leaf versus tea in a bag? Leaves of tea that are recognizable as leaves grown from a plant versus something that can look like sawdust trapped in a tiny pouch? Pull up a chair and wait for a long impassioned explanation from them.

I’m not a tea connoisseur. Want proof? I still can’t spell the word without help from spell check. ‘Tea’ I can spell. ‘Connoiseur’? We’ve got to find a better word for that.

I’m a fan of tea, as much from frugality as flavor. Thank Starbucks for that.

Starbucks introduced me to tea in about 1980. Boeing hired me after I graduated from college, helped me move across the country from Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech (VPI&SU at the time). I knew no one. Had nothing else to do. Hadn’t discovered what hiking really could be like. So, bored and curious, on the weekends I’d drive from Everett near the 747 plant to Pike Place Market. There, there was a slice of a store squeezed into a gap between a couple of other stores, their names forgotten by me by now.

Before Starbucks bought Tazo? So long ago.

That store, which is still there, was crowded. Coffee? Sure, but equally tea and spices. Don’t forget the spices.

All I wanted was a cup of tea. I drank a lot of tea in college. Aerospace (and Ocean) Engineering was the sort of curriculum that kept me studying past 2AM with early morning classes a few hours later. Coffee cost too much. Pop (soda) was sticky. All I expected was a tea bag dumped into hot water. Nope. With a line behind me, the person behind the counter (who wasn’t called a barista because no one used that word) explained how to use loose leaf tea, the strainer, the timer, and the counter by the window where I could watch the tourists while my tea steeped. Hooked.

Tea in a bag is also someone’s idea of how much, what kind, what blend, how big your cup should be, what materials you want to dunk into something you’re going to drink, etc. Don’t worry. They’ll take care of you. But, do they know you?

Or.

Loose leaf tea is friendly to frugal people.

Today might need more or less tea. In 2020, cranking it up to almost espresso strength can seem like a fine idea. The amount I use is determined by whether I’m filling a cup, a mug, a thermos, or an entire pot. Adjust as desired if someone else will partake, too.

Then, use the leaves again. Using the same leaves twice or thrice can be just as nice, if the tea leaves are high enough quality. Each steeping means less caffeine, too. A full strength pot in the morning can lead to a bit of less-caffeinated tea in the afternoon. Or, in the right weather, drop the leaves into a jar and make sun tea.

While at Boeing I worked with someone from east Asia. They erased my ideas of how to drink tea. Black tea for 4 minutes or 90 seconds for green? The right mug? Ha! They drank tea sent over by their family from their tea farm (not a plantation). Three or four rolled up leaves, like little green ball bearings, dropped into a glass tumbler of hot water. No dainty little handle. No insulation. Somehow they carried around a hot glass from meeting to meeting. Each leaf eventually expanded into a full leaf a few inches long, not bits and pieces. When the glass was empty, more hot water on the same leaves. Repeat as necessary. Only get rid of those three or four leaves at the end of the day.

Loose leaf tea loosens restrictions. Use as you will. I do.

More than a winter’s supply, I hope

Take a look at the packaging. Five packages delivered in a couple of boxes. No tiny tea bags. No inner sleeves. No tags or strings. No staples or glue. I’ll drop the contents into airtight glass containers that I’ll store in a cupboard. Nothing fancy, yet sufficient. Buy the same amount of tea in bags from a major retailer and watch the postal carrier carry a bigger box that won’t fit in the mailbox and probably also includes plastic peanuts. Tea leaves aren’t that fragile.

Frugality is about choices. Learning more about the things I enjoy and use helps me understand their fundamentals; and also helps me cut away the excess, the unnecessary.

Take a look at what I bought. Three of them are blends (from Joyful Alchemy on Whidbey Island), but two are straight black teas (from Dandelion Botanical in Sequim, WA), something like a single malt scotch (a much more extravagant topic for later). All for about the same price as bags, and maybe cheaper. If you drink black tea you’re probably drinking either or both of those: Assam and Keemun. ‘Breakfast’ teas are usually a blend of those two, each blend getting a different name like English, Irish, etc. By buying both I can blend my own or go full Assam or full Keemun. Control and exploration for a very small fee.

People who sell tea, especially from local shops, typically also understand flavor, and hence, herbs and spices. Remember those spices at Starbucks mentioned above? I suspect the people working in that shop at that time knew about more than coffee. I definitely know that the shops I order from retain that knowledge about tea, and herbs, and how they can also be used for cooking, tinctures, and other things I don’t understand. They emphasize their customer’s needs instead of the brand’s identity.

Tea lovers know about more than just tea – rows and columns of herbs and spices – and teas

There are whitecaps on the bay. Wind and rain came through, making the lights flicker here on Whidbey Island. I don’t want the power to go out; but if it does, I don’t need to worry about coffee roasters, grinders, percolators, espresso machines, and whatever froths those frothy drinks. Boiling some hot water in a kettle on a camp stove is easy enough. Pour into water and leaves into a pot to steep for a while. Then fill a mug (my hands are too big for a cup), let the warmth work its way through, and watch the storm go by.

Cheers!

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Voting And Living Simpler

They looked at me oddly. I didn’t care. I almost danced to the Ballot Box, dropped in my ballot – and then danced a few steps. I voted! And it was a lot simpler than the various media outlets make it seem; and that includes social media. It hasn’t been easy, trying to live simply when simply living can be a challenge, but sometimes the most important things are the simplest, and the simplest become the most challenging.

Three choices: Mail it inside, mail it outside, or drop it in the Official Ballot Box

No. I’m not going to tell you how I voted. As I’ve written before, I’m an extreme independent moderate, or a moderately extreme independent, or an independently moderate extremist(?). Nah. Not that last one. I think the best way to make progress is to understand the extremes, but gather the most support by finding something more moderate. And I’m moderate because I haven’t found a political party that matches my personal platform.

Besides, if we don’t find what we have in common, we’ll no longer be United. The Untied States of America are closer than most realize. (Nods to a good friend who expanded on my observation.)

I’m also not going to tell you how I voted because: 1) the way to protect privacy and the sanctity of the secret ballot is to respect that secrecy, and 2) one way we may get back together is to concentrate on what needs to be done, not on what we did.

I will however, pass along how I keep it simple.

I’m old; or a least old to most people half my age. Most of my friends consider me young, or at least younger, but I know I’ve lived long enough to know the essence and the roll of the political system in my life. Debates, brochures, town halls, information packets, are all things available every election. Rarely are they as important as one document delivered once: the Voters’ Pamphlet.

Hearing all of the discourse for months or even years makes it sound like this is a tough and important decision. Important? Definitely. Tough? Get real. Really. I open the Washington State Voters’ Pamphlet and like the way it is formatted. This side this page. That side that page. Repeat as necessary. Rarely do I see a narrow distinction between the two sides. Usually it comes down to a few key phrases that the person is proud of, something they emphasize for their side. The politicians make the choice simple. It takes me more time to pick between various obscure referenda and non-partisan positions that who wants to be President of the United States. (emphasis because everyone emphasizes it) I wish the media would spend more time on the topics that require a finer distinction. They may not be as pervasively important, but they’re also more likely to have a direct effect on local issues.

For me, it is similar to what I see when I go shopping. Notice how long it takes to decide what to pick from a menu. Give people enough choices and they can spend more time deciding than eating, all for a short term experience that is quickly – passed by the eater. A meal is perishable, temporary. And yet, some will buy a car or a piece of furniture on an impulse. If food is that important to you, great! But optimizing every meal takes time at every meal. How much time do we have?

I enjoy cooking and eating, a dangerous combination when it is more difficult to exercise. (Oh, I miss dancing; and my waistline proves it.) So, I’ll spend more time planning what I’m going to cook; but picking from a menu? A good chef makes anything on the menu taste good. I trust and respect them and let them spend their time. A privilege I (rarely, lately) pay for. At home, I have fun cooking even with it doesn’t come out perfect. (Perfection? Ha!)

It happens in personal finance, too. People commonly spend more time planning a vacation, another temporary event, than they do planning their career or retirement. The classic example (until 2020) has been couples who spend half a year’s income on a wedding. Sure. Have a good party. Make it memorable. But, it is easier for older folks to understand the impact of investing that much more in their mid-twenties. Compound interest rules! Start with a small event, and enjoy many more and larger ones, later.

For most people, investing can be greatly simplified with regular investments whenever income exceeds expenses for long enough to build a cash reserve. Low-cost mutual funds exist because they can be as successful as many other strategies, but take much less time and maintenance fees. For me, it’s like that cooking analogy. I like buying individual stocks, understanding the companies, and trying to find that better balance between risk and reward. Those people that picked off the simpler menu could’ve exceeded my returns many times. (And yet, I continue because I know for my risk tolerance there are also potentially higher rewards. It’s worked before. And neither has guarantees.)

Part of being frugal is being aware of money and time. Frugal is frequently interpreted as cheap, only concentrating on money. Time is more valuable. Important things don’t have to take a lot of time. A quick decision doesn’t negate the decision’s importance.

I voted. Now, for me, the rest is theater, suspense for sure, horror/thriller possibly, probably not comedy, but almost certainly stranger than fiction.

The real question is, when can we get back to dancing? Maybe I should cue up a musical. Dancing down the sidewalk was fun, but it wasn’t the same without a partner or a soundtrack.

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Dueling Printers

Modern challenges. There are enough of those even without the onslaught that is 2020. Amidst the global and national turmoils, personal lives continue. Even with things locked down, change happens. Change is the only constant. Dealing with something as simple as office equipment has its own set of failures, struggles, and occasionally successes. Because of a job change, I had an office change, which meant having to change some hardware, which meant having to spend some money and some time, which is makes it handier to deal with working from home – and was possibly valuable because it provided a real though small personal success, some control in a life in a world that is otherwise seemingly out of control. All because I bought a printer.

Let’s get the career stuff out of the way. It may be the bigger issue, but as much as I want to concentrate on the small celebration, it also makes sense to pass along the background. I changed brokerages. I don’t expect banners or cheering bands. Simply, I moved my real estate license from a national brand to a local firm. Buy local, eh? Besides, I can bicycle to the office in less than an hour, now. That’s not the main reason (that’s a longer conversation that isn’t necessary to have on this blog), but it is a welcome benefit. I am now a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. a local firm with decades of history on the island. If you’re driving up from the Mukilteo/Clinton ferry, we’re 1.3 miles up the hill and on the left. Look for the historic yellow farmhouse.

The pandemic meant it made more sense to set up a better home office. Fiber-optic internet installed? Yep. Re-arrange the furniture? Done. Lots of stuff stuffed into the attic to make way for more paper. Stuffed. Set up the dusty old printers? Well. Huh. Hmm.

One printer was so old I saw a note that the company doesn’t want to make the ink anymore. Still seems to be available though, so that’s good – for now. I also have another printer that was gifted to me several years ago when someone retired. Amortize the one I bought over ten years and the purchase price comes down to about $20 per year, less than some folks spend on dinner. The other one is a bonus. Thanks, again.

About the ink, though. The ink can cost as much as the printer if the printer is used a lot, or the cartridges aren’t used enough to keep from drying out. This is no surprise to many folks. My solution was to print from anywhere else because using the ink was expensive and not using the ink meant having to buy new cartridges for just a few pages which is expensive. Thank you Sno-Isle Library System for letting me print stuff when money was the tightest. That’s also why I watch many people show up for work simply to use the printer. When I really needed good prints, I used professional services, anyway. (I shopped local for that, too. Fine Balance Imaging now known as Feather and Fox Print Co.)

Ah, but there are unofficial, supposedly generic, print cartridges that should work. A printer is a mechanical device with some logic built in. Why not go discount when trying to build a business and a career? The reason why not is that the companies making the printers can set things up that the printer may not accept the cartridges that aren’t theirs. So much for supporting small businesses. But, money was tight and risks had to be taken.

Something went wrong. First one printer, then the other failed. Help desks, forums, documentation, nothing brought them back. I won’t relay the details because there are too many, and why would I want to relive those anxieties?

A new set of full-price, official, company-approved, printer-documentation recommended cartridges bought and installed. No good. Even the new cartridges weren’t enough to appease the offended printers. Two printers out of commission while the pandemic arrives and emphasizes my need to print.

The total cost of buying ink to try to revive the printers was the cost of a new printer.

Wake up and smell the ink.

My main business computers are Chromebooks. They’re cheap, er, inexpensive; and do almost everything full-service computers can do – as long as the Chromebook is connected to the internet. Handy having that fiberoptic service, eh?

So, I took the risk and bought a new printer, something that is supposedly compatible with something as new as a Chromebook. About $260, with ink. I admit to being anxious about it. Would it fail, too?

The unboxing and the assembly went well enough. Whew. Now, to connect it to…what? Instead of a cable running from the printer to the computer, this one is so new it relied on wi-fi. Cool. OK. How do I type in a wi-fi password on a numeric keyboard? Ah. Lots of hit this button then hit that button while squinting at tiny characters in a dim part of the office. Ten tries later I gave up. Ten minutes later I tried again. Two tries later something, and I don’t even know what that something was, something worked. I sat back, stared at the innocuously correct printed page, and didn’t want to touch anything, not the cables, the buttons, the chassis. A half hour later I printed another test page, accumulated my courage, and slid the whole thing into its place in the furniture.

One way to fix a problem with an HP printer? Buy one from Canon.

That was celebration number 1.

That left me with two questionable printers and a desk at the office with no convenient way to print. They have printers, but sometimes it is very handy to have one within arm’s reach.

I was done buying more ink. If I could get them to work with the old cartridges, great; otherwise, off to the recycler.

One printer had unopened official cartridges. I broke the seal, cleaned and installed them, and got the same error message from before. After more than an hour I realized that the place where the cartridges lived was broken. I’d been spending money by following the documentation, help screens, forums, and whatever because they had a stock, default response. Buy more ink. There’s a good chance I spent over a hundred dollars trying to fix something that not only couldn’t be fixed, but that was incorrectly diagnosed by the official sources. Grumble, to say the least.

This did not make trying the second one very appealing. Set it all aside. Go away for a couple of days, then try again. At the start, no progress. Several tries, no progress. Then, I’ll give credit to HP for having an online app that could try to diagnose and fix this one, too. Success! Now, I have a printer by my desk that works as long as I can connect it to an equally old PC, which has to be balanced on my lap or a neighbor’s desk because the cords were short as if they were going to sit beside each other in some computer console.

That was celebration number 2.

Silly. Such a silly thing, to feel anxieties fade and possibilities open simply by having something work right. Expectations are so low when working with the options available to those with limited funds that simply working can be a surprise. Imagine how hard it is for some people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when first they have to be able to afford bootstraps, and then have the straps snap.

We’re in the midst of great and grand debates. (I just realized the VP debate is going on as I type. I’d rather be doing this.) The world must debate, and more importantly act on the global issues. Take your pick. I also think about kids that are trying to do schoolwork on bad internet connections on old equipment, entrepreneurs saddled with options that are efficient and unaffordable, people living in poverty who are trying to live in a world that requires logging in but who can’t afford electricity. Small celebrations multiplied by hundreds of millions would be considered a movement. How little it would take to make something happen that would be that great?

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What Did You See

I gave up playing Bridge. Bridge was one of the few card games my family would play as a family, well four of the five of us at a time, of course. We played it as a game. I was the youngest by years and decades, but it was a game, not a competition. When I moved out and starting playing during lunch at Boeing, the fun was gone. People would move onto the next deal after three or four hands because they ‘knew’ how it would turn out. They hadn’t actually seen how it would be played; they just ‘knew’ who would win. There’s a danger in such leaps that extend far beyond card tables.

I’m a fan of logic, data, and reason; but those can also become academic. Life isn’t academic. Life is real. I prefer to see how things play out.

During those card games I could follow their logic about why their bid for 3 hearts would succeed. Everyone agreed. Except contrarian me. Sure, if everything was played correctly and no one made a mistake then that was the way the game would go. But we’re humans. Someone could get distracted, or become over-confident, or find a tactic they’d never considered. The game would change.

You know I’m going to expand this to other topics because this blog isn’t about playing games.

I’m seeing this in the news. I’m seeing the tendency to extrapolate snippets into chapters and books. Anecdotes are amplified as if they were massive movements. Sometimes I hear someone reading between the lines when there are no lines. This is worse than during the Cold War when the CIA would try to guess at what was happening in the Kremlin based on which cars were driving around or not. Finance types frequently tried to decipher Alan Greenspan’s intent by how thick his briefcase was as he walked into Congressional hearings to talk about finance. Sure, we have to look ahead, but the Berlin Wall fell because of things that happened outside Moscow and the Great Recession’s main arena was households, not Senate chambers.

It is one reason I don’t pay as much attention to single news sources, anymore. There are things that I can’t experience directly; but I don’t expect one perspective to produce a complete picture.

As a kid in grammar school I happened to be beside, not in, a race riot – or at least a fight in a high school gymnasium between an all-white school and an all-black school. My Dad made sure I was safe. From that one perspective, it looked like a lot of violent people. There were injustices and abuses. But a few years later I worked in a more mixed group in the steel mill without any incident. There was work to be done and we were there to get paid, not fight.

As a teenager in high school I heard the steel industry’s catch phrase regarding pollution, “The Smell of Progress.” About that time is when one of my brothers introduced me to photography. I borrowed his camera, hiked around a polluted hillside downwind of a mill, and saw for myself how discarded steel was flaking away in inch-thick bands as acids in the air corroded the refuse and the street signs and the steel in the bridgework that I walked across to visit the site. It was my first photo essay. Now I get to hear “The Sound of Freedom”, jet noise over 100db from Navy practice flights over Central Whidbey Island. ‘Hear’ is the wrong word. I feel my chest vibrate while I have to cover my ears to stifle the pain takes longer to type, though.

News reports make similar word choices to make articles fit into a few column inches, a web page that isn’t tl;dr (Too Long: Didn’t Read), or at most a few minutes of a broadcast or podcast.

Do not just look for what you were told to find. If it is important, find it yourself. And don’t hurt yourself by trying to understand it all. There’s too much going on. This is 2020. I think it is impossible for anyone to know it all, and if they say they know it all, I know they don’t. Some celebrity that thinks the world is all about them lives in a very small world. I pity them.

Personal experience is valuable. It is why I was willing to attend stockholders’ meetings. Dull? Sure. But personal finance is non-trivial in this society and economy – unless your personal finances are so significant that you can treat them trivially. By showing up I saw who else showed up, whether that was officials, finance types, employees, other shareholders, etc. During the presentation I’d mark which statements made people react during what should be dull and innocuous. Then, if I was interested enough, I could ask them and maybe some others about the same thing. My favorite was hearing the CEO celebrate that a new product generated over $1M in revenue. A sales manager suddenly sat up straighter. Later I asked him about it. He said he was glad to hear about it – because it was his product line and it was news to him. That CEO left soon after, and not just because of that.

Prepare yourself for an understatement. This year has been bizarre. Many of the things we’re dealing with were largely unexpected. Wildfires in the western US. A warehouse explodes in Lebanon. Real life sequels to what we thought was resolved in 1865 and 1945. The pandemic. Yes, each has people who were pointing them out years and decades ago; but I doubt the majority expected them to become so dominant this year.

The smoke is back. Who expected that?

Given the choice, forget the leaders and remember each other. We’re all in this together (until we colonize another planet). We need each other, now. I care more about whether those around me are wearing masks, or recycling, or finding ways to get by without fossil fuels. Of course I want leaders who will lead those efforts, but pronouncements are like bids in Bridge. They describe intent, but can only be proved by action.

I am fortunate. I have friends who have the courage to dive in, to work with the homeless, to grow and buy and eat organic, to work on sustainability, to try to correct injustices. They are the front line people who aren’t hunting for headlines; they’re trying to get something done. I’m also fortunate enough to know a variety of people who represent a variety of perspectives. I don’t agree with them all, but I learn a lot by listening and watching.

Skip the assumptions and the stereotypes. What have you seen, personally? Look around and it is easy to find differences, but we’re all human and therefore have similarities. I look forward to seeing and hearing about people concentrating on what we have in common. Construction is much more difficult than destruction, but is is also far more valuable.

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Thirty Steaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Science Fiction Novel 1 – First Draft

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

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

adding another book to my shelf

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


Here’s a teaser, though, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Series (a tie, but for different reasons)

  • Star Wars 
  • Star Trek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the costs of writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just Keep Pedaling – Twenty Years Later

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

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

I write this to celebrate that.

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

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

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

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

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

2020.

So much for that plan.

But, maybe that will work out, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must order new copies of Twelve Months at Double Bluff

Hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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