On Keeping and Getting Rid of Things

About five or six years ago, I gave up almost all of my video games. I said goodbye to my PS2 and all the games I played in middle school and high school. I gave up my Game Boy Color. I even gave up the Game Cube I scored from a garage sale for $10.

It was a weird time. I wanted to do something with my life. I wanted to live something greater than the boring, middle class life. I figured that all the hours spent playing video games were at worst wasted and at best behind me. I had some odd attachments to certain games, but in general I had just moved away from them and could barely play new ones for my PS3, the only console to survive.

But was it the right thing to do? Was it necessary? I’ve had the minimalist kick for a long time, but I’ve really had to ask this question lately. Much of my desire to off those systems came from a servility to study. Like many Christians who want to go and do something different with their lives, I thought that the only way to move forward was to ditch the past and focus on production, whether that was studying a language, learning certain things, or volunteering.

Last fall I booted up an emulator to play Xenosaga, probably my favorite game of all time. It was one of the most cathartic things I’ve ever done. I can’t even describe just how nice and fun it was to revisit that game. Today I just popped in a PS4 remaster of Final Fantasy 12 and that felt good, too.

Breaking some of those bonds with the past might have been a good thing. But did I have to go that far? No. I’m inclined to believe that I was somewhat misguided at that time.

Now, I don’t regret not having tons of consoles all over the place; in fact, if Black Ops 2 gets ported for download on the PS4, I’ll probably ditch the PS3 post-haste (I literally have two games for that console). But still.

That focus on production? Yeah, that was not the right attitude. That doesn’t solve your problems. Heck, it doesn’t solve problems for anybody else, either. There’s no shortage of church-aholics who struggle to feel good about their lives outside of church activities and that sense of spiritual “production”. For me, it was knowledge. All work and no play. I feel somewhat embarrassed just writing this.

I recently bought Final Fantasy 15 for PS4. I’m not very far, but it’s good. I like the open environment. It’s kind of fun to revisit a favorite franchise after Square Enix finally got the ‘suck’ out of their games. FF 14 was not well received, and 13 had 3 iterations I never hear about.

I’m feeling moody as I mull this over. I’m half tempted to take some of my bonus money and buy a Nintendo Switch because there as so many cool-looking games out for it, but I’m not quite at the point of being willing to drop that much coin on another system, especially since I still don’t play video games very often and this likely won’t change. Would it do me some good to make a few frivolous purchases? The battle rages inside.

Dream: The Rectangle House

For the past several months, I’ve wanted to write several blog posts, but I haven’t felt right about them. I just can’t quite bring myself to do it. However, I do want to post more of my dreams, which does feels right, oddly enough.

The Rectangle House dream happened in December of 2017. The characters include myself, Friend #1 (F1)(male), Friend #2 (F2)(female), Friend #3 (F3)(female), all of who were/are involved in missionary activity. Normally, the names of the people involved can be symbolic, but as these are actual friends of mine, I’ve decided to leave the names anonymous.

The Dream (all one scene)

On a bright day, there is a rectangular house largely isolated from other houses. It is almost entirely a kitchen inside, with a counter island in the middle, going from the middle to the right section of the house, and maybe a table and chairs along the left side of the house. There is a door at the front, a door out the back left side (possibly overhead), and a door out the right side. F2 is throwing a party, and F1, F2, and F3 are all present, as well as many other anonymous individuals.

F1 leaves out the back door. F2 and F3 start whispering in the kitchen about how a country is confiscating things and that F3 needs to go into that country via a different country in order to avoid inspections. I have a vision of an [historically] evil world leader and soldiers.

There are two or three pitchers of water in the fridge, but they have these odd things inside. One has what look like chia seeds in it, and another may have some sort of fruit like lemon peels in it. I’m thirsty, but I don’t want to drink from those pitchers because they look weird.

Suddenly, everyone is gone, and I’m distressed. I go outside, through the side door, searching frantically, and when I move clockwise around the house, toward the front, I see that F2 had constructed a barrier that has her story written on it, telling people to come inside if they want the peace that she has found.

I go inside through the front, which has elongated into a sort of living room. There is a small two-tier bookshelf along the right side of the wall, and it may have military strategy or history books on it. I believe I hear voices in the kitchen, and feel that there may be a way to ‘warp’ to wherever people went, but I am unable to figure out what happened. All three doors are open. I consider texting F2 with my cell phone, and then I wake up.

Analysis

This was an interesting dream. I cried over this one after I woke up. It was heavy with a sense of importance.

2017 was, as many friends know, the ‘year of the desert’ for me, so it’s especially important that water was in the refrigerator. It was present and cool, but for whatever reason I was kind of grossed out by it, even though chia seeds and lemon should be perfectly healthy. It wasn’t logical at all, but it almost seemed to be saying that I have (or had?) some provision in my life which I am not choosing to accept because it doesn’t look the way I expect it to.

Also, the provision was in the kitchen, a place of preparation. Everyone else leaves the house, but I’m left behind. This would directly relate to my feeling of missing out on “going out into the world”. I’ve wanted to go for a long time now, but it just hasn’t been the time for that. The doors are all open, this could even be God saying that I have options, but the peace is inside right now, the provision is inside, even the strategy is inside. Only, it feels lonely and like I’m being left behind. There may even be a hint that the territory I am going into must be accessed through a route not commonly followed, though this is unclear as there was no indication I would be following F3 into that country.

Dream nuggets for the blog. Dreams are important! I’ve shared this one a few times, but I plan to record more in here.

Savings Burnout

Well, it was bound to happen at some point.

I filed my taxes last week, and I’m expecting a decent return. Now, there are a few things I could do with that money: dump it in my Roth IRA, add it to one of my savings buckets (personal? car? emergency fund?), give it away, or spend it. I picked spend. In fact, I picked “blow it all on crap”, which probably isn’t in line with my primary financial message. What’s more, the money hasn’t actually arrived, but I’ve taken the liberty to start spending it anyway by borrowing from my own personal savings.

Catharsis. I guess part of me wants to be a super-human saver, but I’m simply not that good. I’m not even a very frugal person. In fact, this is the first month in years in which I might actually spend within my grocery budget, but don’t ask me about the $80+ I’ve spent on gas station treats and the occasional King Soopers deli meal. I’ve been putting a little “s” next to the items in personal spending that are essentially snacks (predominantly coffee energy drinks, which yes, are terrible for you). I can’t believe how fast those have added up.

Now, I’m still putting a solid 50% of my income into my 401k. In fact, once the 2018 company match finally (*finally*) processes, my 401k should breach $40k. When I realized this last week, I had this “holy crap” moment, since it was last April or so that I announced it had reached $20k. Partly I’m getting a really sweet match every paycheck this year, partly it just adds up really fast. I’m also still participating in an HSA, and I like to put $100 into my car account every month, so my savings rate is slightly higher than 50%.

But I really don’t think I can go any further.

It started with a $280 pair of hiking boots. They fit beautifully, they have great support. 4/5 stars over 500 reviewers. I’m still breaking them in, took them back to the Strontia Springs Reservoir last week. I’m tired of blisters on my toes from my old boots, but I also didn’t like my heel being in serious pain like with the hiking boots I recently returned, which were maybe half the price. It was time to go big or go home. Whatever.

I’m planning to buy a $400, 0 degree backpacking sleeping bag in the near future, hopefully when there is a sale. I want to backpack. I don’t care anymore that it costs money. But I’m also never buying a bag rated higher than 0 degrees again, at least not as long as I live in Colorado. I don’t care.

Today I bought the MSR Windburner stove. Last year I made a stink and went super cheap, buying a $14 burner, but then spent more money for semi-functional stove pots. It really wasn’t very smart. I bought sub-par equipment and got sub-par results. But how about getting a rolling boil in 4 minutes, instead? Fine. I’ll pay the money for that. I don’t care.

Yesterday I ordered Weather Tech floor liners for my car. My car currently still has the stock floor mats, and the driver’s side has worn through to the rubber. I’ll pay for top mats. I just don’t care!

Argh! If you can imagine me in a room full of furniture and me throwing that furniture around, that’s basically what it feels like.

Do I still fear some sort of pagan “karmic retribution” for…spending money? What about my friends who can’t buy these things, is this like an insult to them? Is it un-thankfulness for life? For the good things I already have?

Furniture. Smash.

I’ve been temped to just turn off all 401k contributions for a month, take that extra money, and just completely spend it. Fortunately, the logical part of my brain keeps me from doing that (good especially because of the sweet immediately-vested company match I get each paycheck). Must stay the course!

But I’m drawing the line.

The good news is that items are getting checked off the “list” like crazy. Things I’ve wanted for a long time. Things that are designed to last. So there’s at least that. I’m hoping we get a bonus again this year, and if we do, that should arrive in March. I’d like to not put my G-IRA off until the very end of the year this time around, though, so it might be nice to set some of that aside early. Probably I will turn off 401k contributions for that bonus this time, though.

I feel like everyone is a little happier when they have some money at the end of the month to spend on themselves. I feel like I spend enough on myself already, but is it strange to say that sometimes I feel guilty for being a software developer? Financially…life is easy, even if you are earning money in the middle ranges of the experience spectrum. I get how supply and demand factor into this, but sometimes I don’t get why my skills, which largely consist of glorified logic and troubleshooting skills, are in the range of “well-compensated” while other, sometimes more difficult skills are not. Frankly, these are not issues I anticipated having to deal with, but I wrestle with them. It’s like a strange, neurotic form of economic “survivor’s guilt”.

Anyway. I’m letting myself spend money, but I still don’t believe in being *completely* haphazard about it. What makes the difference is that most of these things have been on my list for a long time, they just happen to be expensive. There’s an anime series I want to buy, but it’s literally checked-in to the library near me, so I put pause on buying that today. There really isn’t any pressing need to buy it. I’m just trying to keep a level head because, like anything else, costs can add up fast, and things can accumulate faster than we can make use of them.

Thoughts from the Gulch

Cabin

I never have been an athletic person. I still remember the humiliation of running tests in elementary and middle school, when I was usually a person or two removed from the fattest.

I started walking toward the end of high school and into college, and, not having grown up in a family that really participated in physical activity of any kind, made this great discovery when I returned alone to a valley I had once been to with friends. The urge to wander had grown tremendously over the years, but I had had no knowledge, or experience, or confidence at all in this world, and still somehow managed to make it happen.

That was a long time ago. So today I was dismayed when I woke up and simply wanted to do nothing. Last year was my most active season of snowshoeing ever, and I think I’m behind my record this year: January is over, and I’ve only been snowshoeing 4 times. I simply wanted to do…nothing.

“Isn’t it characteristic of depression when you stop desiring to do the things that once brought you joy?”

“No, don’t be stupid. I still want to go snowshoeing, I just don’t want to go today.”

I kept reloading Google maps. When the traffic to Breckenridge finally thinned out enough to allow a 1.5 hour drive time, I grudgingly got dressed and hit the road.

Brain child.

I don’t often go hiking or snowshoeing with people. It’s usually nothing against people, I’m just slow as hell. Today I was tired, low on energy, and not breathing super well, which happens when I don’t get enough sleep or I eat crappy food. I found myself stopping a lot. When I stop a lot by myself, my greatest critic is me. But when I stop a lot with others, my greatest critic is me, on steroids. The voices and all of their horrible words are too strong. I don’t often go hiking or snowshoeing with people.

“Come on. It shouldn’t be much farther. You have plenty of time.”

When I drove to the trailhead I passed these small, “cute” houses, and I thought, “I want to live in one of those someday.” When I was leaving I saw a bus drop off a family of skiers at the stop near those houses. I realized those houses were probably just rentals. Bummer.

The mine was covered in snow. It’s too bad. One of the greatest joys in the world is scanning the ground for lost relics. Hints, clues to the past. There is a sign near my favorite canyon that shows some historic pictures of an old house that sat near the entrance, “but it is almost completely removed now.” Such sacrilege! Nothing is ever too far gone. I wandered around, where fanged seeds barbed my socks. Pieces of brick. A tiny scrap of porcelain. A door spring. Even a sheet of metal roof up on the hill, hidden by tall grasses. Action and adventure were always something alien for the somebody’s-else. I never understood most of those things, most of those people. But I’ve never truly understood what I was connecting with when it came to archaeology and history. I don’t require an explanation.

I found the cabin, but the trail went on. There was nothing up there. Thankful to have finally reached the end, I headed back.

I have yet to figure out why negative thoughts are the cosmic background radiation of my mind. I’ve been aware of this for years, but have only recently started praying for healing from this. It breaks the peace. It breaks the solitude.

I grabbed a tall lemon tea and 3 tootsie pops from the gas station when I got home. Today was a good day, and that has to count for something.

The Protestant Stupid Ethic

At one of my previous jobs, my company put me through a profiling test often used by other companies to fire people. That wasn’t their intention here – they were, in all honesty, a very good company – but there were concerns that I wasn’t very passionate about my work. By matching my profile scores on the test to the profiles of other employees who were highly effective in other roles, they were wondering if there might be a different position in the company I would enjoy more.

I had signed on to be a software developer, but I found myself dragging and dropping boxes on a screen most of the time. I felt like a fraud. The test suggested a decent match for my current role, but my profile matched slightly better for Quality Assurance and possibly Project Management. I wasn’t enthused by either of these, though for a time I leaned toward QA. I was good at what I did, but I really wanted to write more code. And I wanted to work with more visuals. That’s what first got me into computers. There just weren’t many opportunities for that sort of work.

“And,” I said to our HR representative, “I tend to get tired around 2:00pm.” She was dumbfounded. “But that’s not even 8 hours….”

This was a company with Christian roots, and a lot of what they believed was that if you weren’t passionate about your job, then you needed to be somewhere else where God was calling you. This was not their official policy, of course, but it was implied. It permeated the atmosphere. And it wasn’t all bad. But in that single statement, “But that’s not even 8 hours,” I realized just how stupid misguided Christians can be in their veneration of work. There’s nothing in the human genome that codes for 8 hour workdays as some holy standard of “work ethic.”

I was pushed out of that company a year later. Despite 6+ months of non-programming-related work and complete misguidance on the actual usefulness of new technologies on the job, I was given two options: have passion and micromanage yourself, or move on to God’s real plan for you. We parted on good terms. And I suppose maybe they weren’t entirely wrong, because God got me a job paying almost 30% more. It’s too bad more Christian don’t have a “protestant fair pay” ethic.

Some people really get their hard on for work. They read Genesis and immediately see work as the path to life, liberty, and [] happiness. They’ll gladly ignore that Adam was called to till the earth (farming), and they’ll gladly forget that it was a curse and not a blessing, but then the Protestant Work Ethic was never really about the Bible at all and has more to do with culture than anything. It was simply christened by an interpretation of the Good Word.

And I don’t disagree with the sentiment. I believe hard work can be a good thing. I just don’t see it as the end-all be-all. I also don’t worship Roosevelt, Truman, and Hoover and the whole era of “we killed the Nazis.” History has somehow settled upon the 40 hour work week and that may or may not be your shtick. I personally would prefer the 30 hour workweek, and even better, I would prefer a 0 hour workweek, where I volunteer for things I care about because I want to.

A lot of people see work as a distraction from sin, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and whatnot, which is probably just the suspicion that not working leads to a whole lot of drugs or a whole lot of porn.

What people fail to realize is that work is one of the greatest stresses a person can face. There’s even the term “paying to work,” which is a way of recognizing the financial cost of work in terms of ROI. If you are making $2,000 dollars a month but your new car is $350 per month, your insurance is $150 per month, and your gas is $150 per month, almost 32% of your income is spent just going to and from work. Don’t count lunches out if you’re into that habit, and forget the stress of commuting five days a week if you have to commute. Work is good for its own sake, right? Right?

We even teach this to our kids. The most academically “successful” join such bull-shit organizations as Nation Honor Society, where, last I checked, they are required to participate in 3, count ’em 3, extracurricular activities, in addition to full time high school and dealing with the shit-storm that is being a teenager. (full disclosure: I was in NHS) We call this “successful,” while really we’re training our kids to be dysfunctional members of society, dysfunction friends, and dysfunctional parents. “You’re value is how busy you stay. How hard you work.”

Works tends to be one argument Christians leverage against Financial Independence, or even Early Retirement. Just search google for reactions. “But work is good for you! How dare you consider investing a lot in order to stop working!” They’d rather be chained to a job that can lay their butts off at the drop of a hat. They’d rather continue the destructive cycle of overproduction that has been destroying our planet. All because their sense of purpose, their sense of being a good Christian, derives from their love…of work. Not sharing that love is threatening to those people.

Love of work betrays an ignorance of economics. You have to realize that as specialization makes the necessities of life cheaper and cheaper, far less “work” is really needed on the global scale. Unemployment was high in the United States during the recession because budgets were tight and, quite frankly, so much of the work being done didn’t significantly contribute to the world. But since everyone needs some way to earn money, we find new and obscure ways to work. And most of this just gets dumped into landfills and the ocean. Now, I’m a big fan of capitalism, do not get me wrong, but work is not necessarily the answer to the world’s problems. There is already so much work that sometimes whole cities are on the verge of unemployment. I just watched a fascinating documentary about ship breakers in India, where there are so few jobs that these men will work in extremely life-threatening conditions just to put food on the table. (aside: nobody’s marching for women to be equally represented in that industry, are they?) They work harder than anybody I’ve ever known, but that still hasn’t worked out so well for them. You can’t honestly see virtue in this!

Sure. Do what you love. But the old scenario still plays out: do you pay the nice, perhaps even Christian surgeon who loves his job and has an 80% success rate, or do you pay the asshole surgeon who hates his job but has a 99% success rate? I think you can guess who I’m going to pick. And what about the pastors who are mortified of public speaking but feel God has called them to be pastors anyway? Passion is not the key to everything. Passion may even have nothing to do with your calling. There is no one-size fits all formula here.

If and when I do hit my Financial Independence goals, it’s definitely not my intention to spend my time sitting around watching Netflix (well, maybe only occasionally). I’d probably pursue archaeology in some form, or volunteer for something that usually can’t be afforded, or I’d working for a small company that cares for it’s employees but can’t necessarily afford a software developer. I’d even like to spend a few years working for the company I’m currently volunteering for. That would be amazing! But not because I have to, or because it’s virtuous, or because ’till the earth’, but simply because I enjoy exercising my skills and making a difference in the world. It’s no good being a slave to your employer or a slave to this bizarre work fetish that dominated our grandparents’ generation and our national and over-glorified bucolic past.

The Edge of Forever

People think you’re weird if you spend too much time ‘taking it in’. We go to our locations, snap our pictures for instagram (if that’s what you’re into), and go home. But I remember when I was a child when I didn’t have the option to get up and leave. I remember I would be present where I was and take it in. I have a lot of memories and impressions where I don’t know exactly what they were from, but I believe they came from really sitting in the present and feeling them, whether it was a scene outside, a colonial poster from a book, or paintings on our walls.

When I was a child, there was one particular day when Mom took me to our local Toys R Us. The land the store was located on was elevated above the other stores in the area and was made of a tan stucco or concrete color with a vast parking lot. This was back in the 1990s when retailers more frequently placed products outside for display, and I remember the mood of the sun over the displays. I found a Crash Dummies toy I really wanted. I’ve always described the setting, how it felt, as if being at the edge of the world, but in a more dream-like way, as if being at the edge of forever. Above was the great void of the sky, and beyond the parking lot must surely have been the great void where the Earth dropped off. Between these voids was the light of the sun, warm on my arms and warm on the boxes and the plastic that sat on the shelves.

It’s entirely possible I’ve confused the details of that memory, but the feelings, now you never forget those. This scene and how it made me feel has been a key element for many of the stories I’ve wanted to write, and every now and then I come across it when the sun is beating down on suburbia, or when the zoo has those fake African huts made of stucco. Sometimes at the junk yard, or the flea market.

As I was snowshoeing today, I looked up a smooth, sloping hill to see a solid field of unbroken snow. The clouds above blew flurries up and over the mountaintops, and the sun shown down from above. And on the way back I paused here again to really take it in this time. The sun was going down, and through that frosty mist high above, you could, at times, see the disk of the sun. I felt that I could have spent hours there, taking it in, but somewhere inside, I almost felt like crying, because there’s so much we don’t, or even can’t, take in.

Sometimes I feel you better watch out. You could be laying in your bed, or your tent; you could be shopping at the mall or watching the rain, and you could turn right over and slip off the edge of forever.

Breathing Again

Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten rid of a great many books, mostly technical books that either duplicated content or covered technologies I don’t need to know. My relationship with books is long and complex, but the gist of the story is that I have, for over a decade, been addicted to books. In a strange twist, owning books has been psychologically terrible for me because of the pressure I put on myself to finish reading them. This is the first time in probably six years that I haven’t had something to read through. I probably own between 20 and 30 books now, only four of which are related to programming. Quite frankly, they’re the only four that are truly useful at this time.

It was kind of a brutal process. Some books I literally kept because I was afraid I would need them. $30 books. Fear. It’s ridiculous. It first took admitting that, “I hate this book”, then it took actually stepping out and saying, “I’m getting rid of this book”. So many people complain about being busy, but they’re afraid to cut things out, afraid to say “no”. My situation is a bit weird, I don’t know anybody else who tortures themselves over unread books, but I’m willing to bet many people can identify with suffering due to their inability to say “no”.

It’s like breathing again. I haven’t been staying up late feeling I need to read or learn more. And, oddly enough, I’ve been incredibly tired. This could just be my imagination, but it feels like the stress of all those years has started to collapse, and now my body is trying to make up for all the lost years.

A decade of striving. What do you even do with that?

I can feel that this is a year of great change, and I’ve been wanting to explore some deeper things in my life with God. Lately, I’ve been re-reading my old journals. They’re insanely boring, but give me some perspective on just how far I’ve come. Last year I shredded Journal #1, and today I shredded Journal #2, which was written around 2011 and 2012. One of the most frequent subjects in #2? Having too many books to read! Can’t believe it’s taken this long. We’re all works in progress.

I’ve been watching hockey again. I haven’t actively watched hockey since high-school. But that was about the time I started turning to knowledge for all of my answers. That was when life lost a lot of its magic.

I have many friends I’ve been meaning to hang out with, but I’m giving myself the liberty to just rest. Some days I skip church (like today). I used to get lunch with friends every single Sunday, but lately I have just gone home and bought something special from the grocery store.

I don’t plan to keep this up forever, I am a social introvert, but I can’t explain how nice it is to just rest. To breathe. I’m a competent programmer and I don’t have to worry about my career. I didn’t have to before, either, but I chose to. I have friends who care about me, I don’t have to see them all the time, and before too long I will get back into the swing of sociability. I know who I am, and I don’t need to hold onto old journals to remind me. It may be different for other people, but for me it’s time to move on. One last read-through and it’s to the shredder they go.

There are things to do Tuesday nights and Thursday nights and that’s it, I’m done, I’m not making anything else a priority. Even Sunday mornings are lower priority. I’m done with that ‘busy’ crap.

I’ve wanted to write more posts on here but they haven’t been working out. Part of this goes back to my post about being financially bored, where once that savings rate is set, you just have to keep showing up and everything else is automatic. I could follow some obnoxious list of frugal tips, but that really won’t do anything for me at this point. Shaving $50 or $100 off my spending every month just isn’t worth the struggle of living by the letter, so to speak.

Honestly, one of the biggest things on my mind right now is Nepal. My personal savings is very nearly enough to start taking my plans to go there seriously. I think the goal is to spend two weeks there. Soon I plan to start mapping out what that visit will look like. Since books aren’t really around to distract me anymore, I may even spend a little time in the evenings re-learning the Devanagari script.

I need this post just to express these personal things that are going on in my life right now. This isn’t a financial post but one that I still very much have wanted to write. Once the journals are done, I’m hopefully going to be doing a lot more snowshoeing, and there are several movies I’d like to check out from the library. I think there are many good things in the works, so I’m pretty excited for this year.

Updates and Reflections on 2018

It seems a bit odd to be writing this on Christmas Eve, as I have really nothing to reflect on about Christmas itself. But I am sprawled out on my parents’ guest bed in my old bedroom and I felt it was fitting to write here what’s been on my mind this past week.

Updates!

Since the key purpose of this blog is to write about money, I suppose I should say something about it. I suppose. Seven days from now, as long as I’m not laid off or fired, my final HSA contribution will pass and I will hit the golden trifecta of maxing out my 401k, Roth IRA, and HSA. Holy heck has it been a crazy ride. You’d be surprised how fast those pre-tax 401k contributions add up, too. Yeah, yeah, markets tanked in October, people are freaking out, I’m not worried about that. In fact, I’m kind of hoping it drops a little more so that when my limits reset in January, I’ll be buying in a down market.

The G-IRA is complete; I’ve hit my giving goal. My big G-IRA “distribution” was a huge success and the target individual (TI) was completely caught by surprise. Bam! Probably the most fun I’ve ever had giving. Not easily replicable, however. With that done, I originally wanted to spend the rest of the money on some attempts at prophetic giving (taking expensive stuff to strangers, listening to God to hear who to take them to), but for whatever reason that felt really off this year, it just didn’t feel right for the time, so I spent the rest on Christmas gifts for my family. No regrets. And I mean, TI could have taken a fraction of that money and bought a really great [thing] instead, but the real power of the G-IRA is that you have no reason not to go big for someone else. I wish I could say it was purely from the love of my heart, but really what made it easy was just the fact that the money was going to be given to someone anyway, so it may as well have been spent going big for TI. Go big or go home! I think I will be doing a G-IRA next year, too, but I feel like God is giving me a larger target, and that scares the crap out of me. I mean, it’s exciting, but it’s also like, “Nooo! Why?” We’ll see. I mean, this is voluntary after all. But that push, man. God’s all about pushing those boundaries.

On a side note, my church is pretty awesome about giving. They just gave 20g’s away to people in need yesterday. I like this church. Anyway, I’ve got a post I want to write on that soon.

I did finally buy a Playstation 4 for $200 during Black Friday, which is half of what I was thinking about paying back in the Spring, when I wrote my anti-lifestyle inflation post using the PS4 as an example. I think waiting to get 50% off was totally worth it. And I am happy to have a PS4. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

Reflections!

Two periods really stood out to me this year. The first is when I changed the water pump on my car. It was unplanned but I ended up here at my parents’ place while they were out of town. The job was relatively simple, but was temporarily full of despair when I sheered the de-tensioning bolt (I don’t know what else to call it) off my drive belt tensioner, which sucked but really only meant one thing: I had to buy another tensioner and change it myself. The job was slow but otherwise went smoothly. I had a decent amount of peace about it, and two nights in a row, I slept like a baby, right here in this bed that I’m sitting on. I didn’t have a Bible with me and I hate reading the Bible on my phone, but my parents have a few old topic-specific Bible verse books on the bookshelf, so I browsed those. I watched several Disney VHS tapes from when I was a kid. I don’t know how to describe it all. It was probably the most peaceful weekend of the year. It’s like God was here in a profound way. It took me away from my normal settings, just lead me to a place of rest. And there hasn’t been the slightest of leaks from that water pump since 😉

The second was hanging out with my sister’s family. I got to spend time with my oldest niece, who is growing up way too fast, and got to see my new baby niece, who is the smiley-est baby ever and really warms my heart :). And I got to pet the cat. And hang out. Have long conversations, watch my brother-in-law beat this cool, kinda-eerie side-scroller video game, eat good food, and see life outside of Denver, which is starting to boil with overpopulation and insanity. It was also the first time in many, many years that I’ve been on a plane, and I really, really miss flying. So I want to add a part 2 to Thoughts on Travel someday. That was overall just a great week, and much needed.

And yes, 2018 has brought many changes. Whereas 2017 was the year of carnage and death and good friends being complete retards and following God’s call to move out of state, 2018 has, in fact, been the water in the desert. I was keeping a foot in my old church because I still care about people there, but I always knew I was never going to fit into the ecosystem at that church, no matter how great the leadership was or how welcoming the setting. Instead, I now spend that night of the week as part of a rag-tag group of crazy dreamers who get together once a week to seek God through dream interpretation. Oh, I know. Sounds crazy if you’ve never read the Bible ;). But it’s pretty amazing what God is doing in people’s lives.

Spiritually, God has been doing a lot in my life through identity this year. This is good, because when people are truly grounded in their identity in God, they are rock solid, and they have space for others. They can also let go of old friends and move on. 2017 really shook me to the core. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever been to true depression. I’m actually of the suspicion that my community life is not as deep as I would like because that is simply the season I am in, and there is great room for growth in fostering new community.

It has been a date-less year, stacking onto the others, and I think maybe for a reason. Hey, I know some great girls, but sometimes it just doesn’t make sense emotionally or logically, and sometimes the door is simply closed and you can tell. There hasn’t really been anyone to ask out. Sometimes I’ll meet a girl and think, “Hey, God, what about this girl?” And I get a dream that’s all about my identity, instead! In general, it’s a painful topic for me, but I think that’s what the message of identity is about. People who are grounded in their identity are truly safe people who have space to see and address the blessings in other peoples’ lives. And in their own. You can’t confuse your core identity with the various facets of your life. Your job is not your identity. Your friendships are not your identity. Your wealth is not your identity. You love-life is not your identity.

Actually, fun story. Only once this year, as far as I’m aware, has God answered a question about a specific girl. I had a dream one night in which I was in a location owned by friends from an old friend group, and I think it was the only dream I’ve ever had in which that girl was present. But when I looked closely in the house, and I had to look closely, I could see fine white spider webs all over, like fuzzy mold. I got the vacuum to clean up the webs (I am a bit of a cleaner in real life), but it wasn’t working, and the vacuum broke down. I kept trying to fit different mechanical pieces inside to fix it (perhaps different arguments as to why I should pursue her), but nothing worked. Later I got dragged into this zombie game by a family member of one of the friends, and then I woke up.

I don’t recommend bootstrapping your dream interpretations if you haven’t done it in a group, and non-Christians (or some Christians) will think I’m insane, but really the larger message of the dream was that in that girl’s life there are a lot of spider webs, which might be thought of as snares or as neglected spaces into which undesirable things have moved, and, most importantly, I was unable to clean up those spider webs. In other words, I’m not capable of dealing with her issues. Being involved in that location only got me stuck playing games. (“You’re playing love games with Old Gregg?!”) That was crazy. The message seemed pretty clear to me. And if you’re still skeptical, well, let’s just say that’s not the first time God’s answered a question about that girl telling me ‘no’. But this all lead to an interesting extension question: so what are the spider webs that I have in my own life?

Just a little dream nugget for the blog. If you don’t keep a dream journal, you might consider doing so 🙂

As mentioned last post, I have also learned this year how to change lug bolts, which makes me feel pretty bad ass. It’s still tough to recommend, but it’s a great feeling when you pull off a new job on the car and now have that much more skill and ability.

Huge progress on my open source inventory system. Oh, man. It’s so close. I’ve been working on this for two years, but only this past year has the technology clicked. A lot of great blessings through this, so praise to God. I feel like a real developer now and orchestrating the whole project has been a huge lesson in perseverance and humility. Engaging, though, I’ll give it that. Really excited to see what this can do for the company I’m volunteering for.

Times are changing again. I may no longer be in the desert, but the change isn’t over. I may be losing some friends to another dumb state, and I’ll be seeing two friends much less since they just became parents. But tenacity! I still very much care about my old friends, but there is a way forward and going backward isn’t an option.

Thoughts on Cars

There’s one ideal way to own a car: Pay $0 for one that never breaks down. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be one of the best deals ever?

Yeah, well, too bad. Every car decision is some combination of risk. You can pay a ridiculous portion of your net worth for a new car, which saves you from repairs for a few years but is otherwise a rapidly depreciating asset, or you can pay very little for a used car that just might blow it’s head gasket next week. Pick your poison. You will find any number of suggestions about what you “should” do. Some people think you should always buy new cars and sell them before the warranty ends; others think you should always buy used cars and save yourself the depreciation. But if everyone bought new our world would be trashed even more than it already is, and if everyone bought used, well, eventually there would be nothing left.

Personally, I always buy used. I look for models with the fewest complaints against them and specific cars that preferably have only had one or two previous owners. I thus far have preferred mid-size sedans with front-wheel drive. My target range has been $3000-6000, but I have considered cheaper cars, and I have also thought it would be really nice to be able to buy a $10,000 car in cash. Ideally, I’d have 10k sitting in the bank for another car if/when that day comes.

But here’s the kicker. I’m comfortable buying older cars because I do most of the work on my cars. I’m a fairly outspoken proponent of understanding how cars work and doing the work yourself, but my faith in this latter position has been shaken on several occasions. And this stems from the fact that working on your car can really, really suck.

Earlier today, I was engaged in fierce battle with my Camry. I had needed to change the tie rods for awhile, so I decided to finally get things rolling. This was one step in a series of things needing to be done. I needed to replace a lug nut, change the tie rods, get the tires rotated and balanced, wash the car, and then get an alignment. My tires have started to feather a bit and the steering wheel has been off ever so slightly since the last rotation (a sign that the tires may be wearing unevenly).

So Saturday I decided to go to my parents’ to change the tie rods, which had been leaking grease a tad and had started creaking more. It’s a fairly easy procedure. Loosen the lug nuts, put the car up on jack stands, break tie rod the lock nut free, take the castle nut off, use a device to pop the tie rod free of the steering knuckle, then unscrew the tie rod. Reverse with the new tie rod. It’s one of the easier jobs.

I swapped one side in less than half an hour, then went to the other side. Everything was going fine until I tried to back the lock nut off: it ended up twisting the entire inner tie rod, though it did “break free” of the outer tie rod. This is not good, because that nut needs to move freely for proper alignment. So I spent a large portion of Saturday dousing it in PB Blaster ,hoping this would soak in and free the rust, then taking the impact driver to it while holding the inner tie rod in place with an adjustable wrench. I even took a propane torch to the nut. I then talked to one of my mechanic friends to get some more ideas and see if I was crazy or not. Nope, it happens. There are more effective torching methods, but I didn’t have those. “Letting it soak” is something I keep coming across, too, but I couldn’t believe it was having so much difficulty. (My suggestion for avoiding this problem is to soak any suspension part you may be planning to change in PB Blaster, and do this a day or two ahead of time!)

Inner tie rod and lock nut, post freedom. That inner tie rod’s a bit rusty, huh?

So I put the old tie rod back on, torqued everything down, and went home, frustrated beyond belief. It’s just tie rods, what the hell?

So after waiting for a day, my hope was to finish the job. I went to my parents’ again, put the car in the garage, and started to loosen the lug nuts. But there was a problem: two lug nuts were not coming free. They had been just fine the day before. I didn’t know what else to do – it didn’t make sense. Using a breaker bar, I kept unwinding one of the lug nuts. And then…it completely sheered off.

Dayyyym!

So now I was miserable. I had a great many choice words and slunk into a garage floor catastrophe coma. Was this really happening? How had what should have been a simple job turned into…this? What was I going to do? I could still tighten the other stuck lug nut down, since THAT one hadn’t sheered off yet, and with four lug nuts, I could (somewhat) safely get my car to a shop. If I took a risk on the second one and it sheered off as well, I’d be looking at getting the car towed, or replacing the hub, which could easily be it’s own nightmare, and would definitely require me to stay the night at my parents’ and probably take the next day off work.

Now, deep in the recesses of my mind, I remembered knocking a few lug bolts out of their hub. At the junk several years ago, I had found a freed knuckle assembly lying in front of an old Corolla and had bought it to test on my new press. At some point I had needed to remove the lug bolts before I could press the bearing out. So as I looked online today for answers to my situation, there was suddenly a light at the end of the tunnel to realize that individual lug bolts can in fact be replaced with removing the hub. Of course. Sweet!

At a few bucks a pop, I bought three new lug bolts from Napa, as well an inner tie rod, boot, extra lug nuts, and then an inner tie rod tool from another shop. I’m not saying I wanted to change the inner tie rod, but there was no guarantee that bolt was coming off, and I was not taking any chances!

I don’t have a picture, unfortunately, but it turns out that when you take the rotor, caliper, and caliper mounting bracket off, there is a divot in the knuckle specifically designed for the removal of lug bolts. I actually knocked the first one out with a hammer when it was on another side, since there’s just enough clearance. The second one I aligned to the proper location, and I used a special tie rod puller (oddly enough) that forced the bolt out smoothly and without the jarring effects of the hammer. You get the new lug bolts in by pushing them through the back as far as you can, putting a washer around the front, then torquing a lug nut down so as to pull the lug bolt into place inside the hub. Very fortunately, my impact driver (not to be confused with an impact wrench), was up to the task. Really wish I’d taken a picture of this, but oh well. Also, I should definitely buy an impact wrench.

Also, the lock nut did actually come off the inner tie rod. This was such a relief! There’s definitely something to be said about soaking suspension parts in penetrating oil and waiting a day or two before attempting to remove those parts. I could have changed the inner tie rod while I was down there, it probably would not have hurt anything and the car is getting an alignment anyway, but those can be tricky as well, and more work was the very last thing I wanted to deal with. I put a lot of anti-seize grease on the inner tie rod before putting the new outer tie rod into the place. (Trick: if you put a few beads of anti-seize on the tie rod, the lock nut and/or outer tie rod will spread the anti-seize along the threads for you)

So it all turned out, and tomorrow I’ll get my rotation and alignment figured out and probably drop the car off at a nearby shop that I can walk home from. I can always get alignments from my friend, but I think he’s a bit busy right now :).

Great, but what does this have to do with working on cars?

Well, like I said, sometimes it really sucks. Today really sucked, except that it worked out and I learned something new. I’ve had tie rods go very smoothly, I’ve even had axles go very smoothly. But other times I’ve collapsed on the floor of the garage in mental agony. I’ve also made some mistakes that could have been extremely dangerous. It takes the right conditions, the right tools, and a certain level of grit to pull some of these repairs off. It takes money, too. Shops aren’t cheap, but tools aren’t either. I would argue that tools are cheaper than shops, but you also have to consider the value of your sanity.

Once again, there is no conclusion to this post! I still think people can only benefit from understanding how their cars work, but for all the work I’ve done, I still come across awful little situations like this past weekend. I’m struggling to know what to recommend, honestly. For one, it’s worth having tools for those “oh, shit” moments, and I think it definitely helps to be over prepared for the job at hand. I may follow this post up with some suggestions on how to go about these DIY repairs. Half the battle is just knowing what you’re truly up against, and that’s the problem with recommending people do the work on their cars. You simply can’t predict what you’ll be up against. Doing it yourself only makes sense under certain conditions.

Personal Returns on Education

One clever life strategy is to carefully select your post-secondary education to maximize its ROI in your personal life. I’m not talking so much about monetary earnings as I am about the utility of specific skills in your life when they are used for you.

For example, my degree is in Anthropology. This was a highly intellectually stimulating subject for me, so I really loved it. But it does not translate into high pay (or much of any pay at all), and it’s unlikely to save me any costs. How it is likely to affect my life, in the sense that I mean in this post, is that it has given me broad-based cultural awareness that will likely help me to adapt to life and potentially earn money in foreign cities, something I hope to capitalize upon some day. Mostly, it’s still an intellectual subject 🙂

One subject I’ve been interested in studying is Appliance Repair. My parents’ refrigerator has crapped out twice now, but I was able to directly solve the problem the first time and made an informed guess that turned out to be accurate the second time. This has saved them the hassle of paying for a brand new refrigerator, probably in the range of ~$1400, and in the first case, it saved them from the lie of the repair guy that the compressor was bad and would cost $800 to replace. That’s substantial savings, but let’s think about this more. Your value as an Appliance Repair person comes from your work on many people’s appliances. The chances of your specific refrigerator dying are fairly small in any given year, but let’s say that over the course of your life, your refrigerator dies three times and you replace it each time. If you love what you do, that’s fine, but as far as personal ROI goes, you may be lucky to be saving yourself $5,000, maybe a little more if you consider other appliances and maybe rising prices or refrigerators with more features. HVAC training would have a higher personal ROI, but even then, a few water heaters and maybe a furnace are not going to save you a tremendous amount of money as a factor of your earnings over the course of your life.

Programming, surprisingly, is only marginally better. You could potentially design your own website, and if you are a crazy beast you could even build an e-commerce platform, but in the case of the latter, you’re still likely to hacked into oblivion because programming and security are done in teams, and solo programmers are rarely able to do everything themselves. In the former, you need specific technical skills that may not be a part of your “stack”, or base of knowledge. This blog that you are reading right now is built on WordPress, which is written in the PHP programming language. I don’t know PHP. I’m probably capable of hacking through it, but it wouldn’t be fun. There are tons of sites that have all of these pieces already put together for you, and they are very often a better use of your time and money than going solo, even if you are a professional programmer.

If you can see the trend, it’s that in order to make money in a particular occupation, you have to be highly specialized in that occupation, which has the side effect of being less useful to you, in person.

Accounting is not bad, but you don’t need a degree in Accounting to keep a budget. I have no training in Accounting, but I did go full geek last month and learned how to calculate my paychecks, taxes and everything. It took some reverse engineering of last year’s tax return to double-check my logic, but it was pretty fun for a few days. Likely, Accounting WOULD be extremely useful if you owned a small business.

Art is interesting in that art is expensive, so if you can do your own, you can likely style things exactly as you want for much less. With graphic design, you can make your own business cards, do your own photo retouching, etc. As for design, I have a distinctive international style I use for decorating the living room, and I’ve always thought it would be sweet if I could hammer and cut metal to keep that style going. This will scale with your needs, though, so it only saves as much as you were determined to have in the first place. I also suspect if you love artsy things, it’s easy to find and love cool things made by others, but that’s sort of beside the ROI discussion 😉

I would argue Nursing has high ROI as you become highly trained in many subjects of general health, you can perform your own bloodwork, and especially if you have kids, you will better know when they really need to go to the hospital or when they will be fine without special treatment. These savings can add up significantly over the years, and the knowledge does not require the extensive education that becoming a doctor does, which again, requires a great deal of specialization that may not be directly relevant to you or your family.

Probably the highest personal ROI of any occupation I can think of at 1:00am is Auto Mechanical work. Since most people own a vehicle and enjoy doing so, it makes sense that a mastery of automotive knowledge will help you save tremendous amounts of money keeping your cars running or finding good deals on used cars. Since maintenance is routine and parts can and will fail, this provides a steady stream of work which will create a higher ROI for your knowledge each time. I pride myself on doing most of the work on my car, but I don’t have the special training (or some of the gumption) to do everything, nor the experience to feed my decisions when I set to work. If I were financially independent, I would seriously consider doing an automotive program, and would love to rebuild my own engine some day. The ROI would be lower for mechanic work on heavy machinery, since you are not likely to need knowledge of heavy machinery maintenance for your daily life.

I also suspect that an Associate’s Degree in Business is one of the highest ROI degrees. You learn some accounting, some finance, some law, some communication, all in one package. It may not have the prestige of a Bachelor’s degree, but dollar for dollar, you’re getting a lot of great knowledge for very little time and money cost. Even if you never used the degree in a job setting, the knowledge would probably pay for itself many times over.

Carpentry would also be very high on the list, especially if you own a house.

 

There’s no science to all this, just some perspectives. There are many, oh so many, occupations that we could sit down and talk about. I especially like the Occupational Outlook Handbook, but the sort of analysis I’m doing here is fairly rare. Typically, people only look at either compensation or personal reward (e.g. intellectual stimulation, as with my degree). These are really great to consider, but don’t be ashamed to be strategic with your education 🙂