My 2015 Year in Review

31 December 2015 · 21 comments

This has been quite a year for me. In 2015, I did a couple of Big Things that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. They were scary — but fun. And while my life was mostly awesome, it wasn’t perfect. (It never is, right?) I’ve struggled with my fitness, especially.

By far the biggest event in my life this year was our RV trip across the United States. Kim hatched this plan in early 2014, and after we realized we really wanted to do this adventure, we spent the rest of that year preparing for it. By early 2015, we’d begun shopping for a motorhome and planning for six months of travel. In the middle of January, we bought a used 29-foot Bigfoot for $38,000.

Bigfoot
Bigfoot, before the adventure began…

I don’t think I can convey just how nervous it made me to buy this vehicle. Motorhomes combine the worst aspects of owning both houses and cars. To me, making this move felt — and still feels — like a a huge risk. But calculated risks, life lacks zest. (Plus, we have high hopes that we can recoup much of that $38,000 when it comes time to resell the rig.)

Kim and I spent most of February and March preparing for our trip. We arranged for our friends Tyler and Jess to housesit our condo in Portland. We packed away all of our stuff (except our furniture). We outfitted the RV. Kim quit her job — a big leap of faith on her part. We took a couple of weekend test trips to nearby campgrounds.

Then, on my 46th birthday, we drove off for what we expected to be six months on the road.

Things got off to a rocky start. Kim and I don’t fight often, but there was some definite negative energy the morning we left. That bad vibe lingered as we drove south through Oregon and into northern California. But by the time we reached the Redwoods, we were back in sync. With a couple of exceptions, we remained in a good groove for the next nine months — despite being in constant close quarters and having nobody else to hang out with.

Bigfoot, at home in the Redwoods

After a week in Wine Country, we moved on to California’s Sierra Nevadas to explore Kim’s childhood stomping grounds. We visited her friends and family. We explored Yosemite.

Kim plays with her nephew, Porter, as a thunderstorm approaches

Yosemite Falls in the Yosemite Valley

By the middle of April, we’d reached southern California. We parked the RV in Palm Springs for a week, which gave us time to explore the surrounding area. We visited Joshua Tree. We drove around the Salton Sea and through Anza-Borrego. We spent time with more of Kim’s family in southern California.

J.D. stopped to take MANY photos
We were lucky to tour the park when it was cloudy and rainy.
The weather added texture to everything.

From there, we moved on to Arizona. Arizona! Wow, what a lovely surprise. The state is absolutely gorgeous.

When she was younger, Kim lived for a year in Flagstaff, Arizona. But at the time, she and her husband hadn’t had the time or money to really explore the region. This time, we spent nineteen days sampling the state from south to north — and still didn’t see half what we wanted to.

We loved the funky charm of Bisbee, the mining town built into the side of a mountain. We enjoyed the hospitality of her aunt and uncle in Tucson. We made a quick pitstop for Chinese Mexican food (yes, really) at Chino Bandido in Phoenix. We spent a week exploring the area around Sedona. We camped for free in the national forest just outside the Grand Canyon.

Devil's Bridge behind Sedona
Devil’s Bridge behind Sedona (click for larger version)

Greetings from Forest Road 688F
Forest Road 688F, just south of Grand Canyon!

Grand Canyon is Arizona's most-famous (and most-visited) landmark
Grand Canyon is Arizona’s most-famous (and most-visited) landmark.

The canyon is vast almost beyond imagining -- 277 miles of fantastic formations
The canyon is vast almost beyond imagining — 277 miles of fantastic formations.

It's the Colorado River far below that has carved this region's landscape
It’s the Colorado River far below that has carved this region’s landscape.

The views are so vast that you can watch the approaching weather
The views are so vast that you can watch the approaching weather.

But the biggest surprise of all was probably Page, on the Arizona-Utah border. This town came into existence during the construction of the much-maligned Glen Canyon Dam. It’s surrounded by astounding geologic formations, including the jaw-dropping Horseshoe Bend and the famously photographed Antelope Canyon, both of which are well worth the time and effort to visit.

We're happy to have seen Arizona. Now it's on to other states!
Overlooking Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona.

Antelope Canyon is a crazy kaleidoscope of shapes and colors.
Antelope Canyon is a crazy kaleidoscope of shapes and colors.
Between the two of us, we took over six hundred photos!

After a quick stop at the relatively disappointing Monument Valley, we spent a week in southwest Colorado. Again, more amazing scenery. From the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde to old mining towns like Silverton and Rico to the fantastic Rocky Mountain peaks around Telluride and Ouray, we loved soaking up the history and the views. Top highlight? Probably the afternoon we spent at the “clothing-optional” hot springs outside Ouray. We spent several hours reading in the mineral pools, getting massages, and experiencing a fantastic thunderstorm.

The train followed the bank of the Animas River
Riding the Durango narrow-gauge railroad next to the Animas River

Ouray, Colorado is tucked into the Rocky Mountains
Ouray, Colorado is tucked into the Rocky Mountains

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

From there, we moved on to the Fort Collins area, where we enjoyed ten days with Kim’s mom and stepdad. We biked around the town, ate and drank too much (a theme for this trip), and got to visit with friends like the Mr. Money Mustache family. A great break after the first stage of our trip.

Atop Rocky Mountain National Park
Atop Rocky Mountain National Park

Financial friends in Longmont
Financial friends in Longmont: Derek and Carrie and the Mustache family.

By early June, we had a feel for how this whole motorhome thing worked. We left Colorado and drove northwest into Wyoming, where we explored Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons for a week. Again, so much beauty! The western United States has some world-class destinations for nature lovers.

Old Faithful in action
Old Faithful is neat, but Yellowstone offers much more

Grand Prismatic Spring is gorgeous!
Grand Prismatic Spring is beautiful…

The magnificent Tetons
Morning in Grand Teton National Park (photo from top of Signal Mountain)

After a minor mishap on our way to Sun Valley, Idaho — we managed to run out of gas while driving the back way into the resort town — we settled in for a quiet week in a small town.

A long way down...
The drop down into Sun Valley on Trail Creek Summit Road

From there, it was north to Montana. The end of June found us camped on the shores of Swan Lake, a great base for exploring Glacier National Park and the surrounding area. We spent a lot of time on the water, basking in the sun — and dodging mosquitoes. (From the time we reached Fort Collins at the end of May until we settled in Savannah in early October, both of us constantly sported bug bites.)

Boondocking at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains.
Boondocking at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains.

The cold, cold water of Swan Lake in northern Montana
The cold, cold water of Swan Lake in northern Montana

Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, as seen from Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The first three months of our road trip had been spent exploring The West, a region we already knew fairly well. (In fact, we had never left a place that Kim did not know.) Now it was time to head into the unknown. Our first stop? The Dakotas. We passed Independence Day in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a wonderful vacation spot.

Mount Rushmore!
Mount Rushmore would have been neater at the start of our trip. By July we were jaded.

We darted down to Nebraska to visit Kim’s close friends and spent a night parked on the edge of bluff overlooking Badlands National Park (just a few miles from the infamous Wall Drug, perhaps the country’s top tourist trap). Here we reached Peak Mosquito. The nasty bloodsucking menaces were so thick that we could not walk from the car to the RV without getting new bites. Crazy!

Sitting on the edge of the Badlands
Sitting on the edge of the Badlands…

Parked on the edge of the badlands!
Our best camping spot on the trip if not for the bloodthirsty flies and mosquitoes.

It was here that our troubles began. Driving east toward Minnesota, the motorhome’s engine blew. We found ourselves stranded for ten days in the small town of Plankinton, South Dakota. While the fine folks at Overweg Auto installed a new engine for us, we took the time to visit the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, see the Corn Palace in Mitchell (meh), and watch a lot of movies on our laptops.

Stranded!
Prepping to tow an injured RV back to town…

The Ingalls homestead
The real-life Ingalls homestead. Laura first met Almonzo in the slough behind this white building.

It was in Plankinton that the seed was planted for my new financial blog, Money Boss. While hosting a financial webinar for my friend Leo Babauta, I realized that I really do love reading and writing about money, and helping others improve their finances. So, after years of saying I was retired, I put the wheels in motion to get back in the game.

With our newly-repaired RV, we got back on the road and tried to make up for lost time. I visited my friends Joel and Aimee who live smack dab in Garrison Keillor country. (Seriously, they live just a few miles from the fictional location of Lake Wobegon.) We parked for a few days near Duluth, Minnesota, where we got out first introduction to what passes for scenery in the East. (Sorry, folks, but it’s not nearly as scenic as the West!)

The sea caves at Devils Island
The sea caves of the Apostle Islands. Like a submerged Sedona. [click for larger version]

In the Land O’ Lakes, we started dropping in on friends. We spent a few days with Jim Collins on the shore of Lake Michigan; we saw Shannyn in Chicago (our first real city since Denver two months earlier); we camped for a week near the Amish enclave of Shipshewana, Indiana where we enjoyed the hospitality of Phil and Kathy; we visited Adam Baker’s family in Indianapolis. It was all great fun, but Kim and I were both interested to see that once we had crossed the Great Plains, it was as if we’d entered another country. Again, the eastern U.S. is very different from the west.

J.D. and Jim, walking the beach...
J.D. and Jim, walking the shores of Lake Michigan…

The river tour of Chicago's architecture may be the best such trip I've ever taken
The river tour of Chicago’s architecture is an excellent way to learn about the city.

An Amish farmer works his field

Adam and J.D. and three Baker girls
Adam and J.D. and three Baker girls

Next, we moved on to Ohio. We stopped near Cincinnati for four days, where we had three great social experiences. First, we met Chris and Jim (a.k.a. Geeks on Tour). Then we enjoyed a home-cooked meal from Amy Finke. Then we enjoyed another home-cooked meal from Andrea Deckard.

J.D. and Andrea are very tired...
Can you tell how hot and tired Andrea and I are in this photo?

In fact, the 24 hours with Andrea had a profund impact on both Kim and me. Over dinner, she told us about Steve Chou’s course on how to open an online store. Kim has been searching for some way to make money online, and this sparked something inside her. The very next day, she had begun researching how to make this happen. (Unlike me, Kim is not a natural internet denizen. She doesn’t enjoy computer work. This is a whole new world to her.) The next morning over breakfast, Andrea gave me some not-so-gentle prodding to start my new website.

These 24 hours with Andrea completely changed our plans. We’d already realized that this six-month trip across the United States was going to take at least a year, but we’d had no plans to stop. Now, however, both Kim and I became distracted. Instead of being in the moment, enjoying where we were and what we were doing, we were thinking about other things. She was thinking about what to sell online and how to do it. I was drawing up plans for Money Boss.

Thanks to Andrea, everything changed on August 14th.

We left Cincinnati and drove deep into West Virginia, a state of mountains and trees. Although this was probably the most beautiful place we’d seen since Arizona, neither of us was fully engaged anymore. Instead of exploring the world around us, we were spending time in the motorhome, working on our projects.

West Virginia is beautiful
The lovely misty mountains of West Virginia…

The New River Gorge Bridge

For the next two weeks, we tried to explore the places we visited. We took a tour of the West Virginia State Penitentiary. In Cleveland, we took a day to ride the roller coasters at Cedar Point. We also visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame (very disappointing) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (better than expected — great, in fact). We parked the RV at a winery in northwestern New York (dangerous!) and biked around Niagara Falls. (So far, Niagara Falls has been the most impressive geological feature we’ve seen in the East. It’s pretty neat. If it were in the West, it’d be a National Park.)

The West Virginia State Penitentiary
The penitentiary building, as seen from the mound across the road…

Harvest Host parking in New York
Our RV spot (and fire) at Freedom Run Vineyard

Niagara Falls from the Canadian side
The incredibly beautiful Niagara Falls (click to enlarge)

As a sign of how much we’d lost our enthusiasm for the trip, we skipped New York’s Finger Lakes, a region we’d been looking forward to visiting. We did stop in Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame (again, underwhelming). This area was far more beautiful than we’d expected. We both thought we could live here.

While the next two weeks weren’t miserable, they were certainly the least enjoyable two weeks of the trip. We spent four days in Pennsylvania’s Poconos, a place I’d always thought was some sort of resort get-away. Turns out it’s a dirty over-commercialized tourist trap. Then we spent ten days in an RV park near Atlantic City, New Jersey. We ventured outside the motorhome only rarely. Instead, we cooped ourselves up inside and worked on our projects. By this time, my plans for Money Boss were in full swing. Meanwhile, Kim was receiving a crash course in internet marketing.

We did take time for two visits, however. Our friend Harlan drove out to see us one afternoon. And my little brother Tony happened to be in town for a business convention (which was why we’d picked Atlantic City as a stop in the first place), so we spent a day with him. It was awesome to see both guys.

Tony and J.D.
Brothers with beer.

Harlan and J.D.
Business buddies.

After Atlantic City, we parked the RV at Jim Wang’s house outside Washington, D.C. We drove the Mini Cooper to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend two conferences: Digital CoLab and Fincon. This week with friends and colleagues energized both of us, and reinforced the idea that it was time for us to take a break from our travels.

But where should we stop? Where would we live? What would we do with the RV? How long would we stay put? What would we do for money? Is it possible to simply set down roots all of a sudden with no plan, no preparation?

Turns out, it’s surprisingly easy to do so.

After exploring Charleston, Savannah, and Orlando, we decided to settle in Georgia for six months. We rented a fully-finished condo in Savannah for six months and settled into a routine.

During October, Kim and I were both good about exercise. We’d gained weight from too much food and drink (and not enough exercise) during our six months across the U.S., and we aimed to fix that. At the same time, we both dove deep into our businesses. Kim ordered lots of different products from China to test their marketability online. I worked on content and design for Money Boss.

In early November, Kim’s brother flew out to visit us for a long weekend. We played tourist in Savannah and had a great time trying restaurants and touring the historic sites.

Doug and J.D.
Doing the tourist thing with Kim’s brother, Doug.

After Doug’s visit, I reverted to bad habits. You see, if I’m not careful I can become a workaholic. And that’s what I did. I spent the entire month with my head down in front of my computer. I stopped going for walks. I stopped lifting weights. All I did was work. In some ways, this was productive. I created an excellent (IMHO) ten-part series that summarizes my financial philosophy. And just before Thanksgiving, the Money Boss website went live!

Money Boss screenshot
Money Boss is live! So excited for this new site…

On the other hand, all work and no play makes J.D. a very dull boy. I lost my fitness gains from the month before. And after getting into a good groove with my writing, I fell into a mental funk. The first couple weeks of December weren’t good.

Kim, on the other hand, was a machine. She was exercising. She was working on her online business. And most impressive (to me) was the fact that she had hustled to get her Georgia state dental hygiene license, distributed her résumé to offices around town, and now was picking up all sorts of fill-in work. Her hustle is amazing.

While we’d settled in Savannah, we continued to explore our surroundings. For Thanksgiving, we drove to Orlando to spend the holiday with our friend Toni and her family. We also spent a night in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest European settlement in the U.S. (We’re heading back to St. Augustine in a few days to help celebrate Toni’s birthday.) In early December, we drove two hours north for a weekend in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina.

The Angel Oak
The massive Angel Oak is a Charleston landmark.

The Old Sheldon Church
The ruins of the Old Sheldon Church between Charleston and Savannah.

To end the year, we booked a week in New York City. Kim had found a Groupon for a cheap hotel near Times Square. (The place? The very European Row NYC, where rooms are small and functional because you should be out enjoying the city.) We flew up for Christmas week and had a blast. The highlight was an evening with blogging buddies Harlan, Miranda, and Athena. (Trivia: We’ve now seen Harlan and Miranda each three times on this trip, the most we’ve seen anyone.)

The Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty.

NYC Street Scene
On the street, somewhere near Harlem.

As I say, it’s been quite a year. When we think about it, Kim and I are blown away by how much we’ve done in the past twelve months. Seriously. With zero experience, we bought a motorhome and launched on the adventure of a lifetime. We explored half the United States. We settled in a new city (if only for a few more months) and both started big new projects. Through it all, our relationship has only gotten stronger, which is something that wasn’t a given. (Many folks find that RV living harms their bond rather than helping it.)

That said, our health has suffered. We’ve enjoyed trying the food (and beer) from around the country. Our bellies are good barometers of just how much that’s true. We’re not worried, though. We know we have the drive and ability to shed the weight once we establish some sort of routine. Unfortunately, that might mean when we return home — next October.

2015 Travels
Where we’ve been in 2015. So many places!

What next? Well, Kim will continue doing fill-in dental hygiene work in Savannah. She’s shocked by how well this has gone. People love her, both patients and dental offices. She has more offers of work than she has days in the week, and she’s getting more all the time. (She’s even getting calls from offices she never applied to; folks are referring her to each other!) Meanwhile, she’s about to place her first order for product from China. She’ll be selling teething necklaces (!?!?!) on Amazon.

Kim's eCommerce Stuff
Our kitchen table is filled with Kim’s ecommerce stuff.

My work is focused solely on Money Boss. Now that the site is live, and now that I’ve finished writing my ten-part “crash course” to my financial philosophy, it’s time to settle into a writing routine. The challenge? I not only need to produce articles for now, but also articles for when we’re on the road. Once we resume our RV trip, I want to devote my efforts to that. I don’t want my attention to be divided. It takes the fun out of things. That means I have to create twice as many articles (or three times as many articles) as I need for the immediate future.

Fortunately, I have tons of ideas. Plus, during my years of “retirement”, I saved up lots of notes and half-completed stories. I shouldn’t have any trouble coming up with new stuff to write. (First up? Tomorrow — on New Year’s Day — I’ll write my article for April first. It’ll be an update of a GRS classic: Lifestyles of the Rich and Stupid. Very eager to write this one.)

We plan to take a two-week trip through Florida at the end of February and beginning of March, but other than that we’ll be camped here in Savannah until it’s time to hit the road again. After the huge St. Patrick’s Day celebration — the biggest such event in the U.S., bigger than New York or Chicago! — we’ll start packing up the motorhome. Our plan is to hit the road by the time the lease on the condo expires on March 31st.

We’re not sure what route we’ll take. We skipped some places we wanted to see when we got burned out at the end of the summer. But we don’t want to drive all the way up to New England. (I’ve promised Kim that I’ll fly us out to see the fall colors in 2017.) We’ll probably start in Washington, D.C. (Maybe we can park the RV in Jim’s driveway again? Or maybe we’ll drive the Mini Cooper up and rent a cheap hotel? AirBNB?) From there, we want to explore the South.

We know we want to hit Kentucky in late April or early May. Kim wants to see horse races! We want to see Nashville and Memphis. I have a college roommate in Huntsville, Alabama and I’d love to reconnect with him. Kim has never seen New Orleans, and she really ought to do so. Our friend Bret will kill us if we don’t spend a week in St. Louis. I have a cousin in northern Oklahoma. The state of Texas is h-u-g-e and might take an entire month to explore. Kim wants to see New Mexico, and we’d both like to visit her mom again in Colorado on the return trip. Plus, there’s Arizona. Arizona! We want to see more of what that state has to offer.

Our only real timeline is that we have to be in San Diego for a conference in the middle of September. (I’ll fly home to Portland for World Domination Summit in August, but that shouldn’t affect our travel schedule.) After that, we’ll drive north to Portland. We should be home in early October. We can’t wait! The U.S is amazing, but Portland is home and we miss it. And we miss our friends. Our only other plan for 2016 is a trip to Ecuador for the fourth annual chautauqua on money and happiness.

So, there you have it. A busy and blessed 2015 with more to come in 2016. If I could get my eating and drinking under control, my life would be pretty much ideal. I hope your life is similarly wonderful, and that you and I will continue to become better people together as time goes on.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

26 November 2015 · 3 comments

Long-time readers know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Despite attempts by retailers to turn the weekend into some sort of extended consumer orgy, I’m grateful that we set aside a day each year to remember the good things we have.

Make no mistake — if you’re reading this, you’re among the world’s wealthy.

Here’s an over-the-top appreciation of the Thanksgiving Day from 1951:

Maybe a bit sappy but certainly sincere.

This year, as in years past, I want to share an 88-year-old poem that I read to myself every Thanksgiving. It does a fine job of encapsulating my philosophy of life. I’ve de-versified it and converted it to prose paragraphs. I like the way it reads this way.

Desiderata

(Max Ehrmann, 1927)

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others — even to the dull and the ignorant — they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

I am thankful for all that I have.

I’m thankful for my health, for my family, for Kim, for our extended safe passage across the U.S. this past year. I’m thankful for good friends and great colleagues. I’m thankful to have found my calling in life, and to be able to do truly meaningful work. And I’m thankful for you, the folks who read what I write.

It’s been a true pleasure getting to know so many of you, and I look forward to making more connections in the future.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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How I Got My Groove Back

20 November 2015 · 3 comments

It’s been an interesting week here in Savannah.

After Kim and I settled here six weeks ago, I slipped into a sort of routine. I’d get up in the morning, answer email, do a bit of work, go for a five-mile walk, come back and do more work, and then call it a day. Much of the time, I struggled to get my writing done. It felt like everything was rusty, like I was trying to remember how to make things move again.

That’s changed now, and in a big way.

For the past four-and-a-half days (it’s almost noon on Friday), I have been a writing machine. I haven’t been able to tear myself away from the computer.

I get up in the morning and sit down at my desk. I sit there, clacking away at the keyboard until dinnertime (with only a brief break for lunch). I’m not going for walks, I’m not answering email, and I’m not getting anything else done that needs to get done.

This will be a problem if it continues indefinitely, but for now I’m just riding the wave. It feels so good to have my groove back. This is what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi means when he describes the psychology of flow. I’m doing meaningful work that challenges me, and it makes me feel terrific.

Note: As you might expect, 95% of what I’m writing is for Money Boss, my new personal-finance blog. The site went live this week, and I’ve been backfilling the archives with bits and pieces I wrote this summer. Plus, I continue to write long essays as part of the “financial freedom crash course” I’m sending people when they sign up for the email list.

What was it that helped me find flow once more? It was a combination of a few things.

  • First, I’ve begun reading about money again. After I left Get Rich Slowly, I stopped reading personal-finance books. It was as if I took five years away from immersing myself in the subject. Now, though, I’m re-reading classics (like The Millionaire Next Door), finding new favorites (like the Warren Buffet biography The Snowball), and searching for other books about wealth. The stuff I read is constantly triggering new ideas for articles. I love that!
  • Second, I’ve been talking about money with readers and colleagues. I’ve always been piss-poor at answering emails, but when I started Money Boss I made a vow to reply to as many messages as possible. (This is something Chris Guillebeau does that makes a big impression on his audience.) So, I’ve been reading the email people send me, answering their financial questions, and sharing stories and ideas. This too has given me lots of ideas for articles.
  • Lastly, I’ve been freewriting. One of the sucky things about being a writer is that the stuff you produce when you’re “cold” usually isn’t very good. In fact, it’s often terrible. But novice writers — or experienced writers who have forgotten — don’t realize that it’s this shitty early stuff that sets the stage for the better stuff later on. You’ve got to push through it. You’ve got to produce a lot of words that will never see the light of day before you get to the gold. I’m finally getting to the gold.

The bottom line: I’m churning out articles at a terrific rate, and it feels awesome.

Meanwhile, Kim is experiencing a similar resurgence in her own world.

When we arrived in Savannah, she started the long process of getting her dental hygiene license in Georgia. She’s been working on starting a side business (selling stuff online), but that’s not really her passion. In fact, she kind of hates the internet. But she loves people (and people love her). Working with patients puts her into a flow state of her own.

On Monday, Kim’s hygiene license finally came through. On Tuesday, she hit the streets, going door to door across Savannah, dropping off her résumé and chatting with doctors. On Wednesday, she worked her first fill-in shift — and she’s already scheduled for several more. She even has an interview for a temporary full-time position!

When Kim came home after her first day on the job, she was glowing. “I missed that,” she said. “I missed talking with people and doing something that I’m good at.”

I know what she means.

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“You know what I miss?” Kim asked last night. We were sitting in bed, reading. “I miss the way we read The Martian together. That was fun.”

Last month, during our week-long quest to find a place to live for the winter, we read/audited Andy Weir’s The Martian as we drove all over Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Sometimes I read aloud to us, but mostly we listened to the audiobook. Kim’s right: It was fun.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “When you finish the book you’re working on, you can pick something else for us to read together. We can read it to each other. And if the audiobook is good, we can listen to that too.”

We’re both excited about this plan.

You see, Kim and I both used to be big readers. One of my first uses of the internet was to track my reading. When we were married, Kris and I used to spend our evenings reading together instead of watching television. And when I discovered audiobooks about a decade ago, I learned that listening to a book is often better than reading one.

Note: Is “auditing” a book the same as reading it? Folks who’ve never done it say “no”. But to those of us who’ve discovered the magic of audiobooks, auditing can actually be superior to reading. A great narrator reading a great book takes things to a whole new level. Even if the recording is mediocre, the reader still tends to retain more of the material. The biggest drawback? Audiobooks are linear, and there’s no way to take notes. With a paper book, things are more “random access” (which is great for nonfiction) and you’re free to mark the hell out of the pages.

When Kim and I first started dating in early 2012, we’d both been out of the habit of reading for a while. Things didn’t get any better during the next three years. But when we started our RV trip, things changed. Suddenly we didn’t have our old habits to fall back on. We had less access to easy entertainment. We had to entertain ourselves.

As a result, we both began reading again. (In fact, we made that a priority before we left Portland. We each brought a shoebox of paperbacks with us.)

Over the past six months, I’ve read (among others):

  • Colin Woodard’s American Nations. This is an interesting (if flawed) look at how the U.S. is a country made up of eleven smaller “nations”. Each nation is a cultural unit unto itself with it’s own political and social standards. Sure, we as a country share some commonalities, but there’s a reason Kim and I feel like foreigners here in the South. We’re from the Left Coast, and our values are very different from the folks we’re around right now. To my mind, the main flaw with the book is where the author divides his nations. To him, it’s an academic exercise based on statistics. It’s like he hasn’t really experienced the areas he’s writing about. If he had, he’d probably split things up differently. (When taken with Founding Brothers, American Nations has helped me understand that the U.S. was never actually “united”. We’ve always been divided — and probably always will be.)
  • James Michener’s Centennial. Michener is one of Kris’ favorite authors. The entire 23 years we were together, she tried to convince me to read him but I never made the time. My mistake. He’s great! I started reading Centennial as we approached northeast Colorado, where the novel takes place. Over about 1000 pages, the author explores the history of this region in a way that makes it come alive. Great stuff. I now plan to read Chesapeake before we explore Virginia in the spring.
  • Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This is a book I like to revisit every couple of years. I enjoy the whole fiction/philosophy subgenre, and books like Siddhartha and The Razor’s Edge always bring me back for more. (Apparently this genre is called bildungsroman. It’s a thing.) Kim and I listened to most of Motorcycle Maintenance as we drove across Montana and the Dakotas, where the story takes place. For hours at a time, the cab of the RV was quiet as we listened to Pirsig’s discussion of Quality. More fun than you might think.
  • Willa Cather’s My Antonía and O Pioneers!. While stuck in South Dakota, I re-read Cather’s amazing My Antonía, which explores what life was like for immigrant families on the plains of Nebraska during the 1800s. I followed that up with O Pioneers!, which is more in the same vein. I prefer the former with its many anecdotes of death and destruction. These books are bleak, just like the land they describe.
  • Charles Portis’ True Grit. Most folks only know this as a movie. That’s too bad. True Grit is one of the best books I’ve ever read. No joke. It’s fantastic. The main character, Maddie Ross, has one of the strongest narrative voices I’ve ever encountered, with a distinct worldview that just can’t be conveyed on film. This is a short book (I read it once in one sitting) and it’s hilarious. Like Jonathan Strange, the author is funny funny funny although many readers miss the humor by taking everything at face value.

I’ve also begun reading science fiction again after an almost twenty-year lull. I’ve read (or re-read):

Right now, I’m reading Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (fun space opera with excellent character observation) and auditing The Millionaire Next Door. (The latter is homework for future Money Boss articles.)

I’m pleased with how much I’ve read recently. And Kim has read even more than I have! (I sometimes get distracted by blogs and Reddit.) It feels good to re-enter the world of words.

One big difference between how I read today and how I used to read? Most of my current reading is done on the Kindle. Yes, yes. I love paper books too, and I’ll always have them. Paper books are especially good for nonfiction (for reasons mentioned above). But when traveling, my Kindle is a lifesaver. It contains hundreds of books — but is smaller and lighter than even one. In the eight years since the first Kindle was released, I’ve purchased 310 books for the device.

Note: I prefer the “old-fashioned” Kindle Voyage with a black-and-white screen and mechanical buttons for turning pages. I have the Kindle app on my iPad, of course, and I do use it, but when I’m reading for extended periods — especially for bed — I want to not be using a computer or iPad-type screen. The Kindle’s “digital ink” is easier on my eyes and doesn’t disrupt my sleep patterns. (If I read the iPad before bed, I have trouble staying asleep.) Plus, my Kindle Voyage is tiny and light. I love it. It may be my favorite electronic device — and that’s high praise, coming from me!

Also on this trip, I started listening to audiobooks while falling asleep. I generally don’t recommend this. If you listen to books at bedtime, you’ll nod off after a few minutes, and the next night you’ll have to struggle to find the last place you heard. But I sleep well while listening to books, so I’ve found a way to make it work for me.

My secret? I only listen to books I know very, very well. On this trip, for instance, I’ve listened to The Lord of the Rings three or four times. I know the series by heart, so it doesn’t matter where I fall asleep. (Plus it’s fun to wake in the middle of the night and hear more of the narration.) My other go-to is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is probably my favorite audiobook ever. So good!

There you have it: A run-down of my recent reading habits. Now it’s your turn. Based on what you see here, do you have any recommendations? Because it’s fun to read about the places we visit, I’m looking for books that are able to capture regional character. I also want to continue kindling my passion for science fiction. And, as always, I’m interested to hear about good financial books. (If you have recommendations for great books read by great narrators, that’d be awesome too.) What should I read next?

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12 October 2015

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: How I’m Taming Email and Tab Overload

After nearly two weeks, Kim and I are finally feeling settled here in Savannah. We’re learning the layout of the city, and discovering how to get around our neighborhood. (I like to walk almost everywhere, which is a challenge in the South. But I’m making it work.) Both of us have started working on our […]

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5 October 2015

Some Unintended Consequences — and How We Dealt with Them

Everything in life is a trade-off. If you choose to do one thing, you’re implicitly choosing not to do other things. If you choose to have children, for instance, you’ve made a tacit choice to forego many of the things you valued before. Or, if you choose not to have children, you’re making an indirect […]

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15 July 2015

Location, Location, Location: Why Cost of Living Matters So Much to Your Financial Health

Yesterday, I gave a presentation on my “Be Your Own CFO” concept to subscribers of Leo Babauta’s Sea Change program. For an hour, I talked about how (and why) to treat your personal finances as if you were managing a small business. As always, one of the key components of my message was that people […]

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2 June 2015

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

As Kim and I slowly make our way across the United States, we’re learning a lot, both about ourselves (individually and as a couple) and about others. We’re spending extended time with family and friends, and we’re meeting strangers in the places we stay. Through this constant exposure to a diverse population of people, we’ve […]

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18 May 2015

An Update after Two Months on the Road in an RV

So far, so good. Kim and I are now 52 days, 2500 miles, and $4000 into our planned year-long RV trip. We’ve made it to Page, Arizona, which sits just south of the Utah border. (Technically, our RV is currently parked a few feet into Utah, but we’re counting this as time in Arizona. Because […]

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27 February 2015

Far Away Places: Announcing Our Year-Long Cross-Country RV Trip

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains…” — John Muir Whenever I conceive of some bold idea, it comes with a potent mixture of enthusiasm and fear. I’m […]

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