Since returning from Ecuador in early September, Kim and I have both been focused on fitness. She’s doing Jenny Craig and hitting the gym; I’m doing Atkins and walking all over creation. We’re both down about ten pounds in two months. Yay!

It feels great to be walking again. When I decided to lose weight in 2010, walking and Crossfit were the cornerstones of my fitness plan. (With them, I lost fifty pounds in eighteen months.) After my divorce, I rented an apartment in northeast Portland from which I could walk to everything. I loved it. I loved it so much that when I decided to buy a new home, I looked specifically for locations with a high walkscore.

But when I allowed my life to be subsumed by the Get Rich Slowly course last spring, I stopped exercising. As part of that, I forgot to walk. I got in the habit of driving even the half mile to the grocery store. For six months, I was sedentary, and my body showed it. Over the past two months, though, I’ve re-discovered the joys of walking.

First thing in the morning, I roll out of bed and take a long walk. I walk to “run” errands during the day. I walk to the grocery store. I walk to restaurants. I walk for exercise. I walk for fun. Kathleen and I even conduct business meetings while walking.

True story! Right now, I’m outlining this article about walking during a two-mile stroll to the gym. I’ll write more during my two-mile stroll home.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that sometimes it’s possible to forego the car for longish jaunts into downtown Portland. The center of the city is five miles from our condo. It takes about twenty minutes to drive that distance (counting time for parking). If I take the Springwater Corridor, I can bike downtown in 25 minutes or walk the distance in 85. Not bad.

So, I walked six miles to meet Kim before the final Portland Timbers match. And although I drove to meet her and Sahra for drinks before last Friday’s Jason Mraz concert, we left my Mini at Lloyd Center overnight. The next morning, I hoofed it exactly five miles to retrieve the car. (Believe it or not, I’ve found that walking can be an excellent cure for a hangover.)

If I were to become adept at Portland’s plentiful public transportation, I’d never have to drive downtown.

Because I’ve been walking and biking (and riding my motorcycle) so much lately, I’ve actually begun toying with the idea of selling my Mini. As much as I love the car, I just don’t use it that often. It’s very easy to imagine a car-free lifestyle.

Actually, I suspect that most folks — especially young folks — could profit from experimenting with carlessness. I don’t mean profit in strictly a financial sense, either — although your bank account would certainly benefit — but in myriad other ways as well: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and more.

From a personal-finance perspective, automobiles are mostly money pits. The Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Department of Labor reveals that vehicles are the second-largest expense for the average American family, making up about 17% of the typical budget.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average new vehicle cost 60.8 cents per mile to operate in 2013; that includes fuel, maintenance, registration, insurance, depreciation, and the cost of buying the vehicle (with finance charges). AAA figures the average driver spends just over $9,000 per year on her automobile.

But, as I said, going car-free offers other benefits. Here are a few of the reasons I prefer to walk:

  • Walking keeps me fit. I’ve always said that my body is built for walking, and it’s true. Some guys are natural muscle men. I have a good friend who is one of the world’s top ultrarunners; she was born to run. Others are naturally adept at jumping or climbing or swimming. Me? I’m built to walk long, slow distances.
  • Walking calms my mind. Normally my brain buzzes like a swarm of bees. But when I get outside, the pace of the world seems to slow. I’m more present in the moment. I watch the natural world around me. I feel a part of my environment rather than apart from it.
  • Walking connects me to my neighbors and my neighborhood. In a car, I drive the same streets all the time, and I travel through them at high speed. By foot, I’m more aware of the changes around me. And I meet people. Walking home on Tuesday, I struck up a conversation with an older guy who lives nearby. He’s lived here for thirty years, and was full of neighborhood lore. If I’d been driving, I’d never have met him.

When I suggest that more people ought to test-drive a car-free lifestyle (heh), I meet a lot of objections. I’ll admit there are folks for whom biking and busing and walking don’t make a lot of sense. If you live in rural Alaska, you probably need a car.

Often, however, the objections amount to little more than laziness: “I don’t want to put forth the effort and won’t even try.” People are quick to point out why biking or walking or public transit wouldn’t work for their situation, but fail to acknowledge that there are plenty of people in similar circumstances who do make it work. Mostly it’s a matter of will.

To truly go car-free — or to build your life around biking, busing, and walking — may require some forethought and drastic changes, but it’s almost certainly possible.

Note: Interested in car-free living but don’t know how to start? Mr. Money Mustache just issued a challenge: “Can you go car-free this weekend?” he asks. Can you? Give it a shot!

When you begin walking, it can seem like a hassle. It takes so long to get where you’re going! Soon, however, you learn to love the slower pace. How much time does it take? Both less and more than you’d think. Less time because it generally doesn’t take much longer than driving, especially over short distances. But more time in that people tend to grossly overestimate how quickly they walk.

Because I’m a nerd, I keep close tabs on how long it takes me to get to common destinations. This helps me to know when it makes sense to walk and when driving is a viable option. For instance:

  • The gym is a 2.5-mile drive (eight minutes) from home. It takes 32 minutes to walk or twelve minutes to bike to the gym via the nearby multi-use path.
  • Our grocery store is a half-mile drive (four minutes) from home. It takes ten minutes to walk that distance and five to bike it.
  • Our neighborhood is a little spread out. Our favorite restaurant is 0.6 miles up the street, but the movie theater is 1.3 miles away. It takes between four and six minutes to reach these places by car. It takes from ten to twenty minutes to walk and between five and ten minutes to bike.

When you figure in the fitness benefits, it almost always makes sense for me to walk to nearby destinations. Yes, biking can be quicker, but it’s also more of a hassle. I don’t do it often. (Biking makes more sense when I’m going downtown. It’s an hour quicker each way than walking, so the “overhead” of getting the bike out is worth it — especially since biking downtown doesn’t take much longer than driving.)

How fast do people walk? Non-walkers often believe that a good walking pace is four or five miles per hour. I wish. Over the past five years, I’ve logged thousands of miles by stopwatch and spreadsheet. My average pace hovers around seventeen minutes per mile (or 3.5 miles per hour). When hard-pressed, I can crank out fifteen-minute miles. (Once at Crossfit, Kyra paced a group of us to walk a 42-minute 5k — 13.5-minute miles. That was insane. I’d much rather run that distance in 25 minutes than walk it in 42.) If I’m on a groggy early-morning walk, I might amble through slug-like nineteen-minute miles. I feel like my seventeen-minute pace is pretty average — and might be a bit brisk over long distances.

According to my trusty pedometer, I’ve averaged 13,182 steps per day during the month of October. Because I know that the length of my stride yields almost exactly one mile per 2000 steps, I figure I’m walking about 6.5 miles per day. (Some days I walk twelve miles. Some days I walk zero. Most days, I walk five or six.)

Kim and I aren’t ready to go completely car-free. Her work office is 6.5 miles from home. She’s biked before, but it was a bother. The streets were busy, and it was tough to carry everything she needed. If her office were three miles away, or close to the nearby multi-use trail, she’d be more open to the idea. But for now, she prefers to drive.

Meanwhile, I still need want a car for a handful of errands. My orthodontist is twenty miles away, for instance. Also, my mother is in an assisted-living facility halfway between here and Salem. And what about Costco?

But you know what? My braces will come off in a couple of months. After that, I ought to be able to structure my long trips so that I can either take my motorcycle or borrow Kim’s car. Maybe I really could sell my Mini. We’ll see.

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I’m not a fan of the Law of Attraction, the idea that people bring into their lives the things they think about. In fact, I think it’s bullshit. In The Secret, Rhonda Byrne explains how this “law” is purported to work:

Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to its source. And that source is You.

[...]

It takes no time for the Universe to manifest what you want. It is as easy to manifest one dollar as it is to manifest one million dollars.

This kind of stuff makes me SO TENSE. To quote Han Solo, “No mystical energy field controls my destiny.” Authors like Byrne do a disservice to folks who ought to be changing their lives by becoming more active participants in their futures instead of passively “manifesting” what they want.

That said, I do believe our thoughts create our reality. As positive psychology has demonstrated, the things we choose to think about and how we choose to think about them can have a profound impact on the quality of our daily experience. If you focus on the negative, life is more likely to suck for you than if you were to spend more time paying attention to what’s right with your world.

Plus, I cannot deny that the more open I am about my intentions — about what I want do and how I want to do it — the more help I get from unexpected sources. But the key here is that I have to intentionally put myself out there for anything to happen. I have to take action. Hoping and wishing and thinking aren’t enough.

For instance, Kim and I are in the middle of planning some future adventures. We want to spend some of our vacation time traveling the U.S. in an RV or trailer, seeing the sights and filming the people we meet along the way. There are a couple of complications, though.

  • First, neither one of us has experience with RVs or trailers. We need to figure out what the heck we’re doing before we hit the road. Will we rent? Buy? New or used? How much space will we need? If we tow a trailer, what kind of truck should we buy?
  • Second, how do we document our journey? I can write, obviously, and I’ve had some modest success with my amateur photography (one photo published, some prizes at the county fair). But my video skills are rudimentary. How do we produce quality shorts that people want to watch while keeping the gear and hassle to a minimum?

The old J.D. would have dealt with these dilemmas by thinking and reading and hoping. But the new me has learned something useful: If I talk about my plans with the people I meet, help often appears. I think of this as playing the lottery of life. Each time I meet with somebody, it’s like I’m receiving a lottery ticket. Most of these tickets don’t pay off, but sometimes I gain new knowledge, new experience, new friends.

Over the past few months, I’ve been talking about our proposed trip with the people I meet. Last month at Fincon, for example, A.J. and Walter interviewed me for the SmartAsset blog. As they were setting up their gear, I realized they might be able to give me some tips.

“Tell me about your camera setup,” I said. “What gear do you use and why?” Walter and A.J. described their equipment and the rationale behind each piece. Later, Walter sent me an email with a more detailed explanation. Based on his recommendations — and the recommendations of a few other folks I talked to — I’ve expanded my kit of camera equipment. I’m ready to dabble with video. (The sound and lighting stuff still worry me, but I feel prepared for the actual filming part of the project.)

Here’s another example: A couple of weeks ago, Scott and Chelsea were in town. Because I’ve wanted to get to know them better, I took them out to lunch. Over Thai food, I told them how I wanted to learn more about video production.

“I know somebody you should talk to,” Scott told me. “You need to meet Chase Reeves.” A few days later, Scott made an email introduction. Chase and I met earlier this week we spent an hour getting to know each other. He shared some of what he’s learned about creating podcasts and video for the web.

Or last week, my ex-wife and I spent a couple of hours together in the car. As we drove, Kris and I talked about how our lives are going and what we plan to do in the future. I mentioned that Kim and I might buy an RV but have no place to park it.

“You could park it at my place,” Kris offered. “But you’d have to let me use it when you’re not on the road.”

“That sounds fair,” I said. Another problem solved.

One last example: In just a few minutes, I’ll head to north Portland to meet with Cherie and Chris from Technomadia. This couple has been on the road since April 2006 (the same month I started Get Rich Slowly!), moving from a sixteen-foot trailer to a full-sized Greyhound bus. I emailed them yesterday to see if we could chat online. They upped the ante. “We’re in Portland,” they wrote. “Come see our bus.” Once I look at how they live, I plan to take them to lunch and ask them what they’ve learned during their years on the road.

Here’s my point: Although I despise The Secret and the Law of Attraction, there really is something similar at work in the universe. But that something only works when you go beyond wishing.

When we’re open about what we want, when we begin to take action, things almost seem to magically come together. Wishing and hoping aren’t enough, though. They key to making this magic is to take action. Action is the catalyst that attracts people and knowledge — and all of that other good stuff — into our lives.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!’William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), The Scottish Himalaya Expedition

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On the surface, things have been quiet around here lately. Underneath, however, there’s been a flurry of activity.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to rename this blog from “More Than Money”. But what to name it? You folks offered lots of suggestions — along with encouragement to write more often (and about whatever the hell I want).

In the end, I realized the best name was the first name. I’m going to call this site Foldedspace, which was the name I picked for the blog back when I started it in 2001. (My previous web journals from 1997, 1998, and 1999 either had no name or were called “Great Expectations”.)

Foldedspace is back!

Meanwhile, I’ve updated my blogging software to the current version of WordPress (4.0) and have upgraded all of my WordPress plugins. I also installed the latest version of the “theme” this blog is built on.

But that’s not all!

I took the time to import most of my old articles from previous versions of Foldedspace, and I’ve built an archives page that allows easy access to this content. (Note that there’s a bunch of stuff from before 2005 that remains trapped in a dead database. I’ll get it over here eventually.)

Plus I updated the about page and created a page dedicated to my best articles from this site and others (including Get Rich Slowly).

But wait! There’s more!

I spent several hours re-vamping the sidebar here at Foldedspace. For the six of you who actually visit this site on a regular basis, you’ll now find my Twitter and Instagram feeds, my most recent bookmarks at Delicious, and an up-to-date blogroll linking to the latest posts from some of my friends and colleagues.

If you look at the image box in the upper-right corner, you’ll see that I’ve doubled the number of photos that are cycled randomly. (I get a lot of questions about these photos, by the way. Just to be clear: They’re all images by me or of me. They tend to be photos of my travels or of my daily life. Each image is meaningful to me in some way.)

There’s been another, more important change behind the scenes. Just as several other old-school bloggers have re-dedicated themselves to “middle-form” content over the past month (Matt, Andy, Gina), I’ve made that leap as well.

No more fretting over what’s okay to post here. It’s my site; I’ll share what I want to share. I hope you like it, but if you don’t, that’s okay. If I post too many cat videos and you need to unsubscribe, I’ll understand.

There’s still quite a bit of housekeeping to be done. I want to get those “lost” articles imported, for instance. Also, during the process of importing past posts, I created several duplicate categories. As a result, categories are useless right now (so I’ve removed them from the site). I want to fix that. And more. I want to do lots more.

Right now, though, it’s time to head to the gym.

Welcome back to Foldedspace…

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This post is meant as a public service announcement for pumpkin carvers everywhere — but especially those who might consider keeping a carved pumpkin indoors for a day or two.

Don’t do it.

Eighteen months ago, I moved into a condo. Last year, Kim and I were too busy to carve pumpkins, so we didn’t bother. This year, however, she’s been feel especially festive, so we decided to decorate with style.

Two weeks ago, we took a trip to Kruger’s on Sauvie Island to pick pumpkins with Sahra and the Limbaughs. The day was lovely, and included a rare double rainbow.

Double rainbow at the pumpkin patch
Double rainbow at the pumpkin patch (only one rainbow shown)

We all picked pumpkins. Kim and I took home three. Here’s Reagan with hers:

Reagan with her pumpkin
Reagan with her pumpkin

At home, Kim and I put on the big band music and poured some champagne. We spent several hours carving our pumpkins.

Kim carves her first pumpkin
Kim carves her first pumpkin

They looked great!

Two jack o' lanterns
Two of our three jack o’ lanterns

We turned off the lights, lit the jack o’ lanterns and all of our candles, and then watched an old movie. Everything felt like fall.

So far, nothing unusual, right? Well, here’s the thing: Neither of us has ever lived in a condo before. We’ve only ever kept our jack o’ lanterns outside. In our current place, though, that doesn’t make much sense. Sure, we have three balconies, but if we put our pumpkins on them, nobody will see them.

Instead, we put one pumpkin in the hallway, one on the liquor cabinet, and one in the living room. So festive!

On Tuesday night — 72 hours after carving our pumpkins — we sat down for dinner as normal. “Hey,” Kim said, pointing at the pumpkin across the room. “Doesn’t that look like it’s slumping over a little?”

“It does look a little crooked,” I said. “I wonder why.”

“I think it’s okay,” she said.

A few minutes later, however, we both noticed that the pumpkin was not okay. “Holy cats,” I said. “I think it’s melting!” And indeed, that’s what it looked like. Kim got up to check things out.

“Get the garbage can!” she said. “And a towel!” I ran to the kitchen to grab the emergency tools. Thinking ahead, I also grabbed my phone. When I reached Kim’s side, this is what I saw:

A melted pumpkin
“Help me! I’m melting…”

Our pumpkin really had melted. When Kim pulled off the top, a mass of fruit flies flew spewed forth. A thick green mold coated the entire inside of the pumpkin. When I tried to pick it up, I was in for another surprise. The pumpkin no longer had any sort of structural integrity. It just sort of oozed in my arms so that there was no way to lift it into the trash can. We were forced to scoop it over in a wet and mushy heap.

“I wonder if the other pumpkins are okay,” I said.

We went to check the pumpkin on the liquor cabinet. “This one seems okay,” Kim said. But then I poked it and my finger sunk all the way through the skin. When Kim lifted the top, there was the same green mold and the same mass of fruit flies. That pumpkin too ended up in the trash. And so did the one in the hall (which wasn’t as bad as the other two, but soon would have been).

The moral of this story? Don’t keep carved pumpkins indoors. Let our foolishness serve as a warning to you all!

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1 October 2014

Thoughts on Taking Risks, Making Mistakes, and Solving Problems

Last night, I met with my friend Faith. Faith is eighteen, and she’s just getting started in life. Her parents are two of my best friends, but they’re still parents. You know what I mean. Faith wanted to meet with me one-on-one to talk about family stuff and to talk about boys. I’m not the […]

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30 September 2014

What Should I Call This Blog?

Over four years ago, I sold Get Rich Slowly, the little personal-finance blog that I somehow built into a behemoth. After the sale, I thought I’d leave the site quickly — but I stuck around for three years. Eventually, I moved on. I tried to return to Folded Space, the personal blog that I started […]

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27 September 2014

Which Scotch is Best? A Macallan Taste Test

Last week at Fincon, I spent some time becoming acquainted with Shannyn Allan, who writes about finance and fashion at Frugal Beautiful. Though we’ve known each other for three years, we’d never spent time getting to know each other until this conference. Shannyn says that she can be an enigma to some men. She’s a […]

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25 September 2014

Blog Consolidation, Step One: Far Away Places

I just returned from Fincon, the annual conference for financial bloggers and other folks who write about money. After a week in New Orleans with my colleagues, I’m inspired to become a better blogger. For me, that’s going to be easy. It just means I have to post more regularly around here! As part of […]

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23 September 2014

How I Pack for Travel

I like to travel. Since 2007, I’ve visited twenty countries and eighteen states (where “visit” is defined as “spent the night”). I’m not on some mad quest to uncover every corner of the planet — although that does sound fun — but I like taking time to travel to new places. Travel isn’t without its […]

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8 September 2014

Ecuador 2014: Thoughts on Happiness and Well-Being

Kim and I have just returned from two weeks in Ecuador. For a second year, I participated as a presenter for one of Cheryl Reed’s “Above the Clouds” retreats. Once again, the experience was awesome. We spent the week of the retreat at the El Encanto Resort outside Los Bancos. (“Resort” is a strong word, […]

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