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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Faith in ParisLast 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 best person to give advice about dating, but I did the best I could.

Taking Risks

Earlier this year, Faith made a bold move. She’d been hanging out with a boy she really liked, but she was tired of waiting for him to ask her out. “You should ask him out,” Kim told her. And so she did. The boy said “no”, though, and now Faith regrets making the move.

“That was a mistake,” she said.

“I’m not so sure,” I said. “Sometimes we have to take risks in order to get what we want.” I was thinking about how people on their deathbeds tend to regret the things they didn’t do rather than the things they did. “It’s not a mistake to go after what you want. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always get it.”

Faith seemed unconvinced.

“Look,” I said. I pulled out my pen and notebook and drew a diagram.

“Here’s how I see it. You can sit on the sideline and not take risks, and you’ll never get what you really want. You won’t have to suffer failure, and that’s great, but you’ll just have to take what life gives you. Or you can take an active role in your life, make some bold moves, and run the risk of getting rejected. Or failing.”

I drew five circles and then crossed out four of them. “In my case, I probably fail about eighty percent of the time. Only about one out of every five things I try works out. But you know what? Twenty percent of the time, I get what I want. Some people see my life and think, ‘Wow, J.D. is lucky.’ There’s no question that in many ways I am. But I’ve learned that I get luckier the more things I try.”

This concept has become a core piece of my philosophy. It’s a precept preached by plenty of people in the world of positive psychology and personal development. But I think it may have been the first time Faith had heard of it — or maybe the first time it clicked. I’m not sure she’ll take my advice, but I hope she will. The bolder and braver she becomes, the more she’ll get what she wants out of life. (My bottom-line dating advice for Faith? Instead of asking the boy out, she should have kissed him!)

Making Mistakes

Faith and I also talked about making mistakes. Sometimes we do the wrong thing and we end up hurting ourselves. Or, worse, we hurt others. Sometimes we do these dumb things despite knowing better or not wanting to do them.

Faith beats herself up over her mistakes. Many of us do. But I’ve learned that the key to coping with mistakes is to own them, fix them (when possible), and move on.

Here’s an example.

Last week, I tried to pull together a whisky night with my friends Sean and Tyler. Originally, we planned to get together Thursday night but then Sean realized he’d double-booked. “How about we get together Sunday night instead?” he asked. We all agreed. But there were complications.

  • First, Sunday was Kim’s birthday.
  • Second, our original plans included our sweethearts. When things changed, Kim explicitly told me “no girls”. She wanted to spend time with Tate and Jesse if they came over but Kim already had plans for Sunday evening. During rescheduling, I forgot to relay this key condition.

On Sunday afternoon, while I was out buying cheese and sausage for the whisky tasting, I realized that Sean and Tyler still planned to bring Tate and Jesse. Instead of clearing up the confusion immediately, I sent an awkward text message that just made things worse. Tyler and Sean were confused and Kim was angry. (She never gets angry with me!)

The old J.D. would have hemmed and hawed and dug the hole deeper, but the new me took action. I owned my mistake and apologized to everyone involved. We cancelled the whisky night, and will schedule it for a time when the six of us can have a relaxed evening together.

Mistakes suck. It would be great to live a life without mistakes. But you know what? We’re all human. As a result, we do dumb things from time to time. Or we do things that seem smart when we do them but later turn out to cause woe. When this happens, the best course of action is to solve the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Solving Problems

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott PeckAnd this is the thing: Often we are so afraid of fixing what’s wrong — whether or not it’s an actual mistake — that we choose to live with a broken situation. That’s crazy!

I’ve begun to re-read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. This book had a profound impact on me two years ago, and I’ve been feeling like it’s time to revisit it. I’m glad I am.

Peck’s thesis is that “life is difficult”. He argues that understanding (and accepting) that life is difficult is the key to being happy and fulfilled. To Peck, life gains meaning through recognizing and solving problems. “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom,” he writes. “Indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom.”

He goes further. He says that our “tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness”:

Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain. We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.

It’s like tearing off a bandage or diving into a cold lake. If you avoid the action, it takes on greater power in your mind until you’re suffering more from the imagined event than you would from the event itself. Peck’s philosophy — in my words — is to say “fuck it”, tear off the bandage or jump in the lake, and just get the damn thing over with. You suffer for mere moments and can move on with life.

For a long time, I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t tear off the bandage or dive into the lake. I wallowed in unhealthy relationships and allowed myself to remain mired in work I hated. Even today — despite knowing I should make quick, clean breaks — I sometimes stay stuck in situations that suck. But I’m getting better.

Last night, Faith told me that she’s going through a period of her life where she has to make some tough decisions. Will she go to college? If so, where? What will she study? Will she live at home or move out on her own? What should she do about certain friendships that she knows are bringing her down? And what about those darned boys?

It’s an exciting time for her, but it’s also scary. Small choices today will have huge repercussions for years to come. There’s pressure to make the “right” decisions. I hope our conversation helped her to see there’s a profit to be gained from taking calculated risks instead of playing it safe by waiting. And if some of the risks she takes turn out to be failures or mistakes, that’s okay.

Though it now seems trite, I think Nietzsche had it right: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Or, to use a more eloquent Spanish proverb, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” (That is, “There is no bad from which good does not come.”) Failures, mistakes, and problems aren’t the end of the world. In fact, sometimes they’re beginnings in disguise.

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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 in 1997, but it didn’t feel right. Instead, I moved all my writing here to jdroth.com.

“I don’t know what to call my new site,” I told my friend Adam Baker (from Man vs. Debt) at Fincon a couple of years ago.

“You can’t you just call it J.D. Roth?” he asked.

“I could,” I said. “But I want some sort of title that conveys what I’m writing about. I’m moving beyond just personal finance. I want to write about more than money.”

“Well,” he said. “Why not call it that? Why not call your blog More Than Money?”

And so this site was christened.

Time passed. I wrote about fear and happiness and freedom. Much of the time, I didn’t write. Other times, like now, I felt like I was bursting at the seams with things to say. But through it all, this site was More Than Money.

Yesterday, I received an email. A fellow named Gene Dickison wrote to tell me that he owns the trademark to ‘More Than Money’. “I respectfully request you discontinue the use of [the name],” he said.

At first, I thought it was a joke. But a quick check at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revealed that there are several trademark registrations for “More Than Money”, including one for Dickison and his company. I spent some time reading through the trademark rules and regulations, and based on that cursory scan I felt as if my use of the name were not infringing on anyone’s rights — but at the same time, I don’t want to waste any time, money, or energy to challenge this.

I’ve exchanged email with Dickison — who, aside from making this claim, has been civil and pleasant — and told him that although I don’t agree that I’m infringing, I’ll change the name of this blog.

But to what?

Several folks on social media have recommended that I not name the blog anything. For instance, Rob from Dough Roller wrote:

Rob's recommendation on Facebook

Many people agreed that I should just call the site “J.D. Roth” and be done with it. Maybe so.

I have a couple of weeks to think about this and make a decision. What do you think I should call this blog? And while we’re at it, are there specific topics you come here to read about? I’m always amazed that this site has so many readers, especially given the random topics that I tend to cover. But then maybe that’s why you all stick around: because you know that I’ll write about early retirement, fitness, travel, and cuddly furry animals — all in one place. Thoughts?


On a completely unrelated note, I finally convinced iMovie to upload the 8-minute video I made featuring footage of last month’s our motorcycle trip along the Oregon coast:

This was my first experiment with a GoPro. And although I find much of the scenery pretty to look at, the video will probably only be of interest to hard-core motorcycle fans. You have been warned!

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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 self-confessed nerd. “Plus, most men don’t know what to think of a woman who orders a ten-year-old Scotch.”

If that’s the case, most men are dumb.

On the final night of the conference, a group of us (a horde of us, really) sat around the hotel lobby, chatting and drinking drinks. The subject of whisky came up again. Since I was sitting with Shannyn and Jim Wang (among whose many blogs is Scotch Addict), I decided to have a little fun.

I found Sylvana, the woman who’d been our waitress all week. “Sylvana,” I said, “I want a couple of glasses of your very best Scotch.”

She went behind the bar and looked at the shelf. “We have a Macallan 18,” she said.

“That’ll be just fine,” I said. I’d never tried the Macallan 18 before, but I suspected it would be good. And it was. I took a glass to Shannyn and I kept one for myself. Once Jim discovered what we were drinking, he ordered one too. We sipped the Scotch and marveled at its smooth and silky nature.

“That’s good,” Shannyn said. Jim and I nodded in agreement.

When we’d finished our drinks, I went back to Sylvana. “It’s my last order of the week,” I said, “and I’d like another glass of the Macallan.” She gave me a sly smile. Then, presumably because I’d tipped well for the last five nights, she gave me a whopper of a pour. The three of us gratefully shared the drink.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday. I was driving home from errands when Shannyn sent me a text. “Is the 15-year Macallan as good as the 18-year Macallan?” she asked. Her timing was impeccable. I was just passing the last liquor store before home. I pulled in to the parking lot.

“Don’t buy anything,” I replied. “I’ll do a little test.”

And so I bought a bottle of the 15-year Macallan and a bottle of the 18-year Macallan. Then, for good measure, I bought a bottle of the 12-year Macallan to add to the mix.

Note: Under no circumstances was this a frugal thing to do, I’m well aware. But I’m a whisky drinker. I knew that these bottles would fit nicely with my existing library of Scotches.

Then I drove home and made a little video:

As you can see, I had a lot of fun with this project. (And as you can also see, I forgot to edit the title card at the end of the clip. Haha.) It’s been pleasing to find that the folks who watch this find it as amusing as I do.

This is the second video I’ve posted this week. (It’s actually the third if you count the video of our recent motorcycle trip.) There’ll be more.

Kim and I are embarking on a fun, open-ended project in 2015 that will be very video intensive. As part of that, we’ll be filming interviews with dozens of people.

But while I feel I’m an acceptable amateur photographer, I know next to nothing about videography. I’ve solicited advice from some of my colleagues (David Hobby, Wes Wages, etc.), and their recommendations will help me track down the lighting and sound gear I need. Having good gear is great, of course, but what I need to do most right now is get practice using the gear.

To that end, I’ll be creating lots of short one-off videos. Many of them will be about silly things — like drinking Scotch. I won’t publish all of them here, but I do hope to share the best ones.

Next up? This afternoon, Kim and I are headed to Oregon’s wine country to do a bit of tasting. Who knows? Maybe I’ll put together a short clip about that…

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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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11 August 2014

Out of the Doldrums

On Saturday, Cody came over to hang out. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were kids again for an afternoon. (Forty-year-old kids but still kids.) We spent several hours traipsing through nearby neighborhoods. We wandered through parks. We walked through Eastmoreland and imagined what it must be like to live in one […]

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14 July 2014

The Path to Purpose

You can improve the quality of your daily life by learning to focus your attention and choosing to filter your experiences through a lens of positivity. But while it might be simple to find happiness in a single day, it can be much more difficult to link a series of days into a meaningful whole. […]

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8 July 2014

Your Lifeline: A Quick Exercise for Looking at the Past and Projecting the Future

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve asked you to do some exercises to get at the heart of what brings meaning to your life. First, I asked you to find your big rocks in order to prioritize your time and life. Next, I had you answer George Kinder’s three questions to help figure out […]

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