Tuesday Trippin’ Jan 18

I tried to pretend I was optimistic, but it was inevitable. Covid came to our house last week. First I got the text that the pre-school was shut down for the next 10 days, then came the text that it was the other grandchild, the highschooler, who had a positive test.

It’s a no win situation.The kids need some semblance of normalcy, but if you put 2000 kids who have been guided oppositely (few of them well) in a closed building during a worldwide world record surge in new cases without a vaccine policy and without enforcing the mask policy… I don’t see how that ends well for anyone. Georgia is back at 9th for states with most new cases. Our grandchild has a breakthrough case, and thankfully it’s been mild so far.

Art at Fellini’s, one of my favorite pizza joints.

Russ and I got boosters before a small family get together for Thanksgiving. We chose the different mRNA vaccine from the one we had the first time around, just in case some level of variety gave broader protection, even in the most miniscule way. Well see if that holds against whatever fresh hell has been incubating in the masses. According to CDC recommendations, he and I didn’t need to isolate, but we did need to wear masks if we went anywhere. We were doing that anyway.

That next day Russ had time off to go see his Dad who had a recent hospital visit. We left it up to his Dad whether we’d still visit now that we’d been knowingly exposed. We were relieved when he told us not to come. You just don’t want to take any chances with someone in a high risk group.

We went out to ride instead. The weather was cold. There weren’t many riders or walkers out, but we drove out to Cedartown anyway so we could ride where we weren’t likely to see anyone at all. It was a nice ride, but we were stress exhausted and it was very short.

Cedartown Depot. Behind us is the one place on the trail where cyclists are required to get off an walk their bikes.

We’ve had snow too, just a dusting, but ever since Snowmageddon Atlanta in 2014 no one wants a repeat of the storm that stranded people all over the city and halted business for 3 days. At least we didn’t lose separate days for snow and sickness. I’ve been doing much of my computer work from the stationary bike. I rarely work hard on the stationary bike. It’s purpose is to keep me from being sedentary when I do sedentary things, and more often than I’d like to admit, the bike is just a catch all. It earns its keep in times like these though. We’re expecting more snow by the end of the week. I make myself do it, and maybe even work hard enough to sweat a little when the gaps in real rides are too big, and that’s when it makes the most significant difference.

Six Degrees, The Etsy Store

I’ve written about my/our Etsy Store, Six Degrees a couple of times lately. It’s relevant to this site in general because the site and our shop were both in existence long before there was a Silver Comet cycling project to dominate the last year and a half. And, it’s relevant to the project because the shop reviews are the tangible thing I have in my current life show that I deliver on promises and follow through to make people happy.

I’m going to go ahead and give the store, and the challenges it has presented recently, its own full post here so people who are interested in that can read it. People who just want to see that I can successfully run something can click on the links. And, people who aren’t interested in either can skip to cycling.

At one time I was concerned that if a lot of people clicked on the Six Degrees site, people who weren’t interested in finding that long lost treasure or trinket that they remember their great grandma having, it would destroy my conversion rate, but I’m not really sure it matters anymore. I’ve recently found out that if a seller’s store goes viral or gets an atypical boost in traffic, Etsy throttles it, sort of. The store disappears from showing up in search until the boost is over. I’m sure there is some rationale, but none of the sellers I’m aware of who have experienced it were able to come up with positive comments on the matter. Last time I subscribed to an SEO service, I was shocked that my rank in worldwide stores was so high, because my financial return on effort is so low. It’s not the only mystery I’ve tried to figure out. Some people are making huge money with Etsy, but the cliff drops fast.

The shop is near the front of my thoughts now in part because the last quarter is always supposed to be the busy season and this year it wasn’t. That’s not just for me either. And, it’s not just about changes created by the pandemic. Shipping has become a real burden and a pressure point for many sellers. According to Etsy, 50% of buyers who choose not to buy on Etsy give high shipping cost as the reason. There was a time when some sellers on some sites padded their prices with higher than cost shipping fees and added in handling to increase their margins while making the purchase price initially look low. It was pretty clear what they were doing. Buyers quickly learned to look out for sticker shock on the bottom line and hit cancel. Those times are long gone though, and shipping just keeps on getting more “extra” for buyers and sellers in every way. Now Etsy pushes sellers to cover shipping, or part of it, with their item prices. Unless my shipping is “free”, I get a notice saying my shipping is too high on every single listing I publish.

Low volume sellers of things that are average size and weight (like me) are feeling the shipping pain the hardest. Sellers who offer small expensive things like fine jewelry can absorb shipping expense most easily. Their costs have increased the least, and covering that increase goes unnoticed to the buyer. Those who sell bulky or heavy items at low cost are struggling to stay in business. In this case, large means packaging more than a square foot in area that weigh over 4 pounds.

Many sellers, including me, have taken large numbers of heavy or bulky listings out of their shops because shipping them is too expensive, and, I haven’t taken enough of them out. With the 4th quarter USPS price hike, I cancelled orders totalling $20 and $40 because the shipping (on a small teapot and a medium small bowl) was going to be $70 and $80 respectively. When the losses were lower I’d eat my mistake and ship anyway. Now I offer the buyer the chance to pay additional shipping before canceling the order, and I send a screencap of the shipping cost when I do it because the cost is so incredible. Amazon is a completely different animal and customers don’t understand why Etsy sellers can’t be the best parts of everything that Etsy was in the beginning while also being the best parts of what Amazon is now. How could you expect them to. They can order thing from Amazon or Target that come in oversized boxes and weigh way over 4 pounds and do it repeatedly. They can’t truly appreciate the effect that “custom” or “unique” has on the number of hours it takes to produce an item and get it in front of them either. Makers and sellers are having trouble coming to grips with it. Many craftspeople and sellers don’t do the math, and they’re there for the whole process!

It’s not just the cost of shipping something that stays sold either. Returns cost everyone, but not everyone sees it. I walked on Kennesaw Mountain today behind some ladies talking about ordering a lot of swimsuits and cover ups in several sizes. One of them said “It beats trying them on in the store, and if I don’t get to go on the trip, I can just send it all back.” As a shopper, I so get it. I don’t want to risk being stuck with something that doesn’t work for me, and companies like Amazon, they found that pain and fixed it. They take that risk away from the buyer, but, that only works for high volume companies selling mass produced goods at a high enough markup to cover losses from returns.

Small sellers without repeat customers can’t charge membership fees to cover part of the overhead or have a delivery fleet with the footprint of Amazon. And, on top of that, the delivery services give significant… read that HUGE, commercial shipping discounts to the big volume guys. Sellers who drop ship through sites like Amazon get all the big discounts and if it’s coming from overseas, they get international benefits from the Postal Treaty and still have to triple the markup to cover returns. They rely on the economy of mass production and high volume sales for their profit margin. How on earth can a buyer understand that they can get free shipping from China, but it costs $80 to go from Atlanta to Seattle? Things are upside down, like they are in so many other parts of the economy. Sellers like me don’t get big discounts. We make them possible for the big guys to get them instead, and my trips to the post office take half an hour at best because the close post office location closed. When my turn around time is short, I’m usually going for only one package. The same story repeats itself in every facet of the business.

The early emphasis at Etsy was on small makers of original works or curated vintage and unique supplies with sellers who often work from home, the opposite of what Amazon does best. But, Etsy now allows “production partners” and pressures sellers to become more like Amazon every day. It’s becoming increasingly hard for buyers who are not makers themselves to recognize the difference between hand made and mass produced. The entire nature of the beast is changed.

It’s not that I couldn’t find a thing to sell and make a profitable business from Etsy or some other platform now. It’s that once I was able to make it support me, I wouldn’t have my heart in it. Whether I’m making it, or saving some little known object from an obscure death, I love feel and weight of old things. I love tiny little stitches wrought with love that make a project take an enormous amount of time to complete. I love keeping tools and furnishings that were made when resources seemed limitless out of the scrap yard. Those things take time to find, clean, research and bring to the customer. I love the rabbit hole I fall in when I discover some something that I didn’t know about. When I get a customer who found a pot her deceased aunt made it makes my day, not just my day, really it keeps me going. One of my dream jobs would be to do research for History Detectives.

In order to sell enough at a high enough price to support myself, or even make a profit would require me to spend my time and my mind on things I care much less about. It wouldn’t be the empowerment to makers working from home that Etsy was in the beginning. It would have to take advantage of economies of scale with a large proportion of passionless performance of marketing tasks and spending large amounts of advertising cash. If I was going to do that, I would rather work someplace more secure and less fickle for better pay and, most of all, a higher purpose. We each carve out freedom for the things that are most important to us in whatever way we can make most meaningful. I have happy customers and time to meet other obligations with my current Etsy store, but it isn’t supporting us, or even me, and that isn’t a sustainable way to make my life work.

So, the Etsy store, at least for the near future is on probation, a dream I don’t want to give up, but can’t really afford to keep either. If I create cycling project related items, it makes sense to have an established site from which to make those available. I have an unreasonable amount of “treasure” to sell (as well as things I can’t fathom why I ever bought). As long as I can, it makes sense to put as much on the site as possible with focus on items that have never been listed. Listings are quarterly. I’ll slowly stop renewing the listings that have been renewed the most. So, for now, we’ll still hang around between lemonade and wait and see mode. It’s been an interesting journey filled with hope and learning experiences, just like whatever we do next will be…

The Work Week

I’ve been writing this piece (along with the budget post) for a while, editing and changing as I tweak the plan. I was prepared, but still surprised at the level of overtime when I calculated hard numbers of hours. When I showed my draft of this article to Russ. He read it. I waited. He didn’t say anything. So, after a bit I asked “Were you shocked by the time commitment?” He said “Yes”, (and that was before I added in another 5 hours each for active recovery walks the day after each ride). Russ didn’t say any more, so I asked if there was anything that he thought I overestimated. He said “No”. I asked if he was still on board. He said “yes” and asked some questions.

Actual questions in full sentences with nouns and verbs were a relief at this point. He had envisioned part time work outside the project. In his head, and probably the heads of potential supporters, the job was to ride a bike two days a week.

In fact, the most predictable part of this project is that very surprise, that the time commitment will be immense. Top search results in Google say that the Silver Comet alone takes 1-2 days for the “ambitious” to cycle. On the other end of the spectrum the 2020 record for a (drafting) century ride is 2 hours 20 minutes and 26 seconds. Those conditions are completely different from the trail, and obviously, we’re not world record class athletes drafting a minivan on a track. We’ll be somewhere in the middle with video shot at a speed that could be sped up or slowed down to suit the user. While the video is the point,

So, here it is, a big picture snapshot of what I expect our start, then our regular weeks to look like. This is based on the scenario for the super stretch goal, riding there and back while filming both the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trails in each direction, each week for at least 52 weeks. We will lead up to that by training for the full ride and working out the bugs in our filming set up, and we’ll taper off afterward, and do our best to fill in any weeks that didn’t go according to plan.

The Weather, It’s Always Out There

Our weeks won’t be neat and tidy like my layout below. We have weather parameters that, while workable, will be the unpredictable part, at least on a day to day scheduling basis. Not every week will look the same in practice as it does in planning. Our weather limits are basically temperature, precipitation and lightning. Go, no go decisions will be based on keeping body temperature in the functioning range and free from charges that would power your flux capacitor. The weather can be wet, or cold, but not both. Hypothermia is not good. If the chances of rain are above 20% and the temperature is in the 50s or below, that’s not likely to be a ride day unless we’re confident conditions will pass before we get to a section.

If there’s snow, maybe we ride. It depends. I’ll ride in some sludge, but when there’s slick solid ice on the ground that’s a no no. We don’t have enough icy weather in Georgia buy cold weather tires and probably won’t even choose a bike with a fork wide enough to accept them. In fact, in Georgia, we are likely to have more unrideable days due to heat. Hyperthermia is the warm side no no. Our high temperature isn’t as firm as the cold temperature. My personal high has been rising because I’m growing more fit with the training, but Georgia summers are hot. We’ll plan one of our breaks at the expected summer heat peak, and that should take care of most heat days.

Schedule During Funding and Set Up

When the funding comes in, we’ll start coordinating the equipment and pressing the training harder. We’ll double check that the gear choices we made are still the best and still available. We’ll have some short to medium test runs with the equipment as we work up to full century rides and adjust our set up. We can start as soon as the lowest level funds because some of our expenses and equipment fund at the first level and we will be committed as soon as it funds. We’ll start front loading our workload as much as possible at that first level.

I expect the first ride or two that cover both trails in both directions to be backed up by car. One of us will ride in one direction, the other on return, or at this point we might each do half days instead. We’ll have designated spots to meet. After we ditch the car and move to backing each other up by bicycle, hydration will require a little more planning. During the pandemic and in the winter trailhead drinking fountains are turned off. Before the pandemic, they were turned off well before the first freeze and stayed off long after the last. Leaving the trail while filming is not optimal. We’ll be carrying water for some segments and making sure we buy any necessary water at the places close by the trail as we pass them

We will stay in a hotel the first time we do a full ride. After sleeping the ride off, we’ll be looking to see if we can find an efficiency apartment that could be had for the same price as the hotel and storage budget. If we can do that, logistics becomes much easier. It would eliminate the time, stress, expense and hassle of switching accommodations when the weather forecast changes. It will also make leaving supplies, gear and battery chargers for use on the next visit possible. A whole host of other things will become markedly less trouble while making actual expenses more predictable. Smooth, manageable and predictable are the features that will make the project sing. Renting an efficiency apartment, room or even a camper also gives us the option of staying additional nights without additional cost if have a small injury, unexpected changes in weather or other conditions. Every piece of the project is its own little cost benefit analysis and being open minded about changes, as long as they remain inside the budget, will always be worth a look.

Hopefully car backup will only be needed once or twice, 4 times at most. After that we should have accomodation and other questions answered, and any gear that we should leave on the other end transported. We’ll be settling into a procedure and a schedule.

Where Will the Hours Go in a Typical Week of Video Riding and Reward Making?

We have two kinds of time commitment once we’re up and running on a “regular” schedule. One is time away from home (which matters because we are away from family and family obligations), the other is the amount of time spent actively working.

I expect time away from home (excluding still photography day trips or other work accomplished in a single day away) to be 3 days a week. A day out, a day of both active and passive recovery, a day back.

There could be additional time away as well. If the Landscapes and Covered Bridges Screen Wallpaper reward gets 2000+ supporters, we will be away from home an additional 2+ weeks photographing all 16 of the covered bridges in Georgia. If that reward gets more than 4000 backers, we’ll be doing all of the covered bridges in Alabama too.

Project Hours of Work Per Week

Starting with the hours that are identical for both of us, we will each be on the trail 20+ hours per person per week. That’s figuring 15 miles per hour. That’s a low end speed for distance riders, but the recumbents won’t be fast and we want to be fairly consistent with travel speed while filming. We may get faster over the course of the project, but we won’t get a lot faster. The 20 hours, or 10 hours per ride day, allows stops for tasks like changing or checking battery packs, memory cards and other equipment as well as things like rest/water, restroom and lunch breaks.That’s 40 project hours

We will both write for rewards categories 2 and 3. Those are estimated at 5 hours 45 minutes each for 11.5 project hours, that’s if all of those rewards find supporters. We’ll start that as soon as we’re funded at the lowest level (while we’re acquiring equipment) to front load the work and free up time on the back end if possible. Obligations met also free up brain space.

Commuting to and from the trail on each end, 3.5 hours x 2 people. That’s calculated from home on the front end, and on staying at the lodge on Ft McCLellan and commuting by bicycle on the Anniston end. 7 Project Hours.

Strength Training at the Y (not at the pre-pandemic levels when I’d skip for months sometimes, or the pandemic levels- nothing) this would be on a serious, keep us healthy and riding, go twice a week level. 7 hours each. Sadly, that’s just over 50% commuting time. We may have to change to a different gym to reduce travel time. I’ve avoided changing because the Y offers free or reduced memberships to those in need, and because I’ve been a member for 30 years. I joined when I lived closer to one location that I do to any location now. All gym related decisions are on hold until we Omicron settles though, and whatever wave arrives on its heels. Gyms are among higher transmission locations and new weekly Covid cases are at an all time high in Georgia. The National Guard is on call at testing sites and in hospitals. We could reduce this time block some by doing what we can for strength training at home. Proper equipment is clearly better for strength training though, so for now the time block stays at this level in hope that we can return to the gym for the better strength and preparedness. 14 project hours.

Et cetera (I always hear that in the voice of Yul Brynner as the King of Siam BTW). We need to do things like wash and dry our bike clothing, check weather, and check it again, fill, clean or store drink bottles, make sure streaming is ready, organize everything, move things to where you need them next, make and use checklists, pack lunches, gear and kit, repair, replace and organize or store the little things and the side things, make any appointments, plans and reservations necessary, all those things that suck up the time you don’t know where went and would hire an assistant to do if you could. I’m optimistically allowing 2 hours each per week for that. 4 project hours

Total 76.5 project hours of project work done by two people, or 38.25 hours of joint project time each.

Work for Russ Only

The work that Russ will do exclusively is:

He’ll maintain bikes, recumbents and… by doing things like adjust, store, repair (or take in to be repaired), air the tires, clean and lubricate after every ride, check brakes, check video, safety, communication and other equipment. He’ll also do things like update software. 4 hours a week.

Upload video. We won’t edit heavily, or even much, but we won’t just throw it up either. We expect to upload 1 ride (around 7 hours of trail video) per week, plus anything else we shoot for fun or for sharing the project. I’m only allowing 4 hours for this activity, so obviously we’re not carefully editing video, just clipping the start and end points, quickly assessing quality and editing out any of those things we said we’d edit out if we noticed them while recording.

The 38.25 hours each of us works plus his individual hours gives Russ 46.25 hours of project related tasks and activities per week.

Work for Karen Only

One day a week, I’ll have a still photography day when I shoot and edit the photos that will make the wallpaper screensaver rewards. My goal is to fit that in a single day each week and to spend more time taking them than editing them. My reality check for this is that people who do just photos as “youtubers” have said they get only 5 or 6 photos a year that they’d consider hanging on a wall and it is their full time job. I’ll be pushing myself for great photos while trying to keep my eyes on the prize (the video) and manage my own self expectations. 8 (I hope) Project Hours

One day a week I’ll write for the website to keep backers up to date and share the project. It will likely be chopped up across the week though. I’ll have to get faster, but let’s say 8 (I hope) Project Hours. I’m not a fast or organized writer. If you read something I’ve written and it looks like I’m an organized writer, then I’ve edited it repeatedly, and then again. If you’ve seen something and don’t think that, I tried to get it up quicker, or for some reason left it alone once published. Maybe I’ll get over myself and drift toward video/vlog rather than writing for updates. I’d like to have a 40 hour work week. But, the 38.25 hours that each of us works, plus the 16 hours that only I work gives me 54.25 hours per week. I’m going to have to improve on that. Trimming by 14+ hours won’t be easy. My other obligations and he rest of my life aren’t going to stop, and if I’m going to ride 2 centuries per week, I have to get some sleep too.

To help us keep up this schedule and give our bodies time for repair, we’ll be taking quarterly 2-week breaks. Weather permitting, we’ll ride immediately before and after these breaks so that only 1 make up ride per break will be required the following year to complete the set of 52 videos. They will likely be 1.) December/January winter break 2.) Spring Break 3.) The peak of Summer Heat, and 4.) Fall Break. 1,2 and 4 will be guided by the Fulton County Georgia School Schedule. 3 will be guided by historic data.

Spartan Existence

So, it’s been over a year since that comment in my last post about the renewed commitment to writing. I actually have been writing quite a lot, but only in my head where no one can read it. I don’t know whether I needed a new topic or whether it was the fear that no one ever reads my posts… I mean literally, not even my family.

What ever it was, I do have a new topic and so let’s see where it goes.

It has been a longtime dream of mine to own an Airstream, but new ones are expensive and old ones are scary. How would I know if I was getting a bargain or a nightmare? But still, I’ve looked at Craigslist ads every now and then for decades. So sometime, I think just over a year ago, I saw a Spartan Travel Trailer made in the 50s in Tulsa, Oklahoma I only found it because it was mis-advertised as an Airstream and it peaked my interest. So, I showed it to Russ and we were both bit. We looked and thought and learned. We looked some more. No, we’re not finished with the renovations on the house, not even close. We looked. We joined Facebook groups. We found great websites and lots of Facebook friendlies. For better or worse, we managed to neutralize the fear. We found an Avion. We went to Hilton Head to look at it. It was scary even for our new found bravery and we like Avions, but they aren’t Spartans and we didn’t think it was a price / condition match. We actually found several things we like. Boles Aero, Vagabond, M Class, and on and on. Trolley tops are really cool and there is some stuff out there that is just so awesome that I never knew existed. Each ad we saw represented a trade off between location, condition, price, brand and whether or not Russ could stand up in it. I had Craigslist alerts set up across the entire south east. Some how I couldn’t stop the Avion query from also giving me the frequent furniture ads by the same name.

I was up one night recently doing the late late night mucking about on the interwebs and I decided it had been some time since I had looked at actual Airstreams. I put in a search and there it was, an ad 15 minutes old for two local Airstreams, only 1 of them was a Spartan. The asking price was within reach and the wording said it was negotiable. This is the begining of something new and wonderful!

Diligence Due

Well, we’ve made it past due diligence and into the last stages of purchase on a house, but it sure was a coin toss for such an important and long awaited decision. I really appreciate fine workmanship. I respect time and old world craftsmanship, absent in the new standards construction and most other features of the house we’ve chosen. The positives are: a nice layout that’s good for short or long-term purposes, a good neighborhood, the right amount of space in mostly useful places and the right schools. It even has a beautiful (possibly solid mahogany) kitchen bar, but the house is covered in hard coat stucco that has cracks, messy old repairs and mismatched colors that show clearly, even in a low light photo.

There are decorator upgrades of personal taste, but widespread overdue maintenance indicating a total fail in the wise allocation of funds. With heavy pet allergens all the carpet will need to come out, and it won’t be fun for us as heavily committed DIYs. The house has potentially Money Pit qualities and it blew me away when due diligence exposed over 36K in unexpected expenses and repairs (those I didn’t allow for in the price), but the seller wouldn’t consider any price adjustment. I’ve had to consider the money I’d flush on 2 or more years renting to make myself move forward on this purchase.

And then there’s comparison to the home I lost. I like brick. It’s low maintenance (if it’s on all 4 sides) like mine was. That brick was straight and square and solid without any settling cracks. The old house had some irritating contractor short cuts. The original plumber had dropped the kitchen ceiling a foot and put the master bath vanity on a wall adjacent to the architect’s plan. I knew it didn’t belong there, and confirmed it when I stripped the wallpaper and saw the builder notes written on the wall underneath. The original plumber saved maybe $40 in copper pipe with these ugly modifications. I spent $5000.00 just getting a certified master plumber to restore the plumbing so I could then return the ceiling and vanity to the original plan. I despise these self centered short sighted short cuts, but the 1979 short cuts in that house were still less offensive than the newer short cuts that I’ll be fixing in this house.

As much as I want to be in a home that fits as many needs and wants as this new purchase, and to get on with normalizing life for my family, a feather could have changed my mind when the seller didn’t make any allowances for the problems exposed on inspection. None. Nada. Whether the seller already knew, or simply didn’t care, I remembered well why didn’t last in real estate.

I was offended, depressed and wrung out when I let the due diligence run out without the price adjustments that condition warranted. It may be the best decision I could make, given what I have to work with, but I rarely pay the wrong price for something and when I do I feel like I’ve been had. But, I was, I am, weary of the suspension of normal life and over ready to be getting on with things.

Friday night between midnight (when the due diligence ran out) and 3am or so when I finally made it to sleep, I was upset enough that I didn’t even want to sit across a closing table from the seller and I didn’t want to move our maple tree to the new yard. There’s a beautiful Tamukeyama weeping red maple that Russ planted in the old yard when we were dating. We’ve talked about moving it. He said it might take an entire weekend, given our equipment and making sure that it would live. It seems a lot of work to move a tree that’s been in the ground for 12 years, but I wanted the tree to move with us because Russ is the person who made me want to grow things again.

The part of this move that I’m struggling to get over is not that it unexpectedly became a seller’s market in my area just before I unexpectedly needed to buy. Life is a crap shoot and you take it as it comes. It’s not that I’m buying a fixer either. I wanted to restore something (if I can actually afford to restore this). I prefer to restore something old, solid and filled with grace. Not something that’s pretty new and only needs restoration because it’s been abused.

What’s bothering me is precisely that I’m tired of people getting away with having others clean up their mess. This seller bought a foreclosure at a fraction of market value, lived in it for over a decade (the decade that included the largest real estate meltdown in history), maintained it poorly and wanted sell for over 2.5 times the original purchase price. Neat trick if you can accomplish it right? Why shouldn’t anyone be happy about the same result?

But, consider this. If I am unable to make the purchase and repairs within the limits of a current market price, then the house isn’t worth what it costs me. If I pay more, I’m giving up future appreciation (that may or may not accrue). I’m giving my future to the seller, a seller who wants the big pay off regardless of having made decisions that don’t lead to that result, and regardless of who’s pocket it comes from. People who want others to pay their tab have always existed, but I think it is a disease, an epidemic drag on the economy and on our spirits that is reaching scarier heights with each passing day.

It’s the disease that killed my marriage. More importantly, it’s a disease that’s killing our country and I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic here. From building contractors to big banking, taxes to TV, environmental waste to drinking water, NIMBY’s to Pork Barrel Politics, people are maximizing small amounts of personal gain at a heavy and sometimes extreme cost to others, the exact opposite of Spock’s Law, rather than “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few”, the accepted value sometimes seems to be “The wants of the one justify what ever you can get away with”.

It really seems like big business, big politics, big government and their marketing/campaign/”media”/”news” departments have been honing in on and amplifying the lowest common denominator in humanity for long enough to contribute significantly to debasing our society. The evolutionary brain’s survival technique of attempting to minimize effort while maximizing gain was pretty important when the challenge was to get enough calories to last the winter. Granted, it’s still pretty important now that we are living much higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy, but it needs to be channeled and enlightened. It is hard to overcome our baser selves when there are so many signals aimed at getting us to buy on impulse and maximize the rush, borrowing from tomorrow. When tomorrow comes the dopamine is depleted and it’s harder to get satisfaction.

Business, politicians and other entities constantly appeal to self-interest, they’re tapped in to the brain’s reward system and they use competition, salaciousness and tribalism to inflate the response of baser instincts. That makes us short sighted and easy to manipulate when we need take a long view and act with independent, conscientious thought. We need to be evolving in a changed world on crowded globe. Most of us, especially in the United States aren’t trying simply to survive anymore. We can afford ethics and balance, but too many of us have been worrying about how to get the next fix, anything from the newest cell phone, shoes, 3D TV, junk food, Facebook likes, extreme vacation or actual chemical drugs.

I’ve had a week to let my feelings about my new house and this national shedding of responsibility settle. The bigger, chronic problem is more troubling to me than my own personal run in with the latest reminder of the sickness, or even the one before that. I’ve been busy, so it’s been mulling around in the background, thankfully. Thinking about my own personal response to it all.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work on how I feel about the closing. I’m going to commit to this house. I’m going to make it the best I can with the resources I have and while it’s mine it will be maintained properly. I’m going to ask Russ to take that whole weekend and move that tree, out of the back from my old yard and into the front of my new yard. I’m going to combat the disease in my own way, in my own little space. And, if the time comes when I sell this house, I’m going to do my best to make sure it is a value.

A House, A House, My Kingdom for a House

That’s not exactly how the Bard wrote about King Richard III’s battleground predicament, but I’m feeling a bit of the same dilemma. Trying to find a home has certainly marked a winter of discontent (and rare winter storms). One of Shakespeare’s most misunderstood plays about one of the most controversial English regents seems a good thing to parody while I’m trying hard not to take myself or my situation too seriously.

Normally the decision to move comes at a natural break, a change in life or career that makes moving away or changing your home the natural thing to do. Mine came quietly in the wee hours of the morning with the sound of fire fighters who scarcely woke the neighbors while keeping the fire from spreading to their homes. My guiding change was only abrupt need.

A rush of decisions hit. First there’s triage, then there are bigger decisions. The decision about temporary housing had to be made before the long-term decisions. Conveniently staying near a major junction in interstates had advantages, but wasn’t convenient to the place I eventually decided was most important to find a home and, what turned out to be my primary goal and focus wasn’t anything I had even thought about before the fire. I knew that it would be hard to make decisions about small stuff before I made decisions about the big stuff, yet life moves on and the small decisions happen whether or not the big ones do.

I’m not so far from that time when many people downsize, and let’s face it. When you have just lost the house full of things you spent a lifetime collecting and inheriting, that does seem like a time to downsize. But I haven’t quite made the time when I can do that. My home needs to accommodate all the needs it currently fills. So, the house that fits this year, may not be the house I still want to keep in 3-5 years. I thought I really wanted a short sale or a foreclosure. The savings would help me to make up for the likelihood that I would be in the house for a short time and cancel out some of the extra expenses of a short-term ownership.

It’s a game for the big boys though. I’m looking for a home in Fulton County where those foreclosure auctions on the courthouse steps include the high value homes of Atlanta and its surrounds. Here, even a home that goes for pennies on the dollar can have way too many decimal places for me and even on the homes that do apply to me, the ruthless people who know what they are doing are competing for a decreasing commodity and they could swat me away with their little fingers.

My sweet spot would be getting a house that someone else got on the courthouse steps, but hadn’t remodeled yet. Something that still had room in the price for me to improve it and have a little reward for my work. I went to a meeting for investors who wholesale properties. I thought I might find someone who had a property for me. I wasn’t really comfortable there. There is a kind of respect that people are due and I couldn’t see it at this meeting.

It is true that people have to look out for themselves and their families. How one chooses to do that comes in every color, shape and size. I know a sales person who said “I looked at every sale that another man made as taking food from the mouths of my family.” He was successful, but in spite of how that sounds, he was also compassionate. People find their own ways to keep up the march and it is a struggle.

Some people have appetites that are never sated though. They lack appropriate respect for the resources they use. Some would take anything they can get and try to force a situation to squeeze out even more from people who are desperate and powerless. Do they need the win, the extreme TV or the power vacation? It’s about how ever they define superiority and superiority is not the hole I’m looking to fill.

The truth is that foreclosures are not distressed properties. They are the properties of distressed people and the choice to focus on the inanimate is just a means to help distance humanity. I want the good deal that helps to make up for some of my losses, both in the fire and in the future, but I want it to come from one of those careless people who doesn’t try and brought their trouble on themselves. I want it to come from the person who will never have anything because they go through life irresponsibly. I don’t want it to come from someone who lost their job through no fault of their own, or worse, lost their health. But I won’t get to choose and I may not know until their neighbors become mine. As much as I would like to take care of my own family in the best way possible, to find the best deal, to continue my march and fill our needs, I do understand that what I have been looking for could be heart wrenching if it actually comes my way and the search for any home at market or below continues as I weigh the prices and potential of what is available.

The housing market has changed since I was last paying attention. I’m seeing that trusted resources like Clark Howard recommend renting in the current market if you will be in a house for fewer than 10 years. I don’t like throwing money away on rent, but I’m not happy with my current options and I’m not expecting appreciation to make much headway over the short-term. If money is to be lost, loosing it without the additional risk of short-term market swings could be the lesser evil. Many of the houses that I can purchase have serious condition issues and the prices don’t seem to reflect that. I’ve drifted toward looking at homes that are far outside my budget to be ready if they become short sales, and kicked myself for missing it when a couple of them did. But, there’s no good way to know and my missing it was not through lack of effort.

This has been a winter of discontent, searching and storms, yet, I have still spent much of it grateful for the better than good bits and I continue to trudge through those other bits with faith that something will turn up.

The Weather in Atlanta Goes to Eleven.

by Russ

11 Alive is crackin’ me up.  Here’s how-

Our Atlanta area NBC affiliate, 11 Alive, has come up with a new marketing plan.  They have dubbed their weather department The Weather Information Zone. It starts off already sounding like the meteorologist has taped off a square on the floor of the studio with black and yellow hazard tape, bringing to mind Johnny Fever opening and closing Les Nessman’s imaginary office door.  This gives me a tiny inner chuckle every time I think about it.

But that wasn’t enough for them.  They had to go and develop a weather rating system, doubtless inspired by the marketing success of the Mellish Meter.  Fine, as a former hay farmer I object to someone trying to sum up the weather with one number, but I can get over it.  I am a city boy now, after all.  Why should they have stopped at the Weather Information Zone? Because the ‘logical’ name for their rating system is the Wizometer.  Yes, boys and girls, someone is publicly reporting on the Wizometer, and it has nothing to do with urine excretion: not quantity, not quality…no pee at all.

Still not enough, though.  The top score on the Wizometer is eleven.  As Enigo Montoya would say,”I do not think it means what they think it means.”  Seriously, what’s the first thing that goes through your mind when I say,”It goes to eleven?”  Did the marketing department never watch Spinal Tap?  Or are they so insular in their thinking that they only see how it applies to them? Every time they say today is an eleven, I laugh at them. (Not charitable, perhaps, but there it is.)

Someone please tell them up their on West Peachtree what’s really going on.  Or don’t; I could use the laughs.

LOL, Interupted by a Screech, or Not

Last week I heard about more “Driving While Texting” accidents than ever before. The problem has drawn heavy attention from lawmakers and law practitioners. Oprah is talking about it. The Georgia legislature is looking into the problem. A local news station is promoting pledges from its audience and running safety segments every time surf past.

We have evolved to this problem socially with emphasis on greater productivity, multitasking and multimedia ad nauseum. We took our children from one planned activity to the next with Gameboy in hand while also attending radio, video, conversation, whatever, . We used television as a baby sitter in the home and in the car. There is a constant feed of multiple stimuli in every aspect of life with no down time, constantly training us all to have divided attention. It is not surprising that we would carry that one step further to the operation of a car. The words usually used to describe a quickly growing problem like “epidemic” or “rampant” are so over used as to be meaningless, but the difficulty with divided attention and driving is growing at such a rate that “Texting while Driving” covers those concepts without any additional words to convey the magnitude or prevalence of a problem so large.

There is hope. Sometimes the solution to a problem lies in finding a way to accommodate a desire rather than trying to suppress it. There is a way to get commute time and down time or text time at the same time. Those kids in Japan wearing the school uniforms know the answer. It’s called public transportation, something we’re strangely lacking and strangely resistant to in the United States. On a recent visit to Japan I was invited to dinner by a Japanese family. The son travels a long distance to go to the better school and excused himself to go study. A friend asked “Do you study while you commute?” The mother interrupted protectively “NO, no no, that is his down time” and went on the convey that he uses that free time to relax, text, listen to music and “regroup” on the way home. Public transportation is magic. It allows one to do the impossible, to multitask down time. How great is that? And you won’t drive your car through someone else, their bumper or their living room while you do it.

I dream of the day when I can multitask my commute with down time or distractions without embarking on international travel, but unfortunately, public transportation is not practical from my home to anywhere else. The attempt to use public transportation from my home reminds of an old family story ” Lawd, you caint git there from here, yous gots ta go someplace else ta staart.” I’m also reminded of a neighbor who left Georgia saying that she felt like a prisoner of Marietta. She could never get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time, but we can have our cake and eat it too. We don’t need to pave over paradise to put up a parking lot, or make more lanes to accommodate more gridlock. We don’t have to spend our mind space primed in anticipation of hitting the brake when 70 mile per hour, bumper to bumper traffic converts to gridlock in a hiccup. We can switch to seeing faces instead of tailpipes and and let someone else do the driving. When I hear the idea of public works projects as a means to stimulate the economy, I think of all the compound ways that investing in public transportation that the public can and will use pays off. It just makes so much sense. Some day maybe my dreams will come true.

How Cute are These Boots?

by Karen
Last Saturday morning our regular ritual was disturbed. Normally we go to the Marietta Square Farmer’s Market and run errands while listening to four favorite radio programs, “Martinis Con Queso”, “Wait,Wait Don’t Tell Me” , “Car Talk” and “Splendid Table”. Last week the farmer’s market was not scheduled to run and we got most of our errands done Friday, so, we were trying to decide what to do with the morning. I suggested that we might go to a local mall to watch the yuppie larvae do the Christmas thing at the doll store. I say that with fondness, humor, appreciation, cultural self-awareness and just a little bit of bite because I have such mixed feelings and recognize all of them when I make the suggestion.

I first became aware of American Girls character dolls from Pleasant Company when looking for gifts for my daughter. I was thrilled. Here was a set of old fashioned dolls complete with historical setting, old fashioned accessories, a book and an amazing wardrobe. It was a wonderful group of toys that allowed my child to be a child, to have a play experience that was wholesome, fun and age appropriate. One of the original dolls, Molly, had a story and accessories that were set during the time when my mother was a child. Molly looked like my mother looked, with braided pigtails and glasses and she carried a WWII nurse doll just like the one my mother played with as a child. After giving Molly to my daughter, I showed her my own mother’s nurse doll and she could see that her doll’s doll was a miniature that looked very much like her grandmother’s doll. There was a powerful thread of tradition in play when I bought this toy for my child and I felt really good about it.

The dolls and their accessories are expensive, but I was clearly not the only one willing to pay the price. Over time the line of toys has grown in every possible way. There are more characters from different times with different stories as well as non-character baby bolls. Mattel Inc. has bought Pleasant Company, and in select upscale markets there are retail stores with a party area where girls who are dressed like their dolls can have a tea party to celebrate a special occasion. Thankfully, Mattel Inc. left many of the features that make the dolls worthwhile intact, but the sheer magnitude of the current line is a bit over the top. There is a salon in the store where girls can take the dolls to have their hair done, part restoration, part theater.

Last year I was in the mall where the American Girls Store is located at Christmas when I moved into people watching mode. It was amazing. There were finely dressed little girls in their Christmas best with their matching character dolls headed to see Santa for the annual Christmas photo. Suddenly this grounded product line seemed to have carried the perfect childhood into the realm of the unreal, to a place where we might be in danger of meeting Veruca Salt. The scary part is that I don’t know where, exactly, the line lies between creating the perfect childhood in truth and creating the “perfect childhood” that isn’t, the one that has lifelong fallout.

Parenting is a mine field and the task grows more complex over time. The constant, independent of income, is that we want to protect our children from harm and to give them the best possible life; but with expanding economic expectations it is harder to define what the best possible childhood includes. Since the nineteen fifties parents have expected that life would be economically better for their children than it was for them. As a whole it has been. But, six decades later, the certainty of that expectation is beginning to weaken, the economic landscape is diverging and the reality is disquieting. Many people want it all and want it now, and they have lead a life that makes that desire a short-term reality. Some of these people have been on the top of heavily leveraged economic waves that left others paying for their choices and they are disconnected from the consequences. Pick any recent disaster of the financial systems and at the root there will be a group of people who tried to “outsmart” the system, to find a way to get spectacular returns over a short time span, or to live beyond their means. Frequently they move on to the next bubble just in time to let others pay the real cost of the last one. These expectations are fostered in childhood and grow up to send worldwide ripples in places like Dubai as well as at home. Over the decades, our ideal of the economic standard it takes to provide a perfect childhood have changed. Television programs about families depict those changing ideals and show the progression of expectation from the depression era setting of “The Waltons” through the post war boom setting of “Ozzie and Harriet” and on to today. Expectations increase steadily and as time goes by and become increasingly unrealistic. Like Lake Wobegone, “all the children are above average.

With all of this in mind, I watch the GAP commercial. Those are some beautiful kids. They are dancing and happy and wearing the cutest clothes. They are cool. What a perfect piece of marketing. Who wouldn’t want that perfection for their child? “How cute are these boots?” that song is in my head when I walk through the mall past the American Girls store. There I am in the mall again wondering where the line is. What constitutes the perfect childhood, what expectations are you planting for your children and what will they have to do in order to meet those expectations as they grow. How cute ARE these boots? I want them and I don’t even have a child to put them on anymore! At the same time, I can not imagine a childhood any better that the one in “The Waltons”. They did not have the material wealth that we think we need to provide for our children, but they did have everything that truly matters. When my family gathered for Christmas in Alabama, we filled all the bedrooms of my grandmother’s large antebellum home. The house was cold. Each room had a fireplace where a ceramic gas heater had been installed. We only heated the rooms that were being occupied and the heat would be turned down at bedtime. As we snuggled into the covers for warmth, invariably someone would call out “goodnight Johnboy'”.

Sweet SweetWater

by Karen

How many times can you say that you are a fan of a company when you don’t even use the product? I think SweetWater Brewery is great. I even like their motto “Don’t float the mainstream”. It is not about being different for the sake of difference, it just always seemed to turn out that way for me. But, it is not the motto that makes me a fan either.

I had seen SweetWater around in the grocery store and knew that it was a home town microbrewery, but hadn’t payed a lot of attention. Then one day we were at what was then our Tuesday night ritual. Trivia at Mellow Mushroom. SweetWater had a promotion selling paper fish to support the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper. We bought fish and participated in the contest. We won tickets to a brewery tour and party that had the potential to win us a trip to Montana. Thinking about Montana makes me all dreamy, “A River Runs Through It” is one of my favorite Book/Movies. I cross-stitched the closing quote from the book for my father. I love the setting too. I’ve been to Montana for a short visit. Occasionally I apply for ranger or other conservation jobs out there, and would jump at any chance to spend more time there. Russ hasn’t been and so a trip would be a new experience for him, and I just know that he would fall in love too. I’ve bee to a lot of brewery tours, especially for someone who doesn’t drink beer, but the cause was great and the prize one of the best we could think of, so we took our tickets and went to the tour.

The brewery tour was fun, and while I do not drink more than the smallest sample, I have many friends who both love it and consider themselves great connoisseurs. Russ’ favorites are the Blue and the seasonal, Festive Ale. The tour guides are the most laid back I’ve ever seen. I’d like to work for this company, but all the employees share one thing that I lack, an intense love of beer and I’m sure their product is better for it. I drink the occasional Shanty to be social when I am somewhere where people know what that is (lemonade and beer), but that is about it. The party was fun too. The Stonyfield Bus was there promoting the National Outdoor Leadership School and giving out yogurt samples. The River Keeper was presented with a check and the fact that we did not win a trip to Montana was the only thing approaching a downer for the evening.

Strangely, I keep going back. They have music at some brewery tours. Once there were these guys with electric guitars playing beach and surfer music. I was in heaven. I say that I’m there as a designated driver and I do drive, but I’m really just a fan. I didn’t go to the brewery this year, but there is an event I’m considering. They are hosting a clean up October 24th in SweetWater Creek State Park. The clean up will help with storm damage and other things. The park is one of my favorites and I would like to go, but it conflicts with something else. I’m not sure if I will make it, but if it fits in your schedule, I highly recommend it. SweetWater is serious about its beer and serious about its causes.