May 11

How does one go about planning for the future?  I’ve tried doing some planning, but it all seems like such a waste of time. Things never work out the way you want them to, and life always gets thrown into the mix and screws everything up… like stupid “fix-it” tickets that you have 5 days to get taken care of that involve probably hundreds of dollars worth of electrical work on your vehicle that you can’t afford… stinking Scottsbluff police…

Planning small things isn’t such a big deal.  Planning a birthday party or a weekend trip or something like that is pretty doable.  I’m talking about the major plans like retirement or future career direction or where you would like to live.  I know that there are people who successfully plan for such things; I’m just not one of them.  There are those who say it is all in God’s hands and to trust in God.  I don’t disagree about the God’s hands part, but I don’t think God is going to pay my mortgage.  I don’t think God is going to make sure my electricity doesn’t get shut off because I quit my job.  God doesn’t take care of “fix-it” tickets… although I’m hoping some prayers for a certain police officer getting a random plague of locusts will go answered.  God has never led me to believe that I can just quit my job and lead the life I would like.  If this life didn’t contain vast amounts of major suckage, why would we turn our eyes toward heaven?

I tried to plan for my future by going to college.  I went to college, I got good grades, and I got a job. I wanted to make a lot of money, but I have never made a lot of money.  The only reason I went to college was to get a job that pays a lot of money.

Period.

I will never have a job that pays a lot of money.  Different people have different definitions for “lot of money”.  I have mine, and I will never see it (and it probably isn’t as much as you may be thinking).  In hindsight, I would not have focused on money.  In hindsight, I would have focused on doing something that utilizes my inherent talents and skills… something like… uh… okay, so I don’t have any inherent talents and skills.  Planning sucks.

I’ve tried planning for various other things, including retirement.  Retirement planning is kind of a joke.  If you don’t start enforcing a plan right when you get in the workforce, it’s too late.  I know there are people who are able to do it later in life and find some success… but those people are either making more money than me or are willing to sacrifice more than me.  I don’t have a big issue sacrificing, but while my kids are still around the house, I am willing to sacrifice less.  Kids are expensive.  Worth it?  Of course.  But expensive none the less.

Recently, I was talking with a couple of friends at a high school soccer game and we started talking about life after all of the kids are out of the house.  Interestingly enough, one of the friends said she and her husband plan on traveling around the country after the kids are gone.  You know, just kind of moving from town to town, getting jobs that pay enough just to get by.  The other friend said he and his wife plan on doing something similar, but more of a retirement-type thing.  Get out and see the world.  This point is probably where I made my mistake.  I started thinking and planning which are two things I don’t do very well, especially together.

Retirement has always been very important to me (just not important enough to completely quit living in the here and now, which seems to pretty much be what it takes at my income level).  I hate working.  I hate the way life is laid out.  I hate the fact that you spend most of your waking hours working at a job in order to pay for everything.  Call me lazy, call me whatever you want, but I hate working.  Now, I helped a young man with his Eagle Scout project a couple of weeks ago and it was actual physical work.  I didn’t mind it at all.  In fact, I enjoyed myself.  I do various household and community projects. I volunteer for BSA and at my church.  I do stuff, and I don’t hate doing stuff that involves “work”.  So I don’t really think I’m lazy.  I just hate working for a paycheck.  I understand that there are lots of people out there who would love to have a job and I can hear the tiny chorus of voices saying, “Be thankful you have a job!”  I didn’t say that I’m not thankful I have a job… but I still hate working for a paycheck.  Thus, retirement has always been like a stupid dangling carrot that urges me to get out of bed every morning.  I really don’t think I will ever be able to retire… at least not fully:

  • I started too late.
  • I dipped into those funds at one point for something I probably shouldn’t have.
  • I can’t contribute as much as I would like at this point.
  • Most success that the stock market has seen recently has eluded me.

Okay, so working until I die is sounding more and more like the reality of my situation.

That sucks.

That really, really sucks.

So, back to the conversation I had with my friends at the soccer game that involved the thinking and the planning.  As long as I’m going to have to work up until my death, I want to travel and see stuff and try to get a little enjoyment out of the whole situation.  The wife and I have discussed it and she agrees that, once the boys are out of school, selling much of our belongings and going transient sounds like a doable plan.  You know, move up to Estes Park for a year and work at the shops up there.  Spend a summer working in Yellowstone…. or maybe a year or two.  Spend a year or two working in Key West!  Just travel… and get little jobs with little responsibility and little stress in places we would really like to live!  Try out different areas.  Make enough to pay the monthly bills.  Retirement isn’t an option, so why stress about it?  See the US (or maybe even the world) and just get by.

When I mentioned the “goat farm” idea to the wife, she was less than enthusiastic.  The whole “see the country” plan she seems to be on board with.  And in a mere 9 years, both of the boys will be out of high school… so although it is a little further away than I would like, it’s not an eternity.  I don’t wish my children’s childhoods away, but they are slipping by without any prompting from me.  Might as well have something to look forward to at the horrible time when the nest is empty.

The problem now rests with the fact that I am planning for the future.  Whenever I plan for the future, stuff seems to get in the way.  Therefore, stuff will probably get in the way of the plan to travel once the kids are on their own.  It’s like I’ve jinxed myself by thinking about it!

Damn it!

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Jan 14

We have this bathroom in our basement.  I love this room.  This room is where I go when I want to spend some quality time alone.  The wife has decorated our little downstairs bathroom with a “theme”.  The “theme” of this room is palm trees.
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I used to wonder how the lovely wife came up with the theme of palm trees for this particular room.  I suspected that Walmart had a  clearance rack of toilet-related materials and the only matching set the wife could find was palm trees. The wife claims the theme arrived in remembrance of our honeymoon almost 18 years ago in Cancun…
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… and the soft, warm breezes on the beach and the hint of lime in every shrimp quesadilla… or lobster taco… or 39 peso cheeseburger at McDonalds (seriously, every thing from Budweiser to bacon in Cancun has a hint of lime).  Whenever I inquire about the theme downstairs, the wife waxes nostalgic of a time right after she and I stood before a man of God, all our family, and most of of friends and proclaimed our undying love for each other.  Cancun for the wife and I was the whipped cream on the Hot Fudge Brownie Delight that is married life.  Remember when Dairy Queen used to sell Hot Fudge Brownie Delights?  These were the calorie-laden monstrosities that consisted of mountains of delectable soft-serve ice cream resting on plains of nut-covered chocolate brownies separated only by seemingly endless rivers of hot, steamy fudge… and then irresponsibly topped with the snow capped ridges of 100% dairy-and-sugar filled whipped cream.   The foundation of marriage is the brownies and ice cream and I do not for an instance regret any part of it… but our honeymoon was the whipped topping, full of fun and sweetness and decadence…
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… everything that convinces a man that he is settling down with the right woman to begin a life of work and responsibilities and children and STINKING FUNDRAISERS!!!  I digress…

So, anyway, I spend a large portion of my “free time” in our downstairs bathroom staring at the shower curtain that rests directly in front of the toilet.
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You may wonder to yourself, “now, what exactly could he be doing on the toilet for any measurable amount of time that would lead him to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at a shower  curtain?”  Well,  you may be slightly dented for asking such a question.  What goes in must come out, and I am sincerely sorry to point this out, but even Johnny Depp and Katy Perry spend time staring at the palm trees… if you know what I mean ;)

The wife dreams of tropical places when she and I discuss the wonderful places we would like to settle down once we figure out what we are going to do with the rest of our lives.  I, on the other hand, tend to lean more towards something more mountainous.
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Of course, both of us are open to the ideas of the other.  I would be almost as content in a bungalow on the beach, and she seems fine with the thought of fresh mountain air and fresh-caught trout with wild asparagus for supper a couple of nights a week.  One problem is that we don’t know quite how to get to either of these locals.  The second problem is that we live in Nebraska, which does have a scenery all its own, like this…
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… and this…
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… and this…
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… along with…
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and, occasionally even…
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… which leads to…
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… and ultimately…
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… but is about as far as you can get from either a tropical paradise or a scenic mountain retreat.

Living in either a tropical paradise or a mountain of solitude would require an income that currently surpasses us here where we actually have jobs, let alone in a remote location where jobs are few and far between.  I’d like to think that we would be able to use our retirement savings to get us to our dream location, but I would also like to think that I don’t look my age and that the tooth fairy pays out even more when the elderly loose their teeth.  All three of these wishes are pipe dreams.  I figure that the only way the wife and I are ever going to see our dreams come true is found in three simple words:

third world country.

Third world countries can be tropical, and third world countries can have mountains.  Third world countries are a lot cheaper to live in than the United States.  Help me, Third World Country… you’re my only hope!

I figure if the wife and I can save up a few thousand dollars, we should be able to move to some neato place like Guatemala or Somalia or, heck, I hear there are some good deals on property in Afghanistan right now.   Guatemala and Somalia both have some nice oceanfront property
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and Afghanistan is known for it’s mountainous regions.

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Heck, that’s where all the fugitive Taliban hide, right?
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For a few thousand dollars, we should be able to live like a king and queen!  Oh sure, there would be some language barriers, but I’m sure that any self-respecting country would teach English as a second language, right?  And even if they don’t, just think of the millions of Mexicans who migrate to the US who don’t speak a word of English.  The Mexicans get by just fine.  In fact, many companies and even our government bend over backwards to make sure our Spanish speaking friends don’t have to bother with learning English.  After all, on almost any telephone call you can always “apriete dos para español.”  As ass-backwards as the US is viewed by the rest of the world, I’m sure these third world countries have even better programs in place to make non-native tongue people feel welcome, right?  Of course they do.

There may be some other small hindrances, like decent health care, or a clean water supply, or a reliable food source.  And the fact that the wife and I are Christian may lead to a problem or two.  We may have to fend off the occasional suicide bomber or be weary of any Muslims with a big knife and a penchant for heads, but I’m sure it will be worth it to live in the type of surroundings that we dream of.  I mean, it’s pretty obvious we aren’t going to make those dreams come true in the US.

Ahh… so maybe our dreams really can come true.  Maybe there is some hope for our future outside of the good life that can only be found in Nebraska.  I mean, either dying a martyr at the hands of a radical Muslim, or staring at another corn field and watching another disappointing Husker football season.  At least the martyrdom would be on a beach… or in the mountains…

Well, that’s enough for now.  I had a big supper, and my daily fiber seems to be kicking in.  I have a date with some palm trees…
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Feb 08

Okay, so I’m reading through the local paper, the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, when I come across the wonderful advice column of Dr. Joyce Brothers.  Now, I’m a few days behind on reading the newspaper because… well, I just am.  So this is actually the paper from January 29th of this year.  I usually read Dr. Brothers’ column, think to myself how silly her advice is, and go on my merry way.  Her column in this particular paper, however, just seemed to rub me the wrong way.

The question to Dr. Brothers is from a high-school senior who wants to get a job.  The kid refers to herself (or himself) as P.A.  P.A.’s  dad does not want P.A. to get a job.  The reasoning P.A. gives is, “I am planning on working at a beauty salon after I graduate, and my dad says that is soon enough to join the ‘rat race.’  His only reason seems to be that he wants me to have fun while I can.  Is this normal?”

Dr. Brothers gives a response and answer to the question, part of which is as follows:

“It may be normal for your dad, because he’s operating from his unique worldview and trying hard to keep within that comfort zone that he has set up for himself.  Without knowing more about him, I can only guess that he has had to struggle in his life, and that he views work as something that isn’t very pleasant, just a means to an end.  He sounds like a conscientious guy who has sacrificed for his family.  He can’t imagine you being all grown up and wanting to take on the responsibilities of a job just yet.  He’s definitely got some issues.”

Seriously… what the crap… huh?  I guess all of this seems to make sense… until you get to that last sentence.  ”He’s definitely got some issues.”  Is that a typo?  Was that supposed to be “He’s definitely got a point”?  I don’t think it was.  I think Dr. Joyce is casting judgement on this father because of his view of “work”.  Do most people in our society not at least somewhat share the worldview of this father?  After all, it’s called “work”, not “playtime in LaLa Land”.

I don’t think most people wake up every morning and think to themselves, “Ah, another wonderful day of work!”  Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.  I really believe that most people view work as a means to an end… hopefully it has something to do with retirement.  This doesn’t mean that everyone absolutely hates their jobs; but given the choice, I think most people could find something more enjoyable to do with their time than work a job.  Dr. Brothers apparently does not fall into the category of “most people”.

I understand that there are people out there who absolutely love what they do for a living.  Those people are few and far between.  I think most of us can remember back to the days before we had to work a job.  Those were, for the most part, less stressful and more enjoyable than time spent in the work-a-day world.  Why would the father, remembering back to his pre-work days and wanting his child to enjoy those days in the child’s life, have “issues”?  What a judgmental opinion to express!  How dare she!

Dr. Brothers needs to wake up and smell the we-don’t-all-get-to-make-a-living-handing-out-our-opinions-as-advice-coffee.  There are those of us who have slight trepidation at the thought of how our children will be forced to change when they enter the work-a-day world.  It’s not about not wanting our children to grow up.  It’s all about how so many of us become cynical, bitter old farts because of the crap we are forced to deal with in life, a large portion of which comes from dealing with “work”, and we don’t want our children to go through what we have gone through.

That’s not an “issue”.  That is a point… and a damn good one.

Besides, the kid is planning on a career at a beauty salon.  You can’t tell me that working with other people’s stinky heads all day is going to be pleasant?  This father is really just trying to look out for the kid :)

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