Get To Know Your Balance Sheet

I stew sometimes in my own stress about money and finances. I grimace at the debt I’ve taken on to fuel a life of comfort when all I’m really doing is being lazy and impatient about waiting for my hard work to pay off. I spend loosely to buy my family’s love and attention when the truth is that I am not responsible for their happiness and their love and affection is not a condition for mine. I carry the heavy burden of being the primary breadwinner in our family and claim sometimes that work steals time away from my being able to achieve personal fulfillment and self-identity when the truth is that work (the application of my time, energy and mental power to tasks and goals that I am actually good at) is the very core of my identity and what makes me most happy.

Woe is me, I say. Woe is me. I volunteer to take on the perceived stress and burden of carrying the money load in our family so I can struggle in full view to those in my line of sight about how hard my life is. It doesn’t take much peeling of the onion to challenge these dumb assignations I’ve taken on.

Money is the easiest perceived hardship to peel back because I view money most of the time through a too-simple and painful lens (I have almost all the classes of debt available to the modern American consumer and as far as I can tell, all of my friends and acquaintances are much, much better off than me).

But, I earn a really good living. The fact that I use it all up as quickly as it comes in is a source of embarrassment to me, but it doesn’t change the fact that I earn well. Meaning, I have a chance to correct things. My situation is not hopelessly upside down. I just need to gain focus on what I want from my relationship to money, both in general and specifically to the money that flows through my hands in everyday life.

When I’m stressed, it’s because I’ve convinced myself that money is a negative thing, that it’s limited, that I am not worthy of it, that I have traded off tomorrow’s income to service debt to satisfy yesterday’s urges. I want money to be a positive thing in my life though. And when I examine that question deeply, I realize that money can just as easily be a means to a positive end as is it a whip and an anvil today. Money can be a way to gain peace of mind, security, and, above all, access to the kind of freedom I want for my daily life (the freedom to choose what I invest my time and energy into, time to serve others, time to pursue creativity, time to explore the amazing world we live in).

The beauty of a balance sheet

Luckily, as a person who runs a small business, I have been exposed to the accounting principles of profit and loss statements and balance sheets. Be re-focusing my personal finances using these business tools, I have been able to put an objective perspective on my personal finances.

The balance sheet is the most beautiful thing in all of accounting. Simply put, a balance sheet is a calculation of your net worth. It is the express value of everything you own, minus everything you own. It makes no regard to how well you manage money, no regard for how big of an earner you are, and no regard for how you look to the outside world. It doesn’t calculate how loved you are or how smart you are. All it does is issue you a score, a beautiful, objective score, that states what you are worth.

When I think about the complex and muddy mess I sometimes make of finances (when I lose perspective), a balance sheet can clear up the picture. Rather than focus on credit-card debts, loan balances, or anemic bank accounts, the balance sheet adds everything up to a neat sum that cannot lie to you. It can’t tell you things are good because you drive a BMW if you owe $50,000 on it and could only sell it $35,000. Conversely, it can’t tell you that you should be suicidal about your debts and obligations if you own a rental property outright and could liquidate to pay off the debt that is a psychological burden to you.

In my case, despite my best effort to wreck myself financially, I actually have a positive net worth. On paper, I could liquidate everything I own, wipe out every debt I have and have a bank balance I could live off for a while. It’s a small positive net worth (so nothing to worked up about), but it creates a new foundation for my relationship with money. It puts me on the good side with money. It sets me up to view my finances positively, like something I want to nurture, feed, and grow. It informs the decisions I make as money flows through me from my ability to earn a decent living to make my balance sheet (and my financial position) safer, more secure, and bigger.

Do yourself a favor. Write out a balance sheet. Google it if you need help, but do it. Know where you stand. So when you’re thinking about your financial position (positively or negatively), you’re using the truth and not some story about money and wealth and your right to it in the terrible and untruthful way you’ve been taught.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 35

I skipped breakfast today, substituting coffee sweetened with raw honey for a proper meal. I made up for it at lunch though with a plate full of scrambled eggs, bacon and sauteed onion, sweet potatoes, spinach, zucchini, and bell pepper. Dinner was leftover taco-seasoned ground turkey and refried beans in corn tortilla shells with shredded cheese, spinach, and Tapatillo sauce. I snuck in some peanut-butter flavored M&Ms and Whoppers as a snack while watching a movie with my wife in the evening. No exercise today (I am just about back from a nasty batch of either food poisoning or intestinal distress that knocked me on my ass for most of the week).


Don’t eat your feelings if you feel bad

Breakfast of Champions.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 24

I never realized how many of the negative traits I'm trying to break in myself were borne purely of habit, or how much those habits were triggered by discomfort, or anxious or fearful thinking until I started to take control of what I ate.

I towed my motorcycle on a trailer behind the RV for our road-trip/vacation last week. I’m a competent motorcycle rider. A motorcycle was one of my first vehicles when I was a teenager and only switched to cars full time when I met and married Keli. I most recently came back to motorcycling five or so years ago. I’ve ridden hundreds of times, including one two-thousand-mile, week-long adventure up the California coast and a trip to the Isle of Mann in the UK (famous site of intense, high-speed motorcycle racing). I say all this qualify what comes next.

We stayed overnight in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Because driving an RV around a town to take in the sights is inconvenient, I unloaded the bike. We went downtown. We ate at an interesting restaurant. Then after, not yet wanting to go back to the RV park and call it a night, I found a state park on the map just a couple of miles out of town and we went for a cruise.

The road was perfect for the motorcycle; it wove back and forth, gained elevation, and removed us from the city in minutes. With Keli on the back and the pleasant sweep of the bike through turns, I was In The Moment, absorbing the scenery, enjoying the open air, feeling the temperature drop, following the long shadows cast by the fading sun.

I spotted a deer off to the side of the road. For a moment, I thought about turning around, but the road called so I kept going. I slowed at the entrance to the state park trailhead, but again the road called (I knew that if I stayed on the road, we could go seven more miles to a ski lodge) so I kept going.

Then, in a flash, I spotted deer again. Not a solo traveler this time, but a family of five or more. They stood just off the road to our right as we passed. Heads turned as we cruised by.

This time, I didn’t hesitate. My thought process: Ease off the throttle. Pull in the clutch. Gently apply the brake. Shift down into second gear. Slowly engage the clutch and feather the throttle to keep the bike moving forward as I gently roll into a turn across the road.

I set my feet and juiced the throttle. I pulled the bars into the turn. But we were on an incline in the road. Maybe I misjudged the turn. Or maybe Keli and I shifted our weight in different ways at exactly the wrong moment. Or maybe my inside foot, the one I used to guide my balance, being further away than I expected because it was on the downhill side, slipped. Because the bike leaned. And grew heavy. I fought it for balance but momentum took over. Then the center of gravity shifted too quickly for my straining muscles and I tumbled off the bike and to the ground. I heard the bike crunch as it hit the asphalt. I felt Keli’s weight as she fell down onto me.


Unfortunately, there are a lot more scratches than this one ;-(

We landed safely away from the bike (it’s a Yamaha FJR1300, quite heavy, but with hard-sided touring panniers that gave Keli leg space to escape from getting pinned underneath when it hit the ground).

We were on our feet only after I took ten seconds to swear at myself). We took inventory of ourselves. Keli had banged her knee. Hard. She immediately knew it was going to hurt. Otherwise, thankfully, she was unharmed. I had a tender ankle and sensed stress and pressure in my wrists and shoulders from my strained attempt to keep the stupid think on its wheels.

The bike discarded its windscreen across the road like a can being shot off a fencepost. And there were (are) scratches all along the left side of the bike. But, with a little help from a passerby, I got the bike up and on its side stand and it started and ran just fine. The oil that leaked was from the fact that it had landed on its side (oil leaked from the cap, not from a crack in anything important). I was able to ride us back to the RV park. I then loaded the bike up on the trailer, where it would sit the rest of the trip.

Rather than physical pain, I felt emotional pain about the accident. It was a dumb mistake. I rushed the turn trying to catch the deer. I didn't wait until I was sure-footed. And even though I always wear a helmet, long pants and a long-sleeve denim shirt (at a minimum), and Keli always wears full protective gear and a full-faced helmet when she’s my passenger, you can’t put safety gear on pride and ego.

I walked to the nearest grocery store to buy an ice pack and a compression bandage to treat Keli’s ankle. On the way back, I stopped into Krispy Kreme Donuts and bought two of her favorite (glazed) and two of mine (Boston creme). We ate them while watching a movie on my laptop. I went straight to my two bad-habit safe spaces (junk food and the thoughtless overconsumption of video content) without even thinking about it. I was stressed and feeling bad and habit did the rest.

Intellectually, I’ve always understood that (for me) there was a connection between emotional discomfort and eating junk nutrition and consuming video content mindlessly. They are knee-jerk distractions from facing whatever makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to live that way. I would rather feel discomfort directly, and challenge myself to face it (and grow from it).

My 52-Day Paleo journey has caused me to look closely at the food I eat and take responsibility for it (and in turn, responsibility for the way I feel). I didn’t expect to see any impact outside my health and fitness, but the Paleo challenge is also opening me up to look closely at every aspect of my life where I live in a way that is not in alignment with my intentions, as this connection to the comfort I get from junk food and junk video.

Breakfast: Black coffee with raw honey, bacon, eggs, sweet potato, and bell peppers.

Lunch: A banana and some Boston Baked beans candy.

Dinner: Broccoli slaw with a boiled egg, half an avocado, and a sliced pear.

Snacks: Half a Base Culture Cashew Butter Blondie.

Exercise: Still not back on the exercise bandwagon. By the end of the week, I will start riding bikes again.


The Six Lessons of Paleo (so far)

Camp food; steak, eggs, and sweet potato slices.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 22

Yesterday, I was three weeks into my Paleo journey (21 days of 52 planned). I’d say that so far I’m about a 6 out of 10 in execution, but I’ve learned several valuable lessons and already seen some interesting changes in my health, my physical body, and my mental well-being:

  1. Follow a guide at first. Following a beginner’s program is a great way to kick off a Paleo plan. Trying to figure out the rules and create meals from scratch on day one is overwhelming. I would have given up in the first week if I didn’t have Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28. It didn’t have to be her book (there are dozens of Paleo starter recipe and meal plan books), but the pre-written shopping lists, recipes, and a basic understanding of Paleo I got from Swanhart’s book gave me a leapfrog to my first results.
  2. Expect to lose weight, just don’t focus on it. You will lose weight. Please don’t take on a Paleo challenge for this reason alone, but one of the benefits of eating cleanly is that you will probably lose weight on Paleo. You’re especially like to shed a few pounds if you’re coming to Paleo from a traditional Western diet. And yes, I know it’s a tough ask to not make this challenge about weight. I am generally in a healthy weight range, but cycling is my physical passion and the sport can be a weight-obsessed sport. Leanness can equate to performance. So I want to be lean. I just have to work at not letting the inevitable weight loss that comes with eating clean translate into my manipulating my eating to chase it as a goal of its own. My goal is health and fitness. If I do it right, weight loss is a happy by-product.
  3. Expect your blood pressure to improve. I have blood pressure that measures in the pre-hypertension range (just off the high-end of normal at 135/90-ish). On Paleo only three weeks, I’m already seeing reading in the 120/80 (normal) range. There is blood pressure disease in my family history, so the Paleo benefit of improved blood pressure numbers is a sweet and welcome bonus (and one of the things that are keeping me on track).
  4. Expect to get fitter. If you pursue a physical sport, you will see improvement on Paleo. Like I wrote above, I’m a cyclist. But you could be a runner. You could be a triathlete. You could be into CrossFit. It doesn’t matter what your physical pursuit it, exercise and sport are great for your body. Working out is like squeezing a sponge (the sponge is your body). When you work out, you burn up energy stored in your muscles, you burn fat stores, you use up nutrients and oxygen in your blood. When you get your blood pumping and your muscles firing and squeeze the juice out of the sponge of your body, it replenishes and rebuilds itself on the fuel you bring in. Eating Paleo is a great way to ensure that you’re bringing in clean fuel and giving your body the best chance you can to rebuild those strained muscles and cardiovascular system as healthily as possible. On Paleo, expect to recover better, return stronger, and gain fitness.
  5. Expect to have more energy. Eating crap (specifically, eating donuts in the morning and fast food for lunch) would leave me completely drained by mid-afternoon. I would get home at 5:30 or 6:00 and my body would shut down. So I’d pull out the leg extension on the Lazy Boy, click on the t.v., and feed myself the mental equivalent of donuts and fast food. It took a week or two for that feeling to fade away, and I almost didn’t notice it, but now, after a day when I might get up at 5 am to cycle before work, after cleaning up the task list on my two jobs, I’m still fresh in the evenings. I’m writing more, thinking more, and doing more.
  6. Expect that you will struggle at times. Despite all the upside, you will stumble and fall off the Paleo wagon. It’s normal. You can’t beat yourself up too much about it (or worse, convince yourself that clean, healthy eating is not for you because you struggled somewhere along the journey). My first week was great; I followed Paleo in 28 closely and felt great. Then I let a few small non-Paleo foods slip in. I even allowed myself a fast-food cheat meal one day. I am mostly back on track at the three-week mark. I have learned to stock some ingredients to get ahead of any temptations to cheat. And this is my biggest lesson from the first three weeks; taking control over what I eat is essential. I need to prepare in advance. I can’t defer my nutrition, intentionally or by default, to outside sources. Outside sources serve their own interests and the world is constantly selling you on what they want to you to consume because it is their means to their end (profit usually). Adopting Paleo for 52 days was a challenge to take control of my nutritional life. It’s a test. Am I really serious about my health and well being (as affected by how I choose to feed myself)? And if I can choose for my best self in this one area of life, how can I translate that to choosing for my best self in every area of my life?

We’re on the last overnight on our RV vacation and I have all Paleo ingredients in the RV fridge. I’ll be back home tomorrow afternoon where my first order of business will be to go back to Swanhart’s book and grocery shop from one of her weekly meal-plan lists. Then stay committed to planning a meal or two ahead and always, always taking complete control over what I put into my body.

Can I do it? Will it stick? We’ll see.

Breakfast: Banana. Boiled egg.

Lunch: Banana, boiled egg, plantain chips, dark chocolate.

Dinner: Steak, eggs, sweet potato slices. Licorice-flavored hard candy.

Exercise: A brisk walk through Flagstaff before setting up camp in the Coconino Forest.


Where are all the Paleo Restaurants?

Pork with bacon and mushrooms at Radish and Rye in Santa Fe, NM

52 Days of Paleo, Day 21

We made it to Santa Fe, New Mexico today. I ate light Paleo on the road (snacks of bananas, boiled egg, veggie chips) and saved my appetite for a big dinner. We spotted a restaurant called Radish and Rye that seemed to promise Paleo options and I had pork steak with sauteed mushrooms for dinner. It was pretty good.

Although I’m able to leave off the non-Paleo items at most restaurants and get myself a Paleo meal (like not eating the polenta that came with the Pork Steak), there doesn’t seem to be a full Paleo eating out option; a Paleo restaurant or a Paleo menu within a restaurant. You can find Vegan options in a lot of places. Why not Paleo? Am I just not seeing it? Or do they really not exist?

They should.

Driving across Oklahoma and North into Kansas yesterday gave me plenty of time to think back on my wife’s family history (that we found in the Wagner County History book in the Coweta public library). There’s a lot to unpack about her heritage. First, the text of that article lays credence to a family myth that no-one had documentation to substantiate; that Keli’s family had Native American heritage. Her great-great-grandfather was full-blooded Choctaw Indian.

Some history: Choctaw Indian Nation traces its ancestry to Mississippi and some sections of Alabama. Legends tell that the Choctaw people originated from "Nanih Waya", a sacred hill near what is now known as Noxapter, Mississippi. "Nanih Waiya" means "Productive Mound" and is often referred to as "The Mother Mound".

Culturally, the Choctaws have always honored their women as the head of every family household. They were, and still are today, considered the caretakers of our children, our elders, and the home.

The Choctaws were the first of the five great southern tribes of the United States to be moved to Oklahoma by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. Over 20,000 Choctaws moved on this long journey, with many of the Choctaw people not surviving this removal on what has come to be called "THE TRAIL OF TEARS".

The Choctaws adjusted quickly to their new homeland. Missionaries were sent to Oklahoma Territory representing several denominations, including the Southern Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians. These missionaries established a good rapport with the Choctaws and early impressed upon the Choctaws the importance and need for formal education if they were to co-exist with the white man.

So who was Gabe Hall, the full-blooded Choctaw Indian and my wife’s Great-great-grandfather? How did he meet and marry a white woman? Was he an educated man, integrated into the emerging cultural west? What was the journey his family went through from before white settlers arrived to disrupt their way of life to his matriculation into a white family? And ultimately beginning the lineage of a black family through his son Sam? Can we find out?

The family article also reflects a story Keli’s father had about her great-grandfather (Sam Hall) having red hair. Which leads to the insight that Keli has Irish heritage.

If you track these lineages, the people moved (by choice or, in the case of Lewis McGinty, not by choice at all). This was the world in the 1800’s; we were just starting to transport goods globally, and mass emigration to the States meant all of us who have a multi-generational heritage in the US can eventually trace yourself back to an immigrant. That immigrant would have been from a place that his ancestors originated in. Meaning, if you can trace a line of your personal history to an Irish national who immigrated to America in the 1700’s or 1800s, chances are every ancestor beyond that was Irish. And likely lived in the same community as the generations before them.

So, we think it would be an incredibly fun experience to see how close my Irish ancestors were to her Irish ancestors. Do we intersect in Ireland? Are we from the same county? The same town? Can we find and prove anything that puts two of our direct ancestors in a place likely to have known each other? Or, are we by chance descended from common ancestors at some point. It would go a long way to demonstrating how small of a world this really is, and how interconnected we all are!

Breakfast: Black coffee with raw honey. One banana.

Lunch: Boiled egg, banana, pasture-raised cheese slices, vegetable chips.

Dinner: Pork chop with mushrooms and polenta.

Snacks: Vegetable chips.

Exercise: None.


52 Days of Paleo, Day 20

A simple steak and veggies. The apples were an inspired addition.

Get The Hell Out Of Dodge

Before leaving Dodge City, (or in the spirit of the old-time radio program Gunsmoke, before we ‘got the hell out of Dodge,’) we found a decent grocery store. And I’m learning that success with Paleo is all about planning a few meals ahead and hitting a decent grocer every few days.

Within the grocer, two departments are key; the produce and the meat department. I stocked up on ingredients that will enable me to stick to Paleo the rest of the week, I didn’t even follow Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28 week-two meal plan. I didn’t need to. I know what my meals are going to be; a lean protein, some veggies, maybe sweet potato, seasoned right and made fresh in our little RV kitchen. Mix in some Fruit, dark chocolate, and vegetable chips for snacks and I’m set for the next couple of days.

We left Dodge and headed for Trinidad, Colorado. There’s a campground just south, on the hilly shores of Lake Trinidad. The drive, on the two-lane highway 160, was just stunning. I never would have guessed that Western Kansas would be so beautiful. I always thought the high plains and prairies were was miles of flat nothing. But that nothing (field after field of wheat and lush, swaying prairie grasslands brushed with wildflowers, communities clustered around giant grain silos every ten miles or so) was simply breathtaking in every direction. And it served us up one of the random and unusual experience we so cherish.

There were long stretches of straight, golden-silver asphalt where we didn’t see any other cars for minutes at a time. On one section, I spotted movement on the road off in the distance. “Is something on the road up there,” I asked Keli.

“Deer,” she said as we got a little closer. I slowed the RV. We got close enough to see that they weren't deer. Instead, they were three cornfield-yellow Western Kansas Antelope. They stood in the road and watched us. I was prepared to roll to a complete stop and just marvel in their beauty and presence but a touring motorcycle overtook us and they loped off into the nearest field. They stopped a hundred feet away and watched us again.

That eye-to-eye connection with another creature is something special. I don't know what it is that passed between us, but I felt acknowledgment. They were aware of our presence. They regarded us. We occupied space in their minds. If they were reading our energy, they were feeling our admiration for them as well.

It was a beautiful and random moment and exactly the reason we travel the way we do (wander, discover, feel our way along).

We parked up at Lake Trinidad by 5 pm, walked along the ridgeline overlooking the lake, and marveled at the swallows floating and diving on the air like spitfires in world war two dogfights. We also saw a primadonna of a red-tailed hawk, floating along above everyone without a care in the work, big-dicking the whole lake.

I made steak with a sauteed veggie mix of broccoli, onions and bell peppers. I had a zucchini squash ready to go into the mix as well, but at the last moment cubed an apple and threw it in. It lifted the taste of everything on the plate. That’s what I love about Paleo; so long as you stick to the ingredients list, you can’t really go wrong mashing up any combination of veggies and protein. The recipes in Swanhart’s book are great, but the old standby of protein and veggies is so easy, you don’t have to think much (perfect for me).

Breakfast: Coffee sweetened with raw honey.

Lunch: None. Just snacking along the way.

Dinner: Chuck steak, vegetable mix with broccoli, bell peppers, onions, and apple.

Snacks: Banana, Gala apple, some Terra vegetable chips (taro, sweep potato, batata, parsnip, yucca, ruby-dipped vegetables). Oh, and some Licorice-flavored hard candies I bought in Dodge City.