Keeping Your Balance

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

If you are anything like me you are regularly tuning in to the news in order to be sure that you have the most current COVID-19 information from local, state and federal sources. The trouble is that instead of only hearing what is important there is far too much of it to process. Trying to absorb it all often leads to fear, confusion, stress, sadness, anger and a sense of complete overwhelm.

To make matters worse, we are hearing contradictory messages from officials at the highest levels of government and our elected officials seem to be playing politics instead of getting needed financial resources to displaced American workers, families, small businesses and companies that have been forced to stop wherever it is they do to keep money flowing in our economy.

There are countless changes having been thrust upon, asked of and now required of each of us. These come in the form of cancelled meetings and trips, planned events such as birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings, etc. The list is endless and keeps growing. Each of these disappointments contribute to our sense of loss. Just when we come to terms with one such situation, we are hit with yet another. Before we even have a chance to work through our grief and loss from one casualty, another pops up. It’s no wonder some people are overwhelmed by feelings of uncertainty and hopelessness.


One thing that my wife Amanda and I have done very regularly is to get outside and take long walks. Despite keeping our 6 to 10 foot distance away from others we find that we can still greet people who are out getting some fresh air as well. It has helped clear our heads and open us up to shifting our thinking and our mindset.

In the midst of all of the doom and gloom there are indeed some bright spots. There are many individuals at the front lines of this battle tirelessly working incredible numbers of hours under extremely stressful conditions.

There are companies re-tooling to make hand sanitizer, face masks and ventilators. There are restaurants donating food to medical professionals and others. There are many more examples that each of us have seen and heard about and that list keeps growing also.

When I hear these stories emerge it gives me faith in humankind and reminds me that in every crisis there is also opportunity. People are stepping up in huge ways to make a difference.

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”  ~ John F. Kennedy

One thing I have found to be true is that when I am thinking about what I am thankful for, I also feel happy. And I’m pretty sure that feeling happy and hopeless are not compatible. It is impossible for these two feelings to occupy the same space at the same time.

Looking for the helpers and finding ways to thank them is a very good use of our time while we are being asked to stay at home and practice social distancing. It helps to lift our spirits, lighten our hearts, which it turns out can actually help to boost our own immune response.

One idea to make looking for the helpers a habit is to make a numbered list on a piece of paper adding to it daily. In the second column you can add ideas about ways you might thank them. 

To be sure, one way or another, this will pass. And when it does, we will  move forward. We always have and we always do. The human spirit is just that way. We don’t know exactly how or even when we will be looking back upon this crisis, but eventually we will. We will get through this and we will be better and stronger for having endured it.

Another thing for sure is that worrying, losing sleep, over thinking the “what if’s” and the like won’t change anything except to aid and abet worry and fear and add to our feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Do your best to remember to breathe and remind yourself, “This too shall pass.”

There is definitely a time and a place for everything but, sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Make time for joy and fun!



The Big Reveal

“We need to remember that circumstances don’t make a person,
they reveal a person. ” ~ Emma Jameson

When I was a 9th grader living with my family in Eugene, Oregon a freak and unexpected snow storm suddenly hit the area. I believe it remains the biggest and longest lasting storm recorded for that area. The streets were impassable for many days causing schools and businesses to close. Although much shorter in duration and causing isolation rather than requiring it, in some ways it was similar to our current situation with regard to the COVID-19 virus. We were all in it together.

For an adolescent, the sense of awe and wonder created by continuous snow falling onto the already deep blanket of white that occurred overnight was awesome! But as the extended forecast called for more and more snow, it was clear that our city would be paralyzed. If Eugene was a city in the Midwest it would have had ample equipment to clear the roads, buildings would not have had flat roofs which were not designed for the extra weight of several feet of heavy snow and homeowners would have had snow shovels and snowblowers to clear driveways and walkways.

After the initial excitement of being out of school began to wane, as an active teenage boy, I began to become a little stir crazy. I needed to get out of the house. I called my friend Doug, who lived several miles away. He and I often made the walk to one another’s houses to spend time together. While on the phone we decided that I would go to his house. Trudging through the heavy snow easily doubled the time it took to make it there. Along the way, I noticed countless people digging their way out of their houses. But I also noticed something else. There were houses with snow completely covering yards, driveways and walkways with no evidence of any attempt to clear it away.

When I made it to Doug’s house we exchanged normal greetings and small talk and then began to talk about how crazy it was outside. People were making their way through the snow to stores because driving, for the most part, was not yet possible. It also dawned on us that there may have been elderly people who needed help clearing walks and getting needed groceries and other necessities.

For the next 10 days or so, Doug and I, armed with snow shovels. spent our time clearing the driveways and walkways of people who couldn’t do it for themselves. We also helped shovel off the flat roofs of some local grocery stores, businesses and churches. We made runs to the store for some of the people who couldn’t make the slippery journey safely on their own. We also agreed that we wouldn’t take any money for helping because this was a time for people to pull together and help one another, not to take advantage of one another. (I’m pretty sure we ate our weight in a variety of different home baked cookies and sweetbreads, however -)

When school resumed several guys were bragging about how much money they made shoveling snow. An immature piece of me felt like Doug and I missed out on an opportunity. We could have made some serious money if we had knocked on doors and negotiated a price for what we did, but we didn’t. Looking back on it, I realized that we gained something money could never buy. At a time when teenagers were often looked upon as a group of undisciplined rebels, we were able to show another side often unseen by other generations of adults. We did the right thing.

Fastforwarding to the present, there is no doubt that all of humanity has been collectively thrust into uncharted territory. It is scary mostly because we can’t see what we are up against. Unlike the boogeyman of our nightmares, this foe is real.

My question today is, what will this crisis reveal about you and me?

With the requirement that we isolate ourselves from one another, what can we do to help? Aside from following the recommendations of the medical experts and government officials, what else can we do?

Because this is nothing we have experienced before in our lifetimes it will require some out of the box thinking. But in order to allow the required creativity, ingenuity and uncommon ideas to flow, we must not allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear or overwhelmed by stress. We must remain open minded and positive.

How do we remain cool, calm and collected during a world catastrophe?

For fun and in an attempt not to take ourselves too seriously, wife Amanda and I have followed Jason Kotecki and his wife at for many years. The website is full of great tools and ideas to help establish the state of mind needed to move through difficult times like these. On the website Jason’s book, “A Chance of Awesome” is featured. It is complete with thoughts, stories and artwork that helps to lighten your heart and open your mind. Take a look at the website and read his book.

There are plenty of other “feel good” resources with ideas and true stories about people just like you and me that have done extraordinary things or even simple things that have made an extraordinary impact in the lives of others.

In the coming days, I will continue to search out tools, stories, quotes and videos to share. As difficult as this thing is, I have faith that mankind will collectively solve the problem and that we will come out on the other side stronger and better having experienced it.

So I close with this question: What will this experience reveal about you?



PS – We took a long walk today. The mountain was out. Feeling gratitude.

We Got This

I haven’t written a post for a quite some time. My original thought was that I would write about my transition from work into retirement in hopes that by documenting my journey it might assist others in some small way. Having worked as an educator for my entire adult life, I found enormous meaning and the potential to make a difference through my work every day.

The truth is that the transition was much harder for me than I expected. I spent several months in an emotional space that required much more energy to work through than I expected. This reality turned out not to be the fertile ground needed to create quality posts.

As fate would have it, at almost exactly the same time that I regained my balance, we were hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. Horrible timing? Perhaps not. I know, if you are still reading this you’re probably saying, “what’s wrong with this guy?” Well, before you click away, please allow me to explain.

First: This crises is nothing like anything most of us have experienced in our lifetime. Yes its crazy, surreal, horrible and even catastrophic. As the days pass the reality sets in more firmly that we are in for a very bumpy ride.

Second: I believe we will overcome.

I am a fervent believer in human potential, resilience, spirit and will. When I was very young my dad wrote inspirational quotes on gold colored pieces of card stock, pinned them to a bulletin board in my bedroom and rotated them regularly. One such quote that I remember well is attributed to Napoleon Hill. He wrote, “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” As a young boy my dad instilled in me the ideals that hard work, belief, a positive mental attitude and faith could overcome almost anything.

In the last decade I have visited more than 35 countries. I have been awed, enamored, overwhelmed, and impressed by many people that I have seen and met. I have learned to appreciate how history, cultures and circumstances effect each person’s world view. I have also witnessed that every human being shares with every other human being the capacity and need to love and be loved. Love is what binds us together.

Having more than several decades under my belt, I have also come to observe that Americans have shown amazing resiliency and a remarkable ability to come together in a crisis and overcome it.

So, I believe that my role now is is to write positive messages and send them out in hopes that the are helpful or inspirational to those who happen upon them. I will try to add positive messages very regularly during this time.

Additionally, if you come across any exceptional or noteworthy act of bravery, kindness or insight that you are willing to share, please add it in the comments.

Together we will beat this!



Here We Go Again

“A thousand moments I had just taken for granted―mostly because I had assumed that there would be a thousand more.”
~ Morgan Matson

One thing I have discovered is that as much as I intend to follow a particular path or course of action, all too often the original idea evolves and the details change. Fortunately, I am pretty good at “going with the flow” so I tend not to become overly frustrated. I do however, have an issue with “flakiness” – in others and in myself. So making a public commitment to doing something and then not following through is something that causes me a great deal of angst and I tend to get down on myself.
The point of all this is that some months ago, knowing that I would be retiring at the end of May, 2019, I wrote a blog post in which I committed to a process that I would follow to help guide me to “meaningful and purposeful activities” that would fill my days after leaving a 30 plus year career in education. It would surely be seamless and a veritable “walk-in-the-park”, as it were. . . . . HA!

The reality is that every single work day whether as a teacher, counselor, dean of students or principal (all roles that I fulfilled at one time or another) contained within it the possibility of making a (at times significant) difference in a life. That was particularly true for students but may also have been the case for parents, teachers or even other staff members in the school. To be completely honest, there were many days that, for whatever reason, I took this for granted.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a moment believe that my presence in the lives of others didn’t make a difference. I do believe that I made a difference. I think this was especially true once I realized that I belonged in the middle school. Working with early adolescent kids, their parents and teachers, I was definitely able to make an impact.

The last six years of my career have been spent working at a middle school in Lagos, Nigeria. My wife and I decided to make a journey out of our return trip from Africa to the Pacific Northwest, where we now own a condo. We spent two weeks in Spain, visited a dear friend in Beirut, Lebanon and then spent our two final weeks in the Philippines. Since arriving at “home” we have spent the last month settling into our new home, taking care of medical and dental appointments, establishing same time zone contact with friends and relatives and enjoying long, daily walks.

Despite the obvious priority these items take in everyone’s lives, I must admit that I have a nagging sense that something is “out of whack” here. Shouldn’t I be rejoicing in the fact that I no longer need to collect a paycheck to afford to live anymore? If so, why do I feel this hole? Shouldn’t feel just a tiny bit smug when I see our friends’ social media posts about heading back to work, with the accompanying stresses and strains of getting ready for a brand new school year?

One thing is certain, I don’t miss the insane craziness that is part of a new school year, especially in a third world country where I spent the last 6 years of my career. I do, however miss being a part of a team of first class educators who give a part of their heart and soul every day in the best interest of the kids in their care!

I am becoming more and more at peace with the idea that nothing will ever take the place of being an educator. I was so proud of and loved being able to reply to a person who asked me what I did for a living with the proclamation, “I am a Middle School Principal”. Having to add the word ‘retired’ in front of these words only serves to feed my sense of loss. Hopefully, I will get past that soon and having an open mind and an open heart will lead me in the direction of some new and exciting opportunities. I’m sure there are activities that will provide the meaning and purpose that I am longing for. But for the time being I admit that I am enjoying waking up without the assistance of an alarm most mornings.

In love and intense gratitude,


PS Thanks to everyone who has helped to add to my sense of loss. Had you not given so much to my life, I may have never known what I was missing.

Finding Our Tribe

FIRECracker of Millennium Revolution October, 2018

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flames by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”  ~ Albert Schweitzer

Maybe it’s not quite as dramatic as in this quote, but I think Mr. Schweitzer pretty much nails what it means to find your tribe.

Chautauqua Greece was that for me. To be sure, I don’t fit the profile of the typical attendee. I am about positive I was the oldest participant at the conference. The speakers were all living their amazing FIRE lives (maybe that’s why they were picked as speakers 8-^).

Despite the fact that my wife and I are just around the corner from bidding our jobs a fond farewell (as I write, we dropped below the 200 day mark), we were fatally attracted to this event right from the get go.

Why Did We Attend?

Chautauqua had been on our radar for several years. It’s a one of a kind event that seemed like it would a be crazy cool thing go to. It’s previously been held in Ecuador, too far away from where we are working in Africa. That, and it usually didn’t match up with our school holidays. Last year’s UK event didn’t work with our schedule either, but at least it was in the same hemisphere! This year, however was different. The first week of Chautauqua Greece (geographically reasonable) happened to be scheduled over our school’s October break. We leapt at the chance to attend this time, and I’m pretty sure we were the first participants to book. “Push the button!” I told Amanda after she showed me a photo of the hotel. Our registration confirmed, we were totally stoked about the idea that we would actually be hanging out with some of our BIG FIRE heroes.

What Did I Want From Chautauqua?

As it got closer to the time to go, Amanda started asking me questions. It’s what I love about her, but it can also be annoying as hell. Stuff like, “What questions are you gonna ask in the one-on-one sessions? You should probably write them down so you can remember them,” and “What are you hoping to get out of this whole thing?” As crazy as she sometimes makes me with her constant questions and out loud wonderings, I felt I’d better start giving it more serious thought. After all, this was not our typical October Break holiday. We were going to get to pick the brains of some of the awesomely successful bloggers who we’ve been following for quite a while –live and in person! This was going to be even better than “back stage passes”.

When it came right down to it, I decided there were really only three things I wanted to get out of our time at Chautauqua. First, I wanted affirmation. I wanted an expert to tell us that our FI number and withdrawal plan was sound, and if it wasn’t, I wanted to know what needed to change to make sure it was. Secondly, I wanted to feel confident that the real estate purchase we were about to complete made financial sense. Buying a condo is not always considered the most savvy idea. Lastly, I wanted to have a good time.

What Did I Get Out of the Chautauqua Experience?

So, “Were your expectations met?”, you ask. The short answer, is yes! The lid was utterly and completely blown off. It was a relief to get the nod that our plan was solid. Based on JL Collins’ advice, we did make an adjustment to our withdrawal strategy, one that we had not previously considered but one that would make a nice impact in a few years. His insights were perfect. AND against all Chautauquan betting odds, we were also given the rarely relinquished “stamp of approval” by Kristy (aka FIRECracker) and Bryce (aka Wanderer) (Millennial Revolution) for the condo we were about to purchase. I believe after reviewing our numbers, it went something like, “Hell yes. You guys can do whatever the Hell you want.” We were quite surprised, as they usually favor renting over buying. Win #2 for Chautauqua! 

The outcome of these two one-to-one sessions alone was worth the price of admission!

So Much Added Value from Chautauqua

Mrs. Chaos (fellow Chautauquan and now a new friend) may have stated it best in her blog post, The Reluctant Chautauquan : 10 Weird Things I Learnt About a Chautauqua when she said,  “all of the people there have the same value system. Speakers and participants alike see the world in a similar way, seeing money as a tool, not as an end.” She also noted, “These people are highly motivated to do something useful and productive with their time – if they have indeed ‘retired’ from a traditional job.” Where do you find such a concentration of financially independent people who are humble, down to earth and willing to help others without some sort of a catch? “What was in it for them” seemed to honestly be the satisfaction of offering their assistance (People helping people – what a concept!) and connecting with new members of the ever expanding FIRE movement.

The Throne of Zeus
The Final Answer

What did I really get out of my Chautauqua experience? The answer to that question may sound a little ‘woo woo’ but I’m gonna say it anyway. It sort of just came to me while I was looking across the the pool deck as everyone was informally hanging around, chatting like crazy during free time at the hotel. Maybe it was the influence of being in Litochoro, Greece at the foot of the Throne of Zeus and Mt. Olympus. I didn’t say it aloud for fear of sounding like a schmaltzy sap. But the words in my head echoed, “I am walking with Giants”.  Reflecting on what had transpired over the week – I got to spend time with people who delight in taking full responsibility for their lives and their futures. They are mindful and intentional about the resources they use and consume. They are optimistic and solution focused always looking at what is possible. They inspire and encourage others to pursue their dreams and to be their very best. What I gained was meeting and connecting with a handful of members of my Tribe. And I am truly blessed!

Hanging around talking money and life on the pool deck

I can’t end this post without sending a HUGE shout out to all of the Week 1 Greece Chautauqua 2018 participants (our new friends!) for being so cool and so fun and for all the amazing conversations. Thank you a million times over to organizers, Alan and Katie, you didn’t miss a detail (And my foodie wife Amanda says the food was over the top!). Finally, our gratitude goes out to to JL Collins , Kristy & Bryce (Millennial Revolution),  and Carl & Mindy aka Mr. & Mrs. 1500. You all made this event a life changing experience for us with your invaluable personal advice and presentations. We can’t wait for a reunion. In the meantime, as we’re heading into the FIRE, our plan is to Go Be Invincible!



You’re Going Where?

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream”~ C. S. Lewis

As I mentioned in my previous post, once my wife and I caught the FI bug, the momentum was amazing. It was like launching a tiny snowball down a steep hill, watching it gather more snow…growing bigger and bigger and bigger. But instead of a snowball, this was a FIREball.

From a historical-financial perspective, we had previously fallen for the siren’s song of the banking industry and consumerism. Following my misguided mental model, I reasoned that because we made a decent income we, (OK, I), could buy  pretty much what I wanted, when I wanted it. We sometimes used credit and gave little thought to carrying a balance. My rationale was that the house would continue to appreciate in value and a quick refi would cover the accumulated debt when debt payments got too high. I argued that our annual salary increases would allow us to pay the higher mortgage payment. I was also resigned to the idea that Amanda (younger than me) loved teaching and wouldn’t want to stop until her retirement age. I had planned to just keep working until she was ready to retire. By then our pensions and Social Security would certainly be enough to cover our expenses…or would they??? (Oh how I wish I knew then what I know now.)

Coming to Agreements

I believe the key to success for a couple pursuing FI is that you have to agree on stuff. Once we started thinking about more ways to accelerate the process, neither of us could seem to turn off our brains. Tons of thoughts and ideas (and questions!) were flying around in our heads. In order to share and process all of it, we stumbled (no pun intended) upon a strategy that really worked for us: walking and talking. Fortunately for us a local walking path built around a nearby golf course ended up being a great place for us to get in some serious exercise and process tons of ideas at the same time. We used to joke that it was there that we “solved all the world’s problems” (well, at least those in our world, anyway). It was perfect. In the hour or so that it took to make the trek, we always managed to gain some clarity and logically plan for the road ahead.

Now They Call It “Hacking”

Clarity you say? Our walking and talking led us to consider what many of our friends and relatives thought was the polar opposite of clear thinking. We love to travel. Vacations are expensive. Our brilliant idea? What if we were to teach abroad? By this time both Cayden and Amanda were well out of the woods medically (previous post), and we were now empty nesters. The boys were busy doing whatever it is that 20 somethings do. And on average, we didn’t even see our extended families but once a year. We had paid off our debt a bit earlier than projected (by selling much of our accumulated stuff).  Our emergency fund was in the bank. “If we sell our house and move abroad,” we mused, “we’ll have Zero Debt!” What the heck. We decided to go for it.

We got ourselves signed up with a recruiting company and shortly after put our house on the market. It wasn’t long before we received a very appealing job offer from an international school. Lacking overseas experience, we expected our search would last awhile. It was our good fortune to have received the offer after just a couple of of interviews. Our new jobs would include an increase in salary from our public school positions, housing, annual round trip airfare for both of us to our home of record and outstanding healthcare benefits. Little did we know at the time that we had pulled off a Trifecta of Life Hacking: Housing, Tax Advantaged Income and Travel. (Heck, we didn’t even know what hacking was, yet,) Pretty cool, huh? We thought so.

Shortly thereafter, we had an offer on our house, only there was one problem –  our house would close before the end of our contracted school year. Yikes! Our plan was to be overseas for at least 6 years. Where were we going to live for just a couple of months? We needed to sell our stuff!  We were so ready to just unload it all. Luck continued to be on our side when some acquaintances from our church (now very dear friends of ours) offered to let us stay with them.  We moved into their furnished mother-in-law apartment with just 2 ½ months of school remaining and lived there until we finished out the school year. The quaint accommodations were small but lovely. Oh . . . and I should mention . . . the house was on a beautiful lake. Talk about all the pieces falling into place.

One Part Luck, Two Parts Good Thinking

Before we left the US, we had fortunately set ourselves up on the path to FI. Our teacher’s retirement system required teachers to withhold 5% to 15% of their pre-tax salary. At least we had been maxing out our teacher’s retirement program. Upon retirement, this plan would provide access to the invested funds.

We had small Roth IRAs, but we were pretty fuzzy on our understanding of the nuances of investing (actually downright pathetic and confused). After realizing that we’d made some poor decisions in buying just single stocks,  we did our “homework”. As a result, we ran across some investment advice that made good sense. Andrew Hallam, who had been an international teacher in Singapore, wrote a book we found called The Millionaire Teacher. It was a good start and set us on our “investment way”. We soon discovered that people were actually blogging about this stuff and realized they reinforced Hallam’s ideas. People like Mr. Money MustacheGo Curry Cracker, JL Collins, Mr. 1500, and Millennial Revolution started appearing on our radar. They provided us with more motivation and strategies to accelerate our journey. Mr. Money Mustache, recently featured in a PBS news hour broadcast, was a huge influence as was JL Collins. Jim’s book, The Simple Path Wealth is a must read for anyone aspiring to reach financial independence. We recommend it to anyone who will listen to us talk about FIRE. It’s one of those books you’ll read multiple times just to make sure you “really get it”. 

By the time we left our public school jobs to head overseas, our lump sum was nothing to sneeze at, even with the poor returns and high fee structure. So, upon separation from our state system, we learned we could take our money out of the state plan. We jumped at the opportunity to roll over our funds into higher yielding IRAs.  We also decided to max out our current retirement options. With a lot of mentoring from the bloggers we’ve followed (many who have now become friends since Chautauqua), and despite our late arrival on the FIRE scene, we have reached our FI number. We’ll both be “RE” at the end of the school year.

Oh Yeah…That Overseas Post

Where did we go, you wonder? We ended up at the American International School in Lagos. No, not Portugal…Lagos, Nigeria. As you might imagine (or be thinking), the responses from friends and family ran the full gamut: “Why Nigeria?” and “Oh my God. Isn’t it DANGEROUS there??!” or “Are you gonna live in a hut?” with some added snickering. To be sure, living in Nigeria has had its share of inconveniences, issues and challenges (Remember Ebola, anyone?? We were there!).

The truth is that the standard Nigerian greeting, “You are welcome” and the positive attitude of the Nigerians has always made us feel welcome. This has been our home for nearly six years. 

We have sincerely enjoyed living and working in Nigeria and have loved our careers as educators. Despite the joys that come with working with young people and those who teach them,  I am very much looking forward to the change of pace and the increase in self-directed activities that retirement will bring. I am equally aware of my internal need to spend my time doing things that are meaningful. I am ready to leave my job behind but I am not ready to leave behind my purpose.