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Saturday, June 9, 2012

New Interest - Organic Gardening

Over the last few months I have gotten really interested in organic gardening.  It started with tomatoes and some peppers, and then, when my girlfriend and I moved in together, I ended up with a lot more space in the backyard.  From there, I built four 12 sq. ft. raised beds, and started growing broccoli, carrots, onions, spinach, swiss and rainbow chard, and of course, more tomatoes and peppers.  

I find it fascinating.  I had never grown anything from seed before, and it blows me away watching this stuff take root and grow.  I have my first tomato plants that I grew from seed now yielding large fruit, and it is somehow deeply satisfying.  

It is educational as well.  For a while, I was starting seeds in the window sill or under a UV light, and then when they got a few inches tall, I would put them immediately into the ground.  I would watch them immediately wilt and die in the sun.  From the failures I learned that they need to be "hardened off" with just a few hours outside a day in the shade, as they get used to the harsher outside environment.  In my initial excitement, I would plant dozens of seeds, right next to each other, and then wonder why their growth would be stunted.  And of course this made me learn about proper spacing and how to thin out the seedlings as they grew. 

My current dilemma are these goddamn caterpillars who are eating my sugarsnap peas.  They eat huge holes in the leaves, and then leer up at me, bloated bellies stuffed full of my future salads.  All I can say to those little bastards is that WINTER IS COMING. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bump in the Road

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

Due to living frugally, saving diligently, finally paying off my debt, and doing my best to learn about managing money, this was supposed to be the year that I bought a house, invested in a side business and continued working towards being financially independent.  I just took a major hit to these plans that will put everything on hold and probably end up putting me back to square one before it is resolved.

Without going into details, I am looking at up to six months with next to no income.  Because of one of the quirks of this particular situation, unemployment insurance is also not an option. 

It makes no sense to worry about this.  I will strive instead for prudence.  What can I do myself?  What parts of the situation can I control?

Step 1 is, of course, damage control.  I need to cut my expenses as much as possible in order to weather the storm.  That includes cutting out cable TV, something I have been meaning to do anyway.  It also means cutting out my membership at the boxing gym, which is a lot more painful.  However, I can't justify that kind of expense under current circumstances, so there is no point in whining about it.  Rent is my biggest expense, but I have an extra bedroom.  I can either find a smaller and cheaper place to live or rent out the extra space.  I am leaning towards the latter option since I recently put in what I hope will be a cracking vegetable garden, and I want to see how it turns out.  Buying in bulk, cooking in bulk, eating at home for all meals, and going without luxuries are all going to be required as well.  If I do these things quickly and consistently, I will make it through the drought season with my tranquility intact, if not my emergency fund.

Step 2 is to do my best to minimize the time without money.  I am building up a new business and will be working on that full time.  Unfortunately, the nature of the business involves a long sales cycle, with a development stage, an adoption stage, a wait for the right season stage, a bulk production stage, and finally, after all of that, a "pay Martin" stage.  I will be hitting this hard so that the final stage involves as big a number as possible. 

While I have been a bit stressed out the last few days about the news, I am over that, and am ready to focus on the things that I can control.  Fortunately, I have very clear action steps that I can take.  Since those are fairly involved and require a lot of energy, they do a good job of distracting me from worry. 

Other than this, things are fine.  The weather is nice, the beard is growing luxuriantly, and I have been diving into the obscure writings of Hayek, Keynes, and Schumacher while sitting on my patio and keeping rabid squirrels from invading my garden.  I have also added the neighbor's kids next door in the gardening activities, and they have elaborate plans for safe-guarding our growing vegetables.  Plans include pitfalls, electric fences, and something they "want me to find a scientist for."  The one is 4 and the other is 6.  Makes me worry about what kids are watching on TV these days...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

URL Change

Hello all -

For reasons that I will elaborate on shortly, This Rugged Life will be changed to Siempre Mejorando.

If you would like to continue getting updates, please change your reader or follower subscription to the below address:

http://siempre-mejorando.blogspot.com/

This will be effective tomorrow morning. 

Thanks,
Martin

Quotations #1

"We took our time, every day, every month, every year.  We had our work, did it, and enjoyed it.  We had our leisure, used it, and enjoyed that."

Helen & Scott Nearing

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Milestone Reached

Today, for the first time in my adult life, I am completely debt-free.  And it feels good.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stoic Practice

Partly for posterity, and partly because I have to return this book to the library, I wanted to write a little about some of the tools and practices the Stoic teachers recommended for their students.


Negative Visualization


The practice of negative visualization was employed by the Stoics for a few reasons.  The first reason was to rob the loss of the things we care about of their ability to harm us.  Because we care about the things and people that are near to us, the loss of them has the ability to cause us a lot of hardship.  "Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune."  By contemplating the eventual loss of the things we own, we prepare ourselves for life afterwards. 


The second reason was to counteract the very human tendency towards hedonic adaption.  What this means is that we are insatiable.  The accumulation of things does nothing to stop the desire for more things.  You can see this clearly when someone's lifestyle becomes more expensive to maintain every time they get a raise.  Because this would extend into perpetuity, regardless of how much they earned, it is clear that the acquisition of things never stops the desire for more things.  Contemplating the loss of our possessions can have the affect of causing us to desire what we already have.  This helps prevent us from taking posessions or relationships for granted.


Negative Visualization can be performed formally as a meditation practice, and/or it can be utilized at various times during the day.  After a conversation with a family member, it may be helpful to quickly consider their loss and what that would mean to you.  A reminder that our friends, family, possessions, and our lives are all temporary and fleeting helps prevent us from taking them for granted.


Understanding and Contemplating the Trichotomy of Control


As discussed in previous posts, this goes back to focusing only on those things that we have control over.  There are three categories of things that we can consider taking action against.  The first subject is made up of those that we have no control over.  The second we have some control over, and the third we have complete control over.


We should spend no time worrying about those things we have no control over.  This does not prevent us from being prudent.  I live in an earthquake-prone area.  It is smart to plan ahead and have water and canned food available in case power gets knocked out for an extended periods of time.  Aside from preparation, there is no point in worrying about an earthquake happening sometime in the future.  It will or won't based on factors completely outside of my control. 


The things that are completely within my control is where I focus my attention and energy.  I have complete control over what goals I set for myself and the actions that I take to achieve them.  For those things that I have some control of, I can change them to be internalized, which of course makes them entirely within my control as well.  I cannot control if I will win my next tennis match.  I can control that I am properly prepared, that I play as hard as I can, and that I play to the best of my ability.  Internalizing goals changes the level of control from "some" to "all." 


For example, my goal is not to get a raise, but to do everything I can that would deserve a raise, including asking for one. 


I recently had an interview with a potential client where we discussed the possibility of my representing their product line.  My goal was not to be offered the job, but to honestly and accurately outline my experience and skills, explain to the best of my ability the ways that I thought I could be successful, and to effectively show that I had a history of helping companies like his.  Of course, doing these things (of which I have complete control) give me a better chance at being hired as well.


Fatalism


Stoics believed that, rather than wanting events to confirm to our desires, we should make our desires  conform to events.  Said another way, we should want things to unfold the way they happen.  This should not encourage a form of apathy or resignation, as Stoics were not fatalistic in regards to the future.  Rather, they were fatalistic in regards to the past and present.  In short, they believed that it was possible for us to act in a way that affects our circumstances in 5 minutes, 10 minutes or a decade from now.  However, the past is past, and the actions and events set in motion years ago will have the effect that they will.  My failure to look both ways before crossing the street may have led to me getting blind-sided by a car and losing the use of my legs.  Bemoaning that past act is, of course, natural, but also a waste of time.  Moving forward, my actions can only affect the future.  Nothing I do, say or think will take away the accident.  In short, the Stoics taught that it was a waste of time to "imagine if" something in the past did or did not happen.  Things happened the way they did, and now we are where we are today.  Our job is to do the best that we can from our present state.


Self-Denial


In addition to merely thinking about the loss of our comforts or luxuries, Stoics actively practiced their loss.  This could take many forms, including going shoeless, fasting, wearing light clothing in winter, etc.  There were three benefits of this practice:
  1. By undertaking acts of voluntary discomfort, we harden ourselves against misfortunes that could (will) happen in the future.
  2. By periodically experiencing minor discomfort, a person becomes confident in his ability to withstand major discomfort if necessary.
  3. Finally, going without of course helps us appreciate what we have.  Namely, by experiencing discomfort, we will better appreciate whatever comfort we do experience.
Meditation


The Stoics recommended a bedtime "active meditation" where we review our day.  This is quite different than the Buddhist form of meditation, where we attempt to empty our mind.  Instead, this was more of a report card based on our actions and emotions.  Did we judge things or events in their proper context and importance?  Did we allow our tranquility to be damaged by external events?  Did we not only experience anger, but allow it residence in our heart for longer than necessary? 


William B. Irvine offers the following checklist:
  • Reflect on the day's events
  • Am I practicing the psychological techniques recommended by the Stoics?
  • Did I, for example, engage in negative visualization?
  • Did I take the time to distinguish between those things over which I have no control at all, and those things over which we have some but not complete control?
  • Was I careful to internalize our goals?
  • Did I refrain from dwelling on the past and instead focus my attention on the future?
  • Did I consciously practice the art of self-denial?
  • Judge my progress as a Stoic
  • Have I stopped blaiming, praising or censuring others?
  • Do I blame myself instead of external circumstances?
  • Am I noticing fewer desires?
  • Is my philosophy consisting more of action than of words? (what matters most is not our ability to spout Stoic principles but my ability to live in accordance with them)
  • Am I experiencing less negative emotions?
  • Am I spending less time than I used to wishing things could be different?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review - "A Guide to the Good Life"

“A Guide to the Good Life,” by William B. Irvine is an attempt to take the Stoic philosophy and provide a guide to applying this world-view to modern life.

In doing so, Irvine cautions that some adaption is required.  For example, few modern people believe in Zeus, but a large part of the Stoic doctrine is based on the idea that we act “in accordance with nature,” as the Gods intended. 

Stoics believed that humans are close to God-like in the sense that we have the ability to reason.  Unlike plants or animals, we have the ability think and decide what is the proper action for any given situation.  This is both a curse and a blessing, as our “living a good life” is to act in the appropriate way that a man (or woman) should.  A dog does not need to think about what it means to live well.  He performs a dog’s responsibilities by acting dog-like.  It is not in its nature to be otherwise.  Man is not so lucky.  Because we are able to reason, we can often talk ourselves out of the appropriate actions that befit a human. 

The ultimate goal for a Stoic is to obtain tranquility.  This is achieved by valuing things appropriately and by viewing them with the proper amount of importance.  Appropriate actions are taken on things that we have at least some control over.  No thought is given to the worrying or fretting of things completely outside of our control.  Here, Irvine’s commentary is particularly valuable.  The example he uses is that of an individual setting a goal of winning a tennis match.  No matter how much the individual practices or trains, the actual victory is outside of his control to a large degree.  Rather than avoiding tennis, the aim is to internalize the goal to something that you can control.  Here, the goal of “winning the tennis match” could be changed to being as prepared as possible, playing up to his potential, or some other internal goal that shifts the focus from external circumstances to something entirely within his control.  It goes without saying that playing up to one’s potential will make the likelihood of winning much greater.  Additionally, without the potential stress and choking up that may come from setting goals on events outside of one’s direct control, internalizing goals provides a more stress-free approach that will allow an athlete to be loose and confident during their match.

Stoics placed a very low level of importance on many of the things that people care about.  They felt that fame was something to be avoided, if possible.  Trying to be famous or working towards being highly-regarded by friends and associates was wrong if taken by itself.  Rather, one should carefully reason out the correct responses, act accordingly, and these friends and associates would form their own opinions.  Since we cannot control how our actions will be received by others, it is a waste of time to worry about it.  If we are doing the correct thing, that is all that we can control, and that is more than enough.  Fame or good-standing can take care of itself.  By worrying about how an action will be viewed, we risk filtering or diluting the act that we have reasoned out to be “correct.”

Additionally, the Stoics believed that one should not seek wealth.  By working for money only, we sacrifice our ability to do the right thing at the right time.  An example could be the Enron employees who knew that illegal and unethical practices were taking place, but did not blow the whistle out of the fear of losing their job (salary).  All this aside, the Stoics (most, anyway) were not intentionally ascetic.  Marcus Aurellius was the Emperor of Rome, the most powerful man in the world, as well as being a Stoic philosopher.  One could enjoy wealth and the freedom and comfort it provided so long as it was kept in its proper place, and the individual was not tied to it.  To ensure that individuals did not cling to their wealth, Stoics encouraged the practice of negative visualization.  They would contemplate that they had lost everything they cared about, including family members, friends, money, security, etc.  This practice was used in part to prepare themselves for the inevitable hard times that would come, as well as working to reinforce the idea that life would still go on without these things that we care so much about.  This practice had the additional benefit of making people value what they had that much more strongly.  Not taking things for granted was a huge part of Stoic philosophy.

The Stoics believed that joy was not dependent on any of the creature comforts that most of us strive for, and in some cases, they would hinder our ability to be happy.  Because of this, Stoics would often practice discomfort and loss.  They would under-dress in cold weather to remind themselves to be thankful that they have a jacket that they could wear when they chose.  Some would take on voluntary poverty for a time, or go without rich food or drink.  It is important to note that the goal here was not to inflict a punishment on the individual, but to inspire gratitude.  The Stoics strongly believed that no man could be a victim of someone else, as it was always easy to imagine how things could be worse.  A man who lost an eye could still see out of the other.  A blind woman may find that her hearing improved because she could no longer depend on her sight.  In our own lives, we can apply this to remind ourselves that things could be worse, and that we  should be focusing on what we have more than what we have lost. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Resolutions & Goals

Resolutions
  1. I will not buy any more books in 2012
  2. I will write in my journal every day
  3. I will eat breakfast every morning
  4. I will only check investments once a day
Goals
  1. I will buy an investment (rental) property
  2. I will pay off all non-mortgage debt
  3. I will earn $350 of dividend income
  4. I will run at least one race (and actually take it seriously)
  5. I will compete in at least one Muay Thai or Western Boxing event
  6. I will break a 5 minute mile
  7. I will add one new client every quarter (averaged out is fine)
  8. I will get a 2nd job
  9. I will disconnect the cable TV
  10. I will meditate (any type) 3x a week
  11. I will write 45 blog posts
Things that I want to learn about
  1. Peak Oil & Dwindling Natural Resources
  2. Permaculture
  3. Urban Farming
  4. Stoic & earlier Greek Philosophy
  5. Mixology (bartending)
  6. The Civil Rights Movement
  7. Real Estate
General Activities


Drink more water, eat less sugar, eat more fish, eat more veggies, eat less red meat, spend less time online, try new things, paint more, walk or bike everywhere within 5 miles, be less judgemental, disconnect from the 24 hour news cycle, clean as I go, dance, brew beer, make soap, get our of comfort zones, stop being complacent with martial arts training, be more social, check in with Bryan weekly on progress
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