My 2012: The Year in Review

Over the past week, I’ve been conducting my first-ever personal annual review. I’ve looked back over 2012 to see what went right, what could have gone better, and what I might like to do in the year to come.

It’s been fun to reflect on the past twelve months. For several years, I’ve been pursuing personal growth, and that growth really came to fruition in 2012. This was, above all, a year of change. It was a year of exploration and development. Today, on the last day of the year, my life is very different than it was at this time last December. Here’s a brief summary of the path my life has taken:


To start the year, I moved out on my own. After asking Kris for a divorce in November 2011, I slept on the couch downstairs for six weeks until she and I were both ready for me to move out. In early January, I packed most of my stuff and began life alone in an apartment near downtown Portland. Believe it or not, this was the first time in my life I’d lived alone. At first, it was tough. But I made a conscious effort to spend time with friends and to busy myself with work, which made things bearable.


After a few weeks by ourselves, Kris and I made a final trip together as a couple. During the summer of 2011, we’d booked a trip to Patagonia with our college alumni group. I gave her the option to make the trip by herself, but she wanted for the two of us to share one last adventure, so we did. We explored Buenos Aires, hiked Torres del Paine, and swam off the shore of Easter Island. It was a bittersweet epilogue to our 23 years as a couple.

Standing before Torres del Paine
Standing before Torres del Paine in southern Chile


After returning from South America, I tried to find some sort of rhythm in my new life. I continued exercising at my Crossfit gym, spent more time learning Spanish, and resumed writing for my personal finance blog. (My favorite article this year was the list of 43 lessons I’d learned in 43 years.) I also continued to see friends, old and new. My new life was simultaneously scary and exciting.


kimjdsmokingWith the arrival of spring, I decided to dip my toes into the world of dating. Actually, I dove in head first. I embarked on what I called my Extreme Dating Project, in which I went out with as many women as I could. My plan was to date for a long, long time, to learn more about myself and about relationships. But in the middle of April, my plans were de-railed. On a wine-tasting trip with folks from the gym, I started chatting with Kim, a woman I’d basically ignored for the the previous six months. We clicked on all sorts of levels. By the end of April, we were dating each other exclusively.


For the rest of the spring, Kim and I explored to what degree we wanted our relationship to develop. Meanwhile, I devoted myself to a final push for fitness. After losing forty pounds in two years, I wanted to get rid of ten more. Plus, I wanted to be strong. So, I decided I’d go to the gym “every day in May”. I almost made it. By the end of the month, I was sore and tired, though, so I had to take two days off. Still, I finished the month feeling fitter than ever. Meanwhile, I was beginning to realize I had nothing left to say about personal finance. After six years of writing about the subject almost daily, I was ready to call it quits. I just didn’t know how.


After focusing on fitness in May, I decided to eat “no junk in June”. I spent the month building solid nutrition habits. I also spent a lot of June finalizing details for the second annual World Domination Summit. As the weather warmed, I walked everywhere I could for transportation. Because my apartment was centrally located, most days I walked between six and twelve miles around Portland. I loved it.

J.D. Roth at World Domination Summit 2012
Taking the stage at World Domination Summit
(Photo by Tera Wages)


July began with a bang. After some on-again/off-again dating, Kim and I decided to give things a go without reservations. We spent Independence Day at a blues festival along Portland’s waterfront. She came to hear me speak at the World Domination Summit. And then we spent the rest of the month making short trips around the state, enjoying the start of Oregon’s short summer. On the last day of the month, we made things as “official” as they get these days: we confirmed our relationship status on Facebook.


During August, I spent most of my time preparing for my upcoming trip to Turkey. This meant writing articles in advance, plus preparing talks for the two conferences I’d be attending in the coming weeks. At the end of the month, I joined eleven other folks from the gym to run Hood to Coast, a 195-mile relay race from Mt. Hood to Seaside. Not everything was fun and games, though. I could tell I’d hit a wall in my Spanish classes, and that was frustrating.


September was full of adventures. To start the month, I flew to Denver for the second-annual Financial Blogger Conference. From there, I flew to Istanbul, where I joined my cousin Nick for a three-week tour of Turkey. We had a blast walking through ruins, wading through mineral pools, dodging carpet salesmen, and flying in hot-air balloons. In many ways, Turkey was the most foreign of the countries I’ve visited in the past five years. I both loved it and hated it. But the trip solidified my desire to travel.

The Muslim call to prayer in Istanbul


After touring Turkey, I flew to New York, where I spent a few days meeting with friends and colleagues. I also saw three Broadway shows in three nights. From there, I flew to Atlanta for the third-annual Savvy Blogging Summit, which is one of the highlights of my year. To end my five-week trip, I spent a couple of days in San Francisco before reuniting with Kim at her brother’s hotel just outside Yosemite. This was the month that I officially retired from Get Rich Slowly and turned my attention to More Than Money.


After months of transition, November was the first month that felt truly stable. I fell into a sort of a routine, working like mad during the week so that I could spend my weekends with Kim. I reached Inbox Zero for the first time in years (though I’m now back up to Inbox 113, which actually isn’t that bad), picked up some new writing gigs, and began work on next year’s World Domination Summit. I also started working with a personal trainer so that I could focus on building strength. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury sidelined my strength goals and forced me to focus mostly on rehab.


During December, I continued with my new-found work routine. I also hatched a new business idea with two colleagues, agreed to speak in Ecuador next summer, and began shopping for a house here in Portland. I also applied for a job for the first time in years. It’s a BIG job, otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued it, but it’s still a job. At the end of the month, Kim and I rented a home in central Oregon for a week, where we played in the snow and soaked in the hot tub.

Just another Christmas Eve dogsled ride with Kimmie
Dogsledding with Kim over Christmas break

What Went Well in 2012?

The past twelve months have been amazing. I’ve done a lot of things that make me happy.

  • I traveled to three new countries, including three weeks of travel where I got to practice my Spanish on a daily basis.
  • I spoke at three conferences, including one talk before an audience of one thousand people.
  • After finalizing our divorce, Kris and I have maintained a working friendship as we’ve both begun dating again.
  • Speaking of which, I’m in a constructive relationship with an amazing woman. Kim and I have a lot of fun together, and both look forward to exploring all life has to offer in the future.
  • I did all sorts of new things this year: learned to handle a firearm, got my motorcycle permit, began to enjoy beer and coffee, took hang-gliding lessons, rode a dogsled, and more.

Because I didn’t set any goals at the start of the year, I have nothing specific to measure success. I’m okay with that. I’m happy, and to me that’s the best barometer of all.

What Did NOT Go Well in 2012?

Though 2012 was a good year, not everything was perfect.

For one, my Spanish lessons got de-railed. I started the year with a great tutor, but we parted ways when I left for Turkey. She encouraged me to continue lessons with somebody else (or to take classes in a group setting), but I haven’t found the time. Then my English student returned home to Spain in December, leaving me without a single outlet for Spanish learning right now except my subscription to People en Español. I need more practice.

Also, I didn’t do a great job maintaining existing friendships. I spent a lot of time with new friends, it’s true, and I especially spent a lot of time with Kim, but after starting the year intentionally reconnecting with folks who are important to me, I lost my way later on — especially after returning from Turkey.

Finally, I’m not happy with how things finished with my physical fitness. I reached a peak level of fitness in early July, and I was making lots of smart choices. But then a combination of injuries, travel, and poor choices made me a little soft. I’m carrying an extra five or ten pounds now, and my fitness levels are lower than I want them to be.

Looking Ahead

Though I didn’t set goals for 2012, I have a few plans for the year to come. Tomorrow, I’ll share some of my goals, including the means by which I’ll measure their success.

What about you? How was your 2012? Are you happier now than you were the same time last year? Have you made progress on your personal goals? What went well for you this year? What could have gone better?

Happy Holidays!

Happy Boxing Day, everyone. I know I’ve been quiet around here lately but, as usual, that means there’s been lots happening in Real Life.

For one, the holidays have taken much of my time, as I’m sure they’ve done with you. For another, I’ve taken on some extra writing gigs to bring in a little extra cash. (I always try to follow my own advice about the importance of making more money!) Plus, I’ve been working on next summer’s World Domination Summit. I’m responsible for the content at the conference this year, and I want to make sure I get it right.

For the past few days, though, I’ve been taking it easy. Last Friday, Kim and I left Portland for central Oregon, where we’ve rented a small house (from a Get Rich Slowly reader, no less). We’ve been relaxing completely while ignoring the rest of the world. (At this very moment, we’re both waking up to coffee on the couch while puttering around on the internet.) Friends are stopping in to visit now and then, but for the most part we’ve been sitting in the hot tub, riding the dogsleds, and playing in the snow.

Just another Christmas Eve dogsled ride with Kimmie
On Christmas Eve, Kim and I went dogsledding on a cold, bright afternoon.

While we’re here, I’m going to conduct my first-ever annual review. Every year, my friend Chris Guillebeau spends a week in reflection, looking at what went right with his year, and determining what might have gone better. He also sets goals for the coming year. I’ve never done anything this formal with my own end-of-year self-reflection, but I like the idea. I’m going to try it to see how I like it.

I’ll share the results of my annual review in a couple of days. For now, though, I’m going back to my books and my coffee. Happy holidays, my friends. May peace be with you.

My Introduction to Therapy

I had lunch with a friend today. Let’s call him Tom. Tom is a colleague. He makes his living from a website. In fact, his site is probably the most financially successful site I know. For years, it’s had an income of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You might think that with his financial success, Tom would be ecstatic. And there’s no doubt he’s a happy man, grateful for his financial good fortune. All the same, his wealth hasn’t made him happy. In fact, it’s caused him a great deal of stress.

For one thing, he doesn’t feel like he deserves the money. What has he done that others haven’t that he should have such a high income? (Never mind that he gives away tons of money to friends and family — and strangers — every year. Never mind that he employs a small staff of folks when he doesn’t really have to.)

For another, he’s worried that the flow of money will cease. “I have plenty saved,” he told me. “My site has earned me five million dollars since I started it, and I’ve saved about twenty percent of that.” Still, he doesn’t feel like he’s saved enough. Plus, he’s worried about his lifestyle. Is he spending too much? What if the income from the site were to suddenly vanish?

There’s no doubt that Tom has First World problems. He’s the first to admit that it’s crazy to have so much money and still be stressed about his financial situation. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s stressed. (Actually, lots of folks in his position tend to get anxious.)

“It’s gotten so bad that I’m seeking professional help,” Tom told me. “After lunch, I’m going to see a shrink for the first time. Can you believe it?”

“Actually, I can,” I said. “I just came from my own shrink. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for three weeks now.”


I have a degree in psychology. For a long time, I thought I was going to be a counselor. That’s what I trained for throughout college. In high school, I played amateur shrink for all of my friends (boys and girls alike), and I thought it made sense to take this “talent” and turn it into a career.

I never did become a psychologist. Instead, I ended up selling boxes for the family business. And, eventually, I became a financial writer (who specializes in the psychology of money). But even today I sometimes dream of returning to grad school and becoming a professional counselor.

Given this, you might think I would have seen a therapist long ago. After all, one of the first rules of therapy is that the therapist herself should also have a therapist.

But no.

Like many people, I’ve always had a stigma against seeing a therapist. I thought it would mean admitting something was wrong with me.

That view began to change about a year ago. When I asked Kris for the divorce, she urged me to see a therapist. I told my friend Michael about this (among other things, Michael is a family counselor), and told him I was reluctant to go.

“You’re looking at it all wrong, J.D.,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You’re healthy now, aren’t you?” he asked. “You’re physically fit.”

I nodded.

“Well then why do you still need to go to the gym? Why keep taking Spanish lessons if you know Spanish? Why ever use any sort of coach when you know what you’re supposed to be doing? Well, a therapist is the same thing. Yes, a therapist can help fix things that are broken, but a good one can also keep you functioning at the top of your game. A therapist is like a personal trainer for your mind.”

I heard what Michael was saying, but it wasn’t enough. I still wasn’t ready to talk to a counselor.


About a month ago, I was talking with another friend. Let’s call her Antonia. We were catching up on our lives over dinner when she mentioned that she’d recently started seeing a therapist.

“What for?” I asked, not one to mince words.

“No reason really,” Antonia told me. “I’ve been thinking about some heavy things lately, and I just wanted to bounce them off an objective third party. I tried to see one at my HMO, but they wouldn’t take me on. They said there was nothing wrong with me, and to go away. Fine. I asked a friend, and he recommended his own therapist. So, I’ve been seeing her for a few weeks. It’s interesting.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, I tell my therapist about the things that are on my mind, and then she gives me homework. It sounds goofy, I know, but it’s really helped me clarify some stuff. It’s helped me let go of some things that I didn’t even know were holding me back.”

As the conversation moved on, I thought about this exchange. At the end of the evening, I asked Antonia for her therapist’s contact information. I set up an appointment for myself. Two weeks ago, I saw the therapist for the first time. I’ve been back twice more.


I was half an hour late to my first appointment because I had the wrong address. Plus, I hadn’t filled out any of the paperwork I was supposed to have ready. Every other psych major reading those two sentences sees the same thing I do: My subconscious was doing its best to avoid the appointment. Crazy but true.

During that short first meeting, I gave the therapist some background on my life. I explained that for the past month, I’d been tense. Anxious. Stressed. I told her how much I hated uncertainty.

“Well, J.D.,” she said, “it sounds like you had a life full of certainty and you consciously gave that up. You’ve chosen uncertainty. You like some of what uncertainty brings, but you don’t like other parts. But you know what? You have to be okay with the unknowing. It’s part of the process of change and growth.”

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see that. She gave me some breathing exercises and sent me on my way.

I was on time for my second appointment, and I had the paperwork I was meant to bring to the first. Plus, I brought a list of topics to discuss. Once again, we spent some time talking about my past and my present. And once again, my counselor connected the dots for me.

“It sounds like you have a tendency to overcommit,” she told me. “You take on too much. But more than that, you go big fast instead of taking it slow and steady. This can cause problems. It led to debt and being overweight. It can also cause problems in relationships, so be careful.”

“You’re right,” I said. “My attitude has always sort of been that if a little is good then a lot must be better. And it’s been tough for me to defer gratification.”

“Right,” she said. “You need to learn what my grandmother would have called temperance. Moderation. You need to learn finesse. You need to learn the importance of choice, of being selective. And remember: You don’t need to say every single thing you think.”

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see these things, and I especially hadn’t tied them all to relationships. She gave me some things to practice during the week and sent me on my way. I spent the next three days deep in internal reflection.

Today, I didn’t need to give any additional background. My counselor asked me about my weekend. I told her about the things Kim and I had done, about how much I’d enjoyed just relaxing with her, being domestic. I also talked about how when I’m with Kim, I’m intentionally technology free. I put away the cell phone and the iPad and the computers, and I’m off-grid for 72 hours. It helps me stay present in the moment.

This led to a fascinating discussion of my memory. Why is it I can remember dates and names and the title of nearly every episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — yet I can’t remember to turn off the bathroom light or shut the shower curtain?

My therapist told me that from what I’ve said and what she’s seen, I might have a mild case of ADHD. (This is no news to me. It’s also no news to you if you’re a long-time reader.) We talked about the other things I do that seem ADHD, and she told me some things I can do to fight them. I’ve noted, for instance, that I get more work done when I work in coffee shops. She said that’s probably because the external stimuli distract the part of my brain that wants to jump all over the place.

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see some of this. We talked about some things I might want to work on, and she sent me on my way.


My therapy may be short lived and have no huge practical application in my life. Or maybe it will change who I am. I’m not sure yet. And it doesn’t really matter.

I went because something felt wrong, and I wanted to figure out what. I still don’t know exactly what was bothering me. I do know that after just two weeks and three sessions, I’m much more relaxed about everything in my life. I’ve been practicing breathing. I’ve been practicing finesse. Now I’m going to practice being more present in the moment, turning off the ADHD.

I find it interesting that whenever I mention I’ve been seeing a therapist, the person I’m talking with always says something like, “Oh! What’s it like? I’ve been wanting to do that but don’t know where to begin.” Is this one of those things that happens when we turn forty? Is this like needing glasses? I don’t know. But I’m curious to see what other things therapy will teach me about myself.

The Permanent Portfolio: A Fail-Safe Investing Method?

Investing is complicated. It’s difficult. You need expert help if you’re going to build your wealth so that you can retire on time. Or at least that’s what you’ve been told.

There’s a vast financial industry with a vested interest in convincing you that to be a successful investor you have to:

  • Follow the daily movements of the markets.
  • Learn how to analyze the nitty-gritty details of stocks and bonds.
  • Buy and sell constantly to maximize profit.

The truth is that none of this matters. The truth is that smart investing is simple. And easy.

Most investors are best off putting their money into low-cost index funds. (An index fund is a mutual fund that tracks the broad movements of a stock-market index, such as the S&P 500.) Over the long term, this passive investing approach has been shown to produce above-average returns for patient investors. Why? There are many reasons, but primarily because investing in index funds costs much less than nearly any other method.

In fact, Stanford University professor William Sharpe famously demonstrated that passive investing with low-cost index funds must produce better results than traditional investing. The average return of both methods is the average return of the market. But because traditional investing costs so much, investors taking that path necessarily see smaller returns on their investments.

But there are other ways to explore passive investing besides index funds.

Three years ago, I read a book called Fail-Safe Investing by Harry Browne. This tiny volume, first published in 1999, champions a method of passive investing that Browne called the Permanent Portfolio. And while it’s a little more complicated than simply investing in index funds, the ideas are still fairly simple.

According to Browne, the Permanent Portfolio should provide three key features: safety, stability, and simplicity. He argues that your permanent portfolio should protect you against all economic futures while also providing steady returns. It should also be easy to implement.

There are many ways to approach safe, steady investing, but Browne has some specific recommendations:

  • Hold 25% of your portfolio in U.S. stocks, to provide a strong return during times of prosperity.
  • Hold 25% in long-term U.S. Treasury bonds, which do well during prosperity and during deflation (but which do poorly during other economic cycles).
  • Hold 25% in cash in order to hedge against periods of “tight money” or recession.
  • Hold 25% in precious metals (gold, specifically) in order to provide protection during periods of inflation.

To use the Permanent Portfolio, you simply divide your investment capital into four equal chunks, one for each asset class. Once each year, you rebalance your portfolio. If any part of your portfolio has dropped to less than 15% of the whole, or grown to over 35% of the total, then you reset all four parts to 25%.

That’s it. That’s all the work involved.

Because this asset allocation is diversified, the entire portfolio performs well under most circumstances. Browne writes:

The portfolio’s safety is assured by the contrasting qualities of the four investments — which ensure that any event that damages one investment should be good for one or more of the others. And no investment, even at its worst, can devastate the portfolio — no matter what surprises lurk around the corner – because no investment has more than 25% of your capital.

Browne’s arguments sounded crazy at first — far too simplistic! — but with time, I’ve come to believe he’s on to something. In fact, over the past three years I’ve gradually realized that what I need to is move from investing in index funds to establishing a permanent portfolio for myself. Why haven’t I done so?

The high price of gold, for one. Plus, I’ve never really been sure how to implement Browne’s Permanent Portfolio in real life. I mean, what are the actual steps for making it happen? Fail-Safe Investing is a good book, but it’s long on theory and short on actual details. I’m not a professional investor; sometimes I need to have somebody hold my hand.

That’s where a new book comes in.

The Permanent Portfolio: Harry Browne’s Long-Term Investment Strategy by Craig Rowland and J.M. Lawson is an easy-to-access how-to manual for putting Browne’s investment strategy into practice. This book doesn’t just cover the theories behind this method; it also gives details for putting the theories to work in the Real World.

Here is the promotional video Rowland put together for his book.

Nobody knows where the economy is headed. Nobody knows if economic prosperity looms on the horizon — or if we’re in for decades of rampant inflation. And because nobody knows what’s ahead, nobody knows the best way to save for retirement (or any other purpose).

But with the Permanent Portfolio, you don’t have to see the future. You don’t need a crystal ball to divine the best place to put your money. Instead, you hedge your bets against all possibilities. Sexy? Nope. Safe? You bet. And now that Craig Rowland and Mike Lawson have explained exactly how to put the Permanent Portfolio into practice, I intend to do so. Perhaps you will, too.

Note: This essay originally appeared as the foreword to Rowland and Lawson’s book.

Animals Feeding Other Animals

One of my goals at More Than Money is to incorporate content from my many defunct blogs, including my favorite, which was about animal intelligence. I haven’t been doing this and it’s a shame. There’s some great stuff out there that deserves a wider audience.

For instance, I just found this video of animals feeding other animals.

I have a friend who insists all animal behavior is based on pure instinct. He can argue that if he wants, but I see no instinctual reason for a crow to feed a cat and a dog, or for the cat and the dog to let the crow feed them. To me, there’s something more going on. What? I’m not sure. But I like it.

What is Love? Looking for a Definition of Love

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a pretty rational guy. I’ve prided myself in a scientific mind, one unclouded by spirituality and mysticism. Yet as I’ve experienced profound personal changes over the past few years, I’ve found myself more and more fascinated by abstract (or “spiritual”) questions, the likes of which I haven’t thought about in decades.

One topic I find especially fascinating is love. What is love? What does it mean to be “in love”? What are the different types of love? How can we show others that we love them? And what does it mean to love yourself?

While most of my exploration of love has taken place slowly and internally, I’ve also had some interesting external experiences with the notion of love. First, and most obviously, I chose to end a long-term marriage. That event forced me to dive deep into the nature of love. But there have been other experiences as well:

  • I have a friend who is conducting what she calls a “love project”. She’s methodically watching every movie she can find about love. She’s also reading books and talking to people. This project has no real purpose other than to help her understand what love is and how it manifests. Her only conclusion after six months of study so far? “Love is messy.”
  • I have another friend who seems to manifest love in nearly everything she does. It’s a very subtle thing, but if you watch her closely, you can see that in her interactions with strangers, in her relationships with friends, and even in her career choice, she’s motivated by love. A few months ago, I told her what I saw. She was surprised. “It’s true,” she said. “I do act out of love, but nobody’s ever noticed it before.”
  • As part of my work, I’m involved with a couple of large projects. One of them — which you can probably guess, but which will remain nameless — seeks to edify people, to move them to positive change. I was speaking with the man behind this project last summer, asking him what the project’s true purpose was. “It’s about empowerment,” he told me. “And love. Without using those words.” Suddenly everything made sense. Our work with this project is to spread love.

All this thinking about love has come to the fore recently because I’ve been reading (and enjoying) M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. I’ve mentioned this book before, and I’m sure to mention it again. It’s had a profound effect on me. It articulates much of my personal philosophy in ways that I’ve been unable to do. Plus, it’s pushing my own personal development in new and exciting directions.

The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott PeckBriefly put, The Road Less Traveled is about love and spiritual growth.

To begin, Peck explores the idea of discipline. “Life is difficult,” he writes, but we gain purpose and meaning in life through meeting and solving life’s problems. Mature adults are disciplined, and this discipline manifests itself in the following abilities:

  • Deferred gratification, the ability to put up with discomfort in the short-term to obtain a reward in the long-term.
  • Acceptance of responsibility, the ability to own up to your thoughts and actions instead of blaming others.
  • Dedication to reality, the ability to deal with the world as it actually is, the ability to be completely honest.
  • Balancing, the ability to be flexible, to handle conflicting demands and desires.

But why be disciplined? What is the motive to develop self-control? Peck says that the bottom line is love.

What is Love?

The first part of The Road Less Traveled is devoted to discipline. The last part explores the notion of religion (or, more properly, spirituality) and “grace” (or luck or happenstance). But the middle of the book is one long lecture on the nature of love.

According to Peck, Love is not a feeling. It’s an action. It’s an extension of the self, a conscious effort to grow the self — or someone else:

I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

I love this definition because it moves beyond the idea of romantic love (which Peck calls a myth) to something more profound. And because the definition emphasizes the importance of self-love. Peck writes:

We cannot forsake self-discipline and at the same time be disciplined in our care for another. We cannot be a source of strength unless we nurture our own strength.

I’m reminded of something my friend Sally once said to me: “Self-care comes first.”

Peck stresses that love is not dependency. It is not self-sacrifice. Nor is it the same as “being in love” (which he calls cathexis, or a collapse of ego boundaries where you lose your sense of self). Instead, love is a choice. It requires effort. Peck says that love is a form of courage directed to nurture spiritual growth in ourselves and/or another person.

The principal form taken by the work of love is attention. When we love somebody — ourselves or another — we set aside other concerns to devote attention to the object of our affection. When we love our children, we give them attention. When we love our partner, we want to spend time with them. When we love ourselves, we spend time on personal development. The most important way to express love, to give attention, is to listen.

But love involves more than just attention. Love also requires independence. When you love yourself, you develop the courage to leave behind the parts of your life that were broken. It also requires the courage to spend time alone, by yourself, apart from the ones you love. “Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss,” Peck writes.

It is only when one has take the leap into the unknown of total selfhood, psychological independence, and unique individuality that one is free to proceed along still higher paths of spiritual growth, and free to manifest love in its greatest dimensions.

Commitment is the foundation, the bedrock of any loving relationship. You cannot foster growth in yourself or anyone else if you are not constantly concerned with that growth. This reminds me of Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and Jonathan Fields’ writing about uncertainty. In order to love, you must be willing to be vulnerable in the face of uncertainty, you must give yourself without the expectation of anything in return.

Peck argues that love also entails the risk of confrontation, of criticism. “Mutual loving confrontation is a significant part of all successful and meaningful human relationships,” he writes. “Without it the relationship is either unsuccessful or shallow.”

He also says that love is disciplined. To love well, you must properly manage your feelings. You cannot love everyone. And, as has been said, you cannot love others if you do not love yourself. When you love, you must “order your behavior” in a way that contributes to your own (or somebody else’s) spiritual growth.

All of this builds toward one interesting argument: Peck believes that psychotherapy — the work of counseling — is love:

For the most part, mental illness is caused by an absence of or defect in the love that a particular child required from its particular parents for successful maturation and spiritual growth. It is obvious, then, that in order to be healed through psychotherapy the patient must receive from the psychotherapist at least a portion of the genuine love of which the patient was deprived.

Love in the Larger World

The Road Less Traveled starts with discipline, moves to love, and ends with religion. Peck writes:

As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace. Conversely, as people fail to grow in discipline, love and life experience, so does their understanding fail to grow.

Peck says that this “understanding” is each person’s religion. You might call it spirituality. Or a blueprint for life. Peck says that our blueprints are constructed primarily from our childhood family life. Our maps of reality are “microcosms of the family”, and they’re useful only insofar as these maps reflect the realities of the world around us. The problem is that often these maps only work for the particular family in which we were raised.

Note: Long-time readers will recognize this as being exactly like the notion of financial blueprints, which I’ve written about for five years now. Our attitudes about money are formed largely by our parents’ attitudes about money. What Peck is saying is that our mental blueprints are about more than money. They’re about all of life.

Ultimately, Peck argues, our aim in life is continued personal development, continued spiritual growth, ongoing self-love. As part of that, “a major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality.”

Over the past five or six years, I’ve been on a mission to discover who I am. I’ve been learning to love myself. And I’ve been learning how to love other people. It’s been a fantastic experience, and I’m fortunate to have (or, in Peck’s words, “grace has provided”) friends who are in similar journeys and who are willing to share the experience.

This process isn’t over. It never will be. My aim is to continue learning until I die. Next up, I’ll be reading Carl Rogers’ On Becoming a Person and How People Change by Allen Wheelis. When I’m finished with those books, I’ll share what I learn with you. Because I don’t just want to nurture my own spiritual growth — I want to nurture yours too.

The Cinnamon Bear: A Classic Old-Time Radio Christmas Show

Because I love The Cinnamon Bear so much, I post this same article every year. This year is no different, except that I’m posting it here instead of at Get Rich Slowly. If you have young children — and even if you don’t — I encourage you to listen to these old radio broadcasts with your family.

When I was a boy, Christmas meant The Cinnamon Bear. During the weeks before Christmas, a Portland radio station (KEX) would broadcast a fifteen minute episode of this story every night.

The Cinnamon Bear chronicles the adventures of Judy and Jimmy, and their fantastic trip through Maybeland as they search for the missing Silver Star that belongs atop their Christmas tree.

I loved the cast of characters and the exotic locales: the Root Beer Ocean and the Inkaboos, the Wintergreen Witch, the Looking Glass Valley, the Crazy Quilt Dragon. And, of course, I loved Santa Claus and the North Pole.

Because of the vagaries of copyright law, most old-time radio broadcasts are now in the Public Domain. The Cinnamon Bear is freely distributable. Some radio stations still broadcast the show every year. But don’t worry about hunting for it: I’ve gathered all of the episodes here for you to download.

Collected below is every episode, in order. The program is meant to be heard once per day between November 29th (that’s Thursday) and Christmas Eve. It was one of my favorites when I was a kid, and modern parents tell me their children love it, too. Enjoy!

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #1: “Paddy O’ Cinnamon”
[Originally broadcast 29 November 1937 — 2.59mb, 11:18]
Judy and Jimmy write letters to Santa. The Silver Star Christmas ornament is missing and the kids go up to the attic to find it. They meet Paddy O’Cinnamon (The Cinnamon Bear) who tells them the Silver Star was taken to Maybeland by the Crazy Quilt Dragon.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #2: “Weary Willie”
[Originally broadcast 30 November 1937 — 2.59mb, 11:44]
Paddy O’Cinnamon shows Judy and Jimmy how to de-grow so they can follow the Crazy Quilt Dragon to the Lollipop Mountains. They climb into Paddy’s Soda Pop Airplane and fly through the tunnel.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #3: “Crazy Quilt Dragon”
[Originally broadcast 01 December 1937 — 2.71mb, 11:51]
Feeling remorseful for drinking their Soda Pop and stranding them in Looking Glass Valley without fuel, Weary Willie has the Stork fly them out on his back. They catch Crazy Quilt but he drops the Silver Star in the Root Beer Ocean.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #4: “The Inkaboos”
[Originally broadcast 02 December 1937 — 2.70mb, 11:46]
While they try to find the Silver Star, Judy and Jimmy are captured by the Inkaboos. King Blotto is insulted and sentences them to die in the Immense Inkwell.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #5: “Weasley the Wailing Whale”
[Originally broadcast 03 December 1937 — 2.84mb, 12:25]
Crazy Quilt comes to the rescue. The children escape to the Root Beer Ocean, where they see the Silver Star floating on the waves.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #6: “Samuel Seal”
[Originally broadcast 04 December 1937 — 2.91mb, 12:43]
Wesley the Wailing Whale swallows the Silver Star. Samuel Seal recovers the Silver Star from Wesley, only to have Penelope the Pelican carry it off.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #7: “Presto the Magician”
[Originally broadcast 05 December 1937 — 2.85mb, 12:26]
Judy and Jimmy meet Presto the Magician. He pulls Penelope the Pelican from his hat, but she has dropped the Silver Star on the Island of Obi.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #8: “Candy Pirates”
[Originally broadcast 06 December 1937 — 2.73mb, 11:55]
Judy and Jimmy are captured by Captain Taffy and his Pirates. They take the kids to the Magic Island and loan them a rowboat.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #9: “Roly-Poly Policeman”
[Originally broadcast 07 December 1937 — 2.83mb, 12:21]
Judy and Jimmy are on the Magic Island, where the Roly-Poly Policeman has taken their Silver Star for his uniform. But before the kids can get to him, Crazy Quilt Dragon runs off with the Silver Star again!

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #10: “Professor Whiz”
[Originally broadcast 08 December 1937 — 2.79mb, 12:10]
Paddy O’Cinnamon, the Cinnamon Bear has disappeared. Judy and Jimmy are chasing Crazy Quilt Dragon to get their Silver Star. Professor Whiz tells them about the Wintergreen Witch. They follow Crazy Quilt into the Picture Forest, where they meet Fraidy Cat.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #11: “Fee Foe the Gentle Giant”
[Originally broadcast 09 December 1937 — 2.91mb, 12:41]
Fee Foe the Gentle Giant shows Judy and Jimmy the Goody-Goody Grove and invites them for lunch. They start to follow Crazy Quilt when it suddenly gets very, very dark!

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #12: “Rhyming Rabbit”
[Originally broadcast 10 December 1937 — 2.88mb, 12:34]
Judy and Jimmy meet up again with Crazy Quilt, who says the Wintergreen Witch forced him to steal the Silver Star. While trying to find their way back to the Wintergreen Witch’s house, they encounter the Rhyming Rabbit.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #13: “The Wintergreen Witch”
[Originally broadcast 11 December 1937 — 2.85mb, 12:25]
The Wintergreen Witch tries to take Judy and Jimmy’s Silver Star and change the kids into mice, but they get away. After their hurried flight, Crazy Quilt sits on the Silver Star and breaks it.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #14: “Queen Melissa”
[Originally broadcast 12 December 1937 — 2.81mb, 12:16]
Crazy Quilt suggests that they all visit Melissa, the Queen of Maybeland, who can tell them how to fix the Silver Star.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #15: “Snapper Snick”
[Originally broadcast 13 December 1937 — 2.78mb, 12:08]
Judy and Jimmy learn that they can only read Queen Melissa’s magic instructions in total darkness, which only occurs in the Wishing Woods. On the way there, the kids meet Snapper Snick the Crooning Crocodile, who swallows the magic instructions.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #16: “Oliver Ostrich”
[Originally broadcast 14 December 1937 — 2.85mb, 12:26]
Snapper Snick explains that he reads by eating and that’s how he is able to read in the dark. Judy and Jimmy learn that the magic instructions direct them to the the Wishing Well. On the way, they meet Oliver Ostrich who eats alarm clocks. Oliver directs them to the Wishing Well — Paddy O’Cinnamon, the Cinnamon Bear, falls in.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #17: “Muddlers”
[Originally broadcast 15 December 1937 — 2.83mb, 12:22]
Judy and Jimmy use their one wish, given by the Wishing Well, to get rescue Cinnamon Bear, and now they can’t fix their Silver Star with the Wishing Well’s magic. While trying to get out of the Wishing Woods, they encounter the Muddlers and the River of Mud.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #18: “Cocklebur Cowboys”
[Originally broadcast 16 December 1937 — 2.82mb, 12:18]
Slim Pickens and the Cocklebur Cowboys of the Purple Plain come to the rescue of Judy and Jimmy, Cinnamon Bear and Crazy Quilt, pulling them from the mud.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #19: “Wooden Indian”
[Originally broadcast 17 December 1937 — 2.82mb, 12:19]
Judy and Jimmy are being chased by Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, a wooden Indian who wants Crazy Quilt’s pelt for his girlfriend Many Happy Returns. Judy trades her looking glass to him instead. After he leaves, they encounter the Wintergreen Witch again in the Golden Grove.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #20: “Flying Hat”
[Originally broadcast 18 December 1937 — 2.79mb, 12:10]
The Grand Wonky arrives in the nick of time to banish the Wintergreen Witch to Looking Glass Valley. While searching for the Singing Tree, they find the Flying Hat and it has a mysterious note attached.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #21: “Snowman”
[Originally broadcast 19 December 1937 — 2.74mb, 11:59]
The mysterious note invites the crew inside where they find chairs just the right size for all of them. The Flying Hat carries them to the Land of Ice and Snow to get the Silver Star fixed. They ask the Snowman how to find Nicki Froodle, as Queen Melissa told them. Nicki turns out to be an Elf, and he takes them to see Santa Claus.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #22: “Santa Claus”
[Originally broadcast 20 December 1937 — 2.78mb, 12:08]
Santa Claus welcomes Judy and Jimmy and introduces them to Jack Frost who repairs the Silver Star only to have it vanish again.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #23: “The Bad Dolls”
[Originally broadcast 21 December 1937 — 2.90mb, 12:39]
The Bad Dolls have stolen the Silver Star. Santa orders out the Tin Soldiers to capture the Bad Dolls and return the Silver Star.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #24: “The Parade”
[Originally broadcast 22 December 1937 — 2.86mb, 12:30]
The Wintergreen Witch appears again aiding the Bad Dolls in defeating the Tin Soldiers. Santa orders out reinforcements while Judy and Jimmy watch the Christmas Parade. After the Parade, Captain Tintop brings back the Silver Star.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #25: “Captain Tintop”
[Originally broadcast 23 December 1937 — 2.87mb, 12:30]
Captain Tintop tells how they defeated the Wintergreen Witch and then the group goes to a grand banquet hosted by Santa Claus. After the banquet, Crazy Quilt runs off with the Silver Star once again.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #26: “North Pole”
[Originally broadcast 24 December 1937 — 2.78mb, 12:09]
Crazy Quilt heads for the North Pole with Santa Claus, Judy, Jimmy, and Nicki Froodle in pursuit. They catch Crazy Quilt and tackle him to recover the Silver Star. Then they wake up in the attic just in time to decorate the Christmas Tree.

When I was a boy, my brothers and I huddled around the wood stove and listened to the show on AM radio. Now, through the magic of technology, you can download these mp3s, curl up under your electric blanket, and listen on your iPod. Better yet, tuck your children into bed and listen to the story with them. This is a wonderful no-cost holiday tradition.


Desiderata: A Poem of Thanksgiving

I’m the kind of guy who likes traditions. I like familiarity and routine. Despite having made many major changes in my life over the past few years, I still find myself drawn to certain rituals, especially around the holidays.

For me, Thanksgiving Day is especially full of meaning. It’s my favorite holiday. I think it’s wonderful that we set aside a day each year to remember the good things we have. And I have many good things in my life.

As I always do at Thanksgiving, this year I’ll be reading and remembering and reaffirming my dedication to an 85-year-old prose poem from a man named Max Ehrmann. It does a fine job of encapsulating my life philosophy. A couple of years ago, on a whim, I de-versified it and converted it to prose paragraphs. It reads better this way:

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others — even to the dull and the ignorant — they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

This year, for the first time in my life, I won’t be spending Thanksgiving with my family. I’ll be with Kim’s family instead. But I’m okay with that. One of the many things I’m thankful for is new friends, and Kim has been the best new friend I’ve made in 2012.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be well. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Famous First Lines

On Saturday, our book group met to discuss Ernest Hemingway’s 1941 classic For Whom the Bell Tolls. Most of us thought it was great. I loved the language in the book; I hadn’t read Hemingway since high school, and I’d forgotten that he used to be one of my favorite authors. Here’s how he opens For Whom the Bell Tolls:

He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.


Even lovelier is how he ends the book, bringing everything full circle, returning to the pine-needled floor of the forest:

Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.

Grammar nerdery: Okay, see how Hemingway used “pine-needled floor of the forest” to start the book? And see how he uses “pine needle floor of the forest” to end it? That’s a lovely circle, and I like it. But why on earth didn’t he (or an editor) keep the same structure. I mean, shouldn’t that be “pine-needled floor of the forest” both times? God, I’m a grammar geek.

Admiring the opening to For Whom the Bell Tolls reminded me a of a contest I ran nearly ten years ago at my old personal blog. Because I doubt any of you were around then — and because I think it’d be fun — I’m going to re-run the exact same contest today.

Below, I’ve collected twenty-four famous first lines from novels. Or, more precisely, first lines from famous (and semi-famous) books that I love. Some are well-known. Others are relatively obscure. How many of them can you name? (Please google only as a last resort.)

I love books

  1. This is not a conventional cookbook.
  2. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.
  3. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  4. My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and I was born.
  5. Call me Ishmael.
  6. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
  7. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
  8. The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!
  9. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
  10. She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.
  11. Jewel and I came up from the field, following the path in single file.
  12. It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination for some days.
  13. The British are frequently criticized by other nations for their dislike of change, and indeed we love England for those aspects of nature and life which change the least.
  14. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.
  15. Except for the Marabar Caves — and they are twenty miles off — the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.
  16. The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry.
  17. The primroses were over.
  18. The music-room in the Governor’s House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli’s C-major quartet.
  19. For a long time I used to go to be early.
  20. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again.
  21. At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring.
  22. Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.
  23. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
  24. “Sleep well, dear.”

I’ve always wondered how important first lines really are. There’s no doubt that some just reel me in. And when I revisit books I love, their openings have real power, which stems from the weight of memory. For instance, reading #17 above just gave me goosebumps. Why? Because it’s the beginning of one of my favorite books, because I know everything that comes after, all the pain and sorrow and struggle and joy. All from this short sentence: “The primroses were over.”

How many of these can you name? And, more to the point, how many of them can I still name? I’m not sure, actually. I’ll go through and try my memory now and then post my results after others have stopped posting theirs. The prize for the person who guesses all of these openings? One brownie point (cash value: 1/20th of a cent).

(Also, what are your favorite first lines from literature?)

House Hunting, part one: Setting the Stage

It’s been a year since Kris and I began the divorce process. For most of that time, I’ve been living alone in a 700-square-foot apartment in northeast Portland. It’s not a bad place, but it’s never felt like home. Plus, it’s noisy. It’s noisy from the neighbors (and their dogs!), but it’s also noisy from the traffic and from the donut shop outside my window.

This summer, I finally got the itch to move someplace more permanent. Mortgage rates were at all-time lows and I began to get the sense that the real-estate market in Portland might have bottomed out.

“I think I want to buy a condo,” I told Kim before I left for Turkey. During my last few days in town, I began to do some research. I found some places I liked, but prices still seemed pretty high, especially in downtown Portland.

While I was traveling, Kim did a little research of her own. “I think you might have missed the bottom,” she told me. “The market is really picking up.”

When I returned from Turkey, I met with a real estate agent (a Get Rich Slowly reader!) who confirmed what I’d already figured out. The real estate market in Portland had indeed bottomed out, and homes in the city were selling especially quickly. (One place that I really liked sold in just 24 hours. That’s just like at the start of the housing bubble!)

My real estate agent told me that there’s very strong demand in Portland itself, which has kept the prices inflated. But that also means that areas outside of Portland are cheaper because there’s less competition. Good ol’ supply and demand!

I met with my real-estate agent a month ago. We spent two hours talking about what I need in a home, and at the end of it all she seemed to have a pretty good feel for my lifestyle. “If we could find you a small little hobbit home somewhere with low maintenance, you’d be perfectly happy with that, wouldn’t you?” she asked. Yes, I would.

As I say, I met with her a month ago. I had hoped that now, a month later, I might be deep in my house hunt. Unfortunately, it hasn’t even started yet. I hit a snag.

You see, although I have enough money in the bank (or invested, actually) to purchase a home outright, I don’t actually have much of an income. As a result, I’m unable to qualify for a mortgage. Banks don’t care if you have the money in the bank to make the house payment; they want you to have the income to make a house payment. So, after a month of jumping through hoops, the conclusion I’ve come to is that I need to pay cash for a house or not buy at all.

That’s too bad. I had really hoped to take advantage of the low mortgage rates. It’s a perfect opportunity to exercise leverage — to borrow money at a low rate (my mortgage) and make money at a higher rate somewhere else (take your pick of any number of investments that ought to return more than 3% annually, including many dividend stocks).

I haven’t given up, though. I meet with my investment advisor on Monday to see if we can create some sort of income-like money stream. And in case that doesn’t work, I’m talking with Kris about getting my half of the equity out of our house. (We maintained joint ownership even after the divorce.) It’s possible that I could find enough cash to buy a modest place outright. I’m not sure that’s something I actually want to do…but it’s a possibility.

Meanwhile, I’m about to move to a month-to-month lease on this apartment, which isn’t something I really want to do. (It costs an extra $50 a month to do so.) But I feel like my living situation is in complete flux right now, so making firm decisions is tough. It’d be so much easier if the bank would just give me a mortgage!