Hurricane Erika – Update

After maybe briefly making hurricane status (and causing a lot of panic in Florida) Hurricane Erika disappeared after tracking a little too far west and hitting mountains in Hispaniola and Cuba. We did get a bunch of rain and wind (and I got to surf on my new Meyerhoffer board!) but luckily I didn’t have to test out my new storm shutters on my old house.

I did get a chance to participate in the hurricane panic, though. I went to the grocery store to get 10 gallon jugs of water about six days before the projected landfall. (Recommendations say each person needs about 1-2 gallons of water a day. Don’t forget you have to flush the toilet too!) The grocery store was cleaned out, as everyone stocked up on bread and milk. It reminded me a little bit of growing up in the Carolinas when a snow storm was forecasted. We’d maybe get an inch of snow and everyone would panic and storm the grocery store (pun intended). The hurricane threat in Florida is a little more real than the snow threat in the Carolinas, though.

I also went to Home Depot to help a friend of mine buy plywood about four days before the projected landfall. He’s been renovating a house from scratch, and getting hurricane shutters (justifiably) wasn’t on the top of his to-do list until recently. I think we bought 22 sheets of plywood, but we had to wait in line to get them.

Probably the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was sitting on the side of the road for 45 minutes because my surfing friend locked his key in the car after we got out of the ocean. Oh well! At least we only live a mile or so from the beach. No harm done!

Hurricane season isn’t quite over yet, thought, so we’re not quite out of the woods for the year. Due to the El Nino we’re having, however, we’re not forecast to get very many storms this year. Good for my house, bad for my surfing! But each time we get a scare, it’s a good reminder that we could lose anything at any time. Even if we’re not in Florida during hurricane season.

Photo: Tropical Storm Erika’s actual track, showing a path over some substantial mountains, then turning into a tropical depression, then a tropical wave, then a brief rainstorm. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday Links! August 29, 2015

As Tropical Storm Erika lazily approaches my house, I have cleverly used the “publish later” feature of WordPress to bring you these interesting tidbits on-schedule even if my power goes out this weekend. Isn’t technology great?!

What Kurt Cobain Teaches Us about Freethinking and Minimalism by Brian Gardner, nosidebar.com. Minimalism through the eyes of the legendary frontman of Nirvana. From his music to his lifestyle, the advantages of living a simple life made Cobain the force he was.

Where the US Gets its Oil From by Randy Olson, randalolson.com. A huge symbol of our overconsuming lifestyles (at least in the United States) is our dependence on fossil fuels. But really, this is just an interesting graph that shows the difference between what people think they know and what is actually true.

How Much Is Your Time Worth by Stefanie, thebrokeandbeautifullife.com. Your free time isn’t necessarily worth the same amount, all the time. (I might argue that it’s definitionally “free”.) But it depends on context, and your opportunity cost. A very interesting read and a unique take on what you could bill your “free” time out for.

BONUS: What I’m listening to this week:

Honest, chill music. I might categorize it as shoegaze, but I’m no expert. Just a fan.

Photo: I helped my friends work on this old buggy a while back. Hard to believe, but it’s based on an old Volkswagen Bus. Volkswagens are very versatile and very minimal vehicles!

Hurricane Erika

Earlier today, Hurricane Erika (now downgraded to a tropical storm) was forecast to make landfall within about 40 miles of where I live. Since my house is about a mile from the coastline, any hurricane approaching Florida’s Atlantic coast is generally a concern for me. (Although some that make landfall on the Gulf coast can impact the entire peninsula quite substantially.) My house was built in 1949 and doesn’t quite comply with the latest wind loading portions of the building codes, so things could get dicey.

Anyway, Erika is now supposed to head north of me (hopefully driving a little surf my way) but this could easily change. It also drives home a point-of-view I’ve had about living minimally, possibly a view I wouldn’t have without living in a place like South Florida: It’s a lot easier to pack up and get out-of-town if you don’t have much to take with you.

This particular storm is probably only going to make landfall as a category 1 storm, which means evacuation won’t be necessary. But we could easily have a more severe storm later in the season that would require evacuation. I can easily say I don’t have much I’d take with me. Probably this laptop, a few books to read, maybe I could take a surfboard with me. I’d also grab my safe which just has a copy of my mortgage and a hard drive with backups of all of my files. (It’s only safe from fire and water, and only for maybe an hour.) But that’s about it. Minimalism has allowed me to live a life without a huge amount of valuables, which is a very convenient way to live in a disaster-prone area like Florida. I won’t be worried about all of my “stuff” while I’m heading out of harm’s way, and I have insurance on the house so I don’t really need to worry about that either.

I haven’t been through a hurricane before, since I’ve only lived here on the coast for about four years. It’s been a pretty mild few years as far as hurricanes go, too. My first summer we had two misses that just dumped a ton of rain here: Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy. Despite doing considerable damage up north, Sandy didn’t do much here besides cause epic surf. I also lived through Tropical Storm Barry when I was living in Charleston, which as far as I know only overturned a john boat in the harbor. Hopefully Erika won’t do much more than give me a small taste of what a real hurricane is like, and a new appreciation of my lifestyle. And maybe toss up some waves, too!

I’ll keep everyone updated if I can; if there’s damage anywhere in Florida my day job requires me to go out and fix it. I could be gone for a while depending on the situation, but if the predictions come true the damage probably won’t be very severe.

Photo: Current track of Erika, forecast to make landfall pretty close to where I live. “05L 2015 5day” by National Hurricane Center – http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at5+shtml/024057.shtml?5day#contents. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:05L_2015_5day.gif#/media/File:05L_2015_5day.gif

Also, for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday Links! August 22, 2015

The Routine is the Enemy Of Time, retire29.com. An interesting view on living life, and a way of life that asks us to pay attention to each moment before they all disappear.

Three Months of Early Retirement, livingafi.com. Early retirement has been a dream of mine for a long time, and it’s good to read about someone who’s just taken the leap. There’s hope out there!

What We Won’t Miss About Working, ournextlife.com. Speaking of which…

BONUS! What I’m listening to this week:

Just a good, honest jam.

Photo: Got a great deal on this surfboard, a Meyerhoffer XYZ, which arrived in the mail this week. Unfortunately there probably won’t be surf good enough to ride this board for another month or so. To maintain my minimalist cred, I’m selling a 7’2″ board that’s been sitting in my garage for a while. If you’re also interested in surfing, this is the deal about the funny shape:

Best of Craigslist

One of the best tools of most minimalists is craigslist, a free online classifieds page where you can sell anything. Quite literally, anything. I’ve used it to sell countless things in order to declutter my life, and it continues to be a powerful tool for me personally. I occasionally even buy things from it! But usually it’s just surfboards, and only when I find a really great deal.

But to some people, craigslist can be daunting. It’s all up to the two parties to agree on a price and a meeting location, and sometimes it can get… weird. But I’m here to alleviate some of that anxiety by sharing my best (and worst) craigslist stories! I firmly believe that most people are pretty normal, and the odds of you entering into a dangerous situation via craigslist are less likely than meeting some crazy on the street.

First, let me quantify “anything”. You can put anything up for sale on craigslist. Provided the price is right, it’s almost guaranteed to sell. For example, when I bought my first house there was some leftover junk that the previous owners left behind. Namely some cheap plastic planters on the front porch and a bunch of cheap wire shelving in the garage. But rather than cart it to the curb, I listed both things on craigslist. The shelving sold for $10 and the pots sold for another $10, and I didn’t even have to take the time and energy to carry this junk to the curb. I also sold a bird bath from the front yard, which I promised the previous owner that I’d keep. However, bird baths are little more than mosquito breeding grounds here in South Florida, so I sold it for $15 to some middle-aged folks who were looking for an Easter present for their grandparents, rather than keep it and shell out money for bug spray.

Not everything is as simple as selling junk from your house, though. When I started my senior year of college I didn’t have a bed (long story) but 6’3″ me decided on a whim to see if there was a such thing as an “extra long” mattress. Turns out, there is! I was in a little bit of a time crunch, but the seller of this “extra long” full-sized mattress agreed to meet me that night… at 10:30. In Easley, South Carolina. (If you’re not familiar with that area then I would describe it as a place where Southern stereotypes are born.) Anyway, a buddy of mine and I piled into his truck and headed out, only to pick up this mattress and box spring out of some farmer’s shed in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. But it didn’t have bedbugs (luckily) or smell weird or have any weird stains, and I used it incident-free (sort of, but that’s not related to craigslist) until I sold it four years later for exactly the same price I bought it for. All made possible by craigslist!

I’ve bought two motorcycles, a truck, and my classic Volkswagen Beetle on craigslist too, so it’s not limited to used junk or low-priced items either. I’ve sold just as many vehicles on the site as well. But I recently had a small debacle over a very nice American Fender guitar, which was resolved once I realized the guy was just jerking me around. Just remember: the ball is in your court if you’re buying or selling. You are under no obligations, and you can back out anytime if you feel that something’s amiss.

And sadly, the one downside of craigslist is that most people tend to be flaky. I’m helping a buddy sell an old Kia right now, and maybe one out of ten people who ask about it actually show up.

I’ve had some weirdos buy things from me and then ask me for their money back, but never for a legitimate reason. I’m always very honest with the things I sell, so I’m extremely hesitant to meet anyone once I’ve made a sale. After all, I’m not running a business, I’m just clearing out clutter. Anyway, one guy bought a stereo amplifier from me, and even tested it in my house before buying it, only to text me about an hour later in a rage because it didn’t have a radio antenna. I told him he could buy one for $2 from RadioShack, but when he got more belligerent I just blocked his number.

Probably the worst craigslist interaction, however, had to do with a small motorized bicycle I built as a fun side project in my garage a few years ago. It was basically a beach cruiser with a weed wacker motor on it, and that’s also exactly what it sounded like when it drove past. Unfortunately in Florida these vehicles are not street legal without a moped tag, so I was restricted to off-highway use only. But I’m an engineer and I like to tinker. (That’s my excuse for a lot of things!) Anyway, I got tired of it and put it on craigslist just to see if there was any interest, and someone wanted to buy it within a week of me posting it. Unfortunately, despite asking me multiple times for a manual, they refused to read the manual, especially the part that detailed the oil to fuel ratio for the two-stroke engine. After one day, the engine seized on them and they demanded their money back. Since it was their fault they turned a great motorized bike into a piece of scrap metal, I did not oblige. I did make $40 though, after buying the bike, repainting it, and fitting the motor to it, so it wasn’t a total loss. At least, not for me! Read the manual, kids.

Oh, and I should mention that I use pseudonyms, a fake email address, and a Google Voice number on craigslist to protect myself, and I generally try to meet at a location that isn’t my place of residence unless it’s inconvenient (selling furniture, vehicles, or other large house-bound items). Just remember, ALWAYS meet in person, ALWAYS deal in cash only (no matter what), and TRY to take a friend with you, or at least tell someone where you’re going (but that rule is true of pretty much all parts of life). That last one I definitely made sure to follow when, a few weeks ago, I sold a motorcycle windshield to a bus driver… IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS ROUTE. But anyway, If you follow these rules, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a pleasant, safe experience on craigslist, all while being well on your way to a more minimal lifestyle!

Photo: My motorized bike, on its first official test drive. By “official” I mean that it was the first test drive after I remembered to put the lock nuts on the engine mount (the first test drive the motor almost fell off) and also after the other test drive where the carburetor fell off while I was going down a hill. It takes a few tests to work out the kinks, but the rewards are worthwhile!

Saturday Links! August 8, 2015

Welcome to August! I’m back from vacation and, after a brief break, ready to tackle the world. Enjoy these interesting tidbits from the interwebs.

Empty Decks and Misguided Frugality, retire29. I’ve gotten into this blog a lot in the past few weeks because the author is very nuanced in the way he sees the world. This is one of those things I’ve always noticed but never really noticed.

Lifestyle Inflation Illustrated, anythingyouwantblog.com. A great reminder that we should be aware of our spending whenever we come into more money. It doesn’t have to be from raises at work, either; it could come from inheritance or even our yearly tax returns.

Living in Switzerland Ruined Me for America and Its Lousy Work Culture by Chantal Panozzo, vox.com. Not every country has the work “ethic” that is common in the United States. Others actually seem to care about their employees and their work-life balances.

BONUS: What I’m listening to this week:

A deep cut from this classic 90’s album.

Photo: Catching some surf up at Corners, my favorite surf break in Jupiter. This was a few months ago, since there isn’t any surf in South Florida for most of the summer.