What To Do Next?

Judging by the cottage industry of books and videos hawking strategies for “Getting Things Done”, most people seem to be overwhelmed by how much they have to do. My challenge is the opposite; I have a hard time coming up with what to do next. Even when I get into something (like so many of my landscaping projects in Fresno), no matter how exacting I am with each step, no matter how much of my seemingly limitless time that I expend, ultimately I reach the end, and then once again I have to wrack my brain to invent another project, often more elaborate, sometimes more fringe, to occupy my time.

The start of a wave in Monterey Bay in black and white
The subtle start of a wave

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Learning how to save, sixteen years later

I like to reflect on the financial decisions I’ve made over the past year because trying to explain them, in writing, ultimately forces me to better understand the machinery involved, and often suggests additional actions I might consider taking, now or in the future.

“I’m sure you know the quote ‘Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is’, and knowing how sloppy your thinking is allows you to sharpen it, test your arguments, and test different explanations. I find, more often than not, that I understand something much less well when I sit down to write about it than when I’m thinking about it in the shower. In fact, I find that I change my own mind on things a lot when I try to write them down. It really is a powerful tool for finding clarity in your own mind.” —Marc Brooker in Writing Is Magic

So what happened in 2022?

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Time to Make the Eggnog

This is a reminder, as much to myself as anyone else, that if it’s early November, it’s time to make the eggnog—specifically aged eggnog—so it’ll be ready in time for the holidays.

Ingredients for a batch of aged eggnog (Maker's Mark bourbon, half-and-half, eggs) sitting on Jeep fender
Picking up the ingredients for our 2022 batch (already had sugar and vanilla)

I first learned about aged eggnog from Michael Ruhlman, after an extinct blog post he wrote in 2008, but it wasn’t until last November (4,700 days later to be precise—note to self: set a recurring calendar reminder) that I finally had the foresight to make some in time. And it was awesome! The idea occurred to me again yesterday, and along with it came this faint recollection that I had wanted to tweak the recipe, but I couldn’t recall how. Luckily I dug up an email from last year which helped me reconstruct the memory.

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What Our House Actually Cost

This was the “back-of-the-envelope” analysis (to which I’d previously alluded) that convinced us to buy a house in Fresno for the duration of Stephanie’s 3-year doctoral program.

Estimated Costs
(over 3 years, as a % of purchase price)
Commission 6.0%
Property Tax (~1.27%/yr) 3.8%
Insurance (~0.33%/yr) 1.0%
Closing Costs at Purchase 0.4%
Closing Costs at Sale 1.2%
Total 12.4%
Purchase Price $340,000
Cost per Month $1,171

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Timber Framing Initiation

At some point in early 2021, I started seeing this thumbnail on YouTube all the time.

Screenshot of YouTube with Shelter Institute's 'Timber Frame vs Conventional Stick Frame' video thumbnail in focus
YouTube really wanted me to watch “Timber Frame vs Conventional Stick Frame

Apparently I wasn’t alone. For reasons known only to The Algorithm, “Timber Frame vs Conventional Stick Frame” blew up (to the point that a follow-up was uploaded in March to assuage the rabble). I had resisted watching it, I think because that ubiquitous thumbnail looked so academic. At the time I was more into watching people actually build homes, most notably Woodness Goodness’s Cabin Build, Crafted Workshop’s (Not So Tiny) Tiny House Build, and Essential Craftsman’s Spec House Series. It wasn’t until November, after I’d finished landscaping the front yard, supporting my Dad on the CDT, and digging another dry well, that I finally took the bait. Certainly my renovation projects over the last 3 years had primed me, but it’s astounding in retrospect that it only took 6 minutes to go from knowing nothing about timber frames, to knowing with absolute clarity that I would—one day—build a timber frame home. And I don’t mean “build” as in “have someone build”, I mean “build with my own two hands”.

“Have you ever built a house with your own hands, out of the materials that Nature left lying around? Everyone should have that experience once. It is the most satisfying experience I know. We have been as fascinated as children who build forts or snowhouses, and it has made us the tightest little society in all the West.” —Susan Burling Ward in Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

I shared my quasi-religious awakening with Stephanie, who, to my relief, was fully into the exposed beam, form-follows-function aesthetic (with the caveat that she was in no position to sign on for timber framing’s DIY ethic any time soon, if ever). That same night, I emailed Shelter Institute, the folks behind the video, and asked them to add me to the waitlist for all 3 of their sold-out timber framing classes in the first half of 2022. I was disappointed to discover the next day that there were over 100 people on each waitlist, all vying for the same unlikely spot to open. Since it was hard to plan anything beyond Stephanie’s graduation in May, I had to put my timber frame dreams on hold. Or so I thought.

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