Tomorrow morning (yes, on a Friday. A school day) Maly will be competing in her very first cross country meet. She’ll be one of eight running on the Bowie junior varsity team in the Del Valle Invitational.
And because of COVID-19, spectators are not allowed. My first born. The one I was going to live vicariously through in the battle that is cross country and I can’t even be there to witness it.
I learned something new today that I wish I would’ve been taught two and half weeks ago.
When I was taught how to shoot a bow, I was standing 20 yards from the target. And when I brought my bow home, I put my target as close to 20 yards away as I could. I think the best I could do was around 18 yards. I’d shoot between 50 and 100 arrows every day. I was committed, but I wasn’t seeing the improvement that I was hoping for. I was getting frustrated, but I was still having fun. I thought (and still think) that’s important. If something you’re doing doesn’t provide some level of fun or an opportunity for learning or growth, then maybe it’s time to move on and find the next pursuit.
I happened upon a nugget of archery wisdom on Monday that basically said: Stand close to your target – even if it’s only 5 yards away – and shoot. Keep shooting until you’re putting every arrow exactly where you want it. And then keep shooting. Master that distance. Then move your target back a yard. Take a week, or however long it takes, and master that next distance.
And then it clicked in my head. Archery is a lot like running. You don’t start out running a marathon, or even a 5k. You start by running 1-mile. Or around the block. Or to the stop sign. Or down the driveway. Or just one single step.
Whatever the challenge is, start small. One step at a time.
Yesterday Elise and I celebrated our 19th anniversary. Most of the day it was a fairly ordinary day with school and work from home. We went to dinner at Jack Allens. Elise had the snapper salad. I had the chorizo stuffed pork tenderloin.
When we got home, Elise retreated into the laundry room to hurry up and write in my anniversary card. Unbeknownst to her, I spied her. And then realized, “Crap! I didn’t get a card for Elise.” So I ducked into the office because I knew there was a stash of random cards in the filing cabinet. Hoping I’d get lucky and find an anniversary card that was never given or an extra that didn’t make the cut in previous years, I unfortunately only had Mother’s Day, Christmas, and Grandma cards. The Christmas card made the cut. I had to cross out “Christmas” and write in “Anniversary.” The sentiment wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
That’s because Elise and I don’t need cards. We’ve made it through a lot together. I’m still baffled that 19 years of marriage and 23 years of being together have gone by so quickly.
I really like what Joanne wrote in a card that she and Steve sent us for our anniversary:
“This year in so many ways reminds us of the times during 2001 because of 9/11, so we have often thought of your wedding.”
Growing up, growing older, terrorist attacks, pandemics, raising children, figuring life out and laughing and loving our way through it.
I woke up at 5:18. I got Maly up at 6 am. Today was supposed to be the first day of cross country practice.
Despite the heavy rain the coaches said they were still going to meet. I drove her all the way to her new high school. Both of our anxieties running high. I didn’t really have the opportunity to watch her meander through the heavy rain to the track. Other parents were behind me, dropping their children off as well.
Just as I was leaving the parking lot the bottom dropped out and it started pouring rain. I drove all the way home and was planning on commiserating by going on a run myself. That’s when she texted me to tell me that practice had been canceled.
Good first day of cross country, kiddo. At least we know how the mornings are going to be for a couple months.
I’ve been moping around all day and damn near cried two times already. It’s the last day of summer. I always get blue when it’s the last day of summer or last day of Christmas break. Even when I was a child. It has carried over well into adulthood. In fact, I think it gets worse the older I get.
The oldest child starts high school tomorrow. I can’t believe how fast time has flown. It seems like only last year she was starting middle school. And those three years blew by. High school is only four years. And she’s going to have to start thinking about if she wants to go to college, and if so, where. And how she’s going to get in.
I’m not making my situation any worse.
We got the girls all set-up on the Chromebooks and we did mock Zoom meetings to make sure they’re both prepared for the new pandemic school year.
The oldest child has her first in person cross country practice on Wednesday. And she’s probably going to suck because while she runs occasionally, she’ll only go out for a mile on a good day. And she’ll often walk some of that. Not that that’s bad. It’s better than most people, but I’m fearful that she’s going to show up to that first practice and get overwhelmed and discouraged. And I don’t want her to get discouraged and quit. I like to think she’s not like that, but part of me also thinks she’s only doing cross country for me and it’s not in her heart to do it.
And as I type this, the youngest child is out getting her hair cut. She’s getting 10-inches cut off. He long, gorgeous, thick red hair. I loved her long hair.
There are a hundred other things flying around inside my head right now.
It’s all the change. It’s the constant reminder that our time is finite.
It’s honestly felt like summer has been since mid-March. Almost six months of kind of taking it easy. The pandemic and world news has been stressful, but we’ve been together as a family, constantly. It doesn’t feel like we’ve done a whole lot, but I go back and look at photos and Facebook posts and YouTube videos, and we’ve done a lot. Together. So much that we’ve done together since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.
I guess we’ll still be together, but we’ll be back on schedules and everything will change.
I think I’m afraid of the change. I think to be okay with it, I need to change.
Yesterday during my lunch break, Elise and I drove over to the bank and wired a large sum of money to Colonial Savings to pay off our home mortgage in full!
We bought our house in 2004 and made our payments at whatever interest rate we’d gotten locked into at the time. We refinanced for another 30 years in 2012 at a 4% rate, and we’ve continued to make our payments on time, and I’d throw a little bit at the principal each month. We were considering refinancing again at ~2.5% and doing the math to see if wanted to entertain a 15-year mortgage but, for some reason, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger.
I’d recently had a conversation with my good friend Eric. I told him I was a bit concerned with the current positive state of the stock market, specifically technology stocks. I asked if I should pull some out before a downturn. He said, “Yes, you should. Pull out enough to fund your next venture!”
“I don’t have a ‘next venture’ right now.”
“You don’t have a sell strategy either. Figure out what your sell strategy is and what your next venture is going to be.”
So I sat on that for a while. And I went to a lake house with my family and my sister’s family for a week. I’d work downstairs during the day and we’d take the girls on the boat in the evening. And I’d think about my sell strategy and next venture.
It was on the morning of Friday, August 21st that I came up with my sell strategy. It was one of those moments when I really wished my dad was still alive so I could ask him what he thought I should do. And then I remembered what a counselor told me 11 years ago. She said, “Josh, your dad had done everything that God needed for him to do here. He’s given you everything that you need. Now God needs him.”
Confident that Dad would agree, I went with my gut and decided my sell strategy was to sell enough shares to pay off our mortgage in full and be able to cover our capital gains tax.
Over the next few days, I carefully analyzed our entire portfolio and picked the number of shares in each company that I would sell. On the morning of Tuesday, August 25th, I executed my sell strategy.
Worth noting here that I’m working with individual investments that I’ve managed in our brokerage account. Elise and I have no other debt beyond the mortgage. I feel that we make smart decisions with our money. We have retirement savings in the form of IRAs and a current 401(k) through my employer. We have a funded savings account. We have an emergency fund. I’ve always looked at our brokerage account as “play money.” I’ve maintained a philosophy that if I were to lose everything in our brokerage account, I must be okay with that. Three investment tenets that I’ve maintained are 1) invest in what you know and love 2) buy and hold and 3) reinvest dividends.
Ordinarily I would only look at my monthly statement so I could update my investment spreadsheet that shows our account value over time. It wasn’t until tech stocks, specifically Apple and Tesla started really increasing in value that I realized my play money was turning into real money. And while I must be okay with losing any of it, to wait for that to perhaps happen would be dumb.
I thought about a myriad of things we could do if I sold. We could reinvest in something more conservative, like ETFs. We thought about buying real estate. We thought about moving. I thought about land and boats and RVs.
I pitched the idea of owning our home, free and clear to Elise. I was a little nervous, only because I’d put so much thought and planning into it. There was part of me that was afraid she wouldn’t buy in. So I wrote down all my reasons why we should pay off our mortgage. What it really came down to was peace of mind. The #1 thing that stresses me out financially is our home. I worry about losing my job because I worry about how we’d pay the mortgage. Our mortgage is our largest monthly bill and our only debt.
If something were to happen to me, I worry about Elise and the girls and if they would be able to keep the house. I worry that Elise would have to sell it, uproot the family and endure the stress of having to find a new home, or move into an apartment, or burden family/friends.
I read and read and read and got all kinds of pros & cons and mixed messages about paying off your mortgage early or investing more to build wealth. I had to make it a simple decision, and again, that came down to peace of mind.
Elise agreed, and our “next venture” became being 100% debt free and owning our house. I requested a payoff statement from our mortgage lender and it was in my inbox the next day. It gave me the exact dollar amount to pay off our mortgage in full.
When you sell investments, there’s a thing called T+2. That’s how long the transaction takes to settle. T is for “transaction date” plus two (2) days. Immediately after I sold my shares, that cash was available in my brokerage account to reinvest if I wanted to. I didn’t want to reinvest. I wanted to cash out. The money became available for withdrawal first thing Thursday morning. I transferred the money to our credit union and it was there, waiting for us on Friday. I called our bank and our lender to have them help me fill out the wire transfer authorization form.
And so yesterday, Elise, Mara and I drove to the bank and shot our wire transfer request through the vacuum tube at our credit union. We were told to pull around to the front of the bank and our banker came out to have us review the document and provide final signature on the funds that would pay off our loan.
This morning I kept hitting refresh on our mortgage account, anxiously awaiting to see that $0 balance. It started to stress me out, so I decided to take a break and go for a run. When I came back, I hit refresh again to find those six beautiful words.
I’ve been living in a state of fear for four months. The year started out wonderfully. I was healthy and strong. I ran a 2:56 marathon in January. I ran another relatively fast marathon in February. I ran a 50-mile trail race in northern Arizona in March. My marriage was as strong as ever. The children were happy and doing well in school an in their respective social lives. We were all healthy and happy.
Then COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on March 11th. I’ve always been a pretty even-keeled and laid back kind of guy. I took the pandemic in my even-keeled way. I accepted it. To me it was somewhat of a challenge brought forth by the universe. I would adapt accordingly. The world would have to somehow adapt accordingly.
I put faith in our society and thought that this pandemic would be a significant road bump that we’d all get over eventually. I thought eventually would be over by now.
I put faith in our society to eradicate COVID-19. I’m always baffled by science, medicine and technology. I put faith in those experts to find a way to save us. Why haven’t they been able to save us yet?
I’m not as even-keeled as I was four months ago. I’m scared. I’m scared for the experts who are trying. I’m scared for other people and their unique situations. I can try to be empathetic, but I don’t know everyone’s situation. I see posts and comments on social media who are angry that schools reopening might be delayed. For us I think that’s a good thing. But we’re… okay. Other people and families aren’t. There are single parents who can’t work from home and/or can’t afford day care. And I could write and write and think and think of a million different situational permutations.
I’m scared that I could lose my job. I’m scared for my 14-year-old daughter who is supposed to start her freshman year in high school in 10 days. Is she going to miss out on important opportunities that will help her in the rest of her life? Like her high school transcript. Or being able to run cross country. Or exposure to teachers and new friends that will help forge her path into adulthood. I’m scared for my 8-year-old daughter who is in such a formative point in her education. Her mom and I aren’t educators and if our daughter doesn’t learn long division, does that mean she won’t have the same opportunities as others? I’m scared for our educators and the tough decisions that they’re having to make right now. I’m scared for people who have COVID-19, or have had it and we don’t know if there are any long-term effects. I’m scared for businesses that are struggling and those who’ve had to shutter. I’m scared for our economy. The world’s economy. I’m scared of my family or me getting sick.
I can be scared. I can sit with that and accept it. I think the key is acceptance. It’s not what I expected, but I have accept that I have no control. Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage,And all the men and women merely players;”
I went for a run late this morning and did a lot of thinking about a lot of nothing, which is usually the case when I’m running. Somewhere out there I thought, “Hey. Didn’t you start your first job out of college during the summer TWENTY YEARS AGO?!”
When I got home from that run, I took a shower and rummaged through the filing cabinet to find my offer letter. My first job was as a Multimedia Editor for VidBook.com (formerly LearnFree.com). Our tag was “Casual multimedia learning.” We were a website that published fun and casual educational content on topics like home improvement, travel, gardening, and fitness. These topics were organized into “channels,” and within those channels we had “vidbooks.” A vidbook was a microsite on a specific topic. The content was procured from licensed VHS tapes that we’d pay to have transcribed. Our editors would cull through the videos and transcriptions and edit the content down to digestible content for publishing on the web. Our editors would select still images and segments of video that were pertinent and corresponded to the copy we would publish.
Most of our revenue was from Gene’s (our president) bank account. He was a successful attorney and entrepreneur and had set aside some money to get this dot-com startup going and he paid the ~12 of us like clockwork every two weeks. He even bought us beer on Fridays. We’d close shop early and hang out together for a couple hours on Friday afternoons and drink beer, talk about work, plans, and all kinds of other things.
We tried to get revenue by selling ads on our website properties. Unfortunately it just never really worked out. We couldn’t get in the black. At the tail end of the dot-com bubble burst, we shuttered our doors too. I remember coming back from a late lunch and Julie, our office manager handed me a box when I walked in the front door.
“Pack your stuff. We’re closing.”
“Man! I loved this job. This really sucks.”
“I know. Hurry up, we’re all going to Baby A’s for margaritas”
So I went into Gene’s office, shook his hand, told him I was sorry that it didn’t work out, and thanked him for the opportunity.
Gene and I had lunch a few years ago. We agreed (again) that Vidbook.com was ahead of the times. There weren’t many publishers in 2000-2001 that were pushing a lot of new content and streaming videos. And advertisers weren’t really into what we were doing back then.
We had a lot of fun and I learned a lot at that job. When I accepted that job, I really thought I was going to be there for the long haul. I enjoyed what I did and I liked everyone that I worked with.
And a funny thing that I’ll never forget: since that was my first real professional job, I showed up for my first day dressed as a professional. I didn’t suit up, but I wore nice, pressed khakis, a button-down shirt and dress shoes. Everyone laughed at me when I walked in the door. My boss told me that there was no need to dress up to come to work there. I asked, “what should I wear?”
“Wear whatever you want. Just don’t come in stinky. We all have to work in this office together.”
The next day I walked in wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. My boss said, “That’s more like it!”