Traipsing into a new (business-free) chapter

On a van/bike trip in June with friends before all the drama…

Recently, I was forced to shut down my business. After over a decade in business, July 4th signified a new kind of freedom for me: I no longer have employees and payroll to think about.

My business is was heavily impacted by rising interest rates. In case you’ve been marooned on Mars with Elon, rates have rocketed to levels that people under 50 have never seen. I’d worried for year about the market, gritting my teeth to lay off a great employee last year. Sadly, I had to face reality: I couldn’t weather this ongoing tempest, the worst my industry has seen in 30 years.

I’d pictured what closing up shop would look like. In some ways, it excited me. New horizons! Fresh adventures!

Still, it’s easy to say “oh yeah, I can see letting it go,” but that’s talking about cliff jumping versus standing at the top of a 30 footer eyeing the drop. Actually bidding adieu to trusted, wonderful employees I’d had for more than a decade paiiined me. Shedding the business owner identity stung.

On top of that, feelings of financial insecurity, letting people down, failure, an anxious knot yoyoing up and down on a manic elevator ride between my stomach and chest.

I’ll spare you the details, but in the end, I was able to negotiate a merger with another company where all my employees were retained thanks to greater economies of scale. I’ve known the new owner for a decade and he’s fantastic. I suspect my former team will blossom and flourish there.

My role: zero. Yup, my time in the mortgage world has ended!

Don’t worry about me and Chelsea. We’re adaptable and will be fine. My dad, who has the ultimate trust in my abilities, actually congratulated me when I told him the news.

A nightly drawing during the tumult.

That’s the logistics. The emotional aspect is still settling in. I’ve wavered between feeling stunned and elated, scared and ok, disappointed and excited.

I’m also feeling huge gratitude for what my business allowed me and Chelsea to do over the past decade. So many opportunities. The more I reflect, shuttering it doesn’t feel like a failure, more like the sunset of a phase of our lives. An off-ramp into new opportunities.

I never dreamed we’d have the litany of experiences we’ve enjoyed thanks to my business and traveling while I worked remotely. The escapades, the people we’ve met along the way (including friends I made via my business), the new appreciation for being more in control of my time. What a gift.

Oh, and I feel FREEEEEE.

After all, this business has been on my mind since my mid-20s. I started in the trenches with daily client work, building things from scratch. From there, I hired people and moved into managing the ship. I processed payroll every two weeks for 10+ years, dealt with office leases and licensing, and put out fires as needed.

As Chelsea and I van tripped and bike traveled, I fielded emails and phone calls all over. Off the top of my head, I recall by a glacier in Iceland, on a beach in Oregon, astride a bike in the corn fields of Iowa, at midnight on my birthday in England, Christmas Eve in Belize, and at sunset on the Colorado Trail. There are oh-so-many more.

Who knows what that mental load stopped me from pursuing along the way? I’m excited to find out! Entrepreneurial energy freed up for useful, creative products like my Sprinter van door stops, an opportunity to better align my values and my business efforts moving forward. I’m intrigued by the idea of projects that create cool experiences or put me in contact with amazing people.

But FIRST, Chelsea and I are going to enjoy some adventuring without the mental load. Some time to connect and explore and traipse about without needing to be tethered to a cell signal during the week. I cannot wait to see what that feels like.

And so we take the next step forward, which of course requires a step down.

“Our next life,” Glennon Doyle writes, “will always cost us this one. If we are truly alive, we are constantly losing who we just were, what we just built, what we just believed, what we just knew to be true.”

Oh, and by the way, a week before the drama with my business, Chelsea and I bought… a used Airstream! Yup, we were ALREADY planning this upcoming adventure and my business shutdown merely clears jungle overgrowth from the path with a giant slash of a machete.

Scary and exciting, which in my experience often indicates something worth doing.

But that’s a topic for later. Changes incoming for the Traipsing About team, folks.

Let’s gooooo. Onward!


Maybe a magnifying glass isn’t enough

In my last newsletter, I wrote how future casting with a telescope is no bueno for me and that peering through a magnifying glass is a much better approach. Present moment for the win.

With my focus in front of me versus spiraling on the future, I feel centered, connected to others, and generally good.

Well, mostly.

As I creep into my 40s, I’m struck by how life loses the carefree nature of earlier years. Whether it’s me and Chelsea, colleagues, friends, or family, someone is usually navigating a tough life experience at some moment. It’s like the weather forecast changed from clear and sunny to “thunderstorms and golfball-sized hail for someone in your network….always.”

It makes me wonder if this was happening when I was younger and I was just too self-absorbed or busy to notice. (Hooray for our 20s!) For sure life is more complex, plus health issues simply crop up more as we age. As my friend Brandon told me, “our culture acts like it’s not the case as it upholds and worships youth, but we know better.”

So if difficulty and dealing with it is the norm, what to do?

In my telescopes and magnifying post, I quoted the book Radical Acceptance:

“The way out of our cage begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives, by embracing with wakefulness and care our moment-to-moment experience.”

Tara Brach

Mostly, my “acceptance” of life challenges has been that they’ll change…for the better. Aka DIFFERENT. However, another wise friend said, “Maybe the silver lining of the whole ordeal will be mastering acceptance and enjoying the present without needing anything to change to feel better?!”

Whoa. And YUP.

This too shall pass…but maybe the goal and lesson is that the ultimate win is being ok even IF things don’t change, or get worse. What if I’m fine even if things go poorly relative to some expectation of mine?

My work continues.

Ditching the future telescope

Having my cake and drawing it too.

Recently a friend asked me what I’m looking forward to. My answer wasn’t bikepacking or a trip overseas, but “continuing to develop the ability to be happy and satisfied without constant new experiences.”

Boring, right? Who kidnapped the old Dakota?!

(C’mon, you don’t actually read Traipsing About for bikepacking photos and van build posts, do you?)

I said this to my friend because in some ways, my life has less shiny *new* in it than ever before. My back injury is persisting, my business is in the tank, our elderly kitty Oliver makes it tough to travel…

Usually, my way through is ACTION. Hack, slice, dice, a metaphorical machete clearing a path. Onward!

But this time? I need to rest my back. The economy and my industry will recover sometime. We’re committed to being with Signore Gatto to the end while his quality of life is good. (Watching his connection with Chelsea is one of the sweetest, most heart-warming things ever.)

In fact, I’ve realized that using a telescope to futurecast, to peer into the distant future, makes me miserable. My brain defaults to “things will always be this way.” Hopes and dreams feel heavy, morphing into burdens. “I’ll never bikepack again!”

But if I kick the telescope over and pick up a magnifying glass, things shift. I trade decades and years for days and hours. Everything pivots, brightens. Perspective returns.

Instead of hacking, I need to take a page from the book Radical Acceptance:

The way out of our cage begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives, by embracing with wakefulness and care our moment-to-moment experience.

Sooo I’m trying to focus closer in. Daily walks or hikes in beautiful Central Oregon. I feel connected to Chelsea, my family and close friends. My piano, drawing, and language endeavors continue to captivate me. Yesterday I devoured Chelsea’s homemade pineapple upside-down cake topped maraschino cherries a friend canned for us.

What else does a boy need? Up close, life is good.

Funny how zooming in works. It’s almost like…if I stay in the present moment…I’m happier?! Damn you, Buddhists, for continuing to nail things.

I’ve even found I can zoom out a bit—binocular distance!—and dream. Some van trips, hauling Mr. Gatto out to Airbnb on the Oregon coast, a few other glimmers in the distance. But I’ve gotta just say no to telescopes.

As they say, this too shall pass. Yes, even my injured back, which is improving.

But for now, it’s time for another piece of pineapple upside-down cake.


Dig this post? Check out my 2x/month Traipsing About newsletter.

The less stressful way to accomplish your goals

It’s almost a new year, which means it’s time for random strangers on the internet to offer you unsolicited advice on setting big goals. Time to join a new gym! Lose weight!


Instead, here’s the low-key approach I take to achieve improvements in my life, calendar turnover be damned. It works for anything, be it financial, physical, or a skill I want to learn like speaking Italian or playing piano.

For me, it breaks down to a simple difference in mindset: daily progress vs. an end goal. That simple trick takes a pressure-laced situation and unfolds it into a pleasurable activity.

  • Relationships: Not “I want a great marriage,” but “I strive to be kind to my partner in the daily interactions.” (Yes, even when I’m hangry.)
  • Business: Not “I want to double revenue,” but “I will double the number of potential clients I connect with.”
  • Writing: Not “I want to write this many blog posts or gain this many new readers” but “I want to write most mornings about things I am enjoying or improve my life.”
  • Fitness: not “I want to lift this much or achieve this race pace” but “I’ll try to stick to this training plan most days.”
  • Language: Not “I want to speak at a C1 fluency level by ____ date” but “I’ll study my Anki flashcards consistently and take a weekly lesson.”
  • Piano: Not “I want to play the (devilishly fast) Liebestraume by Lizst” but “every day, I’ll try get my hands on a piano to practice technique and work on repertoire.”

What I love about this is that it takes away the pressure. Down with arbitrary deadlines to speak this well or play that song or send that rock climbing project or hit that business revenue goal.

As Chuck Close said, ““Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.” But screw that, amateurs can tap into the magic as well!

By focusing on what I can control—daily actions—I trust that I’ll make progress. No more gripping the reigns with white knuckles and gritting my teeth, just a daily practice that moves me forward. (It ties neatly into designing your perfect day.)

As a bonus, there is also far less recrimination attached to daily goals. If I miss working out or piano or Spanish study, I do it the next day! Consistency builds resolve, routines become rituals, and progress follows naturally. Journey, not the destination.

In other words, I just sit down and practice my scales. I enjoy it, even REVEL in the knowledge that note by note, pushup by pushup, and word by word, this is how songs are learned, muscles are strengthened, and books are written.

(Additional reading: my blog post about Boulders of Awesomeness.)

Dig this post and want more like it? Check out my free 2x/month newsletter.

Want to suck less at skate skiing? Get dragged around by your more skilled friend allll winter long.

Designing my perfect day

Recently a friend mentioned their goal of aiming to create perfect days. Not an indulgence-filled last day on earth (we’d eat too much cake!), but a repeatable, enjoyable, productive day that moves a life forward. A typical Tuesday.

Like Annie Dillard says,

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.

I started thinking about netting my perfect day. I’ve considered general items before, but never pondered it and written things down. 

These perfect days of course change I’m traveling. However, for this time in my life when I’m home, here’s what mine looks like. Blocking out calendar times makes me feel like a robot, so I think of my day as malleable morning, midday, and evening chunks to be used in a more free-form fashion.

My Perfect Day

Starting with my energy turned inward with learning and creativity:

  • Morning reading with a cup of tea, a fruit plate, and listening to piano music.
  • Piano practice
  • Writing, either stream of consciousness or a blog post/newsletter
  • Anki study for Italian, Spanish, music theory, and other things I’m learning (here’s my how-to for setting it up)

Shifting my focus outward later in the day:

  • Connection with Chelsea, friends, and family
  • Exercise, ideally outside
  • Reading my favorite newsletters
  • Handling work
  • Moving one “adulting” thing forward
  • Cooking healthy food

An evening wind down:

  • More piano
  • A walk with Chelsea
  • Evening drawing session with tea and piano music
  • In bed early to read, ideally some fiction

Overall, I’m striving for what Ryan Holiday says in Stillness Is The Key,

The truth is that a good routine is not only a source of great comfort and stability, it’s the platform from which stimulating and fulfilling work is possible. Routine, done for long enough and done sincerely enough, becomes more than routine. It becomes ritual—it becomes sanctified and holy.

What a goal! Ritual, every day that we can. Yes please.

Is it still groundhog day if you’re having a ton of fun?

Things I’ve noticed about my perfect day

After aiming for a perfect day for awhile, I’ve stumbled upon some preferences:

  • Painting an exact picture of the activity (“reading while enjoying a fruit plate”) makes it even more desirable than just “reading.”
  • Days where I don’t look at my phone for the first few hours usually feel more satisfying.
  • Having non-negotiable practices anchors my day. For me right now, that’s piano and Italian study: no matter what derails me, accomplishing those makes my day feel successful.
  • I meditated daily for awhile. Lately, it hasn’t felt necessary or valuable, so I dropped it (probably to my detriment). However, the mental state I get into with piano centers me in a powerful way, so I’m going with it! (I realize they accomplish different things…my Buddhist mom is rolling her eyes at this paragraph for suuuure.)
  • At this moment in my life, I don’t feel drawn to passive entertainment like T.V., movies or social media. With so much I want to study and learn, those things make me feel like I’m wasting my time. I’ve enjoyed them to some degree in the past, but right now they aren’t in line with how I want to spend my time.
  • I’m doing things (I think) my future self will thank me for. That they also happen to be activities I’m really enjoying is probably a function of doing them because I want to, not because I feel like I SHOULD..
  • I’ve dropped activities where my obsessive, competitive side surfaces like a deranged Leviathan from the deep. (Cough, chess…)

What about your perfect day?

Can you design yours? Not an ideal Saturday or beach day in Hawaii, but a normal weekday.

Is it possible to start with things you want to do before adulting swamps all efforts to pursue creativity, exercise, learning or whatever else floats your boat?

Things to consider:

  • What one or two things make any day successful?
  • Can you nudge one thing forward each day?
  • Is there an energy flow that works best for you? (e.g. I like to spend mornings alone)

Have fun dreaming! Here’s to perfect days, or as close as we can realistically get to them.

Dig this post and want to keep leveling up your life? Check out my free 2x/month newsletter.

Building solid friendships (the right way)

A recent evening drawing of mine.

During the past three years, two of my friendships blew up. One major reason sticks out: I started setting boundaries…and holding them.

For instance, when I asked one friend if he could call me for a conversation instead of sending lonnng monologue texts, he responded, “I’ll call or text whenever I fucking want to.” Say. Whaaaat?

It went downhill from there. Shockingly.

Oddly enough, I was culpable as well! Since I hadn’t set and, more importantly, held boundaries before, I’d allowed people into my life who didn’t respect them. Or at least respect mine.

Boundaries as feedback generators

You know that process of making a friend? It starts out shallow with, “where are you from, mutual friends, the dreaded ‘what do you do?’” question.

As the friendship deepens, you each show more of your true colors via vulnerability—sometimes sending people scrambling to escape through a window—or keep it at acquaintance level with activity buddies or colleagues.

In all new relationship, there are moments where you have opportunities to define who you are and what you expect from a friend. For me, some boundaries were easy to set, while others were difficult.

Values-based boundaries around drinking or not eating animal products were easy. The non-values based stuff was tougher: not wanting to go ski when it was shitty out, but doing it anyway. Not wanting to let people down by declining an invite to, well, anything, then regretting it. Hosting when Chelsea and I needed some down time.

In retrospect, those type of boundaries sound so easy! When I first start exercising them, and then more difficult ones, it felt like bench pressing 400 pounds after starting lifting weights a week ago: overwhelming and even dangerous, like I could get smashed under the pressure.

The good news: I realized that setting boundaries acts as a friend filter to prioritize the people you want in your life.

Because every time we set boundaries, the other person’s reaction is useful feedback. Flexing that muscle gets easier each time, and the feedback helps determine if we want to continue investing in a friendship or shift energy elsewhere.

Looking back at both former friendships that failed, I realize my lack of boundary setting encouraged (or at least allowed) behavior out of line with how I wanted to be treated. If I’d set them earlier and held tight with clear communication (“when you do this, I feel this way and need this moving forward”), I suspect the friendships would have fizzled far earlier.

On the flip side, a remarkable aspect of boundaries is they allow other friendships to shine. When I set boundaries with people and they respond respectfully, it adds more mortar to the friendship trust bridge between us.

With my closest friends, that mutual respect has grown to the point where we can drive a truck over the trust bridge. All the boundary setting is 100% worth it.

Dig this post and want more like it? Check out my free 2x/month newsletter.

A better side of envy

For a long time, I struggled with envy. People with money, people who took cool trips, people who did Ironman triathlons…color me jealous.

Along the way, I (slowly) realized something: those people either carried baggage or made tradeoffs to achieve those things. Plus, as Joseph Epstein said, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.

Identifying those helped me unwind the knot and recenter:

  • A rich college friend had a terrible relationship with his dad. Later, friends with the big house and fancy car worked nonstop.
  • Taking far-flung, expensive trips meant not investing or saving as much money for a house, which I wanted.
  • Training for an Ironman required untold hours per week of panting along at a low heart rate to build a huge fitness base, eschewing other hobbies or relationships along the way.

But how do we deal with envy?!

I love the idea from James Altucher for dealing with it: simply envision trading lives with the person. ALL of it, not just the positives.

Are they famous? Well, you also get the pain of never going anywhere without being bothered. (Better to be rich than famous!)

Do they have a rippling 12-pack and beach ball biceps? You gotta get up at 5:30 am to work out and never eat dessert. Sad face.

Brilliant musician? Hours upon hours of solitary, monotonous practice. (Damn you, Chopin.)

For me, the act of mentally flipping the Success Coin to the other side is a potent cure against envy. Nothing fantastic, be it wealth, fitness, fame, or skills, is handed to us without tradeoffs.

A better side of envy

Forget envy. Practice compersion! (Say what? Did you just misspell comparison, Dakota?)



Compersion is our wholehearted participation in the happiness of others. It is the sympathetic joy we feel for somebody else, even when their positive experience does not involve or benefit us directly.

In other words, awesomeness isn’t a zero-sum game: when friends, colleagues, and others around us experience success or have amazing experiences, we can CELEBRATE them. Yep, even if it doesn’t benefit us!

Rising tides lift all boats, but swamp the captains tied to the Pier of Envy.

Dig this post? Subscribe to the Traipsing About newsletter to get more writing like it.


Personality flipping

Learning the Japanese art of gyotaku at a friend’s during a road trip to the coast.

The Myers-Briggs test classifies personalities into 16 distinct types. It can help us understand why we are who we are and why we do the things we do.

In college, my results were ENTJ: Extroverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging… aka The Commander. Analytical, efficient, decisive, motivated to accomplish things. (And boooring.)

This week, my results from were almost opposite, ESFP: Extroverted, Observant, Feeling, Prospecting, aka The Entertainer.

From the site: “The Entertainer loves vibrant experiences, engaging in life eagerly and taking pleasure in discovering the unknown. They can be very social, often encouraging others into shared activities.”

Fascinating: in 20 years, I’ve completely flipped my personality, minus the extroverted aspect. I should mention Chelsea is an ISFP (the Adventurer), my introverted counterpart!

Obviously nuances abound and these assessments aren’t spot on. Reading the descriptions, aspects of both still ring true for me depending on the situation.

My take: for my first test 20 years ago, I was a broke college student in engineering school about to embark into adulthood. I wanted financial security and emphasizing The Commander was the best way I knew for achieving that.

Two decades later, I’m in a much different place. I’ve circled back to becoming more like my parents: less money driven, creative, musically inclined, living in tight social community.

The Commander no longer serves my goals except in specific situations. Otherwise, he just cruises in the background, keeping tabs on things…and occasionally sniping at Chelsea for inefficiency transgressions.

This shift feels like a positive development! I only hope my creative, sensitive side develops further and the boring Commander recedes further into the background.

Dig this post? Subscribe to the Traipsing About newsletter to get more writing like it.

backyard garden

Before and after

Recently I found a 2020 photo of our backyard prior to our garden revamp. Crappy lawn, no plants, no wildlife.

Today, it’s a veritable jungle with birds flitting about and bees bumbling flower to flower. A complete transformation…thanks to untold hours spent working our butts off.

Testing out planter bed height in April 2020.
A few (hundred?) hours of work later…

That got me thinking about before/afters from other projects. All required time, energy, and commitment. Some also required sweat and swearing at inanimate objects.

Eyeing the rearview mirror, they all feel worth it.

A few of them:

  1. Building out our empty Sprinter van into a mobile adventure rig.
  2. Starting a blog in 2013 at the start of our van trip, now up to 200 posts (plus another 100 newsletters to boot).
  3. Physical adventures like bike tours with Chelsea, mile by mile. In total, almost a year of fond (and hard!) memories of bicycle journeying together.
  4. Toiling away on a business that allows us lots of freedom.
  5. My studious phase the past two years: Learning to speak Italian. Hundreds of hours of piano practice. Notebooks full of drawings…

So many times where I was tired or unmotivated, but did it anyway. My current self thanks that tired-but-doing-it past self!

Blank van slate in 2013…gulp.
Enroute to Idaho in August with all the gear.

I see three common threads for all these before/afters:

1.   They involved creating something via perseverance and effort (memories included) vs. one-off enjoyment.

2.  All of them are experiences or facilitate future experiences (e.g. van trips, hanging in our garden, playing music).

3.  All involved building a skill.

Also, in no way were they fun all the time. Sifting rocks from free top soil during our garden project comes to mind…sigh.

All these goals took on a life of their own. I didn’t intend to befriend blog readers or fall in love with piano and bikepacking… It’s all blossomed from having enough fun (and being stubborn) long enough to create a habit.

A reminder that we often become passionate about something after we’ve invested energy in it.

Similar to asking, “what are the decisions that most positively affected my life,” I think looking at the traits of our most satisfying before and afters is a useful lens for guiding our lives.

Pretending there isn’t another giant climb right around the bend in Spain, 2019.

Dig this post? Subscribe to the Traipsing About newsletter to get more writing like it.

BS investing, or my crypto misadventures

An evening drawing from last November.

After the recent crypto crash, I did a postmortem on my behavior. What started as casual interest and minor research in crypto last May morphed into me caught up in the wave of greed and irrational exuberance by November.

I thought I’d left that behavior behind after dabbling with (ill-informed) day trading in 2007?


What’s fascinating is that I didn’t need to change our investing approach—stocks plus commercial real estate were working great—but I got sucked in anyway.

Mostly I invested in “blue chip” (ha) crypto like Ethereum or Bitcoin, but I still feel embarrassed to have put (and lost) money in projects like Terra or some alt-coins that…uhh, didn’t do well.

Luckily, I only played with a small portion of our money. I didn’t mortgage the house or force a change in our lifestyle. A reminder to everyone: diversify!

My new #1 goal with investing is to do NOTHING, ZERO, ZILCH if I’m excited by a project or an investment. Before committing, I want to scrub the delusional new relationship energy from my brain.

All in all, I’m treating this as a cheap lesson with life-long impacts. It’s fascinating and instructional to see this chink in my armor. I think I’ve patched it, but shall remain vigilant!

All this leads me this excerpt from this excellent piece, On Bullshit in Investing.

Bullshit in investing, be it wild over-optimism, deception or fraud, is as old as time, precisely because it is hard to resist the promise of easy returns and to tell the difference between innovation and make-believe.

The first step in avoiding being taken for a ride is to recognize that you are a mark for people trying to get rich off your money.

Burn the principle into your brain that financial markets are large and competitive and have a lot of smart people in them.

Easy money-making opportunities are almost never real; professional mercenaries would have found and exploited them first.

High returns with low risk explained away by complicated and nontransparent strategies deserve great scrutiny.

Ask questions; be skeptical; do not assume that just because brand-name firms or authority figures are involved that all is well.

If this is 40, I want a refund

Don’t get old, kids

My first trip to the emergency room, I was a freshman in college. My appendix blew up, but modern medicine won. The following two decades were smooth sailing.

My on-ramp for my 4th decade was a fabulous long weekend full of friends, tasty food, and outside time. A perfect start.

Then last Friday I woke up nauseous, passed out at the bathroom sink and smashed my neck on the shower threshold’s metal door track. Chelsea found me splayed out on the floor totally unresponsive. A terrifying sight.

To the hospital we zoomed. I passed out again on the way there. WTF?! She broke a few traffic laws and wheeled me riiight into the ER.

Five hours of brain, neck, heart and blood tests later found…(drumroll) nothing but an elevated white blood cell count. Picture of health, minus almost breaking my neck.

The ER doc’s best guess was a strong vagal nerve reaction to an undetected virus (COV-19 test was negative). The consensus is that I’m going to be fine, though I’m wearing a heart rate monitor this week and doing follow up tests. I’d love to hear your experience if this has ever happened to you!

I share this experience not for shock value, but because it’s kicked off so many thoughts. I keep returning to the fickle nature of life, how quickly good fortune can pivot.

I’m also interested how detached from the potential severity of things I was. “Well, if it’s a brain tumor, we’ll cross that bridge. If my heart valve is weak, I can get an ebike or play piano. If my neck is f’d, I can still read or play chess.” I didn’t expect that.

They say happiness usually returns to previous levels after an injury. My mental space accepting things seems in line with that. Easy to say without actually getting bad news.


On my 40th birthday, I deeply felt how valuable close relationships are. This episode hammered that home again—friends dropped off food, picked up groceries, offered medical insight or their personal experience, or just checked on me daily. I felt surrounded by love and support.

Chelsea is a self-proclaimed barnacle after my fall, keeping me close. Thinking your husband is dead will do that to you! I sure appreciate our wonderful life together.

I’m intrigued to see what else surfaces for me as I continue processing the experience. I didn’t glimpse the proverbial white light at the end of the tunnel, but who knows how close I was to it. A couple inches in a different direction with my fall could have changed everything.

Overall, I’m thankful to have modern medicine (plus the means to pay for it), supportive family, friends and partner, and the luck to walk away from this with nothing more than a very stiff neck.

Still kicking!

Juggling It All

One of the guys I mentor is in life setup mode and is juggling an incredible amount of obligations and hobbies. When I observed this, he asked me to list them…and was surprised to hear such a long list.

Yup. Sometimes we boil away in the pot and don’t realize how overwhelmed we are.

This reminds me of a quote from Oprah: “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

There is time to dig deep into many things in our lives, but scattering our energy all at once doesn’t allow deep diving, potentially creating dissatisfaction. Embrace the seasons for what t

Which brings me to this wonderful poem that Austin Kleon shared awhile back. Substitute anything you enjoy for the three…and then choose two.

You Want a Social Life, With Friends

by Kenneth Koch

You want a social life, with friends.

A passionate love life and as well

To work hard every day. What’s true

Is of these three you may have two

And two can pay you dividends

But never may have three.

Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–

To find the time to have love, work, and friends.

Michelangelo had feeling

For Vittoria and the Ceiling

But did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets

Wrote all day but had no lockets

Bright with pictures of his Girl.

I know one who loves and parties

And has done so since his thirties

But writes hardly anything at all.

playing outdoor chess in Christchurch

Playing life like chess

How approaching life with a chess mindset helps focus us on achievable goals

Playing chess in Christchurch, NZ as a youngster back in 2005.

After enjoying chess in my youth, this winter I returned to playing online with friends. The nuances of the game and geometric beauty of the positions fire my brain up.

Whoa, I sound like a chess nerd. YES.

One chess concept is called “working backwards to forwards.” Basically, you picture the achievable checkmate type based on the pieces you have (e.g. a knight and a rook). Then you work backward to the moves needed to achieve the goal. Different pieces, different type of checkmate.

What if we applied this to our lives? We all have unique constraints (e.g. work, family, pets, skills, finances, desire for particular activities). How often do we look at our available “pieces” and think, “My achievable goals are ____.”

Personal example: both Chelsea and I are hankering for long-term travel. We also have an 18 YO cat who requires frequent care, including subcutaneous fluids every other day. He’s going to live another 10 years at this rate, so we need to readjust.

Just like I can’t checkmate an opponent with only my king and a knight, I can’t currently can’t travel with Chelsea. If I beat my head against the idea of long-term travel given my pieces on the board, frustration descends. Checkmate…on me.

Instead, I reframed things. We’ve traveled a ton and we’ll do it again. I can still bikepack with friends or take solo van trips, which I always enjoy. When I’m home, my piano beckons from the living room and Bend is a fabulous place to live and recreate.

Knowing the constraints helps me eliminate “ohhh, I wish I could do ____” and narrow it down to “this is what I can accomplish now.” I’m finding that it’s quite useful.

And when I get back to Christchurch for an outdoor chess rematch, I’m gonna be ready.

Tips for New Cyclists

My first post-college bike. A fixie (sigh), aka no gears. I’ve learned things since.

The writer Austin Kleon posted recently about buying a bicycle (his first as an adult) and getting obsessed. He’s a total beginner, so he put out a call to his readers asking for tips.

I’ve ridden my fair share of miles on a bicycle (30,000+ by last count), so I decided to weigh in. I pulled from many arenas: daily commuting in the rain in Portland, cross-country bike tours, mountain bike day rides and longer bikepacking trips…but no unicyles.

Here’s my response:

YES TO BIKES! Careful, you’re going to be planning a cross-country tour before you know it.

You can ride a bike without a bunch of fancy gear, but the right equipment makes it a) far safer c) more practical for errands and c) comfortable. As a long-time cycling fan(atic) who has ridden tens of thousands of miles on roads and trails, I’d recommend the following:

  1. Get a rack and some panniers to haul stuff like groceries and books to the bookstores. Ortlieb makes the best panniers IMO. (I’ve commuted and toured the world with mine for 10,000 miles with zero problems.)
  2. Get lights that can blow cars off the road. Front and back. 600 lumens front and a cherry bomb rear are perfect. Check out these reviews.
  3. Get a sweet bell like a Spurcycle. Pedestrians and other cyclists know what to do with bells, but ON YOUR LEFT makes them step left. Always.
  4. Get padded shorts aka a riding chamois…AND get chamois butter to rub on said bike shorts and nether regions before rides. That stuff is magic for reducing saddle sores, especially for new riders.
  5. Study basic bike maintenance. Learn how to change a flat and tune up your shifting as a bare minimum. Lots of bike shops offer them and YouTube is your friend.
  6. Always have chain lube on hand and use it frequently. Finish Line is excellent.
  7. Find your city’s best bike routes and stay away from cars as much as possible. Learn those routes so well you don’t need to look at a map.
  8. If you need a map, a phone coupled with Quadlock’s products are the bomb. Mount your phone on your bike so you can follow Google Maps hands-free.
  9. If you want to get faster, find experienced cyclists to ride with. Go get your ass kicked trying to hang on their wheel.
  10. Get a bike rack so you can take your bike anywhere you travel.
  11. Find and support (if you have the means) your city, region, and state bike advocacy groups. Great sources for maps, routes, bike info, and events, plus they’re likely the groups fighting for bike infrastructure. (Someone added this to my list and I stole their excellent idea!)


There are of course many more ideas, but this will get you rolling!

california coast

Hard choices, easy life

Anytime stress rains down, I feel pulled to chill beach vibes. The ocean always grounds me.

It’s been a full-on start to 2022 in Traipsingville.

Drama for my business, tenant trouble in a rental property, a couple of minor surgeries for Chelsea, and more.

Curveball after curveball. My dad reassured me that I’ve always excelled at hitting, but wow.

Along with my “this is why I get paid” mantra, I also returned to this one:

Hard choices, easy life.

You can sit and watch a situation in your life grow increasingly difficult. Or you can choose the harder, better choice, the one your future self will thank you for.

Step up to the plate and smack those damn curveballs.

Pick up the phone and make the tough business calls.

Say goodbye to a bad tenant.

Get the surgery for the belly button hernia you’ve had since birth that flared up when your pushy husband made you hoist a heavy solar panel up to the roof. (SORRY, CHELSEA.)

Just do it.

None of those actions are easy. They require confrontation, research, stress, and potential conflict.

Ah, but the result? An easier life, back on cruise control until the next fork in the road.

A stronger, more resilient business.

A stable rental property (screw that, we’re selling ours…which is even harder).

No more worrying about a physical ailment.

Hard choices, easy life. The way through is action.


Laughing with troublesome friends

Austin Kleon shared this 2-min video of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama laughing gleefully during an interview. At one point, Tutu is asked,

“What is it about your friendship that allows you to have this extraordinary joy?”

He ponders a moment and says, “He’s always troubling me…” and then cracks up.

I just love that. Because what’s better than a friend (or life partner) to laugh uproariously with one moment, then turn around and be intellectually challenged by them in the next?

(Clearly this is my interpretation of what Archbishop Tutu means.)

Some of my closest friends come to mind. In fact, I’ve realized I struggle to get close to people who can’t both go deep and be humorous. An interesting filter for who I invest time in.

I am oh-so-very biased here, but I couldn’t agree more with the below line. It’s from the co-author on a book about Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama spending a week together called The Book of Joy.

“Having worked with many spiritual leaders, I’m tempted to see laughter and a sense of humor as a universal index of spiritual development.”

Douglas Abrams

By the way, dig these kinds of posts? Sign up for the free Traipsing About newsletter to level up your life around outdoor adventures, creativity, and travel.

Forget goal setting, invest in skills

Goal: Bikepacking the Colorado Trail. Skills to do it? Acquired over many years.

Ah, a new year! A fantastic time to hate the old us: let’s whittle away our bloated physical bodies, quiet our ping-ponging minds, change our crappy jobs, and eat celery while taking cold showers and doing pushups.

Meh. I don’t buy it. Can’t we just be happy with who we are and still be on a personal growth path?

Maybe that’s why I loved Mark Manson’s recent thoughts on goals vs. developing skills. As he says,

“What are you improving at? What are you learning and gaining?

Instead of thinking about what you want to achieve in the new year, ask yourself, “What do I want to be good at that I’m not?” Then get to work on it.”

Mark Manson

Goals are things you want to accomplish. Skills are things you DO. (Which, incidentally, can help accomplish goals.)

Want to lose weight? Skill: learn how to cook three healthy meals.

Want to make more in-real-life friends? Skill: Learn how to be more vulnerable and listen better.

In the past, I’ve prioritized freedom and flexibility over a strict schedule. Game for an outdoor adventure or a friend hang at any time. Benefits, yes…with the downside that I wasn’t consistent with skill development.

Last year, I booked weekly Italian/piano lessons and committed to drawing consistently. I didn’t miss a day of studying my Italian flashcards with Anki and slowly but surely learned 4,000 vocab words. Thanks to that, I made tangible and incredibly satisfying progress. Small, consistent efforts lead to real skills.

I’m not as available now, but the tradeoff in schedule flexibility is 100% worth it. Now the days where I barely play music or skip a drawing session feel incomplete. I can’t imagine going back to the old me.

Which reminds me of this quote from Stillness is the Key…

So: to hell with goals. What skill can you commit to developing this year?

I’ll go first: I want to improve my portraiture skills, so I’m starting 2022 with drawing a portrait every day in January. Gawwwd they are hard!

A young Franz Liszt (composer and virtuoso pianist).

The power of sharing your thoughts online

Have you ever considered sharing your thoughts publicly via a newsletter, blog, podcast, or vlog? Based on my experience doing so, I can heartily say make. it. happen.

Why? Well…

Publishing Traipsing About for the past eight years has added so much richness to my life. Almost 100 newsletters and 200+ blog posts in, things just keep getting better. (By things, I mean my T. Rex drawings, not my jokes.)

T. Rex tries to brush his teeth

I have good friends who initially found me through Traipsing About. A cousin I’d never met randomly read my Italian citizenship blog post and I discovered a whole side of my family I didn’t know existed! (Pretty sure they’re New Jersey Italian mafia.)

An extra bonus: writing consistently keeps me connected with friends and family. They witness my antics and keep tabs on me even when kids and jobs make staying in touch difficult. It sparks email exchanges and connection. Sure, Facebook and Instagram kiiiinda work, but it’s not the same depth as longer-form media.

There’s power in putting thoughts down and sharing them publicly. It clarifies things in a way that a private journal sometimes can’t.

I’ve gained so much from following others who also share their thoughts and struggles, so it’s satisfying to be part of that great internet diaspora and pay it forward.

I also love getting random emails from you when I share things I’ve screwed up learned. It fascinates me how my personal experience with money, travel, relationships, or social media use can impact someone if it hits them at the right time.

People want to hear what you’re thinking. Put it out there! Substack has free newsletters, podcasting can be done with a $40 microphone, YouTube only requires a smart phone, Twitter takes 37 seconds to sign up…

What better time than now?

Here’s to the amateurs

Beethoven bad portrait
Early drawing efforts in an old notebook my mom gave me.

In today’s full-tilt culture, amateur often carries a negative meaning. If a hobby doesn’t morph into a monetized side hustle, what’s the point?

Take drawing, for example. I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw something beyond stick figures. To test the waters, I’ve sketched almost every night this year. Then I text a photo of my creation to my college roommate, Eric, who is doing the same.

I’m a total noobie. Eric, a long-time artist, is amazing. The contrast between our drawings is, errrr, obvious…

But you know what? It doesn’t matter! We crack each other up, share moments from our daily lives, and flex our drawing muscles in the the process. I’m improving, slowly but steadily.

It’s like getting a cardio workout while playing basketball: if you’re having fun, it doesn’t feel like a w.o.r.k.o.u.t. Try feeling that way during solo wind sprints.

Amateurs have it better

The word amateur has Latin roots in “love.” In both French (amateur) and Italian (amatore) it’s not about skill, but love and passion.

Compare that to the stress of professionals. I’ve read about pianists whose nerves are so bad they throw up before performances! I may get some nerves while playing for friends, but I tend to keep my dinner down.

Historically, the amateur was considered to be the ideal balance between pure intent, open mind, and the interest or passion for a subject. The gentleman scientists (think Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin) were amateurs in the best sense of the word, following their curiosity whichever way it went.

Those guys set the bar high, but they didn’t start out discovering gravity or evolution. Initially they looked at falling apples and studied mollusks.

Me? I study dinosaur mobility.
(Every T. Rex hates the sit and reach test.)

Why is art different?

What I find fascinating is that people spend their time on so many activities where they’re distinctly amateur without feeling a pressure to make money. Chess tournaments, local 5k running races, strumming the guitar. Few people get paid for those hobbies.

But creating physical ART?! No way, dude: that’s a waste of time. Maybe it’ll be worth it if I open an Etsy store or sell an NFT?

PFFFFT. I enjoy drawing (and writing this blog, playing piano and so on) because they’re satisfying and fun creative outlets, not a source of income. I don’t have to think about marketing, customer acquisition cost, or…

Sorry, I drifted off with all that boring business crap. NONE of which I have to do as an amateur!

The next time you’re going deep on a hobby and someone asks when you’re turning it into a business, be proud of your amateurishness. Remember, nothing wrecks an enjoyable hobby like turning it into work.

Whoa, what happened to Amelie’s eyes? DOESN’T MATTER, I’m an amateur. BOOM.
Amelie, take 2. Ignore the (amateurish) watercolor seep through… Still having fun!
making soy yogurt

Sharing the Mental Load

At some point in the past decade, I read an eye-opening article about how mental load, the invisible labor involved in handling a household and family, is usually carried by women. It suggested that for those of us without it, mental load is the water we swim in, unseen and natural, the actions helping the household hum along without a hitch. 

My initial reaction was, “That’s not MY situation. I love my wife and value her time the same as mine. I’m a woke-ass 21st Century Man! I read Brené Brown!”

How wrong I was. 

Looking at my to-do list versus Chelsea’s simply astounded me. Mine was simple; hers ranged from shopping lists and thinking about Christmas cards and gifts to cleaning the house and writing departure checklists prior to trips. The sheer quantity of things on her mind scorched my brain. (It still does.)

I won’t describe mental load further: this brilliant cartoon does it perfectly. 

Taking the Red Pill

In the classic movie The Matrix, Neo is offered The Red Pill, a dose of unalloyed truth that exposes reality. It ain’t pretty.

Realizing I was swimming in the water of Chelsea’s mental load was my Red Pill. Luckily, I immediately understood that and jumped right in to help.

NOT. My first reaction was defensive and bristly, pointing out allll the things I helped with. “I take out the trash, I fix stuff, I… ummm.” 

Like many men, I overestimated my contribution and it took many conversations and personal honesty to scale that wall and see the truth behind it: I had gotten lazy and accustomed to the comfort created by someone else. 

Sure, I’d created a business that supported us. I worked out and DID stuff, but I did it all outside the house. At home, I was actually quite useless. Sure, I’d install a bookshelf or change a bike tire, but Chelsea contributed far more in terms of who did most of the necessary house chores. 

No surprise that I had this mindset. Looking back, I noticed this widely accepted uneven task distribution everywhere: in the books we read, the popular culture references we absorb. For me, it was even present in my grandparents’ relationship as my grandma served my grandpa hand and foot as he read the newspaper.

This isn’t medieval times: we Westerners are in relationships built around love, not the need to heal a political rift with a neighboring kingdom. If I valued Chelsea’s life energy equal to mine, things needed to change.

Don’t Ask “How Can I Help?”

Surprisingly, asking “How can I help?” without offering suggestions didn’t actually help. It simply made me an unpaid, unskilled intern wandering around asking for projects. This made everything harder on Chelsea, who had to spend MORE time on each task because she had to talk me through it. It wasn’t even worth having the free labor!

I’d joke about being terrible at doing dishes/cleaning/cooking, but I was dodging the simple reality that I wasn’t willing to carry my weight or put in the time to learn simple, useful tasks.

Now I can see why some women throw up their hands in frustration and let their partners sit around and be served. Learning is messy and slow and watching ineptness is difficult to stomach.

Instead of asking, “How can I help?” start by paying attention. The best interns observe, learn about their field via research and talking to employees, and then show up with a list of ideas for how they can contribute. They see a pain point, then ask if addressing that might be useful. The same applies on the home front.

People currently carrying the mental load, take note: your partner is going to fail miserably at things. They’re going to make the kitchen look like a Jackson Pollock painting when washing the dishes and wander around grocery stores like a poorly-programmed robot when they first start doing their share of the shopping.

Although you’ll be justified in a few exasperated sighs and an occasional “I’ll just do it, get outta here,” your help and patience will maintain enthusiasm during their learning process.

It certainly did to me. With Chelsea’s help—and lots of patience—I expanded my skills. I noticed things the house needed, started refilling toilet paper when it ran out. I made bad meals, bought the wrong kind of broth at the store, and did a terrible job cleaning our bathrooms.

But I improved!

Fundamental Levels of Adulting

At some point, our mommies stop wiping our butts. We get jobs and pay our own car insurance, but somehow some of us forget there are other understated skills involved in adulting, skills that make us more independent.

Part of my transition to adulthood, the one I didn’t think I needed, consisted of learning how to shop and cook for myself and how to be totally fine if Chelsea had a family emergency across the country. (Without her needing to leave me food in the fridge.)

I’ve been contributing much more. From adding household staples to Anylist and throwing sheets in the laundry to handling food shopping and cooking more, I try to anticipate household needs. I even clean bathrooms, and they don’t need to be (re)cleaned after me!

I made mistakes and asked Chelsea a lot of questions early on—especially in the kitchen—but now I can hold my own.

I’ve learned that household tasks are skills, not just demeaning labor that’s below me. My appreciation deepens when I spend the time and effort on them. Especially cooking! These days, I can host a four-course dinner party for six and all Chelsea has to do is set the table and prep some beautiful flower arrangements.

It’s empowering! Now I’m oh-so aware of the imbalance I see in relationships around me, which makes me admire my male friends who are bucking the trend and cooking, handling childcare, and contributing in other ways.

Of course, anyone not experiencing mental load wants to maintain their kingly status, whether mindfully or without thinking. Hot meals, a clean house and not worrying about life logistics? Sign me up. Wars are fought over maintaining power and the status quo. 

Do I prefer cleaning bathrooms to playing piano or going for a bike ride? Not a chance.

Still, if we value our partners and want to support their best, most-fulfilled life, we owe it to them to step up to the plate and swing at some curveballs, even if we whiff at first.

I’m not ready for my own cooking show yet, but making delicious vegan soy yogurt sure is fun.

The Benefits of Sharing the Mental Load

It’s easy to think, “oh, that’s beneath me…” But someone in your house is doing that work, and you’re choosing to be in a romantic relationship with that person. 

Why is your time worth more than theirs, regardless if you earn more or do “more important” work with your time. An hour is an hour is an hour. What dreams is your partner side-lining—or unaware of—thanks to carrying a large share of the burden? 

In our case, the answer became painfully obvious once I started doing my share. Chelsea now commits to animal protection and social justice causes. She helps organize conferences and retreats, host potlucks and women’s groups, does political canvassing. She gardens and hikes up a storm with friends.

She also feels comfortable lying on the couch after a long hike while I make dinner and clean up, because she doesn’t feel like she has to use all her free time productively. As a result of me being less of a child, she can kick back and use the time that’s rightfully hers to work on her dreams as well as to relax.

And that gives a whole new meaning to doing those few tasks, no matter how “beneath me” they might subconsciously feel. The way I look at it now, not doing my share is akin to actively stopping Chelsea from doing something she likes. 

I wouldn’t do that, so scrubbing toilets remains on my weekly to-do list. Figuring out the logistics isn’t always easy, but the idea of giving each other a gift of time by consistently showing up for the mundane moments as well as for the shiny, fun ones makes it all worthwhile.

Taking the First Step

Sure, I could survive on my own before—on a diet of burritos and stir fries—but now I’m capable in the kitchen and helpful with household tasks. It didn’t happen overnight, it wasn’t easy, but what’s the value in supporting your spouse while gaining life skills for operating confidently and independently? Priceless!

I started small. I considered how I could help out. I got shooed out of the kitchen. Trust me: the help will eventually be appreciated.

Excuse me, gotta go. Time to go load the dishwasher. Which I still suck at. (I try, really!) But I’m not giving up.


Dig this post? Get more like it via the free bi-weekly Traipsing About newsletter