Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lessons I Learned from Grandma

I'm back from vacation to see my grandparents in Florida, and I have to say, this article was partially inspired by them. You see, they live in one of those retirement trailer parks. By "trailer park," I don't mean sketchy places on the outside of town; no, I'm referring to those really nice double-wides that are basically real houses, only smaller.

Emphasis on the word smaller.

When they moved from Ohio when I was in elementary school, I remember that they actually hired a professional auctioneer to help them sell off most of their stuff in what was likely the most official yard sale in history. They simply couldn't take everything they had to Florida, so they took what they needed (including several heirlooms, of course). In their new place, they had to get extremely creative about storage because of the limited space. Their pantry is quite small, so they go grocery shopping several times a week. They have no attic, garage, or much spare closet space, so storing things like holiday decorations is challenging.

While I was visiting, I stumbled across a few things late one night that made me think of my own crazy endeavors, and it made me chuckle. I was searching through their electronics trying to find cables to help them with their TVs, and this is what I found. On the outside, these are perfectly normal entertainment centers:

Tucked away, however, are Christmas decorations, decorative centerpieces, and boxes for wrapping gifts:

My personal favorite is this next one. Keep in mind that my grandmother DOES use the microwave as intended, but when not in use it serves a different purpose:

That's just epic. Grandma uses it as a bread box. As long as I can remember that's where she's kept the bread in Florida. Why not? It's idle space when not in use - might as well put something in there . . .

Like I said, seeing this really reminded me of myself. Keeping all of my earthly possessions in a storage unit has caused me to get a little creative about where and how I store things. Not everything is in the storage unit, but a good amount of it is. In the rear, I have things that I rarely (if ever) access such as cook and bake ware, bathroom supplies, and the like. Closer to the front, I keep my clothes, tools and fluids to fix my car/home, bulk toiletries and cleaning supplies, and non-perishable food. It's not presently this neat and clean (it's WICKED cold outside right now), but I try to keep things manageable:

This next one is a bit strange. My office has shower rooms at the far end of the building that rarely get used, so I started using them rather than go to the gym (more on all of that later). I got sick of toting my gym bag in and out of the shower room every day, so I found an out-of-sight place to store them:

I know I have yet to touch on where I cook meals, but I keep a good bit of food at the office for breakfast and lunch. I also have utensils and small appliances like a smoothie maker/blender and coffee grinder (for my aforementioned French press travel mug from my last post). In order to have easy access, I keep some simple medicine on hand so I don't have to go digging through my storage unit should I become sick. All of this is neatly tucked away like so:

Something tells me that grandma would be proud - what do you think?


Thursday, January 16, 2014

What Pain do You Want?

I've been working silently in the background on tackling the questions that lots of people have asked me since I "went public" with my blog. However, since I'm not quite ready to post some things, I'm going to shift gears a little bit and share a rather interesting article that one of my coworkers forwarded around:

This is a very interesting question, and I think it turns the tables a bit on how we should set our goals in life. It's often said that those who write down their goals are more apt to achieve them, and goals which are difficult and above what we think we can achieve are the goals which we should pursue. However, most people don't make goals by considering what areas in their life they are willing - no, that they want to suffer. Don't set goals because reaching that goal will make you happy and bring you pleasure. Set goals because that goal is so important to you that you'll take pain to achieve it. Those are the goals that will drive you, and those are the goals which you'll reach. If a goal doesn't require pain, it's either not important enough or it's not good enough to be a goal.

Living in my car has been no picnic, let me tell you. I've given up plenty of creature comforts, eaten a lot of boring food, had to give up several social opportunities, and deal with a good amount of embarrassing questions and situations. However, it's worth it to me. I paid off my college debt and my car in just over a year. I was able to give my parents and grandparents meaningful and worthwhile gifts for Christmas for the first time in my entire life. I've been able to support organizations that I've never had the funds to give to before. Day by day, I'm one step closer to ensuring that my parents won't have to worry about retiring after all they've done for me. Day by day, I'm one step closer to the possibility of having my own business. Day by day, I inch toward being able to make a real difference in this world and reach the goals that have been the reason that I've been saving money and dreaming big.

Gallup released a new poll today that really isn't very encouraging. It found that 42% of Americans say that they're worse off financially this year than they were last year. A little over a third said that their situation has improved:

Goodie. That's inspiring, isn't it? It's only January, too. I share this because like it or not, it looks like 2014 probably won't be a walk in the park for most people or businesses. You and I are probably going to have pain regardless of if we choose it or not. Are you willing to keep fighting for goals that require struggle and sacrifice? What goals are worth it to you? What pain is worth it to you?

Dream on, dear readers, and don't let pain keep you from dreaming big.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Top 7 Things You Must Have to Live in Your Car (But Still Generally Useful)

There are certain things you just have to own if you want to live in your car. Heck, there are certain things that are still pretty nice to have around even if you're normal and live in a place with a bed and a roof over your head. At any rate, I looked back over my Amazon purchases from the last year or so and found the items that I ended up buying to solve particular problems that I'd encountered, and I think that many of you may find them to be useful suggestions. If you know anything about me, you might know that when I set out to buy something, I read reviews and compare products for literally hours before deciding to buy it (for example, once took three hours to land on the type of windshield wipers to buy). All that to say, I've done the comparing, and for me, these are the best of the best for the money.

Without further ado, here we go (in no particular order):

1. Quality Pillow

Let's face it - sleeping in your car isn't the most comfortable thing in the world. We've all done it. As children, we passed out on long road trips after exhausting ourselves by fighting with our siblings only to awaken with an imprint of a door handle on our cheek and drool soaking the seat belt. As adults, we've pulled over to "nap" for a few moments at a truck stop and either wondered why on earth car seats don't recline three inches more or why we thought curling up on "the hump" sounded like a good idea. You're supposed to be awake while in a car - encouraging drivers to sleep tends to jeopardize the interests of others. You know . . . interests like living.

I'll go into how I've managed to make my car pretty stoopid comfortable in another post, but straight from the start, I realized that I had to have a comfortable pillow. No more polyfill poufs with random stains on them that go flat quicker than a grilled cheese made with Wonder Bread. So, I looked high and low and finally found this:

I settled on the standard "brick" style because the contoured ones always seem to go flat right in the middle. Besides, isn't the point of memory foam to contour to your head or body by itself? I digress. This is "gel-infused" memory foam, so it's supposed to be able to dissipate heat better than the regular kind. Since I'd be using this in the summer, that was important. Even my girlfriend agrees that it's super-comfy (which is why I haven't had it with me for the past few months).

If you're gonna spend $50 on a pillow, you should probably protect your investment from years of slobber, dandruff, and mites, so this is probably worth your while:

Of all the brands, this had fewer complaints of making crinkling noises, feeling too thick, or holding in heat. Good buy.

2. Sleeping Bag Liner

I'll go quickly through this one before you get bored and stop reading - I promise that there are some cool things on this list! Anyway, in the summer, my 20° sleeping bag was just a little much. In the winter, I got sick of using an entire washer just on my sleeping bag. This works great for a summer bag on its own, and in the winter, I use it to line my sleeping bag so it's the only thing I have to wash. The reviews and price point made this brand the winner.

3. A Way to Make Coffee

I told you I'd get to the good stuff.

At the office, we can't have coffee machines due to fire codes, and the coffee in the break room is from concentrate. I looked inside the machine, and there's a circuit board bigger than the average motherboard in a desktop computer. If it takes that much circuitry just to brew coffee, there's something wrong.

Intro this - the French press commuter mug:

This doodad is amazing. It's made of stainless steel (instead of glass) and it fits in a car cup holder, but that's not the coolest thing about this mug. The bottom unscrews from the body of the mug to reveal a canister that fits into the tapered base section. This allows you to store extra grounds so you can make a second cup once you get to work. When you live in your car, access to convenient caffeine is a must.

4. Window Deflectors

No matter how cold it is, if you sleep in your car for anything longer than what would be considered a "nap," you MUST crack your windows. Why? Let's go back to 7th grade science, shall we? When humans breathe, they expel moisture into the air. This moisture tends to condense once the surrounding air becomes saturated. The saturation point of air decreases in direct relation to air temperature. Translation: if you don't crack your window, you will have moisture EVERYWHERE. I'm not talking about a little fog on the windows; no, you will have drops flowing down your windows onto your dashboard, and despite what Vince Shlomi tells you, there is no ShamWow big enough to mop it up.

However, if it rains, snows, sleets, or mother nature otherwise decides to pitch a fit, it's going to get inside your car. On the flipside, if it's the middle of August and you hop inside your car, there's no chance that you'll get your air conditioner blowing cold before you sweat through your shirt. So, I got some window deflectors.

This brand was the best reviewed for the price. Also, I wanted the "in-channel" style for two reasons. First, if they ever break, they're easier to remove without risking pulling off chunks of paint. Also, they just look more seamless and part of the car. When you're homeless, presentation is everything.

5. Fogless Shower Mirror

Men - listen to me. There's a reason why women have silky-smooth legs after a shave, and it's because they have a secret. This secret is that there's nothing better on this planet than shaving in the shower. Well . . . perhaps there are a few things, but this is up there with bacon and Nutella. At any rate, shaving in the shower is more comfortable and way easier than shaving over a sink. This mirror has a reservoir behind the mirror that you fill with hot water to keep it from fogging up. It's portable, so if you go to the gym in the morning, you're set. When I wasn't a hobo, I found a permanent model at Walmart that screwed in-line with the shower head. It's the simple luxuries that get me excited these days, I suppose . . .

6. Dead Battery Protector

There's not much worse than waking up in your car with your hair matted on one side, sticking up on the other, and buzzard breath pouring from your lips only to realize that you left something turned on in your car and you need to approach a stranger in your present state of appearance to ask for a jump. The example I provided is based on (many) a real-life scenario(s).

Sure, you could get one of those battery jump-starter packs, but they take up a ton of weight, they go dead, and they also only last a few years before the battery in them doesn't hold a charge. This thing has saved me from being stranded on more than one occasion:

This thing goes between your positive terminal and your battery and monitors the voltage. If it drops too far, it cuts the power. To restore power, simply do something that would cause a large power draw such as stomping on the breaks or flicking on the high beams (followed by immediately starting your car, of course). Seriously, though - get one of these. Get one for your girlfriend/wife/less-than-significant other. Get one for your kids. Get one for your grandparents. Get one for your dog's shock collar. You'll be glad you did.

7. Portable Alarm Clock

I used to live in a small town that only existed because of the railroad, and 100 years ago, it was a stop. It's still on the railroad and it's still a small town, so that means that most houses are within 500-1000 feet of what is now a freight line. Every train that went through caused the glass in the windows to rattle and pictures on the wall to shake, and no one was fool enough to display prized China on the wall. As a result, I'm a VERY heavy sleeper. I slept through a tornado that passed through town the next road over from my house, once. Throw in some sleep apnea, and I'm a sleep-machine. 

I tried everything to wake myself up. I tried an alarm clock for deaf people that is 120 dB and has a bed-shaker module. I had to zip-tie the power plug to the wall so I couldn't unplug it, but it was too easy to turn off. So, I locked it in a box and put the keys somewhere that I'd have to get up to fetch them. Problem: after returning with the keys, I'm right next to my bed. So, I landed on one of these:

This, dear friends, is pure evil. It will make your neighbors hate you. Your dog will find a new best friend. It is a battery-powered trucker alarm clock, and you can find it at any truck stop. To turn it off, you have to use two hands to hit the cryptic combination of buttons. Since I sleep extra hard, I had to make it even more challenging. When I lived in an apartment, not only did I have it locked in a box, but I also chained the key inside a cabinet downstairs. In order to mute this wretched beast, I had to run across my apartment to fetch the key, taking me far away from my bed. In my car, I have my car keys tethered to the headrest joint of my seat, and the alarm is locked in my glove box. The rope tied to my keys is just long enough to unlock the glove box if the seat is as far forward and as far erect as possible. Not only does this get me out of bed - it basically destroys my bed.

To make sure that your supply of unearthly shrieking never ceases, throw in some Li-ion 9V batteries:

I just can't WAIT to crawl into bed with this next to me tonight . . .

Anyway, that's all for now. This is FAR longer than usual, but I hope some of the products are useful to you in real life (or are at least entertaining). As always, I value your comments, and please like/follow/+1/re-share/re-Tweet me!


Friday, January 3, 2014

#1 Question: Your Parents Don't Know?!?

Wow - talk about a response. I expected SOME interest to my blog when I announced it to my friends, but I was pretty surprised by the amount of people that sent me personal messages and reached out to me. What's more, I was excited by all of the questions people started asking. A good friend from high school basically interviewed me on Facebook the night I sent my mass-message, and the questions he posed made me think a lot about what I could discuss on here. Several other people have done the same, and I'm considering doing an AMA once things get moving a little more. All that to say . . . keep the questions coming, comments are appreciated, and I sure wouldn't mind if you liked/followed/shared my various social media profiles ;) ;)

Hands-down the first and most frequent question has been why I haven't told my parents and why I don't want them to know. Even my girlfriend's mother (who already knew what I've been up to) didn't know THAT detail. It's a pretty glaring oversight of mine to not explain this, and on the surface, I suppose it does make me look like a bit of a schlub. What kind of a crappy son am I, anyway? I kinda feel like I've been Sergeant Schultz to my parents . . .

My family is pretty fiercely independent, in all honesty. I remember that when my parents dropped me off at college, my father rolled down the window to say, "Call every two weeks or so unless it's an emergency." With that, he drove off.  That was that - no "I love you" or anything like that. No hugs or tears - not even from mom. That's pretty normal for my family. It's not that we don't love each other - we're just our own people. My parents are at least 1000 miles away from their respective parents, and it's not that they don't love one another.

So, is that the reason I didn't tell them? Not completely. Like I said, we DO love each other. However, I'm the youngest and the only son, so even though we're super-independent and non-emotional, I know my parents would have a fit if they knew what I'm doing. My dad would argue from a logical side that it doesn't make sense and give me numerous reasons why I should just get a place (and probably offer me money to do so, which I don't want). My mother would keep quiet, but she'd probably lose sleep worrying about my safety. I understand that - I'm their child, after all. I just know that in no way would I be able to convince them that I'm safe (even though I'm in a very low-crime area) or otherwise ease their minds about what I'm up to. Knowing my parents, I suppose the adage, "what you don't know can't hurt you," is the best approach that I could take.

Even though this post is getting a bet lengthy, I've got a related story. Last year in the fall of 2012, my parents came to visit for a weekend. We went to a few local attractions and spent time together, but they seem to be constantly inquisitive of where my new apartment was. I tried to be vague about it, but they kept pressing for details and asking to come over. I gave numerous excuses about it being too dirty or too small to host guests, but they insisted that they're just my parents, so dirty or small, they wouldn't mind. One evening, my father even tried to follow me from a distance after we met for dinner. I pulled over and asked if he needed directions back to their hotel, and he quickly made up some excuse about being turned around.

Finally, mom just decided to drill me. She asked me if I was living in some drug den, shacking up with some skanky girl, or otherwise living somewhere that I was ashamed of telling them about. I knew there was no way around it, so I had to be blunt: "Mom, in no way am I living somewhere that is immoral, illegal, or unsafe. It's just not ideal, and I don't think your or dad would approve. You don't need to worry, but I don't want to talk about it." Yeah - that was pretty rough, but when you've got your dad tailing you as you drive home, there aren't many good ways to approach the topic, I suppose. After that, they haven't brought the subject up, so I guess they've gotten over it. Why worry them, really?

So, that's that. My parent's don't know, and I don't really plan on telling them. Well, I suppose I'll tell them once I finally decide I'm done with my crazy experiment, but until then, mum's the word on that topic. Do I like keeping secrets from my parents? Of course not. However, I think I'd enjoy worrying them even less. Besides, they sacrificed so much to raise my sister and me and put us through school, and one reasons I'm doing this is to provide them with something resembling a retirement. I think they'll manage to forgive me.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Getting on the Road to 2014

Well, I suppose it's time. It's 2014 and the start of a new year, so I figured that there's no better time like now to start telling people my little secret. While my blog, profile pages, and everything else may not be as "ready" as I'd like, it's time to stop putting this off if I ever want my blog to go somewhere or make a difference.

I'm really not sure where to take things, though. So far, most of my blog has been my thoughts and reflections that have resulted from my experiences. However, there are a lot of experiences themselves that I haven't really shared (like the time my parents came to visit and kept asking to see my apartment - that was awkward). What about sharing tips and tricks for the average person to help them save money in their lives? There are TONS of blogs about that already, though.

So, what say you, dear readers (if I have any)? What should I post about? What would you like to hear? I've never blogged before, and I'm fairly behind on this social media stuff. I'd love to hear your feedback, and I'm excited to share my life and experiences with you.

With all that said, Happy New Year, everyone, and I hope to be posting again very soon!