Howdy, folks. I don't have any personal-finance news for you today because my life continues to be in one of two states.
- I spend three or four nights at Duane's house, helping to care for him. I buy him food. I prepare him food. I help him walk from room to room (because he cannot reliably do this himself anymore). I administer his drugs. I feed his fish. I take him on "field trips". We watch the Aquarium Co-Op channel on YouTube. Or...
- I spend three or four nights at my house, mostly sleeping but also rushing to get as many household chores and errands done as possible. I buy groceries. I (slowly) work to build a fence. I water plants. I walk the dog.
This has been my life for the past six weeks, and will continue to be my life until the inevitable conclusion of this adventure. While I'm not looking forward to The End, I will say that I've learned a ton from this process. I've grown even closer to Duane (at least when he's not in a narcotics-induced fog) and I've surprised myself with my ability to provide hospice care. Who knew?
So, that's the life update.
Monday, I drove north to help my cousin, Duane. We moved him out of his apartment last weekend and into a smaller place close to family. As a result, everything is in chaos. He's living out of boxes. At this late stage, his cancer affects every aspect of his life, and that includes his ability to sustain prolonged physical activity — such as setting up a new home.
I spent Monday afternoon unpacking his kitchen, buying groceries, installing his internet and television, and so on. In the evening, Bob and Audrey came over (Duane's brother and his sister-in-law). The four of us sat in the kitchen and sorted the boxes of food into three piles: Duane's pantry, going home with Bob/Audrey, going home with J.D.
When we were done, Duane insisted that we enjoy some birthday cake. He turned 58 on Sunday, and some friends had brought him a fancy carrot cake from a 100-year-old Portland bakery. Duane couldn't eat any cake himself (he can't eat or drink much of anything anymore), but he wanted us to taste it.
After his brother left, Duane and I began preparing for bed. "Tomorrow," I said, "we'll replace the water in your fish tanks and get the last of the stuff from your apartment. Plus, anything else you want to do."
Duane was sitting on the edge of his bed, half undressed. I could see that he was still in pain.
Because I've been driving back and forth from Corvallis to Portland so much lately to attend to my mother and cousin, I've had ample to time to listen to audiobooks. I find that I'm actually grateful for the opportunity to "read" in this fashion. (Like many folks, the past decade has destroyed my attention span and ability to read for long periods.)
I'm currently reading Stephen R. Covey's classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (Five stars on Amazon in 5672 reviews!) I read the book once long, long ago — sometime during the mid-1990s. I've referred to it now and then as the years have gone by, but mostly I've forgotten its lessons.
Or so I thought.
In reality, it turns out that much of my personal philosophy is similar to the precepts Covey covers. It's shocking, in fact, just how much of my personal and financial philosophies align with those presented in Seven Habits. I haven't consciously or deliberately emulated his teachings, but I've wound up in the same place nonetheless.
Last Friday, I drove from Corvallis to Portland to help my cousin, Duane. Duane has been living with throat cancer for several years now, but in recent months things have grown worse. It feels like he's preparing for the end. And that means he's packing up his apartment (where he's lived for 21 years!) to move someplace smaller.
We spent all of Friday afternoon sorting through his office. This was a challenge because (like most Roths) Duane is messy (and a self-proclaimed hoarder). Duane and I packed boxes and boxes of collectible card games, ancient coins, books on Greek and Roman history, and outdated computer games.
While we packed, we talked. Duane is my cousin, yes, but he's also my best friend. Because we're family and friends, I feel like we share a deep connection. We can call out each other's bullshit without hurting feelings. We can sing each other's praises without becoming obsequious. Most of all, we can talk about nerdy stuff like Magic: The Gathering, The Great British Baking Show, the ignorance of history in supposedly "historical" television dramas, and so on.
At one point, I found a piece of paper buried on a bookshelf. "Can I have this?" I asked. "I want to publish it on Get Rich Slowly."
"What is it?" Duane asked.
"It's your net worth from 1993," I said.
Duane laughed. "Go ahead," he said, and I gleefully tucked the page in my pocket. I love it.
Life has been lumpy lately. I've been dealing with some heavy stuff in my personal life — Mom, my cousin Duane, etc. — and that's left me feeling low. Combine that with my natural inclination toward depression, and you've got a recipe for a gloomy guy.
That said, I woke up feeling great today. And that energy carried through as I had my regular Zoom call with Diania Merriam, the organizer of the EconoMe Conference.
Diania and I started these calls for professional reasons, but after nearly two years they've evolved into something else. Now they're mostly a chance for us to help each other with our respective mental health struggles. During today's conversation, we had an interesting digression about personal finance.
We were talking about how I need to get out of the house more. Because I work from home, I spend most of my time alone. It's not good. Humans are social creatures, and that goes double for me. No wonder I feel shitty when I never leave the house!
Anyhow, Diania mentioned that she gets a lot of benefit from attending yoga regularly. And then she said something interesting.
Today, I want to share a small victory.
Like all humans, I have flaws. One of mine is that I hate confrontation. It's a family thing. I'm not sure why, but none of us like conflict. Sure, this trait has some upsides. My brothers and I don't get into a lot of arguments and fights with our family and friends. And when we do have conflict, we do our best to resolve things quickly.
But this conflict avoidance has some enormous downsides. When trying to make peace, for instance, we're likely to give far too much in an effort to reach compromise quickly. Plus, we don't like to negotiate. Negotiation is, inherently, conflict. No thanks!
In my life, this is especially problematic in circumstances where I need to stand up for myself. Let me give you an example.
Today, I did the second-hardest thing I've ever had to do: I took away Mom's cat.
Mom's assisted living facility called last Thursday. "We strongly encourage you to consider moving your mother to memory care," the director told me. "I know we talked about this a year ago, and at that time you and your family decided she wasn't ready. We think she's ready now. She's refusing her meds. She's refusing to eat. She's wandering. She's more confused than ever."
I phoned my brother, Jeff, who has handled the bulk of Mom's care since she moved to Happy Acres a decade ago. "What do you think?" I asked.
"I think they're right," he said. "Mom has been to the emergency room three times since the middle of November. She seems relatively lucid after each hospital visit, but that fades fast. Within a day of returning home, she's out of it again. And her confusion does seem to be getting worse."
"Yeah," I said. "You're right. Even when she's lucid, she's confused. Remember when she called me from the hospital two weeks ago? She was speaking in complete sentences for once, but the sentences made no sense. She was asking to see the sherriff. She was talking about her dog, but she hasn't owned a dog since the 1980s."
Then I added, "The tough part is that she can't keep her cat if she moves to memory care. And she loves that cat."
Ah, the joys of homeownership.
Remember the peeling paint in the bathroom ceiling that I mentioned last week? The peeling paint that I felt certain was due to humidity from the shower and lack of adequate ventilation? Well, I was wrong. The paint is peeling because we have a leak in the roof.
It seems to be a small leak, but it's a leak nonetheless.
Monday morning, I noticed that there was a tea-colored water stain in the area where the paint had peeled. "I don't like that," I thought, and I snapped a photo.
I drove up to the family box factory, where my brother and I spent several hours waiting for Mom to be discharged from the hospital. While we waited, we sorted through her paperwork to be sure we had everything in order. We updated her personal-finance records. We chatted about the future.
In the end, Mom was not released from the hospital on Monday, so I drove home in the heavy rain. When I arrived, I checked the water spot in the bathroom ceiling. Had it grown? It had.
So, I ventured into our attic for the first time.
My mother's health has been declining over the past few months, and it's produced a wee bit of year-end financial drama in our family. (The word "drama" is a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it's produced some year-end financial consternation?)
As long-time readers will recall, my mother has been in assisted living for more than a decade now. She lives a mellow life filled with television, her pet cat, and a regular routine. Because she has cognitive problems, it's difficult for her to communicate. The doctors call her "non-verbal", and they can't explain the cause. She cannot form complete sentences (sometimes two words is tough!), and it seems as if she cannot formulate complex thoughts. It's a mystery to everyone.
Today — at this very moment — my brother is driving my mom to the emergency room. It's her third visit in six weeks, and it's always the same issue: vomiting, dehydration, confusion. During the previous two episodes, a few days of hospital rest helped her, and she returned to the assisted living facility feeling better (and actually able to carry on a basic conversation, like you might have with a two-year-old).
So, Mom's health is declining. That's important point number one.
My Christmas curse continues! You see, for a long time now — almost thirty years — Christmas has become synonymous with home problems for me.
This all started in the first home that Kris and I owned back when we were newly married. We woke one Christmas morning to find that the water heater had overflowed, flooding the laundry room and much of the converted garage. Unfazed, we cleaned up the mess and spent our holiday without hot water. It was fun!
Since then, I've experienced a long line of home problems on Christmas day: frozen pipes, broken gutters, fallen fences, and more. And this year? Well, this year's issue was minor...but may lead to a major repair.
The house that Kim and I bought last August is in good shape. We made sure of that during the inspection period. Still, no home is perfect — and a house built fifty years ago has a few warts.
"Did you know something's wrong with the ceiling in the hall bathroom?" Kim asked on Christmas morning after she finished her shower. "The paint on the ceiling seems to be peeling."
"What?" I said. I went to take a look. Kim was right. The paint on the ceiling seemed to be peeling.
"I'll bet that's from moisture," I said. I found a footstool and climbed up to take a closer look. I turned on the ventilation fan. "Wow," I said. "The fan doesn't seem to be pulling any air. That's the root issue."
I toyed with the peeling paint, which was a mistake. The brittle stuff crumbled and fell to the floor in large chunks. "That's so strange," I said. I picked up a few pieces of debris. "Is this only paint? It seems so thick."
"It looks like it's just paint," Kim said. "But many layers of paint. Who knows? It could be something else underneath."
So, now we have the first urgent home project in our new place. It's not a huge deal, obviously, but it's something we want to repair sooner rather than later. It's just a matter of finding time. (This seems like something we should be able to fix ourselves rather than hiring out.)
This issue has actually been a blessing in disguise. Everywhere I live, I keep a master list of repairs and projects. But I hadn't yet drafted that list for our home here in Corvallis. This morning, I remedied that.