End of year update on the Sailing Dream

Step by step, we’re getting closer to realizing our dream.  We just made our last mortgage payment of 2016.  Since refinancing late this spring, we’ve made enough progress to be at the three year mark of our amortization schedule.  So that’s 3 years of a 15 year mortgage paid in 6 months.  In respect to our 5 year plan to get it paid off, we’re already 6 months ahead of schedule.  If we maintain this pace, the house is paid off in December 2018 – two years from today!

And as if that’s not motivation enough, I stumbled across a Craigslist posting for a CAL35 sailboat.

Picture from the Craigslist post for a 1983 CAL35 sailboat

The CAL35 was on the shortlist of potential affordable sailboats for us to live on as part of the dream when it was first defined.  We’re in good enough financial shape that we could buy this one right now if we wanted.  I mentioned I saw it to Mrs. Outspoken, and she seemed a little excited too, then responded that she’d rather get the house paid off first. I agree.  Plus, we can’t use a boat this size around Pittsburgh due to the mast height not clearing many of the bridges in the city.  It’s more of a coastal/Great Lakes/Carribbean cruiser.

We have decided to take the vinyl/book selling and try to ramp it up next year, focusing more on the vinyl.  I’m making about 3x the profit on records, although it requires a little more work to clean and grade them.  As long as it stays relatively fun, the work won’t be so bad.  Hopefully we can make a little extra as insurance to getting the house paid off by the end of 2018.

Then what?  We’ll we’ve started down a path of gradually transforming our lifestyle.  We decided that buying a canoe is a good first step to start creating more of a focus on spending time on or around water when we can in 2017.  We’ve saved up some money from our Christmas budget and gifts to fund the purchase.

The next step would probably be those sailing lessons in 2018.  After the house is paid off, we probably would need to take some extended charters in a couple locations we’re dreaming of visiting via sailboat.

We’re not entirely ready from a financial perspective to retire.  Getting the house paid off would relieve much (almost all?) of our financial pressure, and then we’d have to decide where to invest over the coming years to reach financial independence to support a potential sailing lifestyle.   My retirement calculator at work says I’m good to go at age 50, but it will come down to what else is happening in our lives at that time.

I’m also going to really take a look at my spending on alcohol.  I enjoy decent wine and whisky, as well as craft beer, but some months I spend way too much.  Also, the only two times I’ve been sick in the last year (both this month) were after a night of drinking a bit too much.   So for my personal health as well as our financial health, I need to cut back, and cutting the spending by 50-75% should make that happen.

As i discussed in an earlier post, we could cut back a little more.  But I think we’ve done a pretty good job of changing our future outlook.  Sure we could get there (wherever there is) a little faster by doing some extreme things, but I can’t say it would be worth it.  But I do wish I’d started this sooner, which is why I gave a copy of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover to my niece last year at Christmas, and to her brother this year.  I’m also probably going to send them a few tweets in the coming weeks about Mr. Money Mustache.  If I can get one or both of them to see a different possibility for their future, that would be more satisfying than me getting to my destination of Financial Independence a few months earlier.

Whatever it is you want to do, it’s very likely you can do it if you put a clear plan in place.  Start with the “Why”, as in “why do we want to do this, to make these sacrifices or changes?” Then create a vivid visualization of what it would look and feel like to achieve that “Why”.   Next identify what needs to happen to get there, then lay out the simple, often very small steps to make it happen.  For example, why would we buy a canoe if our dream is to sail the Caribbean, Great Lakes, and maybe even the European coastlines?  Because it’s the next small step.

As 2016 comes to a close, take the next step.  Whatever it is, just commit to the next step on your path to achieving your dream.  Every great journey starts with taking the first step.  Where will that first step take you?




The Zeiss Ikon Contina IIa

When I first stumbled across this camera, it was part of a group of items strewn across several tables in a collector’s garage.  I left with this camera and a Canon FD mirror lens which was my first experience with fungus.  It took me a little while to figure out exactly what this camera was, but it took me almost two years to actually shoot a roll of film through it.

It was manufactured in West Germany around 1958, and this was not a cheap camera.  John Margetts’ Blog has a lot of detail on the camera, including a note that it would have cost the equivalent of over $3,200 in today’s money!  Considering that many of the best digital cameras cost that much today, maybe that wasn’t out of line for the Contina IIa.  It’s nearly 60 years old, and it still works. Will we be able to say that about the Nikon D3S in the year 2075?

I honestly didn’t expect it to work, which is probably part of why i delayed.  While I’m still impressed by the fact that the built in meter appeared to work, I just didn’t have a lot of faith that the images would be worthwhile.  Then there’s the whole idea of focusing by distance – it’s not an SLR.  So you have to think just a little more.  “Hmmm…that looks like about 6 feet, so I’ll turn the front dial to 6.  At least the shutter speed and f-stop are right here too on their own ring around the lens, so i can see it all while I’m fiddling around….”


A few of the images were exactly what I expected:

But in all honesty, the rest of the photos were the final straw in my decision to sell all my Canon FD equipment.  When I saw pictures like this:

Zeiss Ikon-6

and this one:

Zeiss Ikon-11

I figured why in the world do I need to keep my other old cameras?  I just don’t love the way pictures looked with the Canon FD’s.  The great shots were great.  The others just had what I consider “the 70’s look” to them.  And I’m really starting to understand that many people must make a connection to the aesthetic a particular camera and system produces. And it makes sense.  The easiest way to get a vintage look and feel?  Shoot on vintage gear.

One of the justifications I had been using to keep at least one or two Canon FD bodies and some lenses was “what if I shoot infra-red film?  My Maxxum won’t do that; the LED sensor for the film will fog the infra-red film.”   First of all, who am I kidding?  While it’s possible, it’s hardly a good reason.  And this camera can do it if I want.  So all the FD bodies have found new homes, except the FTb – which found a home and the guy decided it just wasn’t for him, so we’ll try again.

Ultimately, it came down to the feeling of shooting this camera.  Part of it may be the fact that I no longer feel like every shot is costing me $1 or more, so i can just relax and have fun.  Some might call it a waste of film, but just being able to shoot and not worry about the cost of developing has been liberating in a way.  I’m willing to try crazy angles, over and under exposing, and just take pictures a little more often.  Most of them have been around the house, but my dog’s are semi-willing subjects.  So this will be another post of flowers and dogs, but that’s my life when it’s 90 degrees and humid….

There’s also the conversational aspect.   People ask me about the Contina.  My neighbor even asked to give it a try.  It looks old, but it feels great.  It’s solid, but it fits the hand well.  It doesn’t look like a modern camera at all, but it gives pretty good results.  The film was Fuji Superia 200.  I bought it in 2014, and it’s been in my “film closet” where I store my gear for most of the time.  The camera sat on my desk beside a wall of glass for quite a while too in late 2014 and early 2015, which might explain the light leaks on early shots.  I wonder what Portra or HP5+ would look like in this camera?

Will i shoot with the camera all the time?  No.  I’m so enamored with the new Maxxum 7’s I acquired that I expect I’ll use them most often.  But as a camera to take snap shots, or to take “just in case”?   When I want a camera that is as much about fun, conversations, and interacting with others?  Absolutely.   The photos are very nice, and more pleasing to my eye on average than the results from the FD lenses.

If you would have told me the act of eventually buying my AE-1 Program that I had fantasized about as a child would lead me to shooting cameras from the 1950’s and earlier, owning multiple medium format cameras (I didn’t even know what medium format was!), and also owning a couple of arguably the most advanced consumer SLR’s made, I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you add to that the idea that I would have amassed a large collection of lenses for the AE-1 and then decided to sell them all because I liked other cameras better, I would have thought you were crazy.  Especially after I had been using it a few months.

But tastes change.   As we learn more, we have a different decision-making paradigm.  Most of those cameras were not going to get any use, so they were just adding to the clutter.  Selling them has funded my Maxxum 7’s, lenses, and some developing chemicals, and also created more space.  It’s also been somewhat freeing.  My wife no longer suspects i have a camera addiction, and I feel like I’m growing, or at least learning to look at my photography differently.  I wish the old gear would have had significant value, but they don’t.  I didn’t pay a lot for any of them, but that’s part of why I shoot film.  The gear is inexpensive.   But the memories and the feelings the pictures evoke are priceless.






I’m not fine….

After my post about Dreaming Big, someone shared a comment via Twitter about Mel Robbins’ TedX talk.  I had expected to be something about chasing your dreams or creativity, but instead I got a nice insight to psychological tendencies and motivation.  I liked it so much, I’ll probably share it with me team at our next staff meeting.  Because of the video, I was awake earlier today.  If you’re wanting to make a change in your life, watch this video.


My first thoughts were about George Carlin’s skit regarding being “Fine”.  His was funny.  Ms. Robbins’ talk is funny and truly insightful.   In order to act on an idea, we must not only do something, but we must do something quickly.  Think about how often you do something, even just a small thing, but it eventually leads to a big change.

Let’s take the example of my camera collection.  After realizing I had 21 cameras, I decided to get rid of a few.  Then I bought a few more.  But the simple act of starting to sell and give away a few of them triggered a big change.   I’m down to four – all of which I haven’t specifically written much about before:  a Minolta Maxxum 7, a Hasselblad 500C, a Bronica SQ-Ai, and a Zeiss Ikon Contina.   At this point, I expect the Bronica to leave eventually.  I’m even selling my trusty Maxxum 5’s.  All of this in 6 weeks.

They’re just cameras, but I had gotten into the habit of searching out interesting cameras.  Of course now I’m drooling over Minolta AF lenses.  So I’m not fine with the change, but I’m growing.

What if I could take the next step towards financial independence?  I’ve been dreaming of riding a bike to work for 6 years.  Exercise, fresh air, and a commute all in one activity.  Plus it saves money.  Moving closer to work might allow me to do that, plus be home more.

Then there’s the time: even my modest 20 minute commute adds an extra 4 weeks of working time to my year.  20 minutes each way is 160 hours per year.  Moving within 5 minutes of work would be like getting an extra 3 weeks of vacation time!  No wonder my hour commute at previous jobs was killing me, and all the flights and waiting in airports were draining my energy.

Think about this: my wife drives 75 minutes one way!  She only works 180 days per year, but the commute in time alone is like working an extra 11 weeks each year!  Oh my word!  Then if we think about wear and tear on a vehicle, or both cars, plus gas.  How soon could we retire? It’s probably $150k or more every 10 years.  I could do the math, but I’m already wound up enough at this point….

I’m not fine.  They say what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Whoever ‘they’ are, they’re wrong.  What you don’t know can kill you, or least steal your dreams.  I’m not sure I’m OK with the amount of sacrifices we’re making to live they way we live.  Maybe we need to consider another change to get to our dreams sooner.  If we both decide to take that step, it might be scary, but it won’t be the end of the world.  Who knows?  It might open a whole new world.

So much is possible.  We don’t need to live average lives.  In fact, I don’t feel like my life is average – but it’s not as excellent as it could be.  Maybe 30 years ago this wasn’t possible.  Maybe society really has changed enough with technology that we truly can have even more freedom than ever before. Perhaps it’s just the availability to get all the individual perspectives and knowledge that makes it seem more real, and people have been doing exactly this for decades.

Has this possibility always been there, but it’s just something else “we didn’t know”?  I honestly don’t know, but the thought of this level of freedom is awesome and invigorating, and a little aggravating at the same time.  I’ve got to do SOMETHING to capitalize on my piece of freedom and make the most of this awesome life that was just so highly improbable to even happen.  All of us are in the same category of uniqueness, and we are meant to do so much more than what the average person does.

Ignore the media and the daily news.  Dream big, then do small things to move towards your dreams.  Even something as simple as giving an unused possession like a camera to Goodwill can get the ball rolling.

Don’t be afraid to Dream Big

Somewhere along the way from the beginning of our school years to when we become adults and start working towards retirement, it seems like a lot of us forget how to really pursue our dreams.  We are doing something, but I’m not sure many of us are actually pursuing a specific dream or set of dreams.

I wouldn’t trade my first 20 years of marriage for anything, but I’d love to go back to 1995 or so, when we had been married a few years with the knowledge I have now about life, money, and the possibilities that exist for early retirement.  The whole idea of what I thought was the American Dream, to own a house, drive nice cars, and retire at age 65, has sent us down a much longer path than what we could have taken.

By 1995, I started focusing on retirement.  I wasn’t putting a ton of money in, but by 2000 I was in great shape, especially if I was thinking about retirement being another 35 years away.  My wife was focused on getting into the school systems, and the thought of a pension was a driving factor.  Investing for retirement wasn’t a priority for her.  A few of those years, we drove over 60,000 miles combined.  How much money did that really cost us?!?!

I’m not sure we would have found a better path to the incomes we’re earning now, but we have increased our lifestyle some as the income rose.  Mostly in housing, and somewhat in other areas like food, cars, and clothing.  We have a fine, typical lifestyle, but I wonder how much differently we could have done things if we knew what we know now?  We’re already more conservative and more “boring” than many of our friends, but what if from 1992-2012 we were pursuing the dream we’re pursuing now, the one of early retirement?  Could I have retired at 35 or 40 instead of maybe semi-retiring at age 50?

A few months ago, I came across a blog called Mr. Money Mustache, or MMM.  I don’t remember how I stumbled across it, but it was probably in preparation for the Legacy Journey class we were leading.  MMM sums up what it takes to retire super early in one post.    He would call my wife and me complainypants, because at this point we’re not selling our home and moving within walking or biking distance of where I work.  But deep down I sort of want to; the neighborhood beside where i now work was an area we dreaming of living in 1992.  Just a couple miles away is a great neighborhood we almost bought a house in back in 2009.  In between the two is an area we dreamed of in 2006.

Where we live is probably our biggest deterrent to early retirement. If we could make the move, we could probably either pay cash or pay off a house withing a year or two in one of those neighborhoods above.   I could stop driving my car much, and sell at least one car of the three we own.  Maybe two.  After that, giving up cable and reducing our spending on food would really be the last two things on our list.  We could probably be truly financially independent in 5 years instead of semi-retired.

I’m not complaining, things are pretty good.  Especially with the focus we’ve had the last four years about being intentional about dreaming and then pursuing those dreams.  But what if we’d been dreaming of retiring at age 40 since we got married?  What choices would we have made?  Why in the world didn’t someone tell us what was possible?   Why didn’t I get some sort of sage advice in high school from other than something like “you need to stop dreaming so much; most people just can’t be something they’re not.”  It was like since we are born into where we are, we can’t really change the course of our life.  What utter crap!

Many of us are made to fear failure.  To be afraid of what others will think if we don’t follow the herd. MMM is not the only place to learn about retiring really early.  jlcollinsnh, Afford Anything, 1500 Days, the Frugal Woods; all share recipes and recommendations for really pursing your dreams.  Don’t live someone else’s dream for you!  No matter how old you are, but especially if you’re young – take some time his month and really think about what you want from this life, then put a plan in place to go get it!

Update on Sailing Away

To paraphrase the old quote from Eisenhower about planning:  Plans are useless – it’s the planning that is invaluable.  That’s how I feel about our plan to sail away.  Based on the progress shared in my last update over a year ago, our sailing dream might look like this to many outsiders:

Inadvertent double exposure – a marina in La Spezia, Italy and the beach in Corolla, NC.  Kodak 400TX 

I’d call that confused, error-prone, and not too pretty, but a little funky at the same time. (I’ll share more shots from that roll in the future.)  But in the last year, we’ve gotten into a much stronger financial position.  The catalyst was really the realization that we were going to be able to save up for a boat pretty easily, and that honestly surprised us.  By looking at our entire financial picture, we came up with a better plan that doesn’t hinge on us loving sailing and force us into a less than wonderful situation if or when we pursue another chapter of our lives.

This isn’t a financial or early retirement blog, so I’m not going to share specifics, but we’ve improved our net worth by about $90k in the last year.  Obviously no one knows the future, but if we can approximate that for a few more years, we might be in the position to pursue this sailing dream and never have to worry about looking back, and also never worry about not having a nice home to come back to on land.

What we’ve done is pay off our cars and student loans, started investing agressively in our retirement plans, and then focused on paying off the house.  We just refinanced to a 2.875% fixed rate from 4.5%, so an extra $325 a month of our payment automatically goes to principal instead of interest, and we’re able to at least double up on payments almost every month.  The house should be paid for in 5 years or less, so that gives us 5 years to build the side hustles into a sustainable income, with that income probably reducing the amount of time it takes to pay off the house since none of that is calculated in our plan.

As far as my side hustles go, one of them I could clear $60k if I worked full time, but we don’t need that much and I enjoy it now – I wouldn’t enjoy it full time due to about 25% of the work really feels like work to me; I think in a few hours a week while travelling it can almost sustain the sailing lifestyle, and probably next summer we’ll start experimenting with doing that while travelling, trying to get the work to generate enough income to pay for the trips.  Maybe eventually I outsource most of it, and then it provides smaller returns, but less effort.  The other I think can generate $60k or more annually with minimal work once we build it to a certain size, so we’re laying foundations this summer and starting to work that in the fall.  Both are media-related, niche gigs.

After the house is paid for, the primary question becomes how much longer do we work?  The short answer might be “at least long enough to buy and outfit a boat”, but it will probably be much more complex depending on family situations.  As we get to a point where we can see the finish line on the mortgage, we’ll pick up the plan of taking sailing lessons and spending time on the water the summer before, and we’ll put more details in place. But my goal is still to be financially independent when I’m 48, and we’re largely on track.  Maybe 49…

For now, we’ll take little sailing cruises, maybe eventually we start doing more destination sailing vacations or something.  But we’re focused on our freedom for now; freedom from debt, freedom from needing a job, freedom from the things that are preventing us from pursuing this dream the way we want to pursue it.  In my eyes, our plan looks more like this:

Sailboats outside the harbor in Vernazza, Italy.  Shot on Fuji Velvia the day this dream started…

Maybe not Italy (but why not?) – but anchored near a shore somewhere with the open water in the other direction – free to go when and where we want.  Or not go and enjoy where we are a  little longer.  In the interim, we can enjoy the current journey we’re on.

I think that’s the real point: Enjoy the journey; it’s the only life we’ve got.  But consciously craft the destination, and don’t just go along for the ride.

Update on the Sailing Dream

Harbor at Naples, Italy – February 2015

Since we’re at mid-May, it seems to be a decent time to provide an update on some goals, specifically on the sailing goal.  We went to the Miami Boat Show as planned in February.  While there we attended a Couples Cruising seminar, as well as checking out probably 50 boats.  Most of these were new sailboats, and a handful were powerboats.  The Beneteau Oceanis 35 (actually the entire Oceanis line), the Salonas S44, and the Catalina 445 were probably our favorite sailboats.  We found the Catamarans very appealing, in fact the FP Helia 44 was very enticing; the amount of space is amazing, and the stability was noticeable.   But really, we found all the boats we liked to be more stable than the docks themselves.  We also liked a few of the Mainship trawlers, and even a Carver powerboat was pretty nice inside, if a little challenged on the external aesthetics.

So then it was off to our initial “Learn to Sail” course in March, which also went well.  But we ran into a problem:  our desire to have a boat and live that lifestyle got the best of us.  We started doing some financial calculations and asked “how much could we save up in  year?  How about in 2-3 years?”   We started to realize this whole dream is entirely possible, but we could probably even keep the house if we play it right.  Meaning no boat loans and  delaying any boat purchase.

So we got into high gear.  We paid of both cars, and are knocking on the door of being debt-free except the house by paying off our last student loan.  Then we’ll focus on getting the house paid for.  I don’t think this realistically changes our timeline for long-term cruising, and in many ways will probably extend the length of time we can be on a sailboat.  One of the primary drivers of a departure timeline has been aging family, as we’ll be in our current area to support them for several years.

So we’re now following Dave Ramsey’s guidelines on building wealth, and hopefully that leads to the same early retirement I have dreamed of, just with more assets and financial resources.   We’re not quite on the “beans and rice, rice and beans” plan, but we are cutting back a good bit.  Hopefully in 4-5 years we’re be in the position to have the flexibility to do what we choose, including going sailing/boating for extended periods of time – even if it’s just on the Three Rivers in Pennsylvania and West Virginia most of the time.

Of course, any time I put my mind to doing something good or better, temptations or challenges seem to be thrown my way.  So what have they be building right outside my office window the past several weeks? A marina.  Seriously, they’re building a new marina right outside my window on the other side of the river!  How lovely!  We could have the boat a five minute walk across the river from my office if we stuck with the original plan to buy a boat this year.  Oh, temptation!

I feel strongly that we’ll be in much better shape long-term if we pursue the ‘and’ solution instead of the ‘or’ solution.   Meaning answering the question “How can we have a (sail)boat  AND the house and still retire early?” instead of   “Do we sell the house to take a break from working and go sailing OR do we put it off until retirement like most people?”

All that means is there will probably be limited sailing updates this year, and my goals of taking sailing lessons and skippering in races are torpedoed for now.  But my wife shares the dream, and we’ll get out there hopefully sooner than originally planned.

Photo Friday- “Song”

Remember taking finals in school?  Maybe you’re still in school and just wrapping up finals.  Last week I completed what is probably my second-best final ever:  Black & White Photography I.

Admittedly, I was a little intimidated when we received the assignment.  We had to shoot a series of images to try and capture the vibe of a song.  Which may or may not sound easy to you, but there’s a twist; we didn’t get to choose the song.  The song I was assigned was “Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch, and I’ve linked to a YouTube video above.  Try listening to the song as you look through the photos.

I intentionally didn’t watch a YouTube video until just now, and of course my images are very different.  My first thought was about the irony of capturing the vibe of a colorful song title in black & white.  But as I listened to the song, I felt heaviness and anguish coupled with peace.  Over the period of a couple hours of repeatedly listening to the song, I filled 5 note cards with concepts for images.

To capture this dark, dreamy song, I recruited the band members to do a night time shoot at our church and cemetery.  Stylistically, I went for slightly out of focus, blown out highlights, and multiple exposures.  For compositions, I knew I had to have scenes that somehow told a story and elicited emotion.

This was my first attempt at multiple exposures, so I did the shoot early so I had time to do a second shoot or go a different direction if the pictures didn’t turn out.  We did the shoot in about an hour, and I was very pleased with how many of the images came out like the concepts I had in my head when I developed the roll the next day.

The song goes like this:

Verse 1:

Well I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
Yes I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
With my brother standing by
With my brother standing by
I said, “Brother, you know you know
It’s a long road we’ve been walking on
Brother, you know it is you know it is
Such a long road we’ve been walking on.

Brothers in Christ
Brothers in Christ

Verse 2:

And I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
With my sister standing by
With my sister standing by
I said, “Sister, here is what I know now
Here is what I know now
Goes like this..        

Sister, Here is what I know...
Sister, Here is what I know…

In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, in your love, in your love.”

My Salvation
My Salvation

“But sister you know I’m so weary
And you know, sister
My heart’s been broken
Sometimes, sometimes
My mind is too strong to carry on
Too strong to carry on”


“When I am alone
When I’ve thrown off the weight of this crazy stone
When I’ve lost all care for the things I own
That’s when I miss you, that’s when I miss you, that’s when I miss you
You who are my home
You who are my home
And here is what I know now
Here is what I know now

Missing you
Missing you
Windows to the past
Windows to the past

Goes like this..
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, in your love, in your love”

In Your Love
In Your Love

Well I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
Yes I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
With my brother and my sister standing by
With my brother and my sister standing by
With my brother and my sister standing by

Standing under an Orange Sky...
Standing under an Orange Sky…

During the class critique, most people found the images to be eerie, creepy, dark, disturbing, and very emotional.  The instructor was happy I created some very good scenes and captured the feeling of heaviness in all the images.  They weren’t “pretty” photos.  He also said he didn’t think I would have been able to create these shots 2 months ago, so that made him happy.

Hope you enjoyed it.  Probably the biggest lesson from this shoot was to plan my shots in advance and write them down.  Often I’m just shooting to test a roll or to capture memories. But when I try to shoot more intentionally and slow down so I can really focus on composition, I think writing notes either beforehand or during the process will be very beneficial.

Oh – my best final ever – brewing beer in Botany class and sharing it with the class – way back in 1991.  🙂

Do you write out your concepts or visions for composition ahead of time?  Do you think you should?  I’d like to hear some other tips on how you get the most out of your photo sessions.