The Great Purge of 2017

“OMG, we still have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF!”

A week ago, I really wanted to take one more trip to Zion. The drive is a little over five hours which just pushes my tolerance for a single-day trip. So I thought to myself, “We’ve gotten rid of a lot over the last few weeks, but I bet I still have enough supplies for camping.” I went through the list in my head: tent (check), sleeping bags (check), flashlights (check) .. cooking supplies (check) … camp chairs (check) …. “OMG, we still have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF!”

The Purge started two months ago with the entertainment items. Books and movies were the first to go. I separated them all into groups:

    • Donate – Entertainment items worth less than $0.50
    • Low Sales – Entertainment items worth $0.50 to $3.00 received_10159520086060293
      • – A convenient way to sell all of my low priced books. I scanned the UPC on my phone, was usually offered between $0.60 and $1.50, then packed everything up using their free shipping label.
      • Amazon Trade-In – The down side is that they only pay in gift cards, but let’s be honest, I will 100% use those gift cards. The search setting isn’t particularly convenient. I had to type in each individual item, confirm that the product details match, and verify the quality. Amazon offered me between $0.69 and $13.00 for most of my dvds and blu-rays along with the free shipping label.
      • High Sales – Entertainment items worth more than $3.00
        • Facebook Marketplace – In Oregon, I had far more luck selling locally on apps like LetGo, but not so much in Utah. People here were using the marketplace. It had the usual problem of people texting me at 2:00AM with “I’m interested” then never responding again. It was one of my best resources for selling furniture, but not so much for the books and movies. On average, I made between $1.00 to $6.00 per movie.
        • EBay – Besides for the furniture sales, we made more money selling books and movies on EBay then anything else. USPS Media Mail ships for an average of $2.50 per envelope. I had to spend some time researching the value of each item, but the time was well rewarded. Each item was put up for auction with a Buy Now option and free shipping. The Buy Now price was the full value of the item parked at slightly less than the average of similar items for sale that day. The auction price was set a little less than half of the Buy Now Price, but always greater than $3.50 (to make sure I got at least $1.00 in profit after shipping). My best selling entertainment item was an original copy of Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King for $19.50!

      Everything else (non-entertainment) was separated into Keep, Sell, and Donate. The majority of our things were donated in six carloads full. The Sell pile was put individually on Facebook Marketplace and posted on the Facebook wall of my apartment complex. Neither were particularly large successes… until Thursday night.

      Thursday night, I posted a small flyer on the community board and on the apartment Facebook wall that we would be have an Open Door Sale. Josh and I placed our bets as to how many people would show up. I bet two total and Josh bet zero. We had two hours planned for the sale that day; we spent the first hour and a half watching TV, because no one showed up.

      And then, a miracle.

      12 Chinese people walked in and immediately started buying EVERYTHING. They purchased all of the furniture and 75% of everything else that was on sale. In one hour, we sold all of the big ticket items (minus the bikes and computer) and were left with only one more car load full of donation items. We were left without a mattress, dishes, and chairs for the last three days before moving, but backaches and awkward eating seemed like a small price to pay for such a lucky visit.

      Our goal was to pack as light as possible. We ended up stuffing the car to the brim and were forced to donate two boxes worth of stuff at the last minute, but we managed to fit it all in. The five hour drive to Boise was tight and slow, but we set off into the sunset with a car packed with everything we owned and our hearts were free.

Final Checklist

We are 16 days away from launch. It’s time to buckle down and tie up all of our loose ends.

We are 16 days away from launch. Crazy!

We did horribly with our 60 Day Checklist, but did get some of the bigger projects done. Josh’s last day of work was two weeks ago and mine was Friday. It’s time to buckle down and tie up all of our loose ends.

Nomad To-Do List (two weeks to launch)

  • Sell or donate everything
  • Test all equipment
  • Pack
    • Storage items
    • Travel bag
    • Holiday gifts
  • Pick up final prescriptions
  • Check out with landlord
  • Forward mail to Mom
  • Cancel utilities
  • Good-bye party
  • Eat all of the food
  • Clean the house


Travel Hacking: Phone Plan

I need a phone. I could chose to live a more “untethered life,” but I don’t really want to, so I’m not going to.

I need a phone. I could chose to live a more “untethered life,” but I don’t really want to, so I’m not going to. I need a phone. I need a service that is cheap and doesn’t require my family to download or learn anything new.

I have done a lot of research on the subject and, I’ll be honest, I still don’t really get it. I will continue to update this post as I learn more, but I wanted to start early in case you have any better ideas for me.

Stage One: Port phone number to Google Voice

For $20, I ported (transferred) my phone number to Google Voice and cancelled my AT&T phone plan. So far, this has been a great move. It took a few days, but now I have access to all of my text messages and voice mails without anyone even knowing that I cancelled my phone plan.

Every text sent to my usual phone number goes to the Google Voice app both on my phone and computer, as long as they’re connected to wifi. This solves two problems: I still have the same phone number and I still get texts. Unfortunately, I can’t make or receive calls (Google Voice requires a phone with a service plan, but I can make calls from the computer, similar to Skype), and it’s all dependent on an internet connection. Time for Stage Two.

Stage Two: Forward calls to a USA phone number

For $50, I got a Skype USA phone number for one year. I then forwarded all of my Google Voice calls to my Skype phone number. Now I get all my texts from Google Voice and all of my phone calls on Skype. All of this happens without my friends and family needing to change any of their habits. They can continue to contact me the same way they always have.

This solves one more problem: I can receive calls from the USA without any long distance fees. Unfortunately, I still can’t make calls and I still need the internet.

Stage Three: Profit?

Stage three is where I’m a bit stuck. I am pretty sure the answer is to get a local SIM card with a data plan. I will then be able to use all of the apps on my phone without needing to be in wifi. This would allow me to make calls using Google Voice via Google Hangouts on my phone. The down-side is that I would need to pay long distance fees ($0.01/minute) when I make calls. The up-side is that I don’t think anyone has to pay fees to call me and texts are always free. This solves the remaining problems.

So, in theory (I still haven’t tried Stage Three), I have put together a plan that would allow my family to text, call, and leave voice mails to the same phone number I have had for over 10 years without any long-distance fees. I will be able to use a combination of one or two apps on my current phone to get a fully functioning phone plan without roaming and a discounted long-distance plan of only $0.01 per minute.

If you have done this before, please let me know your thoughts.

The Anticipation is Worse than the Fall

“Wait, I thought you had the parachute!”

Back in 2012, I went skydiving for the first time. I’d wanted to do it for quite a while, in spite of my fear of heights, but I was never really that motivated to do it. Contemplating the experience of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane was more of an academic exercise, something to be examined from a distance. I’d ask myself questions like, “Why is it that my palms sweat at the top of a tall ladder, but I always pick the window seat when we fly?” So when my good friend said he wanted to do it for his birthday, I was in.

I had a hard time getting to sleep the night before; it felt a little bit like the night before Christmas, only I was looking forward to imminent potential death instead of presents. So I decided to fire up the old laptop, go to Google, and type this into the search bar:

why do people die while skydiving

You know, because I’m smart that way. It turns out that most of those deaths happen not to first timers or the inexperienced, but to experts who try to do things beyond their ability. Which was comforting, because I was going to be attached to an experienced flyer. Surely he would have this information, and a good understanding of his limitations, and wouldn’t do anything to put either of us in jeopardy. Surely.

There was one particular moment where everything became real to me. It wasn’t when we took a group shot in front of the rusting, twenty years past retirement plane we’d be jumping out of. It wasn’t after the five minutes of instruction we received that supposedly contained all the information we needed not to plummet to our deaths. It wasn’t even on the short flight up to ten thousand feet, sitting on a stranger’s knees and strapped to him like a helpless baby, staring out the window as the world slowly dropped away below us. No, that moment came when the door of the airplane opened, and a blast of freezing cold air roared its way into the cabin, furious and chilling on that otherwise warm summer day. The whole way up I had been calm and relaxed, almost zen-like, without a concern. That sharp blast of air destroyed my sense of ease in an instant, shocking me awake to the reality that I was about to willingly free fall into the empty space between me and the ground. In that moment, I realized that I may have made a horrible mistake, that I truly could be experiencing the final moments of my life, and that it was too late to do anything about it.

Last Friday was my last day of work at the University. I packed up my things, said my goodbyes, and rode the bus home. I had been looking forward to this for months, ever since we made the decision to leave, so I had expected to feel some sort of joy or relief, something to differentiate it from a normal Friday afternoon. But aside from having my sad little box of office stuff, it didn’t feel any different. It was a little disappointing to be honest, all this build up for nothing. Even Saturday just felt like, well, Saturday. It was kind of like being back on that plane, watching the world float by while I sat there calmly, feeling nothing.

Sunday was different.

I woke up Sunday feeling this sort of low dread. The plan was to start looking for freelance projects on Monday. I was staring at that door, knowing it had to open at some point to let in that burst of cold air, signaling that it was time to jump. I found myself doing little chores around the house with with a twitchy, nervous energy, wondering (not for the first time) if we had made the right choice. After all, Jen and I are jumping out of this plane together, and it’s my responsibility to make sure we land safely. To put it mildly, I was freaking out a bit.

On that summer day in 2012, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, and landed safely on the ground. It was a little frightening at first, but after the first few seconds it was exciting and fun, and I would definitely do it again. Even though I’ve left work, I still don’t feel like we’ve jumped yet; I imagine that will come when we leave this apartment with nothing but our backpacks. I feel better today, but I’m still staring at that door, wondering when it’s going to open. The anticipation is worse than the fall.

As long as your chute opens.


Work Party

They threw a surprise party for me at work today.

They threw a party for me at work today.

I can’t express how touched I was by this. I knew they would pass around a card, but a party? I am a retail manager leaving my job only days after the Christmas lights started to set. I’m forcing my peers to work through the most difficult season of the year short-handed and I’m forcing my team to work short-handed and without guidance (not like they need it). I am really putting these people that I have grown to love in a rather difficult position. And yet they still threw me a party, wrote cards, and left gifts.


Someone wrote that they want to be like me when they grow up. *tears*

I’ve really enjoyed this particular job. I had leaders working for me that are really well trained and professional. They made my job super easy and fun. I really looked forward to seeing them each day.

With such an amazing leadership team, I was able to focus more of my attention on the team members. This part of the job was super rewarding for me. I really enjoyed my time developing team members. Most are young and working their first jobs. I hope I was able to shape their work ethic and set them on a good path for their future careers and financial success. As with nearly all of the people I have managed, most will forget about me, but I will remember them. I’ll get the warm fuzzies when I hear they received their first major promotion or bought their first car.

I’ve learned so much during my time in retail. I’ve learned from the good and the bad (often the hard way) and these lessons are ones that I will take with me on my journey. I’ve learned to assume good intentions of others because nearly everyone does what they think is right, but what is “right” can always be up for interpretation.

I’ve learned that despite I’m amazing at nearly everything I do (that pesky narcissism again), I’m not the best at anything. There is almost always someone nearby who is more informed or more skilled than I am. Being OK with that is a good thing. I give credit where credit is due and use the skill of others as a tool for my own success.

I’ve learned that other peoples’ successes are not my loss, they are my success too. Maybe I would be farther along in my career had I been a bitch and put other people down for my own gain, but I am much happier with my work for doing the exact opposite of that. I take the time to develop my team despite the fact that I am “digging my own grave”, as some may say. One of my minimum wage employees (years ago) ended up taking my job when I left and now there is talk of her getting promoted again. It doesn’t bother me that she surpassed me, I’m proud.

So this party really meant a lot to me. I have a genuine connection to all of these people and have put a lot of effort into each of them. To have them throw a party for someone who’s causing them more work in the coming months is huge for me. Their recognition was such a wonderful send off and gave me the will (obligation?) to push myself to live every day to the fullest.

Why I’m leaving science

The day I defended my thesis was one of the best days of my life. At that point I’d been in school for a total of 23 years, and I’d finally reached the end of the road. Surrounded by family and friends, I received the title of “Doctor”. It seemed I was finally ready to embark on a career that would be challenging, but fulfilling. It was and is a major achievement, and I’m still very proud of it.

So why the hell would I want to walk away?

The fact of the matter is that I never wanted to be a scientist. When I first started college, I chose to go into science because I knew I could do it, and it was more practical than the other majors I was interested in. I just knew too many unemployed English majors to think it was a viable career choice. But one of the downsides to going to such a small state school was that there were no research labs, so I had very little experience actually doing science when I graduated. Not only did this set me back when trying to get into grad school, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into in the first place. Had I been able to spend time in a real research lab, I may have figured out much earlier that I don’t like doing lab work.

And it’s not just the monotony of labeling a million little tubes or doing an experiment over and over again until you get it right. When you do research for a living, you’re never truly “off”. There’s always another paper you could read, data to analyze and re-analyze, or abstracts/papers/grants/theses to write. And there’s always a presentation to prepare for, whether it’s lab meeting, journal club, student seminars, poster sessions, or conference talks. Maybe it’s just me, but if I wasn’t doing any one of these things, I would start to feel bad about not working hard enough, so my downtime (what little there was) was tainted with guilt. One of the reasons I was so happy about graduating was that I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this anymore, and yet even as a postdoc this has been true. There’s just no escape from it.

Now, I’m sure this is the cost of any high pressure career, but in general there are some sort of benefits to outweigh all of the difficulties. My experience is that this isn’t true in science. For starters, the financial rewards are minimal. As a grad student I was being paid to get my degree, which admittedly is a pretty good deal and hard to complain about. However, I was only making between $26-28k/year, while dealing with all of the above pressures and putting in 50+ hours in a week. Before grad school, I was waiting tables and selling video games, and made ~$36k/year working less than 40 hours/week. And when work was over, it was over. A postdoc salary is a little better, ~$43k/year, but certainly not commensurate with the amount of time and effort that goes into obtaining a PhD in the first place. And I still don’t make as much as Jen; in fact, I just caught up to where she was three years ago. She still makes a full third more than I do, in a career that only requires experience. All of a sudden that fancy degree hardly seems worth it.

The other big one is that it’s a “rewarding” career, work that actually makes a lasting impact on the world. This is certainly true for the pursuit of science in general, but on an individual level it rarely feels rewarding (for me at least). It’s been suggested that half of peer-reviewed articles are read only by the authors and the reviewers, and while that’s most likely wrong, there are still only a handful of people in the world who are capable of taking what’s found in those journals and turning it into something useful. It’s incredibly frustrating to spend hundreds of hours working on something that feels like it has no practical value, and will simply be released into the ether, noticed by no one. And even if you do stumble on something exciting, it could be decades before that gets translated into something that will actually help someone, usually by somebody else.

The other half of this equation is how it’s affected my personal life. To put it bluntly, graduate school was hell on our marriage, and it barely survived. From the beginning Jen was opposed to living in Eugene, but the University of Oregon was the only school I got accepted into, and I felt I needed to get my PhD so that I could get a “decent” job. At the time I was really down on myself for having two bachelor’s degrees in science, and yet was still waiting tables and working retail. I thought a PhD would be my ticket to a better career, one that would take care of us both financially so that Jen could pursue whatever she wanted. So I insisted that we move to Eugene, leaving behind family and friends at the promise of a better life at the end. It ended up being six years of hell, with both of us constantly stressed out and fighting all the time. There were times Jen would say to me that she wished she could just fall into a coma and wake up when I graduated. We both saw that day as the end of the tunnel, when we could get out of this holding pattern our lives were in and move on.

But that hasn’t happened. Instead, I’m back on another 5+ year path to a job that I think is the one I want. Meanwhile, I’m still not being paid well, I still hate being in lab, and I’ve actually had to start taking classes again. Maybe I’m looking at it wrong, but I feel a certain level of indignity at being a 33 year old PhD who still has to ride the bus to school and do fucking homework. It feels like moving backwards.

I know that most people hate their jobs, yet they just grit their teeth and grind through. Fine. But there’s no reason why we have to make that same choice. At this point, we have no kids, no property, no debt; in short, we’re not tied down to anything. Neither one of us is living our ideal life at this point. But as it turns out, the only reason we aren’t is because we simply haven’t chosen to. Jen wants to travel. I want to write. So that’s what we’re going to do. I’m leaving science because it gives us the rare opportunity to pursue what we really want in life. It may turn out to be the worst decision we’ve ever made, but as of right now it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way. It feels good. Real good.

It’s time to start living.


60 Day Checklist

The 90 Day Checklist went pretty well, but we are 60 days to launch!!

The 90 Day Checklist went pretty well. I adjusted the list a little to be more realistic and timely. I am certain I will mention some of the learning behind those changes in the posts to come, but for now, I am just way to excited. We are 60 days to launch!!

Note: Our timing is a little off because we are quitting our jobs in 30 days, but not leaving our current apartment for 60 days.

Nomad To-Do List (30-60 Days to Launch)

  • Apply for visas
  • Buy new equipment
    • Luggage
    • Electronics and Software
    • Clothing
  • Practice packing to finalize equipment list
  • Sell at least 25% of belongings
    • Empty storage unit and cancel payments
    • Sell bikes and cancel bike rent
  • Doctor follow-ups
    • Immunizations
    • Final appointments
  • Give written notice to landlord
  • Give written notice to employer
  • Start a list of subscriptions and research cancellation policies
  • Continue progress on Leave Behind Folder