My Yearly Theme for 2021

I wrote last year about my adoption of a yearly theme for 2020: The Year of Less. Julie and I were in Florida for the new year celebration and cajoled my family into joining us for a collaborative wall-writing session on yearly themes. It went better than expected and was a nice moment of sharing and collective vulnerability. We just put up a few strips of wide paper on the wall and everyone took turns writing “on the wall.”

My theme for the year is Accountable Improvement. I have a few areas of focused self improvement I want to achieve in the year, and I want to rely more on outside help. The idea here is to heighten the accountability, and rely more on expert help. My tendency is to self-teach; this comes from a mix of self-confidence, self-reliance, and arrogance. I want to be more humble and open to others’ ideas on how I can get better.

I jotted down some notes on what I want to stop/keep/start doing:

Stop

  • Relying on myself for all tracking and intelligence for improvement
  • Confusing activity for progress
  • Avoiding difficult questions and plans regarding areas of improvement

Keep

  • Being diligent about practice time and calendar booking
  • Finding ways to measure performance

Start

  • Looking for accountability partners in key areas of improvement

There are two improvement areas I’m primarily focused on at the start of the year: golf and German language. I started learning German via Duolingo. And because we are such nomads, I signed up for online digital golf coaching with evolvr. My schedule has been a bit crazy of late (multiple trips between Texas and Florida) so I’m not making as much progress as I’d like, but I am seeing progress.

I’m also working to wrangle a few friends that know German into some online boardgaming where we’ll speak only German. I think (know) Duolingo will only take me so far and I need to be conversing a lot more. Worth considering too is italki but I want to get my schedule a bit more cleared and consistent.

Winter in El Paso

We’ve been living in El Paso since about the start of 2021. Matthew is stationed here as a 1LT at Fort Bliss, and we have the flexibility to roam so why not roam to the sunny southwest.

There’s a lot to love about El Paso. The weather is a refreshing change from the rainy and grey Pacific Northwest this time of year. Most days have been sunny with highs in the low 60s. Nights are cold (this is high desert!) but that just makes the morning hikes and workouts that much more refreshing.

Our condo backs up to the west slope of the Franklin Mountains, allowing us to walk out our door into the vast network of trails in the mountains. There are easy traverses along the slope to the north or south if you want to wander, or you can head straight up to the ridge at the top for amazing views of all of El Paso and into Ciudad Juarez.

I get out and play desert golf about once or twice a week. Dry fairways and elevation leads to a lot more carry and roll. Nice ego boost.

One very surprising feature of El Paso: a vast selection of plant-based food options. We’ve been rotating through a variety of restaurants with takeout and curbside service. The quality and creativity are noteworthy, and in stark contrast to what we experienced in Melbourne FL during November and December. Way to go El Paso!

We’ve ventured outside of El Paso to the Las Cruces area for hiking and food, and to White Sands National Park for a great loop hike. We will do at least one backpacking trip at Big Bend National Park (I have two sketched out, but we had to scratch the first for an emergency trip back to Florida last week). Around April 1 we will wrap up out stay here then head back to southern Utah for 3+ weeks of hiking and backpacking. We’ve rented a camper van; can’t wait to share photos and highlights from that adventure.

The Year of Less

This year, after listening to related advice on the Cortex podcast, I adopted a yearly theme for the first time. My life is amazingly good on many levels, and I’ve become even more keenly aware of my privilege and how it has helped me get to where I am. I’m also proud of the hard work I’ve put in over my career and the discipline I’ve maintained to allow for my current lifestyle. Even with this context, I’ve still found myself a bit edgy through these early years of sorta retirement. By edgy I mean I feel like I should be doing more, especially when it comes to business or project related work. “More coaching”, “more freelancing”, “more business building”, etc. This edginess usually leads to more stress. I shouldn’t be stressed.

So, I adopted a theme for the year: The Year of Less. Less what? I jotted down some ideas which I keep in front of me:

Pardon the grammar. “Year of Less/Fewer” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Less scattered thoughts and projects should lead to more focus and, ideally, more happiness and fulfillment.

My first step in January was letting my colleagues know that starting in the fall 2020 I would no longer commute to teach at the university in person. While I love the campus and the people there, I stopped enjoying the commute (70 minutes each way two days a week) a while back and had no plans to move closer. We coupled this change with a strategic plan to offer a fully online version of the Information Systems program so this should be a win-win. This all came down before the COVID-19 pandemic so in insight we look like geniuses for our pragmatic forward thinking.

Our next step was to sell our house in Beaverton, get rid of a bunch of stuff we no longer need, and put most of the rest in storage. We would head to Keuka Lake NY earlier than originally planned (March instead of May) because we necessarily called off our six week Europe vacation. We hauled a smaller trailer with possessions we want closer at hand while living here. Our life here is simpler and more routine. Lots of time spent outdoors, and I’ve taken on home improvement projects that I never dreamed I’d be able to accomplish. Normally not my thing, but it has started to become “my thing” and I’m better for it.

I have a broad spectrum of recreational activities that I enjoy. Hiking, fishing, sailing, golf, wargaming, video gaming, programming, and more. Some of these I care more about improving my skills than others. I like fishing but I’m not invested in becoming an expert fly fisher. Golf is different for me. For many years I’ve felt that I have the potential to be a good golfer, with good to me defined as having a single digit handicap (regularly shooting 4 to 9 over par for 18 holes). I’ve played enough golf in my life to know that improvement to this level doesn’t result from casual play, so I decided to lower my time commitment to other activities while focusing in on golf. I joined a local golf club and their men’s league. I’m playing in more tournaments and traveling with a group of old white dudes to local golf courses every Thursday. I’m reading and watching golf content to learn how to play better and structuring my practice accordingly. I’m seeing some glimmers of hope but the pieces are not yet falling into place. I’m fine with that because I’m having so much fun going through the process.

On the wargaming front I’ve been very focused on playing just two systems: Advanced Squad Leader and the Company Scale System. Doug and I are playing CSS twice per week and we have joined a small crack team responsible for maintaining errata for the system and, eventually, publishing living rules.


I won’t go into more details on the “less alcohol, less meat” side of things in this post. Maybe later in another post. I’m doing better at one than the other.

It is almost halfway through the year and I can say the theme is serving its purpose. It is a touchstone for me when I think about big things I might take on. It is a touchstone when I wake up and plan out my day. Less edgy, less stress!

Distance Feels Close

Julie and I made our drive to Keuka Lake from Oregon in five days. We didn’t push it too hard, but with a trailer in tow the pacing was a bit slower than usual. We are hunkered down in Afterours, aka the grey cottage (shown above), with about 1000 sq ft of coziness.

Two summers ago we had three Mitsubishi electric heat/cool heat pump wall units with a multi-zone outdoor unit. At the time we did it to create a refuge from the heat and humidity in the summer; little did we know it would be the magic that would allow us to move in about 2 months earlier than usual for us.

We did a big grocery stop at Wegmans on our way in from Ohio and are well positioned for about two weeks of easy living. Three or four weeks if we wanted to stretch things into our emergency food supply. Things are very quiet here but we have each other, we have fast reliable internet service, and we have games.

We are being much more intentional about staying engaged with our extended family, especially those that are sequestered in assisted living. Last night Julie and I had a New York / Georgia / Washington state Mexican dinner with Matthew, Jacob, and Kaitlin via Zoom. Tonight we will regroup on Zoom to play some Jackbox games.

It isn’t always easy to coordinate live video chat, so we’ve been deeply engaged with the Marco Polo app. It allows you to setup a group of friends and family to do asynchronous video chatting. We have an extended group of my Florida family and my nuclear family and folks are often checking in multiple times each day.

Given that we will be here until October, with approximately 7 month stays happening each year, we hauled out a bigger piece of our game collection with us this time. This is a subset of what we have here, and not shown is Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 which Julie and I have been playing every day. We are no more than three games away from finishing the season, but we’ve lost the last three games. Next game will be second half of November. Part of me wants to lose so that we can finally open and play with the “only open if you lose four consecutive games” box.

We have a cozy upstairs bedroom that is unoccupied so has become my wargaming den. Here you can see Tinian: the Forgotten Battle setup. I’ll be learning this one today with a solo play of the intro scenario.


I have to close this post by pointing out how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to be in a place like this, to be able to work and generate income as we need it, all while maintaining extreme social distance. We are in the midst of a global crisis, and I predict we will start to resume some sort of “new normal” no earlier than mid May. We recognize and appreciate the extreme privilege we have to ride out this mess in this fashion.

Moving out, ’cause we gotta

Tonight we started our long drive East to our pseudo-home in NY. We were originally scheduled to fly to Milan on Monday, but obviously that all changed. So instead of a 6.5 week trip to Europe we will push up our move to NY for the “summer”.

We were mostly fortunate to get our home in Oregon listed for sale in January which led to a closing in early March. Had we waited it might have been a long time until we would have had offers.

And I say mostly fortunate as we were left with no choice but to get away by this coming Monday as our occupancy ends then. Rather than rent and stay in Oregon we opted to load up our “to the lake” possessions in our car and trailer and start our drive east. We should arrive at Keuka Lake late Thursday.

I’ll write about any oddities I see along the way; any Stephen King’s The Stand moments. Our first hotel, a Holiday Inn Express, seems to be doing all the right things here in Hood River.