Good Advice from a Raven

My life philosophy summed up…on a bookmark.

I was in Death Valley National Park in February for the second year in a row. I spent about a week exploring some of the less visited parts of the park, including Ibex Dunes and the Racetrack. I’m really loving having a truck camper for my winter travels rather than the big fifth wheel I used to haul around. It really makes it easier to explore and to camp comfortably in remote places while waiting for changes in weather or light for photography.

I did spend a little time at Furnace Creek, which is the center of tourism in the park. In addition to having two meals at the Inn at Furnace Creek‘s excellent restaurant, I visited the Ranger Station. I had some questions about roads and camping and there’s nothing better than asking a ranger. While I was in there, I took a look at some of the gift shop items. I’m always on the lookout for small educational items for my neighbor’s autistic grandson — I got him some neat science exploration items at the North Cascades National Park last year — and odds and ends to help me remember the trip.

I was feeling more spendy than usual that day, mostly because rumors were flying about the Trump administration cutting budgets for National Parks and selling off public land for private use. I wanted to support the parks beyond buying my annual pass every year. I picked out a t-shirt and a refrigerator magnet and a book about night photography. And then I saw the “Advice” bookmarks.

I need to point out that I very seldom read printed books these days. I’ve come to prefer ebooks and have been making use of the ebook loans available from the two libraries I’m a member of. So a bookmark is a very silly thing for me to buy.

But what captured my attention on the bookmarks was the bullet point pieces of “advice.” I looked at a few of them and agreed that many of the points were things I believed and would share with friends as advice. But each of them also shared a few points that I didn’t necessarily agree with. For example, “Advice from a Tree” suggested “Sink your roots into the Earth.” Anyone who knows me can verify that I never do that. Indeed, I get bored wherever I am after about 10 years. “Advice from a Bat” included “Enjoy the nightlife.” Again, anyone who really knows me knows that I’m a morning person and seldom indulge in late night activities.

bookmark.jpg“Advice from a Raven” was different, though. Each of its seven points rang true with me:

  • Be curious. I am always asking questions and trying to learn new things.
  • Use your wits. I enjoy solving problems — stay tuned for the upcoming blog post on how I recently solved my water problem — and thinking things through.
  • Don’t be a picky eater. Do I even need to explain this? I’ll try anything at least once.
  • Take time to play. Half a year should be enough time, eh?
  • Be adaptable. When life serves me lemons, I make lemonade. I’ve been served a lot of lemons over the past ten to fifteen years and have reinvented myself as necessary to move forward.
  • Make your voice heard. I think I’ve taken this one too seriously at times; voicing my opinion has occasionally gotten me in trouble. But if you don’t speak up, how are people to know what you really think? Honesty is the best policy.
  • Don’t let life ruffle your feathers. This one took some learning, but I got some pretty good lessons about five years ago, continuing until recently. I used to get angry, but now I don’t. This actually reminds me of another quote I saw somewhere: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

It was worth $3 to remind me not only of this good advice for anyone, but of my 2017 Death Valley adventure. So I bought it.

I’ve always liked ravens. They are one of the most intelligent animals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat quietly in a remote, off-trail location at the Grand Canyon, just watching them fly or interact with each other. And how many times I’ve heard the sound of the wind in their wings in the utter silence of my old northern Arizona vacation cabin.

I don’t often see ravens here. We have magpies instead. They’re prettier but don’t seem to have the same personality.

If you’re interested in seeing other bookmarks and souvenir items in this series, check out the shop at Your True Nature website.

It Takes Money to Make Money

A simple fact too many folks don’t seem to understand.

The other day, I was at a social gathering with a bunch of friends and neighbors. Conversation turned to a good friend of mine with a very large, underutilized garage. I mentioned that during the winter, he rents out storage space for the season to people with boats, RVs, and other vehicles not likely to be used in the winter. This brings in some extra cash for his winter travels to the south.

“What a great idea!” one of my neighbors said. She turned to another member of the group. “See? There are all kinds of ways people can make money. I don’t see why we should be paying for them.”

I could tell that she’d used my story to continue a conversation she’d had earlier with other people in the group. But she was missing an important point.

“It’s all about assets,” I said. I told the group about how I’m currently being paid to have my helicopter parked in a snug hangar in California in case it’s needed. Yes, I’m bringing in cash without seeming to do anything. But the asset that’s making that possible has cost me more than a half million dollars in the past 13 years to buy, maintain, overhaul, and insure. It’s not as if I’m getting money for nothing.

MoneyThe same goes for my friend. If he didn’t have that big garage, could he rent out space to boat owners? No. What did it cost him to build that garage? Maintain it? Insure it? All that costs money.

The sharing economy has given us all kinds of ways to bring in a little cash on the side. It’s no secret that before I sold my big fifth wheel, I parked on my driveway and rented it out on AirBnB for $89/night with a two-night minimum. I had people in it nearly every weekend that summer. But could I have done that if I didn’t have the fifth wheel? Or acreage with an amazing view and a full RV hookup? What did it cost me to buy the fifth wheel and land? And set up the power, sewer, and water hookups? All that costs money.

And then there’s Uber and Lyft, two ride-sharing companies. Yes, you can drive people around and get paid for it. But to do that, you need a car that meets certain requirements for age and style and that car has to be insured. All that costs money.

The conversation didn’t go this far. It moved on to other things before I could make this point. It didn’t matter. I like my neighbors, even though I think some of them are politically misguided, and didn’t want to ruin the evening with a possibly heated debate. We’re among the fortunate Americans. Neither rich nor poor, we are homeowners on the downhill slope of life, able to take care of all of our needs with a little left over for extras. Life’s not easy, but it certainly isn’t hard.

Yet some of us understand what it’s like for the people who struggle to get by. We empathize, possibly because we’ve been in their shoes in the past. We don’t expect them to produce money out of thin air with creative use of assets they couldn’t possibly afford when they’re having enough trouble putting a roof over their head and food on the table. We don’t mind paying a little extra in our taxes to help them with social services programs or, even more importantly, to fully fund our school systems to help their kids get a path out of poverty through education.

But it’s the mindset of my friend — the complete lack of understanding of how difficult it can be for certain people to earn a decent living — that bothers me. It’s an almost “let them eat cake” moment. And sadly, it’s shared by far too many Americans these days.

Shouldn’t We All Be Able to Get Affordable Health Care?

A quick addendum to an earlier post.

I’m one of many Americans who is glad the Trump/Ryan American Health Care Act (AHCA or TrumpCare) failed to come to a vote. I didn’t think it was in the best interest for people like me and I really believe it would be catastrophic for folks in lower income situations who are struggling to afford health care.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that the people who support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) are those who don’t benefit from it. These are people with decent incomes who, most likely, get health insurance from their employers. In their mind, they shouldn’t be “subsidizing” health care for those who don’t get it from their employers — mostly because they think these people are unemployed or otherwise sponging off the system.

That isn’t true. Millions of people who benefit from the ACA are hardworking people who don’t have insurance benefits through an employer — including self-employed individuals like me.

While people who work for big companies can get health insurance as easily as filling out a form and handing it in to their employer’s Human Resources department, the rest of us have to literally shop for insurance to find policies that meet our needs with a premium we can afford. Then we have to fill out forms and submit them for approval. In the old days, we might have to connect insurance companies with our doctors so they could look through health records. That’s how I got denied insurance coverage for a “pre-existing condition” that didn’t exist, as I blogged last week.

ACA LogoThe ACA made it easier to shop for insurance by setting up a marketplace. It prevented insurers from denying coverage or setting unreasonable rates for people with pre-existing conditions. It required insurers to provide a list of basic coverages that a person might need. It covered, at no additional cost to insured people, annual well-care visits to help prevent illnesses or to catch them before they became serious problems. It required more employers to offer health care benefits to employees. It encouraged everyone to get health insurance coverage to increase the pool of insured individuals, thus reducing the overall cost of coverage for each of us. It prevented insurers from taking obscene profits on healthcare coverage by setting maximum profit levels that actually refunded premiums to customers. These are all benefits that help those of us who don’t work for big companies that offer health insurance in a benefits package.

The people who think the provisions of the ACA aren’t needed are either mistaken, ignorant, or just plain selfish.

Why should only those people who sign up with a big employer get affordable health care insurance? Why shouldn’t small business owners like me be able to get it? Why shouldn’t the 58-year-old former banker with a BBA who’s lucky to have a part-time job as an aircraft refueler at the local airport be able to get it? Why shouldn’t the single mother cleaning offices on the night shift be able to get it?

What pissed me off this morning was a Trump supporter named Linda Caudill who, when interviewed by NPR, said:

Frankly, health care is not a constitutional right. But I really would like personally that government get our of health care altogether and let the free market take care of it.

Wow. Just wow.

Health care might not be a “constitutional right,” but isn’t it a human right? Shouldn’t we all be able to get the care we need to stay healthy, productive, and happy?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness isn’t in the Constitution either, but our country’s existence was based on those “unalienable rights” for all of us. Isn’t the ability to get affordable health care part of this?

I’d love to hear how this woman’s song would change if she or her husband suddenly lost the job that’s obviously providing them with the health care they need. No one in the middle class who has to buy health insurance on the open market would share her point of view. No one.

What these people need is a dose of reality. How about a health care plan that does not allow employers to offer health insurance plans? One that forces everyone to be on the same playing field, buying insurance on the open market. Then we’ll see how Trump supporters feel about “free market” insurance.

Until then, I’m glad the ACA has survived to help me get the insurance I need for my health and and peace of mind.