|Volume 19, Issue 5||May 21, 2017|
In this Issue:
Living Well On Less
In an interview of Tommy Caldwell, who wrote the just published book The Push, about inspiring exploits as a mountaineer and related philosophy, I heard this author say he had found himself at times in such straights that he lived on just $50 a month, but did not mind since he was at the time so focused on his climbing that almost nothing else mattered. While I was intrigued about his endeavors as a sportsman, I was more curious about the frugal habits he must have developed during that time. How does one subsist on only $50 a month? After thinking about it, I realized that for short periods this may be a challenging yet hardly impossible feat.
In Henry D. Thoreau's day, I believe he is said to have managed a solitary cabin, that he built and supplied himself, for only $26. He neglected to mention in Walden Pond that during his two-year vigil he walked over to his mother's place each day for a home-cooked meal.
Now too one can enjoy the hospitality of a succession of tolerant friends or relatives for next to nothing a year. Nevertheless, suppose that is not an option. In the book and movie The Road, two protagonists discover a cache of vittles plus places to sleep in an underground shelter and live there for a time. This might be an option today for frugal sojourners. However, the odds do not appear great that we come upon well stocked, unoccupied shelters whenever we might need them.
A few years back, an adventurous brother of mine spent several months paddling down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. He lived then mostly out of a tent and his kayak, eating fish he caught or inexpensive foods prepared ahead and packaged for easy storage and transport. I think he probably did fine during that trip for under $50 a month, not counting occasional motel or restaurant breaks along the way.
By Tammy - Weekend with Dee, CC BY 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=
Early in my college days, my near-campus room cost $15 a month, utilities included, and I snacked a lot on saltine crackers with peanut butter alternated with apples or little packages of raisins. A big meal might be a hot dog grilled on the open flame of my room's gas heater, then wrapped in a slice of white bread with mustard. Occasional rice dishes and cans of soup were reasonable ways to enliven a diet. Mostly, though, then as now, when I wanted to splurge I would go to restaurants. The difference was that the whole meal might cost $1.25, drink, salad, desert, tax, and tip included. Today I would be lucky to eat out for ten times that figure.
Tommy Caldwell's experience of living on $50 a month got me thinking, though, about the general notion of what is required for a good but thrifty lifestyle, not as a "starving student" and not in a third world country. I hypothesized we might do so with as little as $5,000-10,000 a year, total budget. This would work out to around $800 a month for room, board, and misc. expenses. Could that be done on a regular basis?
The answer is definitely "Yes," I think, but it would likely be a rather no-frills type of living, more reminiscent of my early childhood, when my folks - who had gotten through the Great Depression and so knew how to survive fairly well on relatively little - were starting out together after the rationing and separations of World War II, had as yet low earnings, and were also trying to put aside a percentage of their income for investments. Our housing was not extravagant, on occasion what might today be called fixer-uppers, yet was certainly ample. There were neither air-conditioning nor modern appliances. My mother did the laundry completely by hand or later with a little device that she cranked to remove excess water before clothes were hung out to dry. Modern fabrics did not exist, of course, so ironing was required for a lot of things. Mom supplemented canned goods with fresh veggies from her garden. At times there were rabbits or chickens. There were plenty of Vienna sausages, spam, tamales in a can, soups, crackers with pieces of cheese, salmon patties, tuna fish salad sandwiches, potatoes, Jell-O, and eggs. All of these cost comparatively little. I think Mom enjoyed the challenge of making of such simple fare fun and appetizing mealtimes. Most often, she succeeded!
I did a bit of checking online for how to spend a small budget wisely today and came up with these tips:
For much of our upbringing, my siblings and I lived comfortably and healthily despite our folks being prudent in their spending. People can still follow this model today. For me, the latest this or that, a new car every couple years, an ever expanding residence, or showy signs of wealth are not what living well are about. It does not mean we must deprive ourselves. Yet there are abundant, worthwhile values in a rewarding lifestyle, whether or not that includes a large budget. Living simply, though with needs met for both loved ones and oneself, can be golden.
Dreams are so ephemeral that it takes special effort to remember them even long enough to jot down the essence upon waking. More often than not, for me, all that is recalled is a vague feeling that I had really enjoyed the time I spent unconscious in the previous minutes, or perhaps hours.
I began reflecting on this subject after having a recent dream about a small lizard from Madagascar that can shed its rather large scales. In the dream, I picked it up and the scales on the bottom, where it touched my hand, started to peel off. I quickly photographed it, then released it before it became completely nude. When I described it to a man who was some sort of biology teacher or researcher, he seemed skeptical, but agreed with my account. Besides, I had the pictures as proof. The seed of this dream is no mystery, as I had just read about such an unlikely creature in a science magazine.
My dreams often include details taken from the everyday activities and pursuits that occupy me on a regular basis. It's not unusual for there to be familiar or typecast people, insects, unusual mammals, reptiles of all kinds or bizarre plants infiltrating my nocturnal imaginings. I might dream of fossil hunting, hiking, exploring, driving, or doing yard work. Just as likely are scenarios about rehearsing, sight-reading, and performing music, as that's my profession. Issues of promptness, competency, problem solving, preparedness and observation all crop up. As I ponder the vague impressions, or exceptionally clear details, that I sometimes retain upon waking, I find myself applying taxonomic principles and categorizing each particular dream: it might be an examination of a current project, a search for a solution to a dilemma, an amalgamation of unrelated visual or aural vignettes, a journey, an exploration of a complex building or landscape, or even just sheer entertainment. It has been a very long time since I can recall a nightmare. I most likely have a propensity to conveniently forget anything scary or unpleasant.
When I'm attempting to figure out some problem, or come up with an idea, such as for the animations and illustrations I create at the head of these newsletters, it's as if my subconscious continues to work while the rest of my brain takes a rest. I don't even have to pay it overtime. When I wake, I might have a new take or even an adequate solution at hand. It is like having a quietly competent personal assistant.
Sometimes I have lovely dreams of moving along, either by flying, swimming, sledding, skating or running, through a strange and enchanting landscape. It might involve cruising through sapphire waters of a series of moodily lit caves, running on high scaffolds over futuristic gardens, floating over verdant hills as I swoop through the air like a bird, or happily trotting along an urban landscape as if I know where I am going but thoroughly enjoying the journey rather than preoccupied with the destination.
I especially appreciate the cinematic dreams, where there are various scenes, often utilizing effective camera angles or lighting techniques, and often a surprise ending, or perhaps several, as I seem to be testing different outcomes to see which is most effective. There was one particularly memorable dream from many years ago in which several people were dealing with specters in a large and fascinating old house. It was captivating, at times delightfully spooky, and the ending included the surprising shock of one of the main characters suddenly disappearing in the same wavering, evaporating way that the ghosts had been doing earlier. Ooooh, the fantastic shivers up the spine as the background music emphasized the eeriness of it all and I woke up wanting to applaud such a captivating performance!
Due to the biology of our brains, any memory inevitably changes with each subsequent recollection. So a dream remembered from childhood has probably morphed in some degree by the time an older person like me is thinking about it once more. But the simple fact that it was distinctive enough to make that first impression, as well as the following musings, means it was quite an exceptional creation.
Henry Fuseli's "The Nightmare." I was impressed by this famous painting at a very early age and it remains a favorite. The simple dual connotation of the equine visage certainly appeals to young children, and really, it's just a satisfyingly creepy picture.
Writing down a dream upon waking is the surest way of preserving the most details, including the initial raw emotional impacts. For a few weeks one summer, as I was working in a musical theater production and staying in a cabin along the Guadalupe River in central Texas, I had the leisure time to wake up when I wanted each morning and write down any dreams I remembered. Reading back through that journal is like discovering the stories and descriptions for the first time, as if somebody else had written them down.
The memories of several dream segments that I had when I was about 7-8 years old have returned periodically ever since. They include a bright green turtle (I remember thinking that I DO obviously dream in color), a series of strangely dinosaurian looking silhouettes passing by a frosted window in a futuristic house, and a slow-moving line of a benign grass fire that was about to consume a house and turn it to ash with almost no flames. Of course, all these images were related to things I'd seen or experienced in reality, although they were modified to the point of becoming engrossingly science-fiction-like.
During a lifetime that includes literally YEARS of sleep, it is not surprising that there will be a few notable coincidences that seem almost supernatural in their serendipitous juxtaposition. I can think of only two that occurred while I slept and one that was a daydream. The diurnal rumination happened while I was sitting in a bus with our high school band, driving on a long road trip from Lemont, IL, to Nantucket Island, MA. The date is easy to pinpoint: June 13, 1976. As we watched the distant skyscraper landscape of New York City glide past our windows, I imagined a tornado and thought that it would really do a lot of damage to all those buildings. I even mentioned it to a friend sitting in the adjacent seat and we briefly contemplated why tornados never seemed to hit the middle of big cities like NY or Chicago, but only smaller towns. That night, in our motel rooms, we saw a major news story on the television about an hour-long F-4 tornado that had devastated parts of Lemont just that day. As students frantically tried calling home (though most could not get through as the phone lines were gone), my friend recalled the odd little discussion we'd had a few hours before. I had forgotten it, but the realization of that most improbable coincidence, along with the stunned silence of the other people in the room, then hit with an impact that I'll retain for life.
The other two coincidence dreams were just as memorable and, due to our species' love of patterns and connecting information, they are likewise indelibly etched into my brain. Dates that have since faded in my mind can easily be added because both involved extremely large disasters that are now in the history books and web sites.
I was home from college for the summer on July 23, 1984. I performed, and worked as a stage crew member, with the Wheaton Summer Band, but mostly just had the lazy, warm days free. During a late afternoon nap, with the window open and the chiffon curtains blowing pleasantly in the cool breeze, I had one of the most terrifying dreams I can remember. A nuclear bomb had just exploded nearby, and my immediate family and I were standing huddled together in our open garage as we watched the approaching white mist that meant the end. At that instant, I woke suddenly to a VERY loud bang, that shook our old house, rattling the window and leaving me with that frightening "final moment" vision in extreme clarity. In a flash, I was up and outside, where the neighbors were also appearing. I had NOT dreamed about the noise, which seemed to everyone to have been an explosion. We were right. As we later found out, the Union Oil refinery a few miles away, on the I&M Canal at the border between Lemont and Romeoville, had experienced a massive explosion that killed 17 people. It was one of the worst industrial disasters ever.
One more dream that became memorable due to later circumstances occurred the night of May 24, 1979. I had arrived home from college only a short time before I had a rather spectacular dream in which I saw an airplane in the distance crash down into a field. It was daylight, but instead of flames and smoke rising from the impact locale, an elaborate fireworks display followed. The colors were magnificent and the pyrotechnics were more like glowing jewels forming evolving patterns and symmetrical fractals, with many sparkly effects. The next day, on the evening news, the crash of a DC-10, Flight 191, at O'Hare was reported. There were 273 people killed. When the time of the crash was given, I realized that I had been driving south on I-55, not far from the airport, and had simply been looking in the wrong direction to have seen the effects of the catastrophe, which I was sure did not in any way resemble the kaleidoscopic spectacle in my recent dream.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of dreams is their uncontrollable nature. Anything in a person's experience or thoughts might make an appearance or be an influence. There is, however, a technique in which a sleeping person is aware of dreaming and can even exert some control over the narrative or circumstances. Lucid dreaming, a term coined by a Dutch psychiatrist in the early 20th Century, can happen by chance, but there are various mental exercises that will help increase its likelihood. My husband, Larry, had a book about this subject and I decided to see if I could do any of the suggested experiments and end up with a dream in which I deliberately changed something. One of the easiest techniques was to think, while falling asleep, that I would make an effort to look at my hand during a dream. The routine was to look at my real hand, then concentrate on the intention to see it again in a dream. This was such a boring thought that I quickly fell asleep on several subsequent nights. After just a few tries, though, a very nondescript dream was suddenly interrupted with a gigantic psychedelic rainbow-colored hand that filled my entire vision, as if thrust in my face. I made the connection immediately to the lucid dreaming exercise, but it was so funny that I woke up laughing!
As long as we must, due to natural limitations, sleep for 1/3 of our lives, we might as well embrace that time, appreciate the rambling thoughts formed in our ever-active brains, and accept the quirky convergences of fact and fantasy, interesting revelations, oddly paranormal experiences, and personal insights. Produced by our minds, dreams are both a product of our imaginations and a creative exercise in piecing together random snippets of memories. At their best, they help us wake up refreshed, in a good mood and ready to tackle another day of reality.
In mid-July, 2016, Valerie was part of a support team working with an EarthWatch fellowship expedition. The study focus was "climate change and caterpillars" and the participants were all teachers who were there to learn first-hand about field research in order to enhance their students' traditional curricula with real-life experiences. One of the activities included collecting caterpillars, hence the white beat-sheets being carried up the hillside. The specimens were then kept for several days to determine parasitoid infestation, one of a number of different variables being recorded for an ongoing decades-long study.
The location shown above is in the Florida Canyon area of the Santa Rita Experimental Range, near Green Valley, Arizona, where the ocotillo and grass vegetation presents a rather striking spectacle under the heavy cloud cover. Although the weather was ominous, time was rather short, so the program leaders decided to try and get some collecting done prior to the arrival of storms. The group did manage to work for about 1/2 hour before lightning was seen. Due to the exposed location on the elevated slope, it was at that time deemed prudent to retreat.
|(The Terra Tabloid is a venue for the discussion of issues pertaining to the past, present, and future of our planet and human interaction with it.)|
On April 26, 1986, Europe was rocked by an explosion at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. A nuclear power plant had a partial meltdown, its containment infrastructure was breached, extremely radioactive smoke and water vapor clouds were spreading out across several countries, and efforts to halt the damage were at first only partially successful. It was a frightening time. Many people died from the immediate accident, subsequent measures by emergency workers, and dispersing radiation through the adjacent region in the weeks following. Over three decades later, the area remains quite hazardous. The fallout that spread out over Russia and a large swath of Europe may have contributed to cancer deaths. Very conservatively, an estimated 4000 have died from the tragedy. Estimates of the total number of excess deaths in Europe as a result of increased cancer risk from Chernobyl's radioactive fallout exceed 200,000, but there is no way to prove such a large number. Soon after the catastrophe, about 50,000 people were forced to leave villages close to Chernobyl and to try to start afresh elsewhere. The resettlement figure would eventually reach about 350,000. The Chernobyl accident is thought to have led in general to a major reconsideration of the efficacy of nuclear power, for instance in Germany, where, instead, the emphasis since has been more on solar energy solutions to increasing energy needs.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), a 600,000-acre area around the wrecked plant, has not been reopened for our habitation. There are people who live near there and others who venture in briefly. For the most part, it has been left untouched by humans for about 31 years.
Yet the few who trek in for short stays now witness an odd and perhaps inspiring thing: left alone by people, the plants and wildlife of the CEZ have thrived, in spite of enough radiation to kill off many of the young animals and shorten the lives of many more. One striking example is the wild Przewalski horses, nearly extinct, but introduced into the CEZ in the hope they might make a comeback. Indeed they have. Luke Massey, who gained permission for a few days in the CEZ, has taken striking photos from the area that confirm the equines, now a complete herd, are flourishing.
So, apparently, are wolves, European bison, bear, moose, foxes, bees and other insects, hares, rats, beaver, salmon and other fish, wading birds, turkeys, egrets, hawks, quite a variety of other fowl, and deer. In merely days at a time of hanging out in the CEZ, Massey and others have also recorded the presence of wolves, lynx, spiders, wild boar, badgers, voles, shrews, elk, and mice.
Will this accidental nature preserve be sustained once humans can safely migrate back into the area? Who can say? For now, in spite of high radiation levels, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone remains a vast, great experiment and a sanctuary for wildlife that might not have been able to do nearly so well with us around.
It is interesting to speculate on various places that in the course of human development may become new exclusion zones and how nature will transform and be transformed by them. The prospect of eventual biological or nuclear wars, of terrorism on a grand scale, or of accidents of unprecedented scope seems daunting yet hardly far-fetched. Since Chernobyl, there is already the smaller, still intensely deadly area in Japan where about five years ago a tsunami caused a nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi plant. Readings this year showed that radiation levels there remain shockingly high. Thirty years hence, how might area land and marine life in that vicinity have been altered as well, if people continue to be kept away?
Ultimately, even if our species by some cataclysm should render most or all complex life in the biosphere unsustainable, it seems likely that, at least from the multitude of anaerobic, single cell forms that subsist at the bottom of the oceans or in caves and caverns deep below Earth's surface, new evolutionary lines will arise. Eventually, a future form of intelligence may gain hegemony upon our pearly world. What might it make of the thin line of pressed plasticized debris that could mark our relatively brief reign within the geological record?
Animals Rule Chernobyl Three Decades After Nuclear Disaster. John Wendle in NationalGeographic.com; April 18, 2016;
Roaming Wild In The Radiation Zone: Endangered Species Are THRIVING Around Chernobyl 30 Years After Nuclear Disaster Forced Mankind To Leave. Chris Pleasance in DailyMail.co.uk; March 28, 2017.
One of the biggest birds in our neighborhood is the black vulture (Coragyps atratus). While it won't win any beauty contests, it is certainly one of the more valuable residents. Unlike the city employees who are are tasked with keeping our roads cleared of debris, the vultures efficiently and, best of all, for no pay, eliminate the numerous casualties that occur when animals and vehicles collide. From small morsels such as squirrels and doves to banquets of coyote, deer and dogs, vultures gather quickly and devour most of what has been tire-tenderized before it has baked for the 5-7 days that would otherwise pass between report and response of human intervention. The rapid removal of carcasses is especially important in our warm climate, as disease carrying flies and scavenging raccoons, opossums and skunks being lured into a residential area is less than desirable, not to mention the aromatic assault of decomposing flesh.
While the featherless head of a vulture might not appeal to our aesthetics, it is extremely effective for its purpose. The bird can plunge its long beak deep into a mangled corpse and not soil its plumage, as the bare skin is much easier to keep clean. The only downside to having vultures perched on our light posts or feasting in our streets is the size of their scat.
What could be better than free money, right? Low Price to Free Cash Flow (P/FCF) is considered a useful alternative to Low Price to Earnings (P/E) for evaluating possible value in stock purchase candidates. Earnings can be more easily manipulated by management to make the P/E look good. The stock of a successful, growing company often can be evaluated by several value criteria, such as the growth of its dividends, earnings, sales, and free cash flow. Ideally, all will similarly reflect progress in adding value for shareholders. Yet if there is a discrepancy, the P/FCF is usually more reliable than other measures. Free cash flow is defined as that extra stream of dollars generated by a company's profitable activities after subtracting normal capital expenses and shareholder dividends. Price to Free Cash Flow, then, is the price per share divided by the per share free cash flow. The lower this ratio, the more easily beneficial changes can be made by management, hence increasing the stock's value. These might include increasing the dividend, further reducing company debt, repurchasing stock when it is selling below intrinsic value, buying up smaller businesses whose operations can help add to the company's bottom line, upgrading plant and equipment, etc. Companies that generate more free cash flow for their market price are also attractive to potential buyers of the entire corporation. Such subsequent mergers and acquisitions often lead to nicely profitable prices per share being paid to shareholders . All things being equal, then, it is better to have holdings in a company with low P/FCF.
Consistent with this, the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII), which tracks dozens of investment strategies, has found that its low P/FCF screen generates higher gains for investors than most, in fact through the most recent reporting period, 3/31/17, providing 18.1% average yearly total returns (before commissions, but including dividends) since the screen's early 1998 inception. This compares well with the S&P 500 Index record of 4.2% for the same period.
|Express Scripts Holding Company||ESBX||$61.02||7.62||0.00%|
|Michael Kors Holdings, Ltd.||KORS||$38.23||6.76||0.00%|
|Molina Healthcare, Inc.||MOH||$68.16||3.50||0.00%|
|Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.||TEVA||$31.36||10.58||3.70%|
|United Therapeutics Corp.||UTHR||$123.48||8.04||0.00%|
The mean P/FCF for U.S. stocks is about 14. P/FCF values significantly below this are considered low and overall have greater potential for profitability. The table shows several companies with recently low P/FCF ratios and can be filtered further as desired for the better investment candidates. My own favorites at this time are MCK and TEVA.
Though it can be a helpful starting point in evaluating purchase candidates, the low P/FCF criterion is of course but one tool in the investor's kit. Warren Buffett suggests that folks who do not wish to evaluate stocks carefully would be best served simply buying on a dollar-cost-average basis low fee stock index mutual funds. Good advice, in my view. For those who do wish to be more active in equity analysis, however, the Price to Free Cash Flow ratio can be quite useful.
Enjoy the end of spring, as next month's issue goes out when "Sumer Is Icumen In" or, for those of you not familiar with mid-13th century medieval songs, on the Summer Equinox. If you don't know the song whose title we just cited, have a listen: it's a catchy tune!
We wish all recent graduates well on their future pursuits, be it further schooling and/or engaging with the work force. An excellent bit of advice: Education does not end with graduation. Perpetual learning is an important element in a worthwhile life.
|For others who may have chanced upon this site, larvalbug bytes is a monthly family-and-investment newsletter, put out by an old codger and sweet thing, with sometimes a little help as well from our engaging pooch, Peri. We invite readers' comments by and would also be happy to readers when new issues are published. Articles and stories from back issues are available in our archives.|
Copyright © 2017 by LARVALBUG
"The Gold-Bug" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.
"The Gold-Bug" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.