Do You Believe In Guardian Angels?

Have you ever had an incident where you felt that you were being protected or directed by a force beyond yourself? I have had many such events, some insignificant and others significant. Let me tell you about a few of them.

I drove to my son’s college last week to pack up about 90% of his belongings. He would graduate this week, and I knew the family would not want the hassle of packing on graduation day. The day before my packing trip, I was using my phone, and I developed a sudden fascination for the State Farm app. I had that app on my phone for years and never thought about it. Why would I be so interested in it now?

I opened the app and was immediately drawn to the section on roadside assistance. I had never used roadside assistance in the 40-plus years I had State Farm car insurance. “Hmm, I forgot I even had that,” I thought.  

Kathryn, Will, and I packed Violet the campervan to bursting. I then did a graduation photoshoot with Will in his cap and gown. Exhausted, KK and I were about to leave when I discovered that Violet had a flat tire. “Crap!” I said out loud. Violet is a big girl, and her spare is under her carriage. I had never changed a tire on her and thought I couldn’t manage it. However, my recent app awareness reminded me that I had roadside assistance. Forty-five minutes later, we were on our way back home.

When Kathryn was a freshman, I drove her and her belonging to the University of Arizona. I then drove back solo to Naperville in my tiny Honda Fit. There was a lot of road construction on my return trip, with long sections of the highway cordoned into single lanes using concrete barriers. I had heard that the state police were brutal on speeders in these areas, so I made sure that I turned on cruise control every time I was in a construction lane. 

I was in New Mexico, driving in a long, cordoned-off lane and daydreaming. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming command. “LOOK IN YOUR REARVIEW MIRROR, NOW!” I did so and was horrified to see the giant grill of an 18-wheeler. The truck was so close to me that the driver could not see me. He wasn’t paying attention and was likely as distracted as I was. He would have overtaken the Honda in seconds, destroying it and killing me. I punched the gas pedal and slowly moved forward and away from the truck. Finally, he saw me and was clearly as freaked out by the event as I was. He stayed several miles away from me from that point on.

One more car example. As some of you know, I drove weekly to Rockford, Illinois, for many years. Part of that drive was on Interstate 39, a notoriously windy road. I was going home one Friday and was very tired. In front of me was a pickup truck pulling a camper trailer. Once again, I felt a firm command, “BACK UP, GIVE THAT TRAILER SPACE.” I slowed down and increased my interval from several car lengths to several blocks. The pickup tried to change lanes but couldn’t and jerked back into my lane. That jerk, plus the wind, sent the trailer into a wild oscillation, and within moments, it went airborne and then crashed horizontally right in my lane. I would have been crushed if I had been following at a normal distance.

These types of events go well beyond driving. Let me give you a couple of other examples.

When I was a student, many teachers would mark “on the curve.” In other words, the top grade on the test would become 100%, no matter the actual score. This was a way to compare student to student rather than using some arbitrary scoring standard. I often “broke the curve,” meaning I scored significantly higher than the other students. So my test score would become the defacto 100%. I am good at taking tests, but I have a secret weapon. Usually, when studying obscure facts (sometimes at the footnote level) would pop up, I would get the feeling, “STUDY THIS.” More often than not, that information would be prominently questioned on the test.

How about another academic example? This one you may have heard before. I didn’t have a lot of resources when I was younger. I got an full ride plus a stipend to attend graduate school and earned my Master’s in Biochemistry that way. I planned to continue to get a Ph.D. and become a university professor. However, I again had an overwhelming feeling, this time to do something crazy. “LEAVE GRADUATE SCHOOL AND APPLY TO MEDICAL SCHOOL.” This was an insane idea. I was incredibly fortunate to get a deal to attend grad school, and this feeling was telling me to throw the opportunity away.  

I attended a junior college for two years and then NIU for my undergraduate degree. I was surprised that graduate schools wanted me. Med school applicants start their preparations in high school and have the funds to attend top universities. That was not me. 

I fought the feeling thinking that it was academic suicide. This only made the urge stronger, “LEAVE GRADUATE SCHOOL. IT IS NOT FOR YOU! TRUST ME, APPLY TO MEDICAL SCHOOL” I finally gave in and left after my Master’s degree, got a research job at the University of Chicago, and applied to medical schools. I was confident that I had just thrown my life away. However, multiple schools interviewed and accepted me. I wound up attending one of the country’s top medical schools. That sort of stuff doesn’t happen to a blue-collar kid like me. 

Because I went to med school, I worked in a hospital. It was there that I met my wife. Yesterday I sat down with her and our three wonderful kids to celebrate Mother’s Day. None of that would have happened if I had continued my original path.  

OK, just one more example. As a teenager, I had a desk at the top of the second-floor stairs in our old 1920s bungalow. The space between the desk and the stairs was adequate for a chair but not generous. One day I was seated at my desk and completely engrossed, trying to figure out a physics problem set. I kept working the equations one way, then another, but I couldn’t get the answer that I knew was correct. When I am in such a place, everything around me becomes muted, and my mind transcends into a place where all outside distractions disappear. Oblivious to the world, I found myself tapping my pencil as I rolled my chair back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly, I felt “STOP!” and simultaneously experienced what felt like two hands pressing on my shoulders, freezing me and freaking me out. I jumped up, and my chair crashed down the stairs and into the hard dresser on the landing below. On my next unconscious roll, I would have tumbled down the stairs, with the crash breaking my neck or possibly even killing me. 

I could give other examples, but I hope you get the point. These events were controlled by a force outside of me. A power that would guide me, protect me, help me.

Some may say that it is just my subconscious processing data and popping up in my conscious when necessary. Others may say it is random coincidence. Still, others may note that it is the direct voice of God. Or could we have spiritual beings connected to our Higher Power that travel life with us and protect us? Some may call such an entity a guardian angel. 

I’m leaning toward the last two explanations. But, naturally, I am still determining where the truth lies. There are many forces in the world that I neither understand nor comprehend. What do you think?

The Problem With Homemade/DIY Laundry “Detergent”

Years ago, I watched a reality TV show where the mom of a big family made her own laundry soap, I was fascinated, but the chemist in me was suspicious.  Yet, she said that her DIY product worked as well as the commercial stuff.  Since then, there have been countless variations of that same recipe, consisting of three ingredients: Super Washing Powder, Borax, and bar soap (usually Fells Naptha, Zote, or Dr. Bronners). The ratios of these three ingredients vary dramatically, with no clear winner among the recipes.  

During the pandemic, many stores in my area had empty selves beyond toilet paper. Cleaning agents like all-purpose cleaners and hygiene products like hand sanitizer and liquid hand soap became impossible to buy. Because of this, I started to create my own products with reasonable success.  The thought of making DIY laundry soap re-emerged, but again, the chemist in me rejected this idea. Recent searches of users of these concoctions confirm what my thoughts were long ago.  Because of this, I decided to do a deeper dive into the topic of homemade laundry soap.  if you are making your own laundry soap and are happy with the results, I am happy for you.  I don’t want to rain on your parade.  You do you.

Many of the current recipes are based on traditional laundry washing. I remember my mom doing laundry in the 1960s and the 1970s.  I also have some historical information on how my grandmother did laundry in the 1940s.  Their methods radically differed, reflecting how modern advances made the dreaded laundry day palatable.

In the 1940s, it was common to use traditional laundry soap.  The laundry was sorted and scrubbed with soap on a washboard until clean.  At some point, my grandmother would boil her items, likely to aid the cleaning/sanitizing process and to add blueing agents (which made whites look whiter).  During those years, people sometimes mixed in chemicals like washing soda or borax to make their tasks easier. Let’s look at these three basic cleaning agents.

Super Washing Soda (a common brand of washing soda) is the chemical sodium carbonate.  It changes the pH of the water to be more alkaline.  In addition, it binds with minerals, like calcium, in the water to soften it—high pH and softer water clean more efficiently. Sodium carbonate is still widely used in commercial laundry detergents.

Super Washing Soda is a washing soda brand commonly sold in stores.

Borax is the common name for the chemical disodium tetraborate.  It also has a high pH and makes the wash water more alkaline.  In addition, borax can react with water to create hydrogen peroxide so that borax can act as a whitening agent. Borax was added in some early commercial detergent formulations (I remember it being in a laundry detergent in the 1960s) but eventually lost favor as borax can irritate the skin.  Also, borax has toxic qualities, which can cause illness if ingested or inhaled.

Borax may have a number of home uses, but there are better alternatives for laundry days.

Laundry Bar Soap (Fells Naptha, Zote) is a harsh soap used for tasks like doing the laundry, but it can also be used for other cleanings, like dishwashing. I have read blogs where the writer claimed soap washes out of clothes easier than detergent; that is completely false. Laundry soap needs hot water to dissolve and doesn’t work well in cold water.  In addition, all soaps bind with minerals in the water to form soap scum.  This can mess up modern washing machines.  More importantly, soap scum is hard to rinse from clothing and traps oils and dirt, making clothes look dingy.  Bacteria thrive in this goop, causing them to smell bad.

You can find Fels Naptha at groceries, big-box, and hardware stores.

The above problem was less of an issue for Grandma as she was using only natural fabrics, lots of water, and labor-intensive techniques (like boiling her clothes).

I recall my mom doing laundry, first with a wringer/washer and then with an automatic machine. She would use traditional laundry soap and a washboard only for stain treatment.  This was most commonly done to remove “ring around the collar.” As an adult, I have never seen a ring around my collar.  Are we just cleaner nowadays?

Mom saw the benefits of laundry detergent, which works better in modern washing machines and with modern fabrics than traditional bar soap.  Let’s take a look at detergents.

Detergents, just like soap, are surfactants.  Surfactants have unique properties where they are both hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-hating). Fats and water don’t mix well. Surfactants act as a bridge allowing water to interact with fats so that the water can wash the body oils/grime off your clothes. 

Detergents require a multistep manufacturing process using a substrate which is often petroleum-based but can be other things, like plant oils. Detergents can be manufactured with different properties, such as high foaming (suds) or low foaming.  Unlike soap, detergents don’t form soap scum and can be formulated to rise well.  Detergents can be designed to dissolve in cold water and to work more effectively in that environment. Modern detergents are biodegradable, like soap.  

You can see the advantages of detergents in many cleaning/hygiene products. Detergents are the principal cleaning agents in laundry detergent, dish and dishwasher detergent, and hygiene products such as shampoo, body wash, and liquid hand soap. Detergent formulas can be very strong or extremely mild.  If you have a skin condition like eczema, your dermatologist will likely recommend using a “soap” like Dove unscented, Aveeno, or Vanacreme.  None of these are soap; these bars are made from mild detergents.

Commercial laundry detergent products contain a lot more than detergent. In addition, they may have water-softening agents, color-fast bleaches, color-brighteners, and various ingredients to remove specific stains.  Stain removal agents may include oxidizing agents (like Oxiclean) and enzymes designed to dissolve specific stains. Detergents may also have preservatives to increase their shelf life.  Detergents can be customized for a particular region based on the type of water present. 

All of the above ingredients add to the cost of the product, which is why better-rated detergents like Tide or Persil cost more.  Bargain detergent products may omit some of the expensive additions, like stain-removing enzymes.

Tide often comes on top for stain removal abilities, but it is also one of the most expensive laundry detergents.

Eco-friendly cleaners like Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds and Tru-Earth laundry sheets also use detergents as their main cleaning agent.  They may have a shorter list of additives (and clean less effectively).  These brands will proudly proclaim things like they are “phosphate free.”  However, all laundry detergents have been phosphate-free for decades. Laundry sheets are manufactured with a dissolvable plastic that binds the cleaning agents together. In addition, cardboard boxes/jugs are often plasticized, making them difficult to recycle or compost. Are these products better for the environment or just greenwashed to make consumers feel better?  I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Green or greenwashed?

When my kids were in grade school, we submitted a project to their school’s science fair, where we compared less expensive laundry detergents to more expensive ones. We stained white tee shirts with various things (catsup, chocolate syrup, etc.) and then washed them.  We did one wash with no detergent as a control. The more expensive Tide cleaned stains better than the cheaper brands.  However, we also discovered that water by itself lightened stains. Our observations showed that water alone was about 60% as effective as washing with Tide.  This makes sense, as water is the universal solvent. However, this can cloud a laundry soap maker’s judgment as you can toss almost anything into the washer and get a cleaner product.  However, much of that cleaning may be due to water, plus the agitating action of the machine.

This latter point also deserves mention.  Adding energy increases cleaning ability.  Washing clothes on a washboard, adding hot water, or using an agitator all add energy to cleaning reactions and generally result in a cleaner wash.  

There is logic in the formulation of homemade laundry detergents. Still, they can’t compete with modern commercial products based on the information I have provided above.  To combat the soap scum issue, many home products use very little soap, but inadequate soap means less cleaning.  Still, many reports from DIYers say that their clothes look duller, smell worse, and are less absorbent over time.  I have seen some DIY formulas that have become incredibly complex in an attempt to combat these issues.  One recipe used Super Washing Soda, Borax, Fells Naptha bars, Zote bars, powdered Gain laundry detergent, Oxyclean, and scent crystals. Gain is a detergent, and Ocyclean contains detergent, so the lady’s improvements can be traced to the detergent in those products.  

OxiClean is a product that contains a number of ingredients, including detergents.

Several videos and blogs describe how you can “strip” your clothes to eliminate all the residue and gunk from DIY soaps.  Lastly, some DIY soap users add vinegar to their rinse cycle in an attempt to wash away some of the soap scum and make their items softer. The fact that DIY laundry soaps don’t work as well as commercial laundry detergent seems to be a secret everyone knows.

The most effective DIY laundry soap recipes use detergent, often Dawn dish detergent, as their surfactant instead of laundry soap. Dish detergent is designed for suds, so you must use less in machines requiring low suds. Despite being more effective than laundry soap, these concoctions are less effective than commercial laundry detergent. It should be noted that these recipes are homemade diluted laundry detergents, not laundry soaps.

Beyond the perceived idea that DIY laundry soaps are more natural, most cite cost as the reason they mix up their batches. Remember, there is a difference between cost and value. Can you still save money if you decide to forgo DIY laundry soap?  The answer is yes.

The most expensive laundry detergents clean the widest range of stains.  That may be great if you have a bunch of toddlers who are constantly spilling on themselves.  However, many of us are adults, fairly sedentary, and neat. Our clothes may get clean using a cheaper laundry detergent with fewer ingredients. This price difference can be significant.  For instance, a 40-ounce bottle of Persil at my local grocery store sells for $8.99 and does around 25 loads at a cost of 36 cents per load.  While a 32-load bottle of LA Totally Awesome laundry detergent at Dollar Tree costs only 4 cents a load ($1.25/32 = 0.039). Naturally, there are many brands between these price points, plus buying on sale or in larger quantities can offer additional savings. 

LA Totally Awesome laundry detergent can be had for $1.25, yielding less than 4 cents per load.

The cost for most mid-level laundry detergents is about 7-13 cents a load. If you assume 10 cents a load and are a single person or couple, it is reasonable to think that you will do four or fewer loads of laundry per week.  4 loads x 52 weeks = 208 loads per year.  Two hundred eight loads times 10 cents is only $21 for a year’s worth of washing. I don’t think a DIY laundry product would cost you much less.

At the time of this writing, the 144.5 ounce of the popular Arm and Hammer laundry detergent can be bought on Amazon at a cost of 8 cents per load.

People frequently use too much detergent, which can be easy as manufacturers design confusing measuring caps.  The amount of needed detergent may be as little as 1/8th to 1/4th the volume of the measuring cap, so read the instructions on the bottle. The excessive detergent will not wash out of your clothes and give you the same problems as laundry soap.  

Can you use less detergent than recommended?  Some say yes, but most manufacturers base their recommendations on what works.  Use less, but return to the recommended amount if you are unhappy with the results.

You may ask, what is better, pods, powder, liquid, or sheets?  Pods are convenient but much more expensive.  Powders may be more eco-friendly as they don’t come in a huge plastic jug. They also may be less expensive to buy than liquids.  Newer powder formulations dissolve better in cold water but not as well as liquid detergents.  Liquid detergents dissolve well in cold water, are effective, and you can use them directly on a stain as a pretreatment, but you have to contend with their huge and eco-unfriendly jugs. Detergent sheets use less packaging but may not be as eco-friendly as their advertising would want you to believe. I have read reports from several consumers who felt that sheets did not work as well as more traditional agents. It can all be a bit confusing. 

For occasional stains, a simple pretreatment may do the job. American’s Test Kitchen found that soaking overnight with Oxyclean was better at removing stains than spray stain removers. There are also enzymatic soaks that you can purchase; the product Biz comes to mind. Soaking overnight works better than adding these same agents to the wash load.

Spray-type stain cleaners are very convenient but may not work as well as soaking-type stain removers.
Biz is a complex stain remover.

Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go with the top brands.  If you or your spouse is an auto mechanic, it may be worth spending the extra money. Most would wash greasy uniforms separately, so you could still use a less expensive brand for the rest of your laundry loads. I knew someone who worked a very dirty/greasy job and bought a used second washer for his work clothes.  I also read a post about a family using an old ringer/washer for such items.  They could use lots of very hot water and long agitator times to dissolve away the grime without contaminating their fancy newer machine.

Godspeed if you are happy with your DIY laundry soap.  However, if you aren’t happy or don’t want to be your own chemist, try some of my suggestions.


Living In A Small Space? You Can Still Do Laundry!

When I was searching for a house, I looked for specific features.  However, only after I moved in did I realize that one of the best additions was something I hadn’t even given much thought to.  What was that?  Having my own washer and dryer.  

I had lived in several apartments before buying a home and accepted the hassle of laundry day.  However, once I was freed from dealing with coin-operated machines, I realized how stressful doing laundry had been.  What were the points of my pain?

  1. The quarter hunt.  I was always looking around for quarters, and it always seemed I was one or two shy. Searching under my couch cushions became a regular part of my week. 
  2. I lived in apartments with only a single washer and dryer and others with a bank of them. With the single-machine apartments, it was common to go down and find the machine in use with several loads cued up. Once, I walked into the laundry room of a complex with a bank of machines, and someone had taken someone else’s clean wet laundry and thrown it on the dirty floor.  I’m not sure why, but that was creepy.
  3. Machines would be broken, and dryers wouldn’t heat, etc. 
  4. Who knew what was washed in a machine right before I used it?
  5. Although most of my apartments had laundry rooms, I occasionally used laundromats. This meant waiting in a too-hot, too-cold, and always-humid room for hours.  Laundromats never seemed to have chairs; when they did, they were usually those fiberglass molded ones that would often have a broken leg.

After decades of ownership, I take having my own laundry facilities for granted.  However, the pandemic brought a new level of awareness to this basic need. Millions of people live in apartments that don’t have in-apartment laundry.  What did they do? I researched the topic and found that laundry day was stressful for many of them.  I read reports of people doing all their laundry by hand to avoid public laundry facilities during the pandemic. What a massive hassle.  That got me thinking about the overall stress of using public laundry facilities, which led me to research alternative options. I was surprised that there were quite a few possibilities, some very reasonable.  I want to share that information with you. Hopefully, this post will reach a few apartment dwellers who may find it useful.

Washing clothes by hand works for a few items, but it can be a real drag for larger loads.

Manual washing

As old as time, the simplest way to get your clothes clean.  When I was a student, there were rare times when my schedule was so out-of-control that I needed to wash necessary items in the sink. It is possible to get a decent result, but such actions get tiring when doing anything more than a few pairs of socks and some underwear.  Some manual gadgets can lighten this load, but only by a bit.  I’ll list them in the photos below.

A simple scrubbing board adds friction and, with it, increased cleaning power.
This Scrubba makes hand washing small loads more efficient.
Another popular manual gadget is the Wonder Wash.
This washing plunger is used in conjunction with a large tub to effectively wash clothes. Some people use a clean toilet pluger for the same task.

Twin-tub machines

Sometimes called Asian washers, these machines are very lightweight and come in various sizes and capacities, from desktops to floor-standing machines.  They tend to be inexpensive, and they look like toys.  However, users of them say they are surprisingly good at washing clothes.  Further, I read several “one year later” reports that were quite favorable.  The larger capacity versions of these machines cost more.  Some drain only by gravity, so you must place them on the counter next to a sink or in a bathtub.  Others have an electric pump to discharge the water.  These can be placed on the floor next to a sink.  

Twin-tub machines are manual, but they eliminate the hand-wrenching jobs of physically washing, rinsing and wringing out wet clothes.  Their washing action is very strong, to the point of often knotting up clothes, and their separate spin dryers are so fast that clothes often dry within hours once hung up.  These machines are designed for cold water washes but can be used with warm water.  Hot water will damage them.

You need to fill these machines manually (using a hose connected to a faucet) and manually switch them to drain.  In addition, you need to place the wet clothes into the spinner basket and then return them for a rinse and then another spin.  The spinner baskets are smaller than the washer, so you must spin a wash batch in several loads.  However, spinning only takes a few minutes. Even the larger machines of this group have less capacity than a regular washer.  However, overall, people sing their praises often using statements like “Life changing” and “The best purchase I ever made.”  

As an aside, various users have their own techniques when using these machines.  Some spin and then rinse, others rinse and then spin.  Some fill the washer using a faucet connection and a little hose; others fill from a bucket.  Manual, in this case, means very flexible operations.

This is not a twin-tub machine, but it does provide automatic aggitation for small batches of clothes.
This small twin-tub may be all that you need if your needs are modest.
This larger machine is floor standing. It does not have a drain pump so you will likely need to place it in your bathtub or shower stall when operating.
This is a similarly sized machine from the same manufacturer, however for about $30 more it has a drain pump.

The Laundry-Alternative  Niagara washer, plus the Laundry-Alternative Nija spin dryer.

This one-of-a-kind setup offers almost full-size laundry capabilities in a much smaller and less expensive package.  These machines are more automatic than twin-tub machines, but they still require some work from the operator.  They are bulkier, with the Niagara washer weighing 35 pounds and the Nija spin dryer weighing almost 20 pounds.  However, they are built to last.  I saw one report of a man using a Laundry-Alternative spinner 15 years after he bought it.  

Although top loading, the Niagara operates more like a front loader.  Therefore, it is gentler and uses less water than a top-loading machine.  It fills and runs automatically, using a very simple mechanical dial. It has a drain pump so you can place it on the floor next to your sink. The Niagara can be used with hot water if desired.  It has dispensers for soap and rinse additives like fabric softeners. 

The Niagara will complete washing and rinsing independently, but it doesn’t spin dry.  Buying a separate spin dryer like the Ninja is important to make this system work efficiently. 

The Ninja spinner is larger than those on twin tub machines. It is reported to be the largest capacity spinner on the market and can handle 22 pounds of clothes.  In addition, the Nija spins at an incredible 3200 rpm, compared to a standard washing machine that spins at around 1200 rpm. Faster spinning means greater water extraction. Some synthetic clothing items could be dry after hanging in less than 30 minutes. 

The Niagara washer
The Ninja spin dryer
Watch my YouTube video on the Niagara washing machine and the Ninja spin-dryer.

Fully automatic portable washers.

These units are similar to a regular washer but smaller. A typical home top-loading washing machine’s capacity is between 3.5 and 5 cubic feet, with front loaders having a 4.2-4.5 cubic feet capacity. In contrast, these machines start at 0.9 cubic feet, with many around 1.7 cubic feet capacity.  I did find one portable washer at 2.4 cubic feet. Because of their complexity, they cost more and are heavier. Some of the larger models are more expensive than basic full-sized machines. I found the most reviews for the 0.9 cubic feet machines suggesting that these are the most popular. Some of these machines are for cold water wash only.

These machines are computerized, which is nice, but this also serves as a point of failure. Because these machines are all-in-one, they spin slower than those listed above. Many of these machines spin at 750 RPM compared to around 1200 RPM for a standard washer or 3500 RPM for the Ninja. Therefore, many people who buy these machines often buy little portable dryers instead of hanging their laundry. 

This mini-washing machine operates very similarly to a full-sized one.

Who are portable machines for?

Any of these machines is perfect for a single person or a couple.  Families can use them, but they are likely best utilized when a small load must be done between a full laundry day. However, I read reports of families using these machines for weekly laundry. The best strategy for these families would be to do their laundry multiple times a week in small batches. 

Using a laundry trolley

You can buy inexpensive laundry trolleys to move around those machines that are too heavy to lift from storage to the sink.  

Which type of washer is best?

That is a personal choice.  Many people buy twin-tub machines as they are lightweight and inexpensive.  However, they are the most manual of gadgets—some like the convenience of a fully automated machine.

Personally, I like the Laundry Alternative solution.  Their machines are durable and have simple controls, making them less likely to break down.  The Niagara’s top-loading/front-operating style is water efficient and can wash a surprisingly large load despite being around 1/3rd the size of a standard washer.  The Niagara automatically does most of the tedious work of washing.  You don’t have to return to refill, rinse, etc.  Spinning is the only manual operation, but the Nija spinner is large, fast, and super efficient.  I would say that the Niagra/Nija combination is close in convenience to using a regular washing machine.

Thoughts on hanging clothes

None of these machines dry your clothes, but spinning them gets out most of the water, making drying fast.  

The fully automatic washers spin slower, so expect clothing to take longer to dry after hanging.  There is also the chance of some water drippage when using these machines. 

The twin-tub and Niagra spinners are very fast, with most clothing nearly dry.  Therefore, it is practical to hang those close out to dry. I imagine the audience for these machines won’t have outdoor spaces, and they will hang their clothes in their apartments.

There are many creative ways to hang clothes on existing home objects.  However, investing in dedicated hanging systems is best if you have a lot of laundry. 

A classic laundry rack
Another rack style.
Yet, another portable hanging solution.
This retracting clothes line can work inside your apartment and can tuck away when not in use.

Different racks and gadgets make hanging clothes a fairly easy operation.  See the photos above for some common ones.

Another way to hang clothes indoors is to use a heated airer, a clothing rack enclosed in a little tent with a small electric heater on the bottom. These units are inexpensive and have greater capacity than a standard dryer while using less energy than a standard dryer.  However, they are slower to dry than a dryer. 

Lastly, you can purchase mini-clothes dryers that operate similarly to a regularly sized unit.  Here it is recommended that you vent your exhaust out a window less you put too much humidity into your living space.  However, I have seen a number of reports where people vent directly into their apartments.  If you do the latter, I might suggest that you do so in a large and well-ventilated room to avoid eventual mold issues.  

A tiny mini-clothes dryer.

Is Shopping At Aldi Worth it?

I have been retired for over five years, and because of this, my income is fixed. Despite my retired status, I still have four adults living at home.  How will that change?  Soon I’ll have five adults living at home.  My wife continues to work, so I have taken on many domestic tasks, including grocery shopping and some meal prep.  When I was working, I never thought about the cost of groceries, but that is different now.  In addition, the world has been dealing with inflation, and stores have been practicing shrinkflation.  Buying groceries has become expensive. 

It isn’t unusual to spend $80-90 at a regular grocery store and leave with only two bags.  Years ago, I started to shop at Walmart, which was less expensive and offered a full range of groceries.  However, our Walmart has fallen on hard times via short staffing, poor stock, increased pricing, and foolish attempts at automation.  

Shopping there became a dreaded activity as large areas would be out-of-stock, the produce started to look like the stuff I was throwing out at home, and the prices kept increasing. However, the worst blow was the removal of almost all of the checkers in lieu of self-checkout. I would have an overflowing cart that I would have to scan and bag, given only a tiny work surface.  Some things wouldn’t scan or scan at the right prices.  In addition, I hated going through the process of looking up and weighing produce.  

Our Walmart would station employees by the checkout isles.  They wouldn’t help; their job was to stare you down, which felt creepy. My last straw with Walmart came after going through one shopping ordeal and having the door watcher ask to see my receipt and then go through several dozen checks of products I bought. I came home exhausted, frustrated, and exasperated.  I committed to only returning to Walmart when necessary and finding a new store to shop at. Enter Aldi.

I had shopped at Aldi before, but it was slightly out of the way. At that time, I did a price comparison with Walmart, and I found that the overall prices were slightly lower than Walmart’s, but I needed more to justify the greater distance and the reduced selection.  However, Walmart had changed with higher prices and terrible customer care.  Because of this, I decided to give Aldi a second look. So, is it cheaper to shop at Aldi?  The answer is yes, but for more reasons than you may think.

Aldi’s prices are less expensive than Walmart, and it seems that separation is greater now than in the past. That is an obvious positive.  However, Aldi stores are much smaller than Walmart, so I can easily shop without feeling completely exhausted.  In addition, Aldi has very fast and efficient checkers.  Yes, you must bag your groceries, but Aldi provides large counters, making the process simple.  I like that I have to bring my bags and have purchased several of them from Aldi.  One big Aldi bag is equivalent to around 4 Walmart bags making it much easier for me to bring the groceries into the house. Aldi’s grocery cart policy is also great, as no carts clog up the lot. 

Aldi has limited brands and limited selection, which reduces decision fatigue. In addition, the quality of almost all food items is good to excellent.  I can’t buy Kalamata olives at Aldi, but I can substitute black olives, which is good enough for me. Even with substitution, there are things that I use but can’t get at Aldi.  However, a quick trip to my local grocer solves that problem.  I have to be careful not to overbuy when I get there. Generally speaking, Aldi has 90-95% of what I need.

My grocery shopping is more enjoyable and less expensive than at Walmart.  I buy what I need as I’m much less likely to impulse purchase. I also shop the house brand, because that is what is available.  I substitute less expensive items for specialty items because Aldi doesn’t carry many.  I don’t linger in the store, so I don’t buy things that look interesting.  All of these factors make it significantly less expensive to shop at Aldi.

I can’t say there is any category of food that is significantly inferior to other stores.  The produce is good, as is the packaged bread and bakery.  I don’t see a difference with their canned goods; frozen items seem decent. If one area were lacking, I would say it would be their meat department.  There is nothing wrong with Aldi meat, but I don’t think it is at the same level as a store like Costco.  However, I would happily buy my meat at Aldi if I didn’t have options. 

If you haven’t visited Aldi recently, you may want to try it.  I would suggest that you shop there for several weeks before you make your final decision on the grocery chain, as it takes a little bit to get used to the different shopping experience.

Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and God

One of the advantages of being retired is that I can dip my toes into areas of study that would be impractical if I was still working. Then, focusing on learning things I needed to know was more important. Any leisure time was spent with family and on a few creative hobbies, with both add-ons necessary to keep me sane and centered. 

Free time isn’t free; it is a gift that can be utilized or squandered. It was so foreign that it took me several post-retirement years to adjust to it fully.

When I am inclined, I like to explore esoteric areas. Most recently, I have been studying the cosmos- the most gigantic structure we humans are aware of, and balancing that information with quantum mechanics and quantum wave theory, which are concerned with the smallest particles in nature. 

I must admit that my knowledge of either field is primitive, and even at my minuscule level of understanding, these topics are complicated and overwhelming. 

Our observable universe has trillions of galaxies; each has billions of star systems with planets. However, the actual universe is larger than our observable universe as the cosmos expanded at a speed greater than the speed of light at its inception. Because of this, some distant star’s light will never reach us. You are probably thinking, “But I thought nothing could go faster than the speed of light. Isn’t that what Einstein said in his theory of special relativity?” The speed of light is a fundamental constant in nature, but natural laws did not exist at the dawn of our universe. Those laws were established once light and matter came into being.

At the dawn of the universe, there were no long-lived elemental particles and certainty no atoms. The emerging universe was too hot to allow the creation of such things. As the universe cooled, subatomic particles formed that could join together to create hydrogen atoms, and with such formations, matter, as we know it, came into being. At the beginning of the universe, there was likely only one or two fundamental forces of nature that eventually separated into the four fundamental forces that govern the cosmos: electromagnetic, strong, weak, and gravitational. Physicists have been able to work backward and mathematically to join the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces together. Still, they have yet to figure out how the gravitational force is part of a single elementary force model. 

The values of any of these forces could have been different when the universe was forming. If any of these value was even slightly altered, the universe and everything in it as we know it would not exist. That is an amazing realization. How did we get the perfect values necessary for matter and, in turn, for life to exist? There is no current way to determine this. Some may say that an all-powerful intelligence designed the universe; others may state that there have been infinite universes, and ours just happened to be the lucky one where the numbers worked out. This is where science breaks down into philosophy, at least for now. 

The universe is expanding, but we don’t know what it is expanding into. As our scientific tools become more sophisticated, more questions arise. Galaxies are spinning much faster than they should be, and the overall speed of the universe expanding is faster than what is calculable based on our measurements of the known matter and energy present in the universe. Something else is speeding things up. Physicists call these forces dark matter and dark energy, two things we can’t see or measure with our current technology. However, we believe they are present based on how they impact things we can see and measure. Further, we can determine that both exist in much greater quantity than the matter we can see and the energy we can measure. The majority of the universe is, therefore, invisible to us.

The idea that the universe is full of invisible things isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Neutrinos are proven to be the most abundant particle in the universe (we can measure them), but they barely react with classic matter, so they pass through it. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through your body every second, and you are completely unaware of it. 

At the beginning of the universe, there was only energy. The universe rapidly expanded, and in the process, it cooled enough to form elementary particles, such as quarks, leptons, and gluons. As it cooled further, these elementary particles combined to form hydrogen atoms that served as stars’ fuel. In turn, the incredible energy and pressure of the stars formed helium and the other naturally occurring elements that make up our universe. These elements make up our oceans, skies, and land. It is amazing to realize that they also make up us. Why are we living while mountains are not? Another mystery.

The greatest scientist who ever lived was thought to be Sir Isaac Newton. His recognition of universal gravitation and his laws of motion became the foundation of physics. His formulas developed in the 1600s were accurate enough to guide Apollo 11 to the moon. However, they were incomplete as they couldn’t accurately explain the movement of some things we could observe in nature.

It was possible to correctly model the orbits of all known planets in our solar system using Newton’s classical equations, except for the planet Mercury. A patent clerk named Albert Einstein solved this conundrum in the early 1900s. He developed theories that went beyond Sir Isaac Newton’s observational equations. It turns out that Newton’s equations are correct, but they only work in certain situations. In reality, they are a subset of Einstein’s broader concepts. Newton’s equations are not accurate when dealing with the extreme. Among Einstein’s brilliant ideas are his special and general theories of relativity. One concept from these discoveries is the concept of space-time. Space (as measured by height, width, and depth) and time are joined together. Time is not a constant but varies. An accurate clock in a satellite experiences time faster than an accurate clock on earth. Time is moving faster in your head than in your feet (as your head is farther away from the earth’s gravity). So your head is aging faster. However, this difference is so tiny that you would never know it. These theories are hard to conceptualize, but they have been proven to be correct many times in experiments. 

So why couldn’t classical physics (Newton’s equations) predict the orbit of Mercury? Huge objects, like the sun, can significantly warp space-time. Since Mercury is close to our massive sun, it is impacted more by this warping. That warping impacts Mercury’s orbit in a way not predicted by Newtonian (classic) physics, but it is perfectly calculated by Einstein’s equations. If an object has enough mass, it can even warp the path of light, even though light has no mass on its own. This has also been proven many times and is an accepted fact. Black holes warp space-time so much that massless light can’t escape a black hole, which is why they appear black. When it comes to how very large objects interact or things (like light) that move incredibly fast, our observable understanding of how things work (classical physics) fails, but Einstein’s theories on general and special relativity prevail.

What about things that are on a very tiny scale? Enter the world of quantum mechanics, which is even more bizarre than relativity. The quantum world operates by rules very different from the macro world. The quantum world behaves so strangely that Einstein felt that parts of quantum mechanics couldn’t be true. He sarcastically referred to one aspect of quantum mechanics as “spooky.” However, he was wrong, and quantum theory has been proven both mathematically and through scientific experiments. 

It is difficult to understand basic quantum mechanics because things react differently than what we experience in our macro world. We know that electrons circle the nucleus of an atom, but quantum theory says that we have no way of knowing exactly where an electron is as it can be everywhere and nowhere at any time. Its position only exists when we measure it as if measuring it pulls the electron into existence. Quantum theory also embraces the concept of entanglement. Let’s say two electrons were created together simultaneously as a pair. They will always react instantly to each other, no matter how far apart. If one is spinning to the right, the other will spin to the left even if the universe separates the electrons. Relativity says that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, so entanglement must be connecting these electrons by some other method beyond our comprehension.  

In high school physics, we are taught that light can act as a wave (electromagnetic wave) and a particle (a photon). Quantum mechanics says this is also true for particles: particles (electrons) can act as a wave. It all sounds pretty crazy, but quantum mechanics is one of the most proven theories in physics. Eventually, even Einstein had to admit that quantum mechanics was correct. Quantum mechanics has real uses too. Quantum mechanics makes possible many practical things, from lasers to solar cells. Scientists are developing computers based on quantum mechanics, and some experimental prototypes exist. A fully functioning quantum computer could perform complicated tasks exponentially faster than our current computers that rely on classical principles. 

Large objects can be defined by general relativity (including Newton’s classic laws), and quantum mechanics defines tiny objects like atoms. Both disciplines work very well for their respective purpose. However, they are not compatible with each other. In other words, the two theories are not unified. Many physicists have tried to join these theories into a theory of everything but failed.

In addition, there are some situations where quantum mechanics breaks down. For instance, when a particle is approaching the speed of light. No consideration for speed in quantum mechanic equations makes this theory incomplete.

Other theories try to address the above problems. One is quantum field theory (different from quantum mechanics), which says that various fields exist everywhere. These fields can have local areas of disturbance, and those peaks are what we observe as subatomic particles. Remember that subatomic particles form atoms, and atoms form everything in our known universe. 

Another theory is string theory and its cousin, M theory, where strings of vibrating energy create matter as we know it. For string theory to work, our universe must have other dimensions (beyond height, width, and depth- or X, Y, and Z axes). However, as humans, we can’t conceptualize such things as our world as an X, Y, Z world, not one with ten or more dimensions. 

The ontology of these two theories is different, but they explain the same thing. The problem with them is that they are not provable by any of our current methods of observation, so they are more philosophical rather than scientific. However, conceptually they are very interesting. We know that matter and energy are related by Einstein’s famous E =MC2 equation. The detonation of the atom bomb demonstrated that mass could be converted into energy. However, quantum wave and string theories suggest that energy can be converted into matter. In other words, everything we think of as matter is just fluctuating quantum fields or strings of energy (depending on what you ascribe to). Matter is just energy in a different form. Crazy, I know.

This brings to mind the movie, “The Matrix,” where people live in a synthetic computer-generated world so that machines can draw on human energy for their own nefarious reasons. Of course, that is science fiction. However, it is reasonable to think that all living things and the universe around us are just fluctuations in energy. Think about the complexity of that! It also implies that we are all joined together in some way which could explain certain phenomena that exists but doesn’t fit into a classic scientific model. How did all of this happen? God? Chance? Other? I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Can Science And Religion Co-Exist?

As a scientist and a Christian, I have never had difficulty reconciling science and religion.  However, many others feel differently.  This has been confusing to me and also troubling.  Troubling as some feel that these two areas are mutually exclusive of each other. In other words, if you believe in one, you must denigrate the other.  

For many, a belief in a Higher Power is integrated with a particular faith system or religion.  I grew up when mainstream religions were dominant. In those days, science and religion were neither integrated nor mutually rejected.  You didn’t have to pick sides.

This attitude changed as evangelical and fundamental denominations grew in popularity and power.  Evangelical and fundamental denominations believe in the inerrant interpretation of the Bible, with fundamentalists emphasizing the accuracy of Biblical timelines.  For instance, the belief that all life on earth was created in six days and that the earth was formed 6,000-10,000 years ago.  This contrasts the scientific understanding that life evolved over 3.7 billion years, and the earth is 4.5 billion years old. 

The rejection of science is not only a Christian fundamentalist phenomenon but can be seen in non-Christian religions.  The middle east was the progressive seat of learning well ahead of Europe until around 1500 AD when scientific ideas became blasphemous.  

Recently, certain groups have been hostile toward basic and applied science.  Gurus rallied their charges against vaccines using pseudo-science, and individuals violently rejected community health orders to wear masks during the COVID pandemic. Some religious individuals’ reactions may be due to science types who wholly and vocally reject any belief in God and ridicule those who do believe.  Lines in the sand are being drawn to the detriment of all.

There are multiple examples of conflicts when literally interpreting the Bible and then comparing that interpretation with scientific knowledge.  Natural selection vs. intelligent design is one prominent controversy. Some religious argue that evolution is “just a theory,” but this shows a lack of understanding.  It is a theory in scientific terms rather than common language terms.  It is not a hunch but broadly accepted and well-supported by available data.  

Elly, of the Ex-Fundie Diaries YouTube channel, remembers her fundamentalist education via home and church schools.  Science is a state-required part of any educational curriculum, but her science experience was anything but scientific.  For instance, If a science unit was on weather, she was instructed to find passages in the Bible about storms and floods. Why wasn’t she taught science? If you keep people ignorant about science, it is easy to convince them that it is wrong and evil. 

During the pandemic, I talked to an intelligent Amish man, and the topic turned to COVID.  I dreaded this turn as I had some idea where the conversation would go.  Amish are educated until the 8th grade, but that was not the problem.  His only source of current information was his church bishop and deacon. His knowledge of infectious diseases and COVID, in particular, was extremely limited. Any attempt on my part to offer insight (as a physician and microbiologist) was rejected and viewed with suspicion.  I changed the topic.

As humans, it is easy to silo ourselves with other like-minded individuals. Information is passed down from leaders to followers.  If a follower hears only one line of thinking, it becomes their truth, even if that truth is completely false.  It is easier to fall into one of these traps than you think.  Groups can be formed in many different ways beyond religions.  Those who exclusively watch CNN or Fox News would be just one example, but groups with shared erroneous beliefs can happen anywhere.  

Religious groups may cite the many times that science has been wrong.  They are completely correct, but their assumption misses the point of what science is. Science attempts to understand observations.  Why does an apple fall from a tree?  How fast does it fall? Does it accelerate or slow down when falling? A hypothesis is formed to explain an observation, which is then tested.  If the explanation pans out, the information is shared with others, who test it to see if their findings concur. If the answer is yes, then the hypothesis is accepted. However, the hypothesis may be modified or corrected as new information or observations become available.  The goal is to come up with the truth. That is how science works.

Most are more interested in using their cell phone (a scientific marvel) than understanding string theory (a scientific theory).  It is much easier to accept science when it is giving you something. 

Very conservative religious groups accept scientific advancements when those advancements benefit them. The Amish man I mentioned above owns a furniture factory.  Amish believers profess to disconnect from society to be closer to God. They don’t attach to the electric grid, drive automobiles, or use other common conveniences.  However, in today’s era rejecting practical science make business competition difficult.  The Amish man’s factory was full of modern equipment powered with electricity, but his workaround was to use his generator instead of connecting to the power grid.  In addition, many homes I saw in his area had solar panels on their roofs. By being a little flexible, these Amish folks found a way to hold onto their traditional values while benefiting from modern technology. 

That is an extreme example, but it illustrates that it is almost impossible to reject science and live in a modern world.  Electric power, antibiotics, computers, the Internet, and so much more are available because of science. I find it amusing to watch a YouTube video that rails against science while recording sound and video using devices that only exist because of science.

However, science can not answer every aspect of existence.  There is plenty of room in the universe for believers of a Higher Power. There is an order of things on every level, from subatomic particles to the way that galaxies group together.  The chances of all of this randomly occurring are astronomical. In a universe as huge as ours, there are likely beings far superior to us and would therefore be godlike to us.  Lastly, there is no reason to refute the idea that some larger force had a hand in creating the universe. Being unable to test something doesn’t make the idea false. Sir Issac Newton defined gravity in 1665, but it took scientists until 2015 to measure gravity waves.

Beyond believing, having a spiritual life is important. Individuals with a spiritual life have a sense of purpose, security,  and well-being. Who doesn’t want that? Faith doesn’t have to be proven; it just needs to be believed.

When religious leaders demand that a follower believe something that seems contrary to the world around them, it weakens faith, not strengthens it.  Such expectations are likely a reason why people leave religions.  By demanding robot-like compliance, the real message of most religions is lost. Is it necessary to believe that God is some old white dude with a flowing beard?  It is more likely that God exists in a form that is incomprehensible to us. 

In the Old Testament, Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90 when Issac was born. The average person lived 35 years when Jesus was alive and likely less during Abraham’s life, who lived 18 centuries earlier. Does the above story make literal sense?  I think it is more of a metaphor that God keeps his promises.  However, just stating that is pretty boring, it is much more memorable when attached to a lesson. 

Science has its dark side, and I see how some would want to reject aspects of it based on that.  My view is to embrace the good that science gives us.  Basic research provides us with the knowledge that turns into practical advancements.  I am also comfortable with the concept of God, a supreme being who has an active interest in our individual lives.  However, this belief is based on faith, not fact. I’m fine with that uncertainty.  The idea of being forced to say that I believe in the Bible verbatim is completely unnecessary.  I don’t need to believe that all life was created in 6 days or that barren Sarah was 90 years old when she gave birth to Issac.  Instead, I can look past concrete concepts and explore their real embedded message.   


I ended my private practice over five years ago. Four years ago, I left my part-time doctor job at Rosecrance and fully retired.  I like to review my status annually to understand better where I have been and where I may be going.

This year’s review deals with concepts more than actions.  I did not plan this post that way; it is just how it evolved.

As my retirement has progressed, I have been aware of a slow change in me as I grapple with more existential questions. Concepts of my significance have broadened to include the greater significance of humankind.  I am not trying to determine why we exist; that question has been a philosophical problem for eons. Instead, my pondering has centered around several concepts that seem dissonant on the surface but are unified at a more intrinsic level. These thoughts are not meant to be a template for others to structure their lives.  As I have written many times, you do you. 

What is my significance?  I have come up with two possibilities.

Possibility One

I am significant, and every action I make impacts my species, other organisms, the planet, and ultimately the entire universe.  I consider this my George Bailey position. If I turn right instead of left, that impacts the world.  Some of my actions will have a greater impact than others.  At times, those actions will be deliberate; at other times, they will be random.  

I exist because of prior generations. My children exist because of me (and, of course, my wife) and will impact our world in their own ways.  Simple events, like typing this post while drinking a cup of coffee, change things in ways I’m incapable of knowing. In this view, everyone impacts the universe, regardless of their status.

Possibility Two

I am insignificant.  This is my existential nihilism position.  Not only am I insignificant, but all humans are insignificant.  The earth is 4.5 billion years old, but the first primitive hominids appeared only 2 million years ago. Homo Sapiens have only existed for several hundred thousand years. Five mass extinctions have decimated most living organisms on this planet, and it is thought that we are currently in the throws of the 6th mass extinction. 

The universe has existed for almost 14 billion years. During that time, entire solar systems have formed and have been destroyed.  An average galaxy contains 100 billion stars.  We know that many of these stars have orbiting planets.  There are approximately two trillion galaxies in the observable universe.  Galaxies have collided, and entire galaxies may have been destroyed or altered in that process. Everything that we can measure in the universe consists of matter and energy.  However, we can only observe 15% of the matter in the universe.  Eighty-five percent of the universe’s matter consists of dark matter. We cannot see or detect dark matter; the only way we know it exists is by how it impacts observable objects. If some catastrophic event destroyed our planet, it would have little impact on the universe. As a species or as individuals, we are exponentially less significant than that. No one significantly impacts the universe in this second possibility, regardless of status.


As humans, our ability to think is limited by our small brains. We define events by what we can observe, which we then try to explain with limited understanding.  At one point, humans thought that the earth was flat as it was impossible to think that the world was so large that small segments would appear flat.  Before the microscope existed, scientists felt that infectious disease was caused by miasma.  Even today, individuals disregard known information as they cannot reconcile facts with other beliefs they may hold. A recent survey asked over 2000 Americans if Arabic numbers should be taught in public schools.  The majority surveyed said that they should not be.  This result is tragic on two fronts.  First, most Americans didn’t realize that Arabic numbers are our 0-9 number system.  And second is that those surveyed used a combination of bias, prejudice, and ignorance to reach a ridiculous conclusion.

Humans think in absolute ways. However, this linear logic limits us.  We use simplistic thinking to determine good vs. bad.  Are police good or bad? Who is right, the Republicans or the Democrats? What is the one true religion?  It is impossible to develop a definitive answer to these and many other questions. However, this leads me to a conclusion about the above conundrum. It is possible to have two opposing ideas that are both correct. Therefore, we are both significant and insignificant. Based on the above, it is impossible to determine an objective answer to my life’s purpose.  Instead, it is better to explore how I impact the world.  For me, that is on an interpersonal basis. My significance is based on my direct interactions with others. How important those interactions are, I can’t say. Yet, I need to accept this as it is where I should place my efforts and energy.

How are we joined to humankind and our planet? Most cultures have employed a third factor that provides ways to explain the unknown, gives rules of behavior, and creates a framework for community. Enter the concept of the supernatural. Different groups may understand this differently.  Buddhists don’t believe in a supreme god but talk about spirits.  Hindus refer to a universal soul or Brahman.  Pagans focus on a connection with nature, while Christians, Muslims, and Jews hold a monotheistic understanding of the supernatural.  

I believe that there is something greater than ourselves. I refer to that entity as God.  My beliefs are partially cultural and partially experiential.  I was raised Roman Catholic and migrated to a non-denominational Christian Church, so I am most comfortable with a Christian concept of a Higher Power.  However, my concept of God and Christianity, in general, may be in opposition to more traditional views. Unfortunately, religious beliefs carry even more passion than other emotional flashpoints, such as politics.  I do not need to offend anyone.  I am sharing my thinking process, but I don’t need to convert anyone to my thinking.  

There are thousands of Christian denominations worldwide and dozens of prominent ones in the US.  These groups are sometimes similar to each other, and at other times they are radically different.  Critical concepts, such as necessary actions needed for salvation, can differ radically from one group to another.  Acceptable behaviors are also wildly different.  Denomination A may think it is fine to have an alcoholic drink, while denomination B bans coffee.  Denomination C may believe in the Rapture, while denomination D may believe such thinking is heresy. Demonination E may only allow celibate men as religious leaders, whereas denomination F may feel that married men and women should serve in that role. Denomination G rejects the use of automobiles and electricity, whereas denomination H embraces rock bands and live stream broadcasts of their services, and so it goes.

Who determines the rules?  That varies.  In most cases, at least with western Christianity, it is white men.  However, the way that they command their authority can also vary.  Many will convene a meeting or conference.  Naturally, leaders with the most power will have the loudest voice.  Power doesn’t always equate with correctness.  

Beyond consensus, there is usually some other ultimate source of truth.  Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible regarding questions of morals and faith. Mormons believe that their leader is a prophet. Some protestant religions will note that the Bible is inerrant.  This opinion isn’t conclusively stated in the Bible; it was decided by a conference of Evangelicals held in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel in 1978.  Specifically, they cited the King James version of the Bible as the absolute inerrant source. Many non-Evangelical Biblical scholars would say that there are more accurate translations of the Bible that use better methodology and source materials closer to the original, but that is a discussion for another day.

Religious leaders throughout history have made decisions based on a variety of motivations.  I do not doubt that some of their determinations have been based on their interpretation of God’s will from reading scripture, personal prayer, and other methods. Sometimes, bias can radically impact an individual’s or group’s thinking process. Both Copernicus and Galileo said that our solar system was heliocentric and were deemed heretics by religious leaders. The Inquisition tried Galileo because this finding contradicted the interpretation of scriptures that the Earth was the center of the universe.  Beyond interpretation issues, some religious leaders have used their authority for personal profit or to push their agenda. Here some tele-evangelists who ascribe to prosperity theology come to mind.

I see no evidence that God has granted certain individuals the ability to be infallible.  Likewise, I see the Bible as a highly significant work containing Christianity’s elements.  However, I don’t see it as inerrant.  I base this opinion on the many inconsistent histories given in the Bible that range from the birth of Jesus to His crucifixion and death.  Various Gospels were written decades to almost 100 years after the death of Jesus.  Before that time, his teachings were spread by oral traditions, which would be modified as time and situation commanded.  You can see this effect by reading the first written Gospel (Mark) and comparing it to the last, the Gospel of John.  

The Bible was written during a different time when enslaving others was acceptable and when women were expected to be completely subservient to men. These were the cultural norms 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, some have used these and other Biblical references in modern times as justification to oppress entire groups of humanity.  Others have used incorrect translations of words or their personal interpretations of passages as rational to damn groups of humans. 

The Catholic Bible includes books that the Protestant Bible omits.  Are those books of lesser value?  Other writings were considered and rejected for the Bible as they were inconsistent with the determining group’s ideology.  Some of these books have resurfaced and offer a different view of early Christianity. Should they be included in our understanding of Jesus’s message?

At this point, you are likely asking, “So, what is your point?”   My point is that I think spiritual life is vital for me as it not only gives my existence meaning but it also connects me with our greater humanity.  It is the glue that makes sense out of the dichotomy that my life is both meaningful and meaningless.  However, I cannot accept something just because some authority told me that was what I am supposed to believe.  I find too many flaws in such an argument.  

As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a Christian, which is the set of beliefs I resonate with.  However, I have some issues with religion and religious leaders.  This may seem heresy as many Christian religions emphasize that only their beliefs offer the golden ticket to heaven.  Further, some threaten eternal damnation if you stray away from their dogma. There are benefits to belonging to a religious group, community being one of them. However, once any religion feels it has the right to damn and condemn others, it has moved from being a spiritual guide to a quasi-god.  

I keep returning to the message that Jesus gave us based on his actions.  It is very simple.  Love all, forgive, include all, don’t judge, be kind, and be generous. Jesus went against the Pharisees by healing on the Sabbath. In doing so, he demonstrated that we should not let the self-proclaimed leaders of the day prevent us from having a relationship with God by overloading us with their rules and regulations. When religion moves against His tenets, they serve their needs rather than God’s will. I cannot continue with any religion when I see an organization professing inclusion but practicing exclusion. Professing forgiveness but practicing damnation.  Professing charity but practicing greed. Professing equality but damning opposing opinions.

This last year of my retirement has focused on these issues. I accept the uncertainty of my existence. I exist, and no further rationale is necessary. My relationship with my Higher Power is stronger now than in the past.  That connection feels truer as I have been able to release me from many of the things taught me, but that made little sense. As my connection to my Higher Power deepens, my acceptance of the duality of our existence strengthens. I will continue to move forward as I attempt to contribute to society and those around me, not for heaven points, but because it is the right thing to do.

Lastly, this year I have been thinking about life goals and legacy. I’m certain that some don’t give these concepts a second thought, while others may think about them all the time.  For some, their life goal is to acquire.  They may want to acquire experiences, the latest restaurant meal, or travel location.  Others want to gain property, money, or power.  For these folks, the more they have, the more they want.  Still, others want to leave a tangible marker that they have been “here.”  That could be anything from a recipe to a university building.  

For me, a life well spent has moved humankind in a positive direction.  Most of us won’t be able to make global changes.  I don’t think that is important.  However, what is important to me is if my overall efforts were more positive than negative.  As a doctor, did I help more people than I harmed?  As a friend, relative, husband, and father, were my interactions more beneficial than detrimental to those I love?  Were my connections with acquaintances and strangers more positive than negative?  If I can generally answer yes to the above questions, I feel that I have lived a worthwhile life.

In a few weeks, I’ll turn 70-a major birthday.  Upward and onward, one step at a time.

Am I a Misfit?

Thoughts on Nomadic life as it buffers against societal norms.

As you may know, I am fascinated with Nomadic life. So in 2018, with the help of my friend Tom, I built out a Ram Promaster van and transformed it into Violet the campervan. With Violet, I have gone on many adventures. However, there was one that I delayed for years. That trip was to camp on desert BLM land and to attend the RTR or Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. This is a massive meetup for Nomads. I accomplished that goal this year, and I would like to tell you about some aspects of it.

The RTR attracts a certain subgroup of Nomads. I’ll call these folks RTR Nomads. However, there are other types of Nomadic travelers; I’ll list some of them below.

There are the RVers.  These are often retired couples or individuals and homeschoolers who usually have financial resources. They travel in fancy 5th wheels and modern RVs.  

There are adventure Nomads who may live in just about anything. These folks view their home on wheels as necessary housing as they pursue an outdoor passion such as skiing or rock climbing.  

The Instagram crowd live in decked-out Sprinter vans and restored fancy Volkswagon microbuses. This group attracts young, good-looking couples who travel for fun and fund their touring through social media channels. If you see a thumbnail of an attractive woman taking a shower wearing a scanty bikini, you have found an Instagram Nomad.

The RTR group is different, more gritty, and more natural. Bob Wells didn’t start this movement, but his active participation in it has made him its defacto voice. It is helpful to understand Bob better to get a better feeling for RTR Nomads.

Bob was a typical guy living in Alaska with his wife and kids. He worked at a grocery store and made enough money to support his family. In 1995 he divorced and did not have the resources to keep two residences afloat. He moved into an empty box van. Bob admits that this was a move of desperation and that he was feeling pretty sorry for himself. He was depressed and thought that he was a failure. Alaska can be brutally cold, and Bob had to adapt quickly to his new life. Using previous knowledge and trial and error, he was able to transform his dismal housing into a workable habitat. Bob has lived in many different vehicles since 1995 and has a tremendous knowledge of what works and doesn’t work in van life.

Slowly, he realized that his new lifestyle was a gift that gave him a newfound freedom, made him more centered, and provided him with inner peace. In 2005 he started a website called “Cheap RV Living” to share his ideas. Later, he started a YouTube Channel where he offered practical tips and interviews with Nomads that included tours of their rigs. Some rigs were works of art; others consisted of a mat on the floor of a minivan. However, just like sticks and bricks homeowners, Nomads have pride in their domiciles. Bob always sincerely compliments rig owners, and they universally show their appreciation to him. Other YouTube channels share tips and tricks as part of their feed, but this has been a consistent objective for Cheap RV Living. Bob has helped countless travelers, including myself, with his practical and practiced knowledge.

He started the RTR gathering some years ago, and before the pandemic, over 10,000 people attended. During COVID, the RTR went digital, offering classes and community online. However, there is no substitute for meeting in person. The RTR has practical seminars on everything from traveling to Mexico as a Nomad to dealing with chronic illness on the road. The RTR is free and was solely funded by Bob. Several years ago, Bob and his friend Sue Ann created HOWA (Home On Wheels Alliance), which is a 501C with the sole purpose of helping Nomads. HOWA now organizes and funds the RTR and manages an army of Nomad Volunteers. The RTR is run by people who live in their vehicles and who are often separated from each other by a thousand miles. By the nature of their lives, they have few financial resources. The RTR’s logistics were as good as any expensive conference I attended. If I am being honest, it was run better.  

RTR Volunteers monitored RTR message boards, directed parking, adjusted sound/video equipment, led panel discussions, provided security, and supervised the give-and-take tables where Nomads could leave things for others to take for free. Nomads have little but are willing to share so that others can have more.

Who are the RTR-type Nomads? I talked to many, but not all, so I can only give you my limited impression. It may dispel some preconceived views that you could have of them. Like Bob, many vehicle dwellers started their journey due to circumstances. They had few options. They live in every type of vehicle imaginable. High-top vans, old conversion vans, cargo vans, retrofitted ambulances, old school buses, SUVs, and small sedans. 

The bulk of the individuals that I met were in their 50s and 60s. However, I did talk to some in their 30s and others in their 70s. The vast majority would blend in with any crowd. Think about the people you would see at a big box store, Walmart or Home Depot. Most would be wearing functional but not stylish clothing. That is how the vast majority of Nomads dress.  

Many Nomad men sport bushy beards or have a few days of stubble. Many Nomad women don’t wear makeup. Both of these positions are likely due to the practical nature of van dwelling. Everyone I met looked clean, and no one smelled bad. I mention these facts as some may be wondering. And yes, folks brushed their teeth.

Speaking of teeth, that was heartbreaking. It wasn’t uncommon to run into older Nomads who had prominent missing teeth or no teeth. I have worked with low-resource individuals for much of my life, and I can assure you that poor dentition is almost always because of a lack of funds. I recently had a simple filling replace-it cost me $300. Later this month, I’ll have my teeth cleaned- which will cost at least $150, likely more if anything extra is added. When you are living on a limited income, you can’t afford dental care, and the older you get, the more significant the impact this lack of regular maintenance has on your teeth. The ability to chew is paramount to good health. However, only some insurance policies cover this type of healthcare. I think that is criminal. 

Naturally, there were some outliers in the group. I saw several people living in vans that were wheelchair-bound. What incredible courage to live an independent Nomadic life without the use of your legs. These folks were traveling in regular vans; no chair lifts or other accommodations. One, by the name of Kat, was volunteering at an information table.  

Some individuals were tremendously overweight. A few others were on the eccentric side. Some wore mismatched clothing, others sported unusual hats, and one donned a homemade fez and a bathrobe made of that felt-like material that people made blankets out of a few years back. The eccentric were in the minority and likely represented a percentage no different than the general population. 

I talked to one man who was able to live in an apartment by sharing costs with his wife. She became ill and died and he became homeless. A tiny older woman (under 5 feet) had been an overland truck driver. She lives on less than $700/month of social security. She has been boondocking in Quartzite since November, and despite her financial woes, she volunteers at a local church’s free meal program providing food for those who can’t afford it. Other individuals suffered from debilitating chronic illnesses (physical and mental). They found that leaving the rat race gave them the peace they needed to start the healing process. Still, others rejected the expectations of society that demanded that they work a meaningless job until they died. Some individuals worked seasonal jobs or made a living with small online businesses. One man, living in a Prius, bought local gemstones to resell. 

Every single person that I talked to was kind. Most seemed intelligent and chatty. All seemed willing to help. I liked my interactions with them. Were these misfits of society? That question leads me to Bob Well’s talk on his philosophy of being a Nomad.

Bob’s talk covered many different areas, and I will only focus on a few. Mainly the needs of the individual vs. the needs of society.  

Bob believes that early humans lived the way wolves and elephants live today. They liked to socialize and work together, but they retained their individuality. They accepted nature and adapted to survive in it. They only used those resources necessary to live. They lived within the confines of what nature offered them. They did not try to alter nature for their own will. They were generous with each other, and in doing so, they built connections that would help all. He believes that this is the way that we were meant to live.

Society has different expectations of the individual. Society wants us to live more like ants or bees. In essence, there are no individuals. Instead, we are all cogs in a bigger machine. Society wants us to produce for the betterment of society. Most of us are expendable. The more we produce, the more we are expected to produce. Jobs can be meaningless to the individual as long as it benefits the greater progress of the group. The focus is on productivity rather than relationships and personal growth. Most individuals are stuck in the class that they were born into. If you are a worker, you will most likely remain a worker. As productivity is king, the individual’s well-being is unimportant. Endless unfulfilling work leads to stress-related illness and addiction. Purchasing things is necessary to fuel the economy and becomes an artificial and unsatisfying reward for the worker. Social relationships are difficult to maintain due to the intrinsic stress of long work hours spent in unsatisfying jobs. Power and money need to be kept by those in control and are not shared with others. Generosity is discouraged. Consumption and wealth are glorified. If you have something, you want more of it. 

Society does not promote harmony with nature; it demands the opposite. An example is modern farming. To successfully farm a field, the intrinsic life in the area must be killed. Insects, animals, plants. These things become pests and weeds. Society does not live within the confines of nature; it tries to rule nature-often with terrible consequences. 

For many, modern life promotes mental and physical illness secondary to endless and meaningless work stress, the breakdown of social connections, and the disregard for the greater ecology (nature). People who question society are labeled negatively as misfits-they don’t fit in. The need for compliance is so great that misfits must be shunned and their lifestyle ridiculed.  

Many of you who are reading this may object to this observation. You may believe that society is necessary, and you may now list all of the great things that society has created. It is also true that Nomads depend on society to survive. Nomads are not hunters and gatherers. They drive vehicles that need gas. They shop at grocery stores. They wear clothing woven in factories.

The idea here is balance and the idea that one type of lifestyle does not fit all. In many ways, Nomads are less misfitted than those who comply with societal rules, as they live in better harmony with themselves and the world around them. They consume less, pollute less, and spend less. They live more in nature and accept what nature offers. They are more generous with each other. They help each other. Roles and positions of prestige are dramatically reduced. At the RTR, everyone was treated equally. No one was judged based on possessions, physical appearance, age, or health. People were accepted for who they were, and everyone was allowed to be heard.

All of this made me reflect on my life and whether I was a misfit or fit. There are many ways that I am a misfit. I’m dyslexic, I have other processing problems, I’m blind in one eye, I have terrible coordination, I have a fear of heights, I’m a shy introvert, I think differently than most people, and I’m an obsessive problem solver. Although I am different, I have always wanted to fit in, so I have adopted behaviors to make that happen. I know how to talk, interact, and dress to blend in. Many times, I hold back my opinions as I don’t want to appear “too smart.” Intelligent people are often viewed with suspicion. Overall, I have been successful in this charade.  

One area where I have been less successful has been in my weight. I have always been overweight and have spent (literally) tens of thousands of dollars to control my weight. As a result, I have lost hundreds of pounds through the years, only to regain them. Our society hates fat people. This is odd to me as most individuals in the US are now considered overweight. I have always been self-conscious of my weight and work hard to have people see me as a person, not a fat person. However, it has not been easy.

Among the Nomads, I had no such concerns. If I would accept them, they would accept me. Acceptance is one of the most important gifts we can give another person. However, many are better at passing out judgment.  

Yes, I’m a “misfit” who has successfully faked being a “fit.” But that experience has made me acutely aware of others who are in marginalized groups. Our society places the highest value on healthy white Christian males. Other groups are now included, but they still hold lesser positions. Women come to mind, and there is some marginal inclusion of racial groups such as blacks and Hispanics. However, that inclusion is very conditional. If you act like a white Christian male, you may be given a seat at the table.

The less power a group has, the more it is rejected. Asians have contributed immensely to our country but were easily villainized during the COVID pandemic. Religious groups, like Muslims and Jews, may be openly mocked. It is acceptable for individuals with any imperfection or disability to be ridiculed or even attacked without provocation.

However, the most minor and most vulnerable groups are always targeted for the most hate. There are many examples, but one of the most obvious is the heterogeneous compilation that we identify as LGBTQ+. Overall, this is a small group in society. Most LGBTQ+ individuals are just trying to live their lives, and only a few are bad actors. However, the amount of propaganda against this faction of the population is astounding. It is even more shocking when legislators are allowed to subject a group of citizens to laws denying them the freedoms everyone else accepts as the norm.

Highlighted here is the act of marriage. Why is same-sex marriage such a big deal? Marriage is a legal (and sometimes religious) covenant between two people. It affords certain rights and benefits, and it signifies a willingness of both parties to commit to each other. There have always been laws that prevented people from marrying someone based on someone else’s bias. Laws outlawing marriage between blacks and whites come to mind.

We hold the act of marriage in high regard. However, traditional marriage can be far from that. Individuals break their vows to each other—individuals divorce. Physical violence, addiction, psychological torture, obsessive control, and many other abominations occur in traditional marriage, yet we accept these unions as somehow driven by God. We use our personal religious beliefs to restrict the rights of others who may not hold those same beliefs. We interpret (with emphasis on interpreting) our holy writings to fit our needs-even if those interpretations are against the basic concepts of Christianity. Christianity is about love, acceptance, forgiveness, and inclusion. Why are so many Christians focused on hate, rejection, exclusion, and damnation? Why do we have to be so “special” that only we can have rights that we deny others?

I saw the opposite among the Nomads. Everyone was accepted on their merits. Women traveling together as couples, toothless men, morbidly overweight Nomads, it didn’t matter. People were not prejudged based on some synthetic construct. Instead, they were accepted or rejected for who they were.

I think I’m not the only misfit out there who is good at pretending to be a “fit.”  Wouldn’t it be great if we could be who were are and be accepted for that? The world might be much more creative and balanced. Diversity always leads to new ideas and growth. A lesson understood by a random pack of Nomads but still rejected by a society that should know better.

Driving to Arizona, I was awestruck by the twilight sky.
I parked in the desert, not knowing what to expect.
The desert landscape was peaceful and calming.
Many Nomads had dogs and cats as co-travelers. However, one person was traveling with a friendly pig named Mimi.
Bob Wells talking about his philosophy of being a Nomad
The meeting was well attended.
It is OK to be different. This man set up his chair well before the meeting started and was far from anyone. He wanted his own space.
Here you can see just some of the types of vehicles that people lived in. A sedan, an old Suburban, a high-top van, an old conversion van, and an ambulance, to name a few.
The parking crew did a great job maximizing parking.
Message boards were set up. You could ask for services or offer services.
People make a living in many ways. This person offered portraits of your favorite 4 legged travel companion.
I saw a number of Nomads who were wheelchair-bound.
Tables were set up so you could donate items others could take for free.

On Losing Time

On losing time

In my working years, I was constantly aware of the clock. I measured my life in 15 minute, 30 minute, and 60 minute intervals. This metering not only happened in my work life, but also in my home life. My time was so limited that it became an impossible resource that had to be tamed in any way.

One of the great benefits of being retired, is a relaxation of my temporal rules. However, I am still governed by the clock. There are activities that I do at certain times. There are people that I call and visit at certain times. There are tasks, like making dinner, that require a specific time. These rules aren’t bad; they provides the structure necessary to move forward in a societal life governed by such things.

However, when I am in nature, things change. Of course, I do pay a slight amount of attention to the clock. This is mostly so that I can interact with people that are not in nature. For instance, I may contact Julie or reach out to my children to see how they’re doing. I am not going to do this at two in the morning or at 11 o’clock at night. With that said, many other time constraints fade away for something that is much more natural. What’s more natural than time? Nature.

I tend to wake before dawn, that is my normal pattern. In nature, I tend to settle when the sun goes down. I feel less of a need to accomplish specific goals. Of course, I need to take care of housekeeping issues in the van. but there are many things that don’t require immediate attention. It is very freeing to have a life that cycles with nature rather than some artificial societal construct. It is wonderful to feel that you are in sync with nature. Being in nature also affects my conservation. Let me explain.

We live in a society that provides us with necessary services. We turn on a water tap or flip a light switch and we expect an endless supply of whatever we’re using. When we need to go to the bathroom, we don’t worry about where our bodily waste ends up. if it’s hot outside or too cold, it’s very simple to turn a knob or press a button to achieve perfect climate control. That is modern society, but it’s not necessarily good for us.

When I am more in touch with nature, I am also more respectful of the resources that nature gives me. I am acutely aware of how much water I use. I am acutely aware of how much power I draw from my solar batteries. I am acutely aware of the weather conditions. Instead of trying to control my environment, I try to modulate it enough so that it is acceptable as opposed to perfect. Fans take the place of air conditioning. Blankets and coats take the place of central heating. I do have a heater, but I use it very judiciously because it cost both battery power and gasoline to operate. I am very aware of how much garbage I produce and I deliberately use the least amount of consumables possible. Not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of myself. I don’t want bags of garbage cluttering up my van.

I think that what I am saying is that it is possible that the way that we have achieved our gains in society may have been at the cost of both the individual, and the environment. When we have been given more, we have tended to use it recklessly. These habits may have benefited us in the short run, but they certainly harm us in the long run. Just something to think about. Have a good day. – Mike.

Car Buying Tips During A time of Shortages

We bought a new car!

Some car buying tips from a psychiatrist.

One of my kids just hit an adult milestone yesterday, she bought a car. This was both a wonderful and stressful experience. Due to the chip shortage, there are no deals to be had. I thought I would share some of the psychology that car salespeople use to manipulate you. Did we get a good deal? No. Did we get an acceptable deal? I think so, our final price was significantly less than what the salesman tried to propose.We went for a new compact car as used cars that were several years old and with many miles were only a few thousand dollars less due to used car shortages.

The first rule is to remember that even in scarce times there are always multiple options. As my friend, Tom says. “A car is just a box on wheels.” A car isn’t a sex or status symbol, it is a mode of transportation. Leave your emotions at the door and you will do better.

Second rule. Check around, call around, research around. We knew going into the purchase that most dealers were charging a surcharge that could be between 10-20%, sometimes much more for “hot” vehicles. The average surcharge for an economy car was around 10%. I knew from personal experience that many car dealers will add BS add-ons to boost the sales price. You need to be on the lookout for these as they can significantly add to the cost of the vehicle. Ask about them before you buy.

We initially looked at a Kia Rio from a dealership in Naperville. The salesman told us that there would be a non-negotiable 10% surcharge. I also asked about and discovered that there was a roughly $1000 dollar add-on package that couldn’t be removed. Dealers have been using this tactic as long as I have been buying cars. Remember being forced to buy undercoating? After asking he told me that he could probably get me this package for $700. Still a rip-off, but better. Always ask.

I was traveling abroad and then got COVID so we stopped our car shopping for several weeks. My daughter decided on the Kia, and we returned for her to test drive and possibly purchase one.

Our same salesman did a computer search and felt he could get a car in about 3 weeks, so we decided to put down a downpayment. At that point, I reminded him that their surcharge was 10% for this particular model, and that he had promised $300 off the required add-on package. He filled out the forms accordingly and then had my daughter sign the form. Psychologically, this is a way to get the customer to commit to the purchase. Signing something is usually a big deal. No big deal for us, however, as she was committed to buying the car.

He then disappeared for quite some time with that sheet and then returned saying he had talked to “his manager.” Now the surcharge was 20% and the discount for the add-ons was $250 instead of $300. When he saw the discomfort in me he immediately tried to friend me by saying that he “thought” that the manager would allow only a 15% surcharge-which was still 5% more than what he originally promised me. This technique is called anchor biasing. Most people go for the middle and his actions were designed to make me feel like I was getting a deal, despite his breach of agreement and the fact that he was really screwing me. I reminded him of what he committed.

Note that when car salespeople go to “talk to the manager” they are really having a smoke or a cup of coffee. Our salesman had worked at this dealership for 8 years and he knew what was allowable and what was not allowable. The talking to the manager BS was to add authority to the decision and to take the blame off the salesman. Sort of like the “I can’t do that because my parents won’t let me” line that I used as a kid to avoid peer pressure demands.

At that point, I had to make a decision, to walk or negotiate. If cars were plentiful I would have walked. Because they are not, I decided to negotiate. However, I already had his number as I knew that he was using common and deceptive practices. He was not my friend.

When negotiating it is important for both parties to feel that they have gained something. I counter-offered to pay a few dollars above the $700 that we originally negotiated for the add-ons and said I wouldn’t pay 15%, but I would be willing to pay 11% instead of a 10% surcharge. Then there was another long absence for a “manager talk” and a return offer accepting the add-on price and offering 12%. I asked him to renegotiate. Then another long wait and another “manager talk.” He came back with a “better deal.” Note that none of the percentages were listed on the datasheet he was showing us, just a bunch of numbers. You have to calculate them yourself, which is a tactic to confuse the consumer. We also only got one sheet at a time, so there was no way to compare older offers. In this case, I asked him, “So what is the new percentage?” He smiled warmly (like he was giving me a Thanksgiving turkey) and said 11.8%! I reminded him that was 12%.

I always treated the salesperson with respect, and warmly smiled right back at him as he made small talk and told us about his family and kid. Naturally, his conversation was designed to normalize our relationship and convince me that he was a regular and trustworthy guy. Knowing this, I went along with his actions. However, I had no illusion that we were going to become BFFs.

Now was the time for me to use my knowledge. I knew that a car sale is more likely to take place the longer a customer stays in the showroom. Hence all of the long waits as he was talking to “the manager.” I also knew that having my daughter sign was another way to legitimatize the deal. However, I had a trick up my sleeve too. I understood that he knew that if we left the showroom his chances of closing the sale would be dramatically reduced. I also knew that (at the least) he could have charged us only a 10% surcharge instead of the 11% that we going to pay, as that is what he told us on our first meeting. He had spent many hours with us, which would be wasted if he didn’t make the sale.

I deliberately put on a sad/frowny face and pushed away from his desk. I knew that he would understand that symbolically I was starting to reject the sale. He persisted with the “talk to the manager” line and this time I took gentle control of the situation. I reminded him that he had worked for the dealership for 8 years. I also noted that he was a top salesman (plaques on his desk) and complimented him about this. However, I added his experience should certainly give him some power in this manner. I was subtly giving him back his authority from the fake manager. I was indirectly taking away his ability to constantly use the “manager” as a tactic.

He continued to push, but I had had enough. Both my daughter and I were both exhausted and hungry. Wearing down a customer is another technique used by car salespeople, as many customers will just “give in” at this point. They want the stress to be over. However, this negotiation wasn’t a one-way street. It was time to play my card. I smiled at him with a somewhat disingenuous smile and started to stand up saying, “Thank you so much for all of the time that you spent with us today. I think we need to reevaluate our purchase. However, we will make a decision one way or another and if we decide to go with the Rio we will most likely call you.” I knew that this would signal to him the likelihood of a lost sale that he had invested many hours to seal. He looked at me and said, “OK, you can have it for an 11% surcharge.” No “manager talk” was needed, and we signed the deal.

Now am I a master negotiator? Of course not, but I knew my limits and I used my skills to move the process forward. We knew that we had to overpay at the start and we did wind up paying a bit more than we expected. However, it was acceptable given the current car shortage situation. Thankfully, my daughter picked up on my method and went along with my wanting to leave. This was difficult for her as she is a new buyer and was definitely caught up in the emotion of not only having her own car but her own new car.

I post this if you are contemplating buying a car, especially if you are a new buyer. Know common dealer tactics and use that knowledge to your advantage. Let the salesperson feel like they are getting what they want without sacrificing too much. Ask to see comparison numbers in a fashion that you can understand, take notes, ask questions beforehand, and write things down. Be willing to walk away. It isn’t a kidney, it is just a car.

There was a small chance that our salesman would have let us walk, but that was a very small chance. You have to be willing to move on if you can’t get a realistic, acceptable deal.

The other way to screw the customer is by showing them monthly payments instead of the total cost. “Oh, that is only $100 more a month. You can afford that, right?” Or, “We can lower your monthly payment to only xxx.” While at the same time extending your time to pay to 7 or 8 years. Cars could need significant repairs by that time. Additional money on top of your car payment. Consider a reasonable length of time to repay, and the amount that you can pay per month. Base your purchase on those factors, not on glitz and glamor. As a person who has owned many cars, they are all just transportation after owning them for a month or two.

I hope this post is helpful to potential car buyers.

Random thoughts and my philosophy of life.