The work ethic of teens these days

Those of us of the Gen X generation and older often pass judgment on the teens of today with statements like these:

  • They have it so easy.
  • They don’t know what hard work is.
  • Where’s the work ethic?

I’ve been guilty of the same sort of prejudices.

Recently, my teenage daughter turned that all around for me. Less than one week after her 17th birthday, she reported to work for her first job: at 5 a.m. – on a school day! She’s lifeguarding at the neighborhood Y. The pool is outdoors. It’s January. We live in Phoenix. But still, it’s chilly in the morning, and on this morning it happens to be raining.

“Lifeguarding is not work,” some would say. “All they do is stand around and twirl a whistle.”

Having seen the effort she has put into it, I can now contest the previous statement. Lifeguarding is skilled labor at a minimum. Prior to even being granted an interview, she was required to give up two full weekends and two weeknights for the prerequisite training. She now knows every aspect of keeping others safe at the pool: first aid, CPR, dealing with panic, hypothermia and more. She paid a handsome sum out of her own pocket for the training with no hint of being reimbursed. She passed a series of in-class quizzes, plus two water tests, and a grilling of an interview with both her manager and the manager’s manager.

Today was her first day on the job. I was awakened at 4:15 a.m. by the sound of her getting ready. Although she’s pretty self sufficient, I got up to see if she needed any last minute help so she could scoot out the door on time. She was good. She had prepared everything she needed the night before: Clothes for work, clothes for school, her lunch, and gear for swim practice after school.

To say I am proud of her would be an understatement. But, the purpose of this post is not to brag about my daughter, although I could do so all day long. My hope is that you will join me in looking a little deeper into the plight of today’s youth. In many ways, they face far more challenges and obstacles than many of us did when we were growing up. Let’s show them our respect with words of encouragement and gratitude. Thank you!

How to survive a midlife crisis on a budget

I’m closing in on 47 years of age and to date I have not had the midlife crisis I’m entitled to. I think that may have just changed.

My midlife crisis was brought about by a transportation dilemma.  My oldest daughter turned 16 this year and we had not adequately saved to buy her a car. That means she is driving my vehicle a lot these days. When she has my vehicle and my wife is out with her’s, I am left stranded at home.  We live in a community that is pretty much self-contained in the foothills of South Mountain in Phoenix.  Since I work from home most of the time, I don’t need a car on a daily basis.  However, when I need to run an errand or meet up with the guys at church or just get out of the house for a while, sometimes I need a set of wheels.

1979 Honda CT 90 trail bike
The cure for my midlife crisis: A 1979 Honda CT90 trail bike.

For the last year or so, I have been watching Craigslist for an opportunity to buy a scooter at a good price.  It wasn’t until recently, that I stumbled upon an ad for a Honda CT 90.  The 90 in the bike’s model means it is a 90 cc engine.  Not much power by modern street bike standards, but it is plenty to get me from my home to the points I tend to travel.  I’ve done some research on the bike and discovered that they stopped making them in 1979 –  the model year I bought. Nevertheless, there is no lack of popularity with the bikes.

It turns out there are cliques of people who buy and collect and ride these bikes just like there are for Harley Davidson motorcycles. People buy these post the bikes for all sorts of reasons, such as nostalgia, convenience, economics and so forth. For me, the appeal is budget. The truth is I’ve never desired to ride or own a Harley Davidson.  But once I discovered the CT90 and did a little research, I was hooked.

Thanks to Craigslist, I was able to find one of these trail bikes of the 1979 vintage for only $1,600. Here’s the beauty: it has only 1,400 miles on it and is in near mint condition.  It’s almost as if somebody locked it away in a time capsule and preserved it for me to have today. With no clutch and only four speeds, it’s very easy to ride and gets about 80 miles per gallon of gas. The perfect cure for my midlife crisis.

How I sold my truck on Craigslist in 15 minutes

I won’t bore you with all the details leading up to the moment I decided to sell the truck I loved on Craigslist. Let me just say it was a painful process and a difficult reality that took me far too long to embrace.

The truck’s title arrived in the mail earlier that day, three weeks after I had paid off a small title loan. In all honesty, with over 215,000 hard-earned miles and repairs becoming routine, it had become a liability to our tight family budget. I no longer needed the truck and we really needed the money.

Sidenote: We had also been experiencing major issues with my wife’s vehicle, as in the engine seized up when the shop neglected to put oil back in it during a routine oil change and we had to have the engine replaced. When you get a minute, read How I got a new car motor for the price of an oil change.

Finally, it was go time. At about 11:45 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, I sat down to compose the ad, complete with a dozen or so photos and just enough of a description to sell it without exaggerating. I clicked the “Publish” button and made my way out to the hot tub for a little stress relief.

Related blog post: how to write a Craigslist ad that sells.

About 15 minutes later, just a little after midnight, I heard my phone ringing inside the house. I sprang from the spa to see who was calling. It was a Phoenix number I did not recognize. The call log showed it was his sixth attempt to reach me since I published the ad. I also had three text messages from him, and two from others interested in the truck. He wanted to meet me right then so he could buy the truck. Surely he was a scammer, I thought. Who asks a seller to meet for a test drive in the midnight hour? So I turned off my phone, pulled the ad and went to bed.

2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

The prospective buyer resumed his pursuit at 6 a.m., with both phone calls and text messages. Let me remind you the ad was no longer visible. Finally, I responded with “Sorry, I inadvertently published the ad too soon. I’m not ready to sell the truck yet.” I just wanted this huckster off my back.

We exchanged a few more messages and agreed to meet at his bank, just down the street from me, on Friday morning. He showed up alone, with cash, and we made the trade.

Selling the truck has been a HUGE weight off my back, and has brought great peace to our home. Since this was my fastest Craigslist sale ever (basically 15 minutes), and maybe the fastest anyone has sold a vehicle online, I feel compelled to share my secret.

There is one thing I did before posting this ad that I have never done before, and I believe it made all the difference. I prayed. In the days leading up to my posting the ad, I caught myself griping about what a pain the truck was becoming. When I heard how negative I sounded, I nipped it and turned myself around. I began to thank God for the awesome experiences I had with that truck over the previous six years. Eventually, I asked God to deliver me from the truck and bring forth someone who can benefit from it. And that’s just what He did.

If you are a non-believer, you may choose to discount my explanation as hogwash. However, there are all sorts of stories in the bible of God providing ample blessings to his faithful believers. The moral of my story is summed up by the guidance in Chapter 21 of the book of Matthew, verse 22: You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.

How I got a new car motor for the price of an oil change

Recently I took my wife’s Jeep Wrangler into the shop for a routine oil change.  It was a couple thousand miles overdue and much as I despise the practice, I knew it had to be done. The engine had over 225,000 miles on it and we’ve been starting to come to grips with the fact that we should start putting a contingency plan in place for the day when the inevitable happens.

2001 Jeep Wrangler
My wife’s Jeep Sunshine

When I went to pick it up, everything seemed fine.  I was in a hurry to pick up my daughter from school, so I jumped in his driver’s seat and took off down the road. A couple miles later it began to sputter and lose power. Beneath the sound of the air conditioner and stereo I had not heard that the car stopped running.  Once I noticed it lost power, I shut everything off and realized that engine was no longer running. So I put the car in neutral and tried the ignition switch.  No dice.  It was not going to start.

I coasted onto the shoulder and face the reality that something major was wrong. Long story short, I had it towed back to the the shop where I placed the burden of proof on the shop manager to convince me they put oil in the engine. He couldn’t do it.

“Don’t worry,” he told me. “We will make it right.”

For me there was only one way he could make it right, so I asked him to elaborate. “We’re going to have to put a new engine it. At no cost to you.”

It took about a week, but they made it right. The shop found the identical engine from another Jeep with only 70,000 miles on it.  For the price of an oil change, the Jeep that my wife fondly named Sunshine was transformed from a tired old hen to a lively spring chicken.


3 reasons why MLB Opening Day should NOT be a national holiday

I have seen numerous pleas by Major League Baseball on social media asking fans to sign a petition that would make Opening Day a national holiday. As much as I love baseball, there are three good reasons why I feel opening day should not be a national holiday.

1.  Ballpark attendance will not increase

Ask any fan of their city’s Major League Baseball team what the biggest challenge is with Opening Day and they will tell you it is getting tickets. Most MLB teams require fans to sign up on a waiting list about six months before the regular season begins in hopes that their name will be drawn from the lottery to buy tickets for opening day.

In other words, every team that has a solid fan base is currently selling out their stadium on Opening Day. Sold out is sold out, and declaring a national holiday won’t change that.

2.  Viewership will not increase

In most MLB markets the local media creates more hype and it generates greater anticipation around Opening Day than any other game during the year. Of course, there is at least one local station in each market that is likely to broadcast the game. So many of the people who were unable to buy tickets will be watching on TV. Even if they are working, in this day of cable sports TV and digital recorder’s most real fans can watch the game at their convenience after work.

3.  More people will suffer than benefit
In America, a national holiday usually means that federal offices, banks and in many cases schools will be closed. While it seems that this may be a benefit to Major League Baseball since more people are free from other distractions to focus on the nation’s pastime, my hunch is that more people will be affected negatively than will benefit. Think of the people that you know that work at any of the institutions that normally close on national holidays and how their income is affected when they cannot work. And think of how many business transactions cannot take place when banks are closed. Now you see what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong. I love baseball and I wish I could be off every year on Opening Day to take part in the festivities. However, we should keep in mind as a people that Major League Baseball is a business and they will continue to do just fine without Opening Day being declared a national holiday. Our government should not declare a holiday for the benefit of one industry at the expense of the general population.

Play ball!

3 things every indie author can learn from Walter Swan

There is a lesson all of us would be independent authors can learn from Walter Swan.

I met Swan in December, 2013. Not in person. That would be tough since he passed away in the 1990s. I picked up an autographed copy of Swan’s book “How to be a Better Me” at a Goodwill store in Tempe one evening. When I first saw the book, I couldn’t help thinking, “There is no way somebody could market a book like this” and “If this guy can sell a book, so can I.”

You know the old saying: You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. That was certainly true with this book.

Image of book: How to be a Better Me
How to be a Better Me, self-published book by Walter Swan

I cracked open the book to get a taste of the author’s style. What I discovered intrigued me: Short chapters of two to three pages with lessons on how to be a better person, written in the language of a good ole boy. I plunked down my dollar-fifty for the book, zipped over to the nearest Starbucks and dug in. Walter had me hooked. I felt like my grandpa was telling me these stories.

After reading the book for a few days, I decided to Google the author and find out more about him. (You should too.) Swan was a retired plaster contractor in southeastern Arizona with no higher education and no prior experience as an author. He couldn’t find a publisher to pick up his book, so he decided to publish it himself, with the help of a printer in Tucson, AZ.

Only a few stores would put his book on their shelves, so he rented retail space in downtown Bisbee, AZ and opened a store to sell his book. He called the store “The One Book Store.” Any guess as to what he sold in that store? It wasn’t the book I picked up. His first book was titled, “Me n’ Henry .” Turns out “How to be a Better Me” was one of many he went on to publish, although it’s hard to pin down all his titles. One person blogged about meeting Swan in 1994 and mentioned he had sold over 35,000 copies. I’m not sure if that’s in reference to his first book or all books combined. Nevertheless, it’s an inspiring number.

Walter has inspired me not only to be a better person, but also to become an author. I have several book ideas and one book that’s about 90% written. I have been sitting on it for about three years since I didn’t feel like I have enough clout. Neither did Swan.

What independent authors can learn from Walter Swan:

  1. If you have good stories (and who doesn’t?), people will read them
  2. Previous experience is not required; nor is advanced education
  3. We don’t need the approval of a publisher to publish a book

These days it’s easier than ever to self-publish books in electronic format with the help of sites like and All we have to do is have a vision, a story to tell and the determination to follow it through. It’s that last item that Walter Swan has inspired me with.

How to get the best deals of the year on Ebay

If you are a bargain shopper, your ship is about to come in. Four of the best bargain hunting days of the year on Ebay are just around the corner: December 24, 25, 31 and January 1.

Here’s why: Ebay is an auction site. There is only one thing that makes prices go up with an auction. People. If you are shopping on Ebay when hardly anyone else in the country is, you can pretty much have your way with prices. What are people doing on the aforementioned dates? Answer: Not shopping on Ebay.

My top tips to save big on Ebay this holiday season:

  • Set up an Ebay and Paypal account in advance. Many sellers only take payments by PayPal these days. Trust me, it’s super safe and convenient.
  • Know what you want to buy and what you are willing to pay. Don’t let your ego cost you money. If somebody happens to outbid you, don’t sweat it. Just move on to another seller or the next item on your list.
  • Narrow your sights on things that are easy and inexpensive to ship or mail. If you pay $1 dollar for an item you could buy locally for $10 and it costs you $20 for shipping, you haven’t really saved anything.
  • Place your max bid on the items you desire just minutes before the auction closes. If there are no other bidders, you won’t have to pay your max price, but it helps you automatically outbid other bargain hunters.

This concept only works if you are trying to win auctions that are closing on the dates I highlighted above. Don’t bid on items that will be closing on days after the dates listed above. Set your top price low and be okay with spending not a penny more, even if it means losing the item to someone else who read this post.

I discovered this tactic as a seller over 12 years ago when I inadvertently listed an item for auction that closed on a holiday. I didn’t get near the money that I was asking for the item but I learned a lesson that has paid me back greatly over the years. Few sellers put much thought into when the auction will close. Usually, they are just happen to get the item listed.

If you follow these tips and score big, please come back and leave a comment.

The best way to save on airfare you’ve never heard about

I can’t believe the travel geeks aren’t making a bigger to do about this. I stumbled on to the best travel deal I’ve seen in over a decade without even trying.

I needed to book a business trip to Charlotte next week. In the past I have paid around $700 or $800 to fly there. This time around my fare was only $243 for a round-trip ticket. The plus or minus one day fares were comparable to what I’m used to paying.

It didn’t occur to me until I printed my itinerary that I had booked a departing flight on September 11, with a return flight on September 13 – a Friday.

I’m not superstitious but apparently a lot of travelers are. Seems like these two travel dates are being avoided like the plague by many of my fellow Americans.

You want to save big on aifare in the future? Consider flying on September 11 or Friday the 13th.

How to boost your home’s click appeal

I’m no realtor but having been on both the sell and buy side of real estate transactions recently I learned a thing or two about getting the deal you want in a timely manner. Realtors like to talk about curb appeal and how important it is that your home have it if you’re trying to sell.

I think it’s time they start talking about click appeal. That’s because far more home shopping is done online than in cars these days. Thanks to websites like and house hunters can search for homes matching their specific criteria (neighborhood, price, floor plan, etc.) without even talking to a realtor.

See what I mean? Take a look at these images of the house my wife and I bought nine months ago in Phoenix. Notice how just a few enhancements can make a dramatic impact.

Before: Summer 2012

After: Spring 2013
After: Spring 2013

Which picture do you think people would click for more information? I’m pretty sure most of you would go with the ‘after’ pic.

This is what we did to boost our home’s curb appeal on a limited budget:

  • Painted the exterior: $1,700
  • Installed shade screens: $600
  • Installed new exterior lights: $300
  • Greened up the lawn: $25
  • Trimmed the tree (borrowed trimmer): $0

If the first image potential buyers see isn’t appealing, they likely won’t click to find out more. That’s why, if you’re thinking about selling, your home must have outstanding click appeal before listing it.

Why wait till you try and sell it? Even if you have no plans to sell in the near future, get more out of the investment by enjoying the improved look while you live there. A small investment in click appeal will likely pay off for you in the end.

A lesson on how to stand behind your work

Does a guarantee really mean anything in this day and age? Think about it: When something goes wrong with an item you buy at a retail store, who bears the burden of proof? The consumer.

What do you hear when something goes wrong with something you purchase? Prove to me you bought it here when you say you did. Prove to me you didn’t break it through misuse.

With services, it can be even more tricky, unless you have it all in writing. And then you have the burden of keeping the paperwork filed someplace where you can retrieve it.

Recently I found someone who has put an end to all that nonsense. We’re in the market to have our exterior block wall covered with a stucco. I’m a bit of a bargain shopper so I called Dwight after seeing his handwritten sign on a neighborhood street corner.

As I worked my way through a litany questions in the backyard, I got around to asking if his work comes with a warranty.

“Yes!” was his response. “As long as I’m alive my work is warrantied. So for about another 25 to 30 years or so. After that, you’re on your own.”

I can’t ask for much more than that now can I?