And Then They Were One ….

This is the quintessential picture of Wendy and Clay, taken just a month after we met in the summer of 1978. We were old souls in young bodies. We were each at crossroads, ending one phase of life and looking forward with great anticipation to the next. Wendy, at 17, had just moved to Indiana, graduated high school, and was looking forward to heading off to college. Clay, at 19, was back home in Greenwood, Indiana after his first year of college and preparing to serve a church mission for 2 years.

But what happened? The world stopped for us. Suddenly, instead of focusing on our next big adventures, our eyes refocused on the here and now. Falling in love was not on the agenda, it was not convenient for either of us, and it was not in either of our playbooks. But we fell, and we fell hard. Now, for a few months, before we parted on our unique journeys, our focus was brought to the present.

How can I describe the feelings we had for each other? Our souls longed to be intertwined, focused at an sub-atomic level. To be one. We knew the synergy of that chemical bond would create more than we could even imagine.

I studied Wendy. And I became fascinated and awed. Being with Wendy brightened my entire life!

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You may find this particular post an abrupt departure from our usual topics of travel adventure, investing, etc. But this blog is really a journal and our primary audience consists of our grand children and their grand children — on and on through the ages. In short, we write this blog so that our descendants can have a glimpse of who we are. To help them find courage, wisdom and perhaps a new understanding about themselves. To help them on their life journeys. And we do it to show our love for them (even though they might not yet have arrived on planet earth yet and we will have long since departed when they finally read it). So to our descendants, we hope that you too can feel our love through our words.

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The summer of 1978 was the best three months of my life — June, July and August. Wendy and me, our first date, our first kiss. How do I describe our first kiss. Impossible. Let’s just say that it was a moment never to be forgotten. In that exquisite experience our spirits sparked and aligned.

We became enveloped in each other that summer. The more time we spent together, the more we longed for each other.

And then it was time to part. We each had our path. Wendy was headed for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Clay was headed for Ventura, California on a two-year mission. Parting was agony.

In my head, I calculated the odds that Wendy would still be unattached in two years. Slim to none. BYU is a marriage factory. Coeds typically don’t last two years, it just doesn’t happen.

So I struck a deal with God. I committed to the Lord that I would focus my entire being on doing His will for the next two years. Not half-hearted, but all in! Whatever He wanted, however I could help in His work. In exchange, I hoped that He might consider producing an impossible miracle: “When my mission is over, could I please have her as my wife?”

When you propose a bargain with God you don’t know if he will accept it. So you work on hope and faith. Those are different from covenants which He defines and you accept. With covenants (like baptism, the Sacrament, and eternal marriage in the temple), He defines the commitments on both sides. His commitments we call blessings. Anyway, with my “bargain”, all I could do was work hard and hope.

Two years is a long time. Especially when you’re young. Especially when you are having completely new experiences every day. My missionary service those two years took me to Studio City, North Hollywood, Thousand Oaks, Ventura, San Fernando Valley, Santa Maria, Lake Isabella, and Ridgecrest, California. In each of these communities I was invited into the homes of families and individuals to teach them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the process, they became a part of my life and I theirs. They shared with me their life’s challenges and together we applied the principles of the Gospel to help them find their way through life.

This was intense work. It was full of joy, sorrow, success and sadness. Each week was a lifetime of intimate experiences with people I came to love and it completely absorbed me. It changed me. I learned about life and the amazing variety of difficulties people face. I learned of the suffering that can come to people through no fault of their own, but from choices their parents, spouse or children make.

But more importantly, I witnessed the miracle that can come, the complete change that takes place, when a person turns their life over to God. When they hand over their guilt to Him, when they hand over the right to judge another to Him, when they turn their focus from being a victim, from being hurt, from seeking pleasure in doing things they aught not, when they work from a new understanding that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings —- it is a miracle to behold. They become a new, happier, glowing, delightful person– full of love, completely changed.

They really should create a half-way house for returning missionaries. The work is so intense, you’re just not ready to re-enter the normal world. Two years of complete focus also means two years of no TV or radio, and certainly no dates, no dancing, no kissing … you get the idea. It’s a strange lifestyle. And then one day they ship you home in your white shirt with your nametag, suitcoat, tie, and black leather shoes. The real world is like being on Mars without a life-support system.

I remember my parents and family picked me up at the airport. My youngest brother, Jonathan, was 11 years old and already taller than me — on his way to 6 feet-something. I can still remember him looking at me like I really was a Martian. I could read his mind, “This cannot be my brother. He is too strange for words.”

But they were weirder than me by a mile! My father had thought it would be a brilliant idea to get a perm. He looked quite incongruous as a Superior Court judge in somber black robes and a kinky hairstyle. He had also become enamored with Volkswagens of all types. He had a stable of VW Bugs, a Karmen Ghia, and the ubiquitous VW Van with carpeted benches on the sides that converted into a big bed in the back. So these alien life-forms picked me up at the airport and stared at me in the van all the way home.

Home. I sat at the kitchen table in my suit and looked out the window at the neighborhood and thought “I really would like to knock on all those doors and share the Gospel” while my mother sat looking at me, wringing her hands, and finally insisted I change into casual clothes. I obeyed my mother, but I felt completely out of whack in jeans and a t-shirt. I needed a halfway house!

But there was not time for a transition. Life was happening. I needed to leave for BYU in a few days.

Wendy — well, let me backtrack. One of the most awesome things while serving in California was that I received letters form Wendy that were just spectacular. Spectacular, you say? Oh yeah. First off, they smelled good – perfumed. Not fair! And Wendy is an amazing writer. In her letters, always uplifting and encouraging, she was able to reveal more of who she was. If you know Wendy, you likely realize that she is incredibly intelligent. A very quick mind.

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Wendy is scary smart and it truly was frightening at times. After we were newly married, I remember the first time we read in bed. She was reading a novel and I was reading a history of Winston Churchill. Suddenly I became annoyed. What was it? Oh, it’s her page flipping. Why was it annoying? Well, first of all, she was turning three or four pages to my one page. How is that possible? Is she just messing with me? So I look over and watch her. She is completely unaware of me. And what I see is terrifying! Wendy is reading with an intensity I had never witnessed before. It’s like watching a laser beam consuming the typeface. Fast and furious! And when she flipped the page it was with force! That was the second annoying thing. And it all scared me very much. So what did I do? I kindly asked that she turn her pages more quietly as I sat trembling at the intellect I had married.

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Wendy’s letters to “Elder Smith”, as I was called, were fantastic. But over the months and years, we drifted. We each had our own worlds and we were each focused on our own worlds. And then my long-time friend, Chuck Brown, sent me a letter notifying me that Wendy was dating someone I knew. Well of course she was dating. But, dang, that was painful. And so, to minimize any further pain for either of us, and to make sure she did not feel she was betraying me in any way, I suggested we not write any more (or something to that effect).

So when I arrived home in Indiana, I hadn’t had any contact with Wendy for at least six months. I knew she wasn’t married but I didn’t know if she was attached to anyone. She seemed like a long ago dream.

And quite frankly I didn’t know what I would do with her if I saw her again. Let me emphasize, no dates and no kissing for two years. That will mess you up! I had no idea what to do with a girl. Before my mission? Oh yea. I was ever so suave, ever so confident. Now? I was lost.

What to do? Time to man up and face the music. If she was engaged, it would be a relief in one small way because I was in no shape to have any kind of relationship or even hold hands. Slightly terrified here. So I called Wendy and she invited me over.

I knocked on the door and Wendy opened it with a baby in her arms. Oh. Hmm. A lot can happen in six months, but . . . Wendy laughed and told me the child was her niece. Funny girl. Smart girl. Clever ice-breaker.

Wendy was absolutely gorgeous, poised and confident. She glowed! But I instantly saw that she was not the same woman I had dated two years ago. She was more mature, less immediately trusting, more savvy, and somewhat wary. And did I mention she was scary beautiful?

I was a mess. Completely uncomfortable in these jeans and t-shirt, talking to a girl with the intent of — what? I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it.

Wendy had mercy on me. She never placed any expectations on me. I asked if she would like to accompany me to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. A strange first date, but I didn’t know if I would survive the experience, so the graveyard seemed convenient, in case she just wanted to leave my corpse there. And by my grandparents’ grave we began to talk. And we talked and talked like we had two years before.

Next day my parents informed me they had asked Wendy if she would like to ride with us to BYU. This was coming from the Dad who wanted me to explore my youth, take my time, date lots of women, delay marriage as long as possible.

Huh. I guess I’ll have some more time with this woman creature, trapped in a van with no escape.

We departed and then the realization of what was happening started to crystalize in my mind. Remember the VW love bug with the fold down bed in the back? What the …? I’m supposed to lay down in this bed with her all they way to Utah? What the…?

Yep. I needed a half-way house. But no time for that. Man up and transition. You’ve got weird parents with strange ideas and you’re in the Hippy Love Van for the next several days with a beautiful woman. Deal with it.

So off we went laying in the back of the van, staring at each other — and we began to talk, just like we had two years ago. I was entranced and fascinated by this intelligent, beautiful creature. What a delight! And how crazy and terrifying. Especially when we had to camp in one tent and stay in one hotel room for the four of us along the way (with two double beds… girls in one bed, guys in the other). What the…??? Gotta love those sweet parents, who never noticed how uncomfortable we young people were with the situation.

My parents dropped us off at BYU and I half figured Wendy would fold back into her life and forget about me. But Wendy had mercy on me. My last area during the heat of the summer was in Ridgecrest, which is in the Mohave desert. It’s inhumanly hot there in the summer. Mission rules require you to stay indoors from 1pm to 3pm during the summer months. People who live there have what they call green rooms. It’s a special room with no windows to the outdoors, typically with murals of lush green flora. They usually have tiny waterfalls burbling and cascading. Anything to cool their skin and heal their mind from the heat.

Well, my body had been seared by the desert sun in that last area of my mission and I had lost the ability to eat much. I was a physical wreck, and I had lost weight. Skinny, burnt, dehydrated, malnurished, and I couldn’t eat. So Wendy proposed that we split the cost of food and she would cook dinners for me. Not that I could eat much, but, that sounded great.

Transition to college life again was fun as far as academics were concerned. I loved my classes, but the social scene was — well. Let’s do a flash back to the September 1977, my freshman year. Freshman orientation included a week of the best bands on planet earth. The dancing was outstanding! Girls everywhere! It was a party! Disco was in full swing, and I was in heaven!

By September 1980 something had happened to the music. They did something called slam-dancing to New Wave music. It was murderous! Revolting! I needed more than a halfway house for the dance scene — it just wasn’t going to happen.

As for the social scene, flashback to 1977, my friend and I had a contest to see who could have the most dates in a weekend. We were each in the double digits. 1980? Not so much. I was not ready to deal with that yet. Life had moved way too fast and I wanted my slow, steady, thoughtful transition, thank you very much.

But, we danced anyway!

Dinners were awesome and slowly but surely I was getting my appetite back. And Wendy was just amazing to talk to. Okay, mostly to listen to as I’m not much of a talker. I’m great with questions though, and so I listened and learned and observed and marveled.

You know where this is going. We fell in love again as we ate together, talked together and went on simple dates. Once again that desire to be together as one soul increased into a yearning. Problem was, dagnabit, I needed my transition time! Life was moving way too fast! I’m thinking marriage and I’m also thinking I need to run away!

Logic was my only way out. So I suggested we make a spreadsheet (this was before computer spreadsheets, but I was already doing them manually). On one side we would list all the reasons NOT to get married. On the other side, the reasons TO get married. Well, it was a lopsided list. I had written down all sorts of logical reasons NOT to get married on the left side of the chart. On the right side was only one reason, and it outweighed all the others. We could be together.

We could be together, our souls intertwined. There has never been anything more powerful in my life. It’s like Wendy was made for me and I was made for her. Yes, we could wait. Until I completed college, got a graduate degree, established myself as a provider. But could I wait?

A part of me saw that the miracle I had prayed to the Lord for was now being delivered. It was up to me to accept the gift, not on my timeframe but on His. A woman like Wendy was not going to be single long. And for some reason I could not fathom (still can’t all of 41 years later), she loved me. How was that possible? I had no career, a part-time job, no car, and I no longer had any charisma.

Time to man up! No time for transition. Life is moving and it’s time to jump in and do it! So, during Thanksgiving break I proposed and Wendy said “Yes”. The plan was to get married in April, after the Spring semester. But why wait? So then the plan was December 30th, near the end of Winter break. Who needs a transition? A five week engagement is totally do-able.

Truly, once the decision was made, I was completely and totally ready to move forward. We could be together, our souls intertwined. Forever. I’m in!

After finals in mid-December we hurried back to Indiana where the women furiously planned the wedding stuff and Wendy suffered through a severe bout of strep pharyngitis. December 29th both families drove to Washington D.C. where we were to be married. We had several cars loaded with people. Wendy and I had been given my parents car as an incredibly generous wedding gift, so Wendy and I drove by ourselves to the temple early in the morning of December 30th, 1980, trailed by all the families in their cars. It was quite an experience.

On the way to the temple from our hotel with that wagon train of cars behind us I was very quiet (and Wendy was very beautiful). She looked over at me and said, “Are you all right?” Truth be told, I was barely breathing. It was such a big moment. So Wendy said, “Well, if you die of fright, there’s the funeral home.” as she pointed to a funeral parlor. Next she pointed to a jewelry store. “And, if you forgot the ring ….” My eyes got really big and I spluttered, “I forgot the ring at the hotel!” I immediately did a U-turn in Washington D.C. traffic and hit the gas, passing our wagon train full of people with their mouths falling open.

We finally made it to the Washington D.C. temple. It is ethereal. In that temple, special men, known as sealers, can bind husband and wife together, not just ’til death do you part, but for time and all eternity, so long as you live your life equal to the special covenants you make in the temple.

Washington DC Temple

Walking out of the temple, hand in hand with Mrs. Smith was the most wonderful feeling. I cannot express my joy, to be intertwined, soul to soul with Wendy.

At our wedding reception in Wendy’s parents’ home, Southport, Indiana

Now, at age 62 I am so grateful that the Lord accepted my bargain. I now understand that He knew all along what He wanted for me, what was fore-ordained for me if I lived worthy of His blessings. He knows best. And He has a way of putting into our hearts what He knows we need so that it becomes our desire as well. It is a powerful thing!

So that, dear children, is how Wendy and Clay became one.

~ Clay

Air Traffic Control Tower – Naples

Have you ever been in an airport’s control tower? It’s an amazing experience! You’re perched high above the world with an incredible view of the sky in all directions. Well, that’s what we bought in Naples, Florida.

Not a control tower, exactly, but something even better. A 6th floor end-unit condo overlooking the forest and Little Hickory Bay, with views to the east, south and west.

Sunrise to sunset views.

Sunset over the Gulf from our lanai

And, even better than a control tower, it had three bedrooms, a fridge and a stove.

Oh, and a lanai with two of the most comfortable easy chairs.

You can see the Gulf of Mexico in the distance

So heres, the story. The last time we posted about our home in Naples (Winter Cottage by the Sea), we were living in a double-wide trailer.

Home Sweet Mobile Home

Our objective was to live there 6 months during the winter and perhaps travel the other six months, or live in Sequim, WA in our fifth wheel during the summers. Then we found Florida to be so delightful, we decided to stay year round and enjoy it. However, the idea of living full-time in a 50-year old double wide — in hurricane country, just didn’t add up for us.

What to do? Time to go on a hunt, which we did. We had a great time exploring Naples, trying to figure out what would tickle our happy button enough to motivate us to part with a big chunk of money. And that’s what happened when we found Bay Forest, a gated community at the very far north end of Naples. We chose a 6th floor condo overlooking the slash pine and mangrove forest, with the beautiful bay and Gulf views in the distance.

Bay Forest backs up to a 500 acre nature preserve with daily glimpses of snowy egrets, great blue herons, tortoise, raptors, and even the occasional bobcat, alligator or dolphin.

Baby bobcat
Gopher Tortoise- about 13 inches long

The big seller for us was the 2 1/2 mile nature trail which includes a boardwalk out into the bay.

Fishing for gold at the chickie hut on our community’s private pier
Daily walk around Bay Forest

And what a fantastic place to hole up during the pandemic! We closed on the property just as the Covid was getting underway in March, 2020. Oh, did I mention we bought it Turnkey, meaning a place that is not only furnished, but it includes all the pots & pans, silverware, linens, etc. that is required to move in with nothing but suitcases full of your clothes. This is quite common in Florida.

It also had a garage to protect the car from storms, and we added hurricane impact windows. Now, we were safe, secure and so very content living in our Naples control tower.

But we also got an added bonus: our son Jesse, wife Terri and grandkids, Eric (10) and Hazel (8) came back from Mexico to live with us when the world shut down at the beginning of Covid-19.

It was a wonderful five months having them tucked in with us, as they homeschooled, rode bikes, played in the pool, and swam in the Gulf.

Hazel with unicorn helmet, exploring the neighborhood
Hazel and Eric- best buddies

Jesse is a digital nomad, so working from home was no problem. Terri is an amazing cook, and introduced us to the Instant Pot and tuna rice on romaine lettuce wraps with Tajin seasoning. Yum.

And then it was time to say goodbye as the kids headed off to Oregon for new adventures.

Naples seemed like it would be our forever home . . . but . . . then we got this really crazy idea last July, even for us . . .

Hurricane!!!

There were two things Wendy and I were concerned about when we moved to Naples, Florida. First, could we stand the heat and humidity in the summer? Well, we discovered that we absolutely love the summers here.

Second, what to do about hurricanes? Well, we’ve learned a lot in this first year (And we have much yet to learn.). In addition to installing hurricane windows, we created a written plan for this year. Perhaps the most important part of this plan is the Go, No-Go Decision. So without further ado, here is the Smith Hurricane Plan 2021.


Smith Hurricane Plan 2021

Go, No-Go Decision

  • We make reservations (somewhere) if there is a forecast for a:
    • Cat 3 hurricane within 4 days
    • Cat 4 hurricane within 5 days
    • Cat 5 hurricane within 6 days
  • Make reservations immediately — for departure at least 3 days before the hurricane.
  • Note: hurricanes can be huge. Monster winds can be very far away from the eye. So error on the side of caution. If it’s in your general direction and it’s forecast as a level 3 or higher, exit stage right!

Stay at Home Plan (for Cat. 1 or 2)

  • Shop for last minute items T-4 days
  • Notify family and ministers T-3 days
  • Fill ice blocks and put in freezer T-3 days
  • Fill water barrier in lanai on T-1 day
  • Fill bathtub T-1 day
  • Close hurricane shutters and lock hurricane windows T-6 hours

Escape Plan – By Car (Cat. 3, 4 or 5)

  • Destination: Appalachian mountains (N. GA, NC, TN) – VRBO $1100/week. Leave 4 days before.
    • Close hurricane shutters & lock windows
    • Notify family & ministers T-3 days
    • Things to Bring:
      • Bug-out Bag (red & white in kitchen bottom shelf)
      • Prescriptions
      • Ditty Bag (master closet shelf)
      • Doc In A Box
      • 5-Gallon Gas Cans

Escape Plan – By Air

  • Close hurricane shutters & lock hurricane windows
  • Notify family & ministers T-3 days
  • Leave car in garage, use shuttle or UBER to airport
  • Bring Prescriptions
  • Bring Ditty Bags (master closet shelf)
  • Exit Airports
    • RSW (Ft. Myers) is preferred.
  • FLL (Ft. Lauderdale)
  • MIA (Miami)
  • TPA (Tampa)

Air Destinations (vacation spots):

  • Detroit (DTW) $150 Round trip. Overnight @ Jeff & Kerry’s, then drive to Mackinac City ($154/night plus rental car). 4 hour drive.
  • Atlanta (ATL), then drive to VRBO in Appalachians.
  • Boston (), then drive to Camden, ME
  • Seattle $550. VRBO on Olympic Peninsula (Sequim)$200/night plus car rental
  • Denver $500. VRBO in Black Hawk ($1500/week) plus car rental

Tools & Equipment

  • MyRadar App
  • Storm Radar App
  • WINK FM & Weatherband Radio
  • Collier County / Naples Weather Alert System
  • Bug Out Bag
  • Katadyne Gravity Water Filter
  • Portable Solar Cell Phone Charger

Hurricane Season Checklist (Activate each May)

  • Fill 5-Gallon gas cans and add stabilizer
  • Bug-out bag checked and ready (72-hour kit +)
  • Stay at home supplies checked
    • Propane canisters
    • Propane stove
    • Lighter
    • Katadyne gravity water filter
    • Emergency supplies
    • Food storage

Things to Do or Purchase

  • Research shuttle services to various airports. How likely can they be relied upon at T-3 days until the hurricane?
  • Money ($20 bills)
  • Bug Out Checklist (clothes, etc.)
  • Remote thermometer for fridge and freezer
  • Gas in 5-Gallon cans with stabil
  • Solar Powered Emergency Lights

Designed for:

  • Retired couple
  • 6th floor condo with hurricane-rated windows and shutters. Located 3/4 miles from Gulf of Mexico
  • Prepared with freeze-dried food storage, portable propane stove, Katadyne water filter, etc.

Well, that’s the plan so far. Please leave your questions, comments and suggestions.

Stay safe out there! ~ Clay

Five Momentum Investment Models

As mentioned in a previous post, I have created several momentum investment models. Five, in fact. One for each of my investment accounts. (You may want to start at the previous post to get some perspective before venturing on here.) Some of my accounts are large and some are small. And each investment account has its purpose. I’ve already introduced you to PUSH THE BUTTON MAX in a previous post, so let me introduce you to the other four, each of which has its own personality.

BLASTER

BLASTER is the most aggressive of my models. It might be more appropriate for a smaller account, or for a young, aggressive investor. From 2007 thru May 17, 2021, BLASTER had an average annual return of 19.2%, vs. the S&P 500 return (as represented by the ETF SPY) of 9.9%. The maximum drawdown was -19.6% vs. -55.2% for SPY. Here are the particulars of the backtest, as reported by ETFReplay.com.

BLASTER – Risk and Returns

BLASTER definitely has a unique personality. When the model is bullish, it invests in just one ETF from a portfolio of 25 rather aggressive ETFs (see below). The heart of this portfolio is technology, with a broad mix of additional ETFs in green energy, oil & gas exploration, home construction, financial services, etc. I love BLASTER for its aggressiveness. Even though I’m an old guy, I really like having some small part of my assets in these very aggressive ETFs.

BLASTER – Portfolio

So how did BLASTER perform each year? Following is the ETFReplay.com backtest annual results.

BLASTER – Annual Returns

SMOOTH

SMOOTH is a big contrast from BLASTER. SMOOTH gives a much more gentle ride. Notice below, the worst period (monthly) loss from 2007 thru May 17, 2021 was only -6.58%. SMOOTH gives up the aggressive upside potential that you get with BLASTER for a much gentler ride. I use smooth for one of my larger accounts. It helps me sleep well at night.

SMOOTH – Risk & Returns

SMOOTH enjoys a quiet ride because, when the model is bullish, it invests in three ETFs (vs. one for BLASTER) and its core is centered on dividend-paying ETFs (see below). The cashflow produced by these dividend-paying ETFs tends to smooth out the volatility. In addition to dividend-paying ETFs, the model can choose from ETFs that focus on various company sizes and growth prospects. And finally, there is the option to select ETFs focused on companies in foreign countries.

SMOOTH – Portfolio

So what do the annual returns of SMOOTH look like? Let’s look below.

SMOOTH – Annual Returns

ROBUST

Introducing ROBUST, the big daddy. I use ROBUST for my largest account. ROBUST backtests an average annual return of 16.3% from 2007 through May 17, 2021, with a drawdown of only -13.9% during that period (see below).

ROBUST – Risk & Returns

ROBUST takes a bit more work to manage since it chooses the six strongest ETFs from the portfolio each month. That means on the first trading day of the month I might have to close six positions and open six more. But I love ROBUST. It has very large shoulders and long arms to wrap itself around the entire marketplace. What do I mean? Well, the portfolio is not concentrated on any aspect of the market like the other portfolios (e.g., Technology for BLASTER and Dividends for SMOOTH). ROBUST can choose from the six strongest sectors of the economy — a very broad set of options (see below).

ROBUST – Portfolio

ROBUST has given a strong performance in the backtest as seen below.

ROBUST – Annual Returns

SLICK

SLICK (Don’t you love these names?) is the final model, which I use for a small account. The average annual growth rate for SLICK (from 2007 through May 17, 2021) was 16.9% with a maximum drawdown of -15.6%, according to ETFReplay.com. Like BLASTER, SLICK chooses just one ETF each month. That kind of concentration can result in big up months (best period of +18.52) and down months (worst period of -10.10%). Imagine seeing your account go down over 10% in a month. That’s why I use it on one of my small accounts.

SLICK – Risk & Returns

For small accounts, being able to simply trade in and out of one ETF each month make life easy-peasy. SLICK chooses from ETFs that tend to take their turn at accelerating in bull markets (see below). SLICK selects from ETFs that are very similar to PUSH THE BUTTON MAX, but takes it a step further in aggressiveness by limiting the choice to just one ETF.

SLICK – Portfolio

And the results look pretty good on an annual return basis, as shown below.

SLICK – Annual Returns

Summary

So there you have it. Five momentum investment models, each with a unique personality. I’m not recommending these models. I’m just telling you what I’m using right now for our investment accounts. More than likely, I may be on to some other system or methodology in a few weeks, months or years. But for today I’m really enjoying these models. There is peace of mind knowing how they behaved since 2007. I hope these models give you some new ideas for your investments.

May the returns be ever in your favor! — Clay

How I Invest (Update)

There are unlimited ways to skin the cat (invest). And when one door closes, several others open wide. Since my last post on investing where I described my investment strategy using dividend producing assets, doors have been closing on these high yield investments. First, we had a major market correction from Covid in the Spring of 2020. Many high yield assets took it on the chin, and a significant number of them had to reduce their dividends. Today those same assets have some of the lowest yields in history. Essentially providing the investor with no reward for the added risk of these lower quality assets (see Mark J. Grant’s excellent report here).

As the events above developed in early 2020 I began to earnestly look for the next door to open. (Sometimes investing feels like jumping from hot rock to hot rock.) Enter door number three, momentum investing.

Momentum Investing. The concept of momentum investing is to identify which group of securities are appreciating faster than all others and simply jump in and hang on for the ride. The concept is similar to one of Newton’s Laws of Physics – an object in motion tends to stay in motion …. Or, you can liken it to rafting down a river. You look for the center of the river where it flows the fastest, get there and hang on. This is momentum investing.

Years ago (maybe 10 years?) I experimented with ETFReplay.com. So as I was checking doors for a new investment plan in 2020 I revisited this site and was pleased to see that it had become far more advanced and useful. After building and testing several different momentum models, I settled on a Regime Relative Strength model that has given me some exceptional returns.

Backtesting. With ETF Replay you can backtest your model to see how your investments would have behaved in previous bull and bear markets. If you don’t like what you see, you modify the model and backtest again (rinse and repeat). This is extremely helpful. Although past performance does not guarantee similar results in the future, looking at the past performance of your model can give you a feel for what to expect (or at least hope for) in the future.

ETFs. As the name implies, ETF Replay is focused primarily on ETFs (exchange-traded funds). An ETF is a basket of securities. For example, the ETF KBE is a basket of bank stocks.

I prefer trading in ETFs over individual stocks. Why? Each stock represents an individual public company, and that company must report on its earnings every three months. On the day of the earnings announcement the stock price can fall through the floor in an instant. You can lose a lot of wealth in a moment, which was okay when I was younger and could be more aggressive, but I’m an old guy now and I’m living off these investments. So I prefer ETFs, which contain an entire basket of these stocks or securities. If any one of the stocks in an ETF has a dramatic price drop from an earnings announcement it will hardly move the needle on the price of the ETF. In short, an ETF’s price is typically less volatile than an individual stock’s price.

My Models. So what do my ETF Replay models look like? How do they work? Why am I happy with them? Here is the backtest (below) of one of my models I call “Push the Button Max” (In honor of “The Great Race”).

Hanibal 8 – The Great Race

How do you read this thing (see below)? Well, the green line represents what my portfolio would have done if I had invested $100,000 in 2007. The blue line shows that same investment in the S&P 500 ETF (SPY), which represents the 500 largest companies in the United States (and is commonly used as a benchmark for the entire stock market). So this backtest is comparing the performance of my model portfolio to the general stock market, as represented by the ETF SPY.

At the right (above), you can see the total return for my model was over 700% since 2007, whereas the benchmark (S&P 500) returned 265%. (Any time you can beat the benchmark return, it’s a good thing. And this model crushes it.) Now look at the Summary Statistics. In addition to beating the benchmark’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR) 15.9% to 9.6%, the maximum drawdown for the model is only 14.7%, versus a 55.2% drawdown for the S&P 500. In other words, if you kept your investments in the top 500 U.S. companies since 2007, you would have lost over 55% at one point during that time (maximum drawdown). Whereas your biggest drawdown (one-time-loss) using the benchmark would have been only 14.7%.

As you review the backtest of a model, one of the things you do is to try to imagine the emotion of your winners and, most importantly, your losers. The big question you ask yourself is, can I emotionally sustain that kind of loss for the year or for the month. So let’s start by looking at the annual returns (see below). 2008 was the year of the big crash. That year the S&P 500 (as represented by the benchmark — SPY) was down 36.8% Ouch! But our model switched to a bearish regime and we were actually up that year 13.1%. Whew! And the next year, our model was up 50.4%! (This model does extremely well in the aftermath of a market crash.)

So what were the worst years for our model? In 2010 the model returned only 1% while the market (SPY) returned 15.1%. Ouch! And during 2015 the model lost 4.2% while the market was up 1.3%. Double-ouch! These backtests are very valuable as we look at each year and consider whether we could patiently hold on during the mediocre years while we wait for the years of big gains.

Now let’s look at some monthly returns (below). Here we see the model starts Jan 2007 in the bullish regime (I’ll talk about the model’s bullish and bearish regimes later.) and was invested in KBE (banks) and XLY (consumer discretionary) ETFs. During that month the model outperformed the market 1.69% to 1.5%. The next month the model lost 2.66%, while the market lost 1.96%. So that is how you read the monthly backtest.

You can see that the model switched to the bearish regime for the month of March 2007 (IEF is a government bond ETF). And during the worst of the market downturn, the model was in the bearish regime most months, from August 2007 through March 2009. During that time it usually made money and it escaped most of the big down months when the market was down 6.05% (Jan 2008), 9.44% (Sep 2008), 16.52% (Oct 2008) and 10.74% (Feb 2009). But it did get clobbered with the market in June 2008. So that’s how you read a backtest and try to visualize how you would handle the emotions of the up and down months and years.

So how does this model work? I simply push the model’s backtest button once each month, the model runs, and it shows me which ETFs are showing the strongest price appreciation. I simply exit last month’s ETFs and buy the model’s new recommendations for the new month. That’s it. I don’t need to spend time doing market research and I don’t need to trade any other time during the month. Using my models I now spend only about 30 minutes each month “investing”.

Okay, but what’s in the guts of the model? How does the model do its magic? Warren Buffett once said, “The first rule of investing is, don’t lose money. The second rule of investing is — don’t forget the first rule.” I love this simple principle and have built my models to protect me from market downturns. The first thing the model does is to determine which “regime” we should be in. If the market is going up, the model switches to a bullish regime (program). If the market is going down, the model switches to a bearish regime. This is how the model was able to escape the 55.2% drawdown that the market experienced, with only a 14.7% drawdown for the model’s investments.

How does the model know when to switch back and forth from bullish to bearish regimes? It uses a combination of long-term and short-term moving averages of both the SPY and IEF ETFs. When the combined moving average of SPY crosses above the combined moving averages of IEF, it switches to the bullish regime. When the opposite happens, it switches to the bearish regime.

Bearish Regime. For the bearish regime the models simply invests in IEF, which is an ETF containing government bonds with a maturity between 7 and 10 years. These bonds tend to go up when the stock market is going down. This is how we protect ourselves from a market downturn.

Bullish Regime. For the bullish regime the models select the top ETFs from a group of ETFs (portfolio). I have several investment accounts and each is set up with its own model designed to pick from a different group of ETFs. This gives me some diversification across my investments. Exactly how does it pick the best ETFs? It compares the ETF returns over a medium-term timeframe, a short-term timeframe and also factors in volatility — and selects the ETFs that are going up in price at the fastest rate, with the least volatility.

Summary. Clear as mud? Well, I do hope this was helpful. These models have been extremely profitable for me in recent months. As mentioned before, they tend to work well after a market crash (like we just experienced due to Covid in 2020). How long will it outperform the market? I have no idea. By the time you read this, I may have moved on to another model, or I might be using a technical or fundamental analysis investment plan. I move from hot rock to hot rock and take what the market is offering at the time. But I hope this gives you some helpful ideas so you can expand your investment arsenal. Happy investing!

How I Invest.

How Do I Invest? What is My Process?

 Recently, a friend asked me to share the process I use to invest my own retirement funds.  If you, too, are curious, or are thinking about becoming a do-it-yourself investor, this post is for you.

Most people who do not have a background in business (I have an MBA) or years of experience investing their own retirement funds (I’ve been investing for almost 40 years) will be better off having their retirements professionally managed.   However, I am a big advocate for taking charge of your own investments, especially for those who are young and have time to recover from their investment mistakes (like I did).

In addition, there are those who are retired, whose income is mainly from a pension, but who have a small portion of their retirement in an IRA and would like to manage that small portion themselves.  That can make a lot of sense.

This post will not be about what to own.  This post is not a recommendation for any particular investment. (Do your own research!)  Rather, this post is about WHERE I go to inform myself, and what tools I use to manage my portfolio.

Fundamental Concepts

First, you must understand that I take a fundamental analysis approach to investing.  Which means I consider the actual business of each company I might invest in; its profit potential, its competitive position vs. its industry, and I formulate a value for that company.  I then buy selected companies when they are “on sale”.

Fundamental analysis is different from technical analysis or momentum analysis.  Technical analysis ignores the business fundamentals and focuses solely upon the historic pricing of the stock.  Technical analysis can be fun, and I use it to a very marginal degree.  Momentum analysis involves seeing “what’s hot” and piling into those securities while they are rising and exiting when they are declining.  Again, this can be fun, but this is not my focus.

Big Picture

I feel it is important to understand where we are in the business cycle. I make my own guesses as to how close we are to the next recession.  This informs my decision as to what types of securities to own in my portfolio.

I also consider where I believe interest rates are likely to go in the future.  Interest rates represent the cost of money.  High interest rates indicate that money is dear and borrowing is costly for businesses.  In a high-rate environment, a business must overcome a much higher hurdle to justify borrowing to grow their business.

I’m a big believer in the concept of ‘reversion to the mean’.   Here is a great example of how I use this principle.

Source: Advisor Perspectives.com

As you can see in the chart above, from a historic perspective, the price investors are willing to pay for companies in the S&P 500 Index are quite inflated, as compared to their historic average.  This graph tells me that stocks are expensive today.  So I must be extremely selective about which stocks I buy in the current environment.  This is also an indicator to me that we are close to a market top and nearing the end of a business cycle.  That’s my opinion.  I look at these and other charts from Advisor Perspective frequently, to keep my perspective on the marketplace.

Source: Advisor Perspectives.com

Here’s another informative snapshot (above).  This single graph gives us volumes of information, but let’s focus on the blue line.  Interest rates, as measured by the 10-year treasury yields, have been in a long-term decline since the early 1980’s.  Currently 10-year treasury yields are just over 2%.  Money is cheap!  How low can yields go?

These two graphs give us the big picture.  But there is an even bigger picture.  What is going on in the rest of the world and how might it affect the U.S. market?

One source I use to stay abreast of world events is Geopolitical Futures.com  (https://geopoliticalfutures.com/welcome-to-geopolitical-futures/).  For a nominal fee I receive daily e-mail briefings on events of the world.  Another source I use is found at SeekingAlpha.com (https://seekingalpha.com), where many gurus of the financial world come together to share their views.  Each guru specializes in their own unique field. Here, for example, is an entertaining and thought provoking author, Mark J. Grant, who purports that we can expect interest rates to continue to decline, even below zero!  (https://seekingalpha.com/author/mark-j-grant#regular_articles)

So these are examples of some of the sources I use to gain a big-picture perspective, which informs my decision-making.  I am constantly looking for additional sources; looking for contrary opinions to my own.  I’m always asking myself, “What if I’m wrong?”  Years of investing experience have taught me to be humble and open-minded to new and contrary ideas.  My methods are constantly changing as a result.  It makes me a safer investor.  And it helps me identify opportunities.

Concepts of Investing

 Portfolio Diversification and Balance.  You have heard the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  Depending on my age, my financial circumstances, where we are in the business cycle, and current interest rates, I change the mix of assets in my portfolio and how many securities I hold.  As an example, here’s what my portfolio looks like today:

I’m invested in over 60 securities, none of which represents more than 4% of my portfolio.   At some times during the business cycle I have fewer securities and weight the portfolio more toward high-dividend stocks.  But right now I’m looking to reduce my exposure to stocks and increase my exposure to fixed-income securities.  My portfolio is an ever-changing creature based on the factors I listed above.

Each of these asset types must be researched in a different way.  I find it helpful to follow the research done by experts in these various asset types.  My list of experts is constantly changing over the years.  Currently, for equity securities I use two main sources:

Equities.

Brian Bollinger produces research on equities, with a focus on measuring the safety each stock’s dividend at https://2.simplysafedividends.com/home.  His service also provides an excellent portfolio management system that allows me to see the big picture of my portfolio, with the ability to drill down to each security for an in-depth analysis.

Here’s a snapshot of a small portion of my portfolio:

The amount of the dividend and the safety of the dividend are extremely important to me, since I live off the dividends.  This brings me to a concept I follow, which is that — I try to live entirely off the fruit of my portfolio and avoid cutting down the trees.  That is, I don’t sell stocks to fund my living expenses.  Rather, I try to live on less than the income from those stocks’ dividends (and interest from my bonds).

Why does dividend safety matter?  Because, if I’m confident in the safety of the dividend, I can sleep well at night when the price of the stock goes down in a recession.  So long as the company can continue to afford to pay its dividend, I can live my current lifestyle.  Whereas if my strategy were to sell stocks each year to fund my living expenses I would end up destroying the trees that grow the fruit each year (dividend).  Eventually I would have sold all the stocks in my portfolio and would become a pauper. Not good.  So Bollinger’s dividend safety score at Simplysafedividend.com is very helpful to me.

Another source of research I use for selecting equities is found at FastGraphs.com (https://www.fastgraphs.com/trial/).   Here, Charles Carnevale has created an amazingly simple way to view the current value of a company, its dividend history, its forecast earnings, etc.  Here’s a snapshot of one of my holdings using FastGraphs:

This graph tells a story to those who learn how to read it.

Finding bargains in equities is how I grow the value of my portfolio. But my portfolio income is generated from high-yield equities (utilities, MLPs, REITs, BDCs) and fixed-income securities.

Fixed-Income Securities

If you believe that interest rates will continue to decline (and that’s a big, big question), then fixed-income securities (preferred shares, baby bonds, bonds, closed end funds) become attractive because they not only produce a good yield, but they can also increase in value as interest rates decline.

Again, it really helps to have specialists in these fields ferret out bargains that pop up on occasion.  With their recommendations I can do my own research to pick what I like for my portfolio.

SeekingAlpha.com is a source of two such gurus that send me ideas to consider every week, sometimes every day.  These are Rida Morwa of High Dividend Opportunities, and Stanford Chemist at CEF/ETF Income Laboratory.  I enjoy sorting through their ideas and appreciate their ability to find potential bargains.

Strategy

In my experience, successful investments are typically found where most people are running away from a security.  For example, currently investors are running away from shopping mall REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts).  Brick and mortar retail sales have suffered from too many malls in the United States. Plus there is the ‘Amazon affect’, a significant growth in on-line sales at the expense of brick and mortar store sales. But not all shopping malls are created equal.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

The highest-quality mall REIT stock prices have suffered along with the low-traffic malls REIT prices.  Hmmm. Are there bargains to be found here?

Another example of potential bargains can be found in correction facility REITs.  These companies build and manage facilities for state and federal prisons.  Recently, while Democratic candidates have been on the campaign trail, there has been much discussion about prison reform.  As a result, investors have run away from correction facility REITs.

Photo by Larry Farr on Unsplash

Hmm. Are the bonds issued by some of these REITs safe?  How likely is it that congress would come together to make significant prison reform? Would they likely release millions of prisoners?  Or would they make some less-dramatic, cosmetic change that would appease liberal voters?  Is there a bargain here?  These are tough judgments that an investor must make in order to find true bargains.

If you want a decent yield and/or a great potential for an increase in your portfolio value, you must find these bargains.  It sometimes feels like running into a burning building while everyone else is running out screaming.

I hope this post has given you a taste of what it’s like to invest for your own retirement.  My methods are unique to me.  There are as many methods of investing as there are investors.  I love to do my own investing and sleuthing to find bargains, while continually staying alert for alligators.  It’s the great game of life for me.  If you want to chat, I am always, always happy to enjoy a conversation about the fascinating adventure of investing.

— Clay

 

 

 

Winter Cottage by the Sea

2018 Travels

Our 2018 Travels – From one end to the other.

We’re not done wandering yet.  Not by a long shot.  But, for a number of reasons (which I may get to eventually in another post), it’s time for us to select a winter quarters.   Having spent the past few years wintering in the desert southwest, this year we headed to Florida to see what that was all about.

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I was somewhat familiar with Florida, having spent several months in pilot training near Miami, flew multiple times in the big air show at Lakeland, and visited numerous times for spring break as a kid, not to mention many vacations at the beach as an adult.  One of my favorite areas is Destin, in the panhandle, with it’s amazing white sand beaches.

But much of Florida is overwhelmed by traffic and people in the winter.  Where could we find a quiet haven, near the ocean, that we could afford?  Oh, I know.  Let’s look in one of the wealthiest cities in the United States.  What?

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Is this Florida, or Italy?

Our exploration took us south along the west coast of Florida.  We considered Clearwater, Sarasota, Venice, Fort Myers, Estero ……  And when the road ended, we found ourselves in Naples.

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This city of 20,000 is a place you have to aim at to get to.  It’s not on the way to anywhere. This is the end of the road, unless you want to turn east on I-75 and spend a couple hours crossing Alligator Alley to Miami.  If you go any further west or south of Naples you’ll get your feet wet in the Gulf of Mexico.

Naples on map

Naples, because of it’s unique location, is a quiet place.  There is zero road noise at our little cottage.  It is abundant with nature, and we’re close enough to the ocean that we’ll get a sea breeze most days.

So how can two homeless paupers such as us afford to buy property in Naples, one of the wealthiest cities on the planet?  Well, first, let me be clear.  As with most things in our marriage, I come up with the strategic plan, the big picture.  But Wendy does the real work – all the tactical analysis and research.

Wendy is amazing and relentless.  She found this place.  Basically, I told her, “Yea, sure, if you can find a place that costs next to nothing and can decrease our living expenses, that is by the ocean — I’m in.  Just make sure it has palm trees.”

Don’t ever give Wendy an impossible challenge unless you’re ready to commit.  The greater the challenge, the happier she’ll be.  Here’s what she found:

NLYH Sign

NLYH Pic

NLYH Pool View

NLYH Street View

(Here’s the website: Naples Land Yacht Harbor)

So let me skip to the important part, and then we can fill in the other non-essentials.  Here’s the amazing thing.  Because we live in (and are shareholders of) Naples Land Yacht Harbor, for $30/month we can have a boat slip a short walk from our cottage that gives us access to the intercostal waterway and the Gulf of Mexico.  Endless exploration!  $30/month?  Uh oh.  Looks like there’s going to be another boat in our future.

By the Water
You have to understand.  I don’t think like normal people.  I don’t see a home as an investment.  I see it as a necessary expense.  So long as it places me where I want to be, is safe, and doesn’t require much time or money in maintenance, that’s all I require.
Story time!  Thirty years ago, when Wendy and I moved to Indiana so she could attend medical school, I looked for a house near my new employer, USA Group.  I told the realtor to give me a printout of the home listings in the area (Noblesville, IN).  Then I started at the very bottom of the listing from the cheapest houses with the intention of working my way up the list.  And what did I find at the very bottom?  The listing said,
$59,000 Three bedroom one bathroom, blah, blah, blah …. next to a grass runway.  
Bingo!  Perfect.  The cheapest house … ON A GRASS RUNWAY!  I drove by and all I could see was that beautiful runway with airplanes parked here and there.  Shangri-La!  I also noticed that the roof looked okay on the little house.  Good enough.  

14810 Promise Road

Aerial View – 14810 Promise Road at Bottom Left next to green runway!

 

Living in that house was one of the happiest times of our life.  Wendy was able to pursue her goal, I got my pilots license and started building an airplane, and the kids had acres and acres of lawn to play in — just keep an eye out for airplanes landing.
That’s how I look for property.  Find the cheapest thing available that meets the need.  And pay with cash if you can.  Any extra money spent on the house is money that can’t be used to explore the world and have interesting experiences.
Okay, back to the here and now: our little cottage by the sea.  Nothing fancy.  It is a 50 year old mobile home, one of 352 located in Naples Land Yacht Harbor (NLYH).  It’s an antique.  Who buys this stuff?!?! We do!
113 Pier B
This particular unit has an updated kitchen and bathrooms, and new roof, plywood flooring covered in tile, A/C, and windows.
Although it is tiny at 820 square feet, consider that for the past 4 years of full-time travel in our RV we’ve been living happily in 400 square feet.  For us, this summer cottage is spacious with more than twice our usual living space.
113 Pier B Living Room
It comes fully furnished, including dishes, linens,  washer/dryer and a workshop loaded with tools.
So what do we plan to do if a hurricane wipes it out?  Actually, the eye of Hurricane Irma came right through Naples Land Yacht Harbor September 10, 2017.
Hurricane Irma Path
Of the 352 units in NLYH, 13 had to be condemned.  Many others needed one type of repair or another.  But these old mobile homes did amazingly well.  They’re all anchored to the ground with special straps.  Damage typically comes from flying debris.  But if another hurricane comes barreling through and you’re not so lucky, you just scrape off what’s left and put  a new, 1300 square foot Jacobsen manufactured home on the site.  As you drive through NLYH, you see a sprinkling of the 13 new homes that replaced those that did not survive Irma.
But why an old mobile home? Aren’t there better options? After all, Florida is loaded with retirement condos, apartments, houses and newer park model/manufactured home options.
We want a permanent place here in Southern Florida.  We’ve looked at and considered purchasing:
  • RV pads.  Each RV community we looked at had a great social atmosphere with pickle ball and all kinds of gatherings.  However, the cost would be twice as much for a bare cement pad as we paid for our 2 bedroon, 2 bath cottage (plus we would pay $1,000/yr property tax).  We don’t pay property tax on our mobile home because the property is permanently leased to us.
  • Condos.  These cost 3-4 times as much as our home with the same HOA fee/month that we are paying at the cottage, plus $1,500/yr property tax.  And although these have a community pool, they have no social gathering programs.  And you actually have less privacy with shared walls and the possibility of noisy, smoking neighbors.  No ambiance.
  • Other mobile home parks.  The typical park with 30-40 yr old mobile homes has smaller lots and less green space and costs twice what we paid.  If they have water access to the Gulf of Mexico with boat slips, they cost 3-4 times more.
Naples Land Yacht Harbor is a high quality 55+ community that we think we will greatly enjoy for six months each winter.  It feels like a throwback to old Florida, where 1 mile from the cottage, we can bike by the fancy Naples shops and restaurants on our way to a free day at the beach.
Check out the NLYH website to learn more.  We would love to have you as a neighbor!
You just can’t live any cheaper than this.  And did I mention that you can have a boat slip for $30/month?  Yea, I think I did.
NLYH Canal View
We have a whole new world to explore — this time in a boat.  Something to look forward to in the next several winters.
But first a summer mission this year and then 6 months in Europe next year.  But we’ll get to that later.  Isn’t life grand?
– Clay

Doctors Don’t Know Everything

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[istockphoto.com]

I went to the doctor the other day. Even retired doctors have to go to other doctors sometimes.

Whenever they ask me what pharmacy I want a prescription sent to, I tell them I don’t have one because I shop around for the best prices, and that I need a paper script.

The doctor wrote a script, so I looked it up on www.GoodRX.com.

To use the website, there is no sign-in, no personal information, no membership and no fee.  Just type in the drug name, put in the form (pill, capsule, tablet, cream, solution, etc) and the dosage (mg, gm, mcg, ml, etc) and your zip code.

 

Immediately, it tells you the prices at a lot of the pharmacies in your local area (such as Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid, Safeway, Wal-Mart).

The lowest price for my prescription was $740.00!!

 

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[istockphoto.com]

 

I don’t have drug coverage with my insurance. No way was I going to pay that price!

So, I looked up alternative drugs in the same category, and found one that only cost $70.00. I marched back into the doctor’s office and spoke to the nurse (and the doctor who just happened to be passing by)– they were both shocked at the price and happily changed the script to the cheaper alternative.

Why are drug prices so different, even for the exact same item between different pharmacies?  Health insurance companies have departments that negotiate for drug pricing on their formularies (a list of medications they will cover for their members).  These ‘Discount Prescription’ cards and apps do the same thing, only you are not tied to the insurance company’s formulary, so you might have more options for medications.

Some electronic medical records your doctor uses have downloaded specific drug formularies covered by your insurance company.  But it’s not a perfect system.  As a surgeon, there was no way I could keep up with all the insurance formularies, but I always told my patients, “When you get to the pharmacy, if the price of the drug I prescribed is too much, have them call my office and we’ll discuss alternatives.”

Sometimes, there is only one drug in a category that will work for your specific condition.  Or serious drug allergies preclude other options. And that one drug may be expensive.

In that case, you might be able to get help directly from the drug manufacturer to cover all or part of the cost.  Most drug company websites have an option for financial assistance.  Look into it.

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Although there’s no such thing as a money tree, drug companies may be able to help with the cost. [clipartpanda.com]

But most often, there is probably a cheaper alternative.  If your overworked doctor won’t work with you on keeping prescription costs down or gets snippy when you ask for more economical choices (especially if you ask nicely and give them time to fix things), then consider changing providers.

 

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[illustrationsource.com]

We’re all in this together.

Takeaways:

1.  Do NOT assume your favorite pharmacy is the best place to go with your scripts because it feels comfortable and they treat you well. There can be a huge difference in price between getting a drug at Safeway, Wal-Mart, CVS or some other place.  Wal-Mart offers a 90 day supply of some meds for only $10! Think about it;  would you be willing to pay $900 for a plain white shirt at Neiman-Marcus when the same one, or a close facsimile, can be found at a discount store for $25?  Just because you like the sales lady?  Remember: she doesn’t get one dime of the money you pay for the shirt.  Just her salary.  The same thing goes with pharmacists.

2.  Take a paper script with you from the office and look it up on http://www.GoodRx.com– it doesn’t cost you anything and there are no memberships or log-ins involved. Then, you print out or show the coupon code on your phone to the pharmacist and they accept it. Verify the price before they fill the script, though.

3.  Doctors don’t have the time to find out what drugs cost, and usually (but not always) there is more than one drug they could prescribe for you for the same medical condition.

4.  If it’s available for the particular drug, ask for the generic version (also known as ‘may allow substitution’ on the script), as it can sometimes save you a lot of money.  There is usually no difference in formulation between brand name and generic.  As an example, go to your local pharmacy and look on the allergy shelves at the price for brand name Claritin (an allergy med) and generic Loratadine.  Or brand Flonase (nasal steroid spray) and generic Fluticasone.  Or Prilosec (stomach acid med) and Omeprazole.  Same drugs, different prices.  Get used to looking at the ‘Active Ingredients’ on the label.  If it’s the same name, it’s the same drug. Only cheaper.  Store brands are usually cheapest.

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A drug by any other generic name… will act the same [clipart-library.com]

5.  It’s YOUR money! Even if you have health insurance, please don’t be a blind consumer– the global economy cannot support the rampant over-cost of drugs and healthcare.
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[vectorfreak.com]

6.  If you get to the pharmacy and ask about the drug price, and it is too expensive, have the pharmacy call the doctor’s office to prescribe something else.  Be kind to your pharmacist– they have absolutely no control over drug pricing.
7.  In a lot of instances, the cost of drugs in the United States far exceeds the cost paid by other people in distant countries for the exact same drug from the exact same manufacturer.  Hence people who medication shop in other countries across our borders (but be very careful if you are considering this:  have you ever seen high-end knock off purses, watches and shoes at hawker’s tables in big cities?  Imagine what some people will do to fake a drug tablet to look like the real thing– and you might have no way of knowing the difference).
We subsidize the world with the prices we pay at our local pharmacies.

 

8.  On a future post, I’ll give you some ‘doctor insider’ ways on how to research possible alternative prescription drugs to discuss with your provider.

9.  GoodRX:  I’m not a stock holder in the website, but it improves my personal portfolio when I don’t spend as much on medications!

Compare prescription drug prices and find coupons at more than 60,000 US pharmacies. Save up to 80% instantly!
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Be a wise consumer of healthcare [printablee.com}

– Wendy
Retired Otorhinolaryngologist, Head & Neck Surgeon

MMM-Muffaletta

For those of you lucky, lucky people who have been to Nawlins, Loozianna (New Orleans) or who just love the food, there is not much better than a hand and mouthful of Muffaletta sandwich.

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According to our food tour guide as we wandered the French Quarter, the Muffaletta had humble origins as a dock and field worker’s sandwich because it was on hard bread with savory oils, cured meats and firm cheeses to withstand the hot sun.

All I know is, it tastes goooooooodd.

So, here is my version of the sandwich, since you cannot get the special 3 foot long loaf of hard bread it is usually made on, unless you are in the bayou.

Ingredients:

Multigrain Ciabatta rolls (sliced like a hamburger bun). Make at least one extra sandwich than you want to eat right this minute, because a day later, after marinating in the fridge overnight– it is tres bien, mon frere!

Olive Oil– savory, full-bodied- generously sprinkle on the open sides of the bun

Season with salt and pepper

On the bottom half of the bun spoon out:

Olive sandwich spread (which contains the items listed below, but can be very hard to find), OR:

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Sliced green olives (Lindsay Spanish Olives Sliced: so’s you don’t slice your digits doin’ it yer ownself. Slippery little suckers.)

Mezzetta Italian Mix Giardiniera (marinated carrots, pearl onions, celery, pickles)- finely chopped– ok, so you gotta chop it:  just be careful

Then layer on:

Mortadella (Italian bologna) or regular Bologna

Mozzarella cheese slice

Hard Salami

Capicola or deli ham

Provolone cheese slice

Pop on the top of the bun, cut in half cross wise and

Stuff.  It.  In.  Your.  Face.

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Don’t even get me started on beignets.

— Wendy

 

Secrets, Miners and Gunfights! Part Three

Drop Your Weapons and Smell the Roses!

Twenty miles north of Bisbee, Arizona, as the buzzard flies, is the town of Tombstone, where Clay and I strolled the old boardwalks and watched the re-enacted gunfight at the OK corral.

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Clay, waiting his turn

 

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It seems that Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday were not necessarily the good guys in this altercation.  They just had badges at the time.

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OK Corral gunfight re-enactment

During the silver boom, the townsfolk wanted families to come settle so they downplayed the violence.  If there was a hanging or a lynching, the local coroner sometimes wrote under cause of death, “Emphysema of the lungs due to high altitude, which may or may not have been caused by strangulation from a rope.”

There was also a lot of lead poisoning (one slug at at time).

The Good Enough Silver Mine was one of the original wealthy strikes and on an underground tour of that mine we were shown the remnant of the silver vein left behind when it closed down in the early 1900s.  The mine shafts criss-crossed under the town itself, and miners would crawl up through air ducts into the basements of the saloons, saving an outside trip that went the long way around.

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Good Enough Mine (credit: http://www.tripadvisor.com)

Although Tombstone has burned to the ground several times, it was the flooding of the mines that ended the silver boom.  Tombstone has resurrected itself with tourism and become known as The Town Too Tough to Die.  

The local newspaper is the Tombstone Epitaph and the middle school mascot is a Gravedigger.

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A Rose in Bloom

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You need a platform to see even a small part of this massive rose tree!

Tombstone’s other claim to fame is the Rose Tree– a white Lady Banksia rosebush planted from a single cutting sent over from Scotland in 1885. When its canopy of roses was a quarter of its current size (8000 square feet) it was listed by Ripley’s Believe it or Not! as the world’s largest rosebush.  Luckily, it was in bloom while we visited.

 

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Massive gnarled trunk of the rose tree.

 

It was a fun-filled April 2018 — full of childhood memories, family history and old western towns, but also gettin’ a mite warm.  Time to mosey on up to higher elevations and laze around in the soothing, cool Ponderosa pine forests of Show Low, Arizona.

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Tombstone at sunset: showing off as usual

 

Thanks for riding along with us for a spell.

See you down the trail.

–Wendy