Tuesday, January 20, 2015

3/52: Goose Bumps

This week's Project 52 theme is "goose bumps".

I'll rif on that this way: I woke up last Friday, feeling haunted. I should have been happy - my daughter was flying in later that afternoon to go back to college. I was going to be able to pick her up at the airport and spend the weekend with her before I brought her to back to her school. But instead, I woke up in something of a cold sweat, thinking about this pile of my crap. I have too much stuff with me to neatly put it away, so it's in piles.

It wasn't so much the site of this pile of my crap, as the knowledge that it was sitting there. And not even that it was physically there, but what it represented: that I was not in my own space.

As I've mentioned, I'm staying with my father while I get settled in my new job and look for a house. Kandie and the girls won't come until July, so there isn't a huge rush to get my own place. It makes economic sense to stay with my father during that time. He's very generous to let me stay with him, and I'm enjoying seeing him and his wife. It would be lonely going to a bachelor pad alone everyday.


But the thing is, I woke up realizing I was bringing my child to a place that wasn't mine, where I am living a very transient life. Where nothing is really mine, and I was not really going to be able to provide for her - essentially, someone else was. 

I really didn't expect this kind of emotional reaction. It completely caught me by surprise. It's not like this was some stranger's house who had taken me in. It was my father - her grandfather. Everyone was happy to have us both there. And yet.

I joined the Army when I was in college in part to achieve personal independence. I didn't need to - my parents could have paid for my college. They were willing to do so. But I wanted to be independent. I wanted to pay my own way. Paying your own way for me has always represented a crucial right of manhood. Forget about your first drink, your first sexual encounter, getting a driver's license, any of that. Financial independence to me has always been the key. So long as you are dependent on someone else, you're not really a man. It's a central part of my identity. I pay my own way. I had children only when I could pay their way, too.

So when I woke up that morning, knowing my overflowing pile of crap was right there next to me, I had a bit of a panic attack. I felt unmanned.

Now all the logic in the world will tell you that the arrangement I have not only makes sense, it's an expression of my father's love for me and my family that he is letting me stay with him. And it totally makes sense on any rational level to do this. And I am grateful. And we're having fun spending time together.

But I was haunted the whole time my daughter was with me that weekend by this odd feeling that I was not providing for her - that I was dependent.

My daughter and I had a great visit with my father and Sally, and I took her back to school on Sunday. The feeling is passing. Now that it's back to just me, it doesn't bother me so much. I feel more like a guest than a dependent. But the experience has made me reflect on my own pridefulness. It has also made me more sympathetic to people who are genuinely forced into a position of dependence. I'm in this position by choice - in reality, I'm a guest, and I'm lucky to be one. I could be renting a place up here while I house hunt - I have the means to do so. But I have a kind and generous family that wants to help me with my new start. 

It's interesting what little thing can rip back the curtain to show us the pitiful little man working the lights and noise machines behind the show we maintain for the rest of the world.

Letting the Euro Go

I had a busy weekend, but so I'm late to the table to jot down a couple of thoughts about the Swiss central bank's action last Thursday.

It's ironic that I was just writing about how the dollar has been rising, and now the Swiss have decided to drop their peg of the Franc against the Euro. This is such a great example of monetary policy in action, it's almost like the Swiss were trying to do a favor for economics professors everywhere.

So what happened?

Although the Swiss are part of Europe, they did not join the monetary union and adopt the Euro; instead they chose to retain their own national currency, the Swiss Franc. All of the countries that surround Switzerland - Germany, France, Italy, and Austria - use the Euro. So if Swiss companies and individuals want to trade with any of their natural trading partners, they must still change money in order to do so. Therefore, changes in the exchange rate between the Franc and the Euro will impact the direction of trade.

To address the economic slow down in Europe following the global financial crisis, the European Union's European Central Bank (ECB) has been engaged in extensive quantitative easing - essentially printing more Euros to reduce interest rates in Europe with the hope that lower interest rates would stimulate the European economy (the US Fed has been doing the same thing). However, by increasing the amount of Euros in circulation, the put downward pressure on the value of the Euro vs. all other currencies - including the Franc. As I discussed previously, this would make goods produced in Euro-zone countries relatively cheaper for Swiss consumers, and Swiss goods relatively more expensive for Euro-zone consumers, causing Swiss exports to fall and Swiss imports to rise. This is good for Swiss consumers, and bad for Swiss producers.As a result, the Swiss central bank has engaged in a policy of pegging the Swiss Franc to the Euro at 1.2 Francs/Euro since 2011. This kept the relative prices between Switzerland and the Euro-zone constant. 
On Thursday, 15 January, the Swiss central bank made a sudden (and without apparent warning) decision to end the peg and let the Franc float against the Euro. 

And all hell broke loose.

I pulled the above chart from XE.com (http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=EUR&to=CHF&view=1M). It shows the run up to the January 15th announcement, and the sudden and precipitous decline in value of the Euro with respect to the Franc (or you could say, the sudden rise in the value of the Franc with respect to the Euro - it all depends on how you look at it, since it's a ratio). Whereas before January 15th, you would have had to pay 1.2 Swiss Francs to buy 1 Euro, now the ratio is roughly 1 to 1, making Euros much cheaper to the Swiss, and Francs much more dear to the Euro-zone citizens. What will likely happen now is a fall in Swiss exports to the EU, and a rise in EU imports into Switzerland.

But what also happened was a lot of investors who were banking (quite literally) on the Swiss central bank maintaining the peg lost their shirts suddenly. The world of foreign exchange trading is volatile and subject to a variety of factors, government interventions being one of many.

I'm really pleased to have this example for the future when I talk about currency. It's also a great example of the Turkey Problem as described by Taleb.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

the splendor of winter

I've been engaging in a lot of rubbernecking as I drive back and forth to work because there is so much stunning landscape photography that needs to be done.

Yesterday as I was driving by this inlet again I finally had to just pull over and take this shot. All I had was my phone, so the exposure is a bit blown out. I'll have to go back with my DSLR.

Winter transforms the landscape of New England and it is truly splendid.

home again, sort of

I have the luxury of staying with my father and his wife in their home in Dover while I get settled and look for a home for my family near UNH. They have been very generous to take in not only me, but my crazy dog, Marley.

It's great to get to spend time with them, and we've been doing some cooking, of course. Here's Sally chopping squash for my favorite $3 Diet recipe - Crouching Macaroni, Hidden Squash.

It's hard to leave your family behind and go off and live by yourself if you aren't used to it. Even though I'm living with my father and Sally, and even though I have Marley with me, it still gets a bit lonely when the day's activity slows down. Of course I worry about what my kids are doing and not doing, and I worry about my Kandie and everything I have dumped on her while I'm up here hanging out, but at night with nothing more to do, I feel a little sorry for myself. There's a comfort in being in your own home. Which of course begins with being with your own people. Even after having moved as many times as we have, as long as we were all together, even in a hotel room, it feels like home. Being able to stay with my father and Sally is staying with family, but not the same. I haven't lived with my father regularly since I left for college and joined the Army. I'm doing what I can to not be a nuisance. But I know how much I get on Kandie's nerves, so I can only imagine how difficult it is to have me as a houseguest. Really, having any long term houseguest must be trying as it disrupts the routines of your home.

I'm happy to be home again in New England, lucky to be able to stay with family while I take my time to look for a new house for us, but I look forward to bringing my people up here and having home be complete.

Monday, January 12, 2015

first day at the new school

So today was my first day at UNH. Inprocessing, as we call it in the Army, or "new employee orientation" as the civilian world knows it.

I have to confess - I was a little disoriented by the orientation. No one yelled at me. No one treated me like I was a nuisance, getting between them and their coffee break. Everyone was really excited to help all the new employees get started. It felt like I had walked into the Stepford Wives. Or maybe Lake Wobegon. They didn't even give me a pointless list of unimportant offices to run around and gather signatures from.

Is this what it's like to have a grown up job? I think I could get used to this.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

4 degrees

It was 4 degrees this morning here in sunny Dover, New Hampshire.

My father and his wife are bird watchers and have lots of feeders set up in their backyard to attract the local birds. I actually saw five male cardinals perched in the same tree earlier (unfortunately I did not have my camera out and ready). I've never seen five male cardinals so close together before. It was kind of amazing. But Sally informs me that it happens relatively frequently here in their backyard.

Here's one of the cardinals getting seed from the feeder. I like cardinals because they are one of the few birds I can readily identify. I'll probably learn some more about birds over the next couple of months by osmosis.

Blue jays are another of the handful of birds I can recognize. I like jays. They're big and animated.

Marley seems to have taken to the new reality of snow without skipping a beat. For a dog that doesn't like to go outside after a rainstorm, I assumed snow was going to be a problem. But it does not seem to be.

Walking outside in 4 degrees is an interesting experience. I've got a good jacket, gloves, boots, and a hat, so my feet and upper body are fine. What's interesting is how the cold goes right through my pants. I'd forgotten that. There's a reason why people wear long underwear. I was walking around in some cargo khakis and after about 10 minutes I felt like I might as well have been walking around in my underwear. Which was not completely pleasant. Brisk, one might say. In a I-hope-I-don't-get-frost-bite way.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

good morning from New Hampshire

After three long days, I slept the sleep of the dead, and woke up refreshed in my new-old state.

It was strange walking down an snow-packed road again. I don't think I've dealt with snow the whole time I was in Texas. It's been years, literally. But I am plunged back into winter - which in a way seems like a missing season in my life in Texas. It's like Texas has spring, fall, and a wicked summer, but winter is just missing. We kind of roll straight from fall to spring.
But not any more for me. I leaped into winter. Real New Hampshire winter. And I jumped in with my duck boots on!

I'm not sure there is anything more quintessentially New England than duck boots. I've heard they are actually ebecoming a fashion fad this year. that's pretty funny to a New Englander. It's like saying grits are fashionable to a Southerner. Or breathing. You have duck boots; you wear them. When it's really cold out, you get out the Sorels. Uggs are just toys compared to Sorels. What do Australians know about winter anyway? They probably called their friends in San Antonio to discuss it.

My father lives at the opening of a cul-de-sac that leads down to the Piscataqua River, the body of water that divides New Hampshire from Maine. This morning it was quite lovely, with the winter sun shining off of the river.

Winter is terribly beautiful in New England. And it's part of what makes New Englanders who they are. If you don't live through winter, you can't ever know what it is to be a New Englander.

It's fitting then, to wake up, home again, in the middle of winter.