That sweet spot of Contentment


Ranks right up there with peace of mind. (They are not the same).

Both are life skills that (in my mind) are underrated.

Both can be cultivated.

Underrated: Not rated or valued highly enough. When something great doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.

Last weekend, a good friend at church said to me. “You are not normal.”

That I already knew.

He meant it as a compliment. ūüôā

I asked him to clarify what he meant, because I wasn’t 100% sure.

He said he can see it in my attitude about “stuff” and money.

I’m not driven. Doesn’t mean I don’t love putting in a hard days work, Didn’t mean I was lazy. Didn’t mean I don’t see the value in saving money for the future, because I do..

Give you an example. Saw this picture last week about vehicles. It captures my attitude about my work truck that I picked up from my dad:

My work truck is simply a tool. A tool for me to do my job. As long as it’s mechanically sound, it doesn’t have to be pretty.

I used to work with a young man on a regular basis who was just getting into construction. At this time, he had 4 or 5 years experience under his belt. I had 35 years. He came to work one morning with an almost new truck. Parked next to my 15 year old Tundra. He told me to watch out, make sure I didn’t scratch anything, not to accidentally bump against it with my tool belt when I got something out of it.

Who would you rather hire to remodel your home?


Wealth is a tricky thing to keep the right attitude about.

It’s all about balance.

It’s like riding a bike. You can tip over any time.

I can be strapped and worry about money all the time, or rich and worry about it all the time. Afraid I won’t be able to pay my bills or afraid I’m going to loose what I have. Another big contentment stealer is chasing after the mirage of, if I just had____________ then I’ll be happy.

Is it even possible to be content when it comes to wealth and materialism?

Back in 2014, I came across the book Debt Proof Living by Mary Hunt.

(Notice I don’t have a link to that book, you’re smart enough to track it down if you’re interested.) I don’t do this (blogging) for the money.

I do it because I enjoy it. Period.

Hunt’s book completely transformed my attitudes about money.

(I’ve written about this before, so if you’re a long time reader you may remember).

We were ten’s of thousands of dollars in the hole at that point. Financial stress was always in the back ground of my mind. It felt (to use a word picture) like I was piloting a 747 and we were literally 20 feet above the surface of the ocean. The plane was still in the air, and it was moving, BUT the waves were lapping @ my wings.

Hunt wrote about that season in her life, and she was a lot deeper in the hole than we were. Her words gave me hope. More than that, she touched on issues of contentment and how to find that sweet spot of contentment.

That was in the spring of 2014, and I’ve never looked back.

Hunt’s book gave me a game plan.

I made a chart, pinned it on the wall in front of my desk. I drew a picture of an airliner skimming the water…then slowly gaining altitude and speed as different debts were paid, and money was saved for emergencies. Just making that chart gave me hope, even though initially nothing had changed in the short term. We’ve stayed on that trajectory ever since.

Early on, we looked at every detail of our lives, trying to figure out where we could cut. (Health care, heating system in the house, all of the normal things you look, even had the house appraised because we thought we might need to move)

Everything was on the table.



It’s not just about money.

It can just as easily apply to how many bee hives are “enough.” (I’ve wrestled with that)

How many laying hens, or number of apple trees to manage or hobby expenses, or (fill in the blank), how much is enough? You know as well as I do, whenever a person focuses on an area of life, it’s real easy for that area to take on a life of it’s own.

Love to hear your thoughts.


Did not see that coming

Life is good.

We are busy.

On Friday I stopped by a home to drop off shingle samples.

We’re scheduled to build a new garage for her, but we still need to firm up a shingle color. She lost her garage last Fall in the Durecho, and just heard from her insurance company they will now also pay her to completely re-shingle and reside her house. I had mixed feelings about bidding on this additional work, because I’ve already picked up a few red flags. But, she’s a widow, seems to have quite a bit of stress on her plate, so I figured if I could alleviate some of that stress, that would be the right thing to do.

The roof on her house has a steep pitch and it sounded like the existing shingles would need to be taken off. (stripped) It’s just my son and I, we just finished two other roofing projects, with everything else going on , I knew I didn’t want to do her roof if that needed to happen.

Side note- when a house roof only has one layer of shingles , and there are no pre-existing leaks, you can install a 2nd layer over the first, and save yourself a lot of money at the same time. I mentioned that to her, and sensed she didn’t know whether or not to trust me on that. (There have been several other times as she and I have talked about certain details, that I have also picked up that same vibe )

She’s not 100% sure about me.

I get that. She doesn’t know me from the man on the moon. My son had done work for her son in the past, which is how we got the lead on this project in the first place.

When I was at the roofing store on Thursday, I got into a short conversation with another contractor also in line. Found out he was not overly busy, so I asked him if he would be willing to work with me on this roof project.


I would still be the contractor in charge, but hire him and his crew to help us bang out the steep roof.

Win/ win.

Or not…

When the homeowner and I talked about this, she got real testy with me. I told her the buck still stopped with me, but her project was simply too much for just my son and I. (That conversation happened Thursday afternoon.)

I woke up Friday morning thinking to myself. I changed my mind. I am not going to mess with that roof. In fact, I was not really interested in doing anything more than build her garage. I have had it with this undercurrent of suspicion.

So on Friday, when I dropped the shingle samples off and she started in on me with more questions, more suspicions, I looked at her and said, “I changed my mind. Decided I am not doing your house roof.”


I looked at her and thought, Do I tell her the truth or do I keep my mouth shut and just say we are too busy. I changed my mind

I decided to tell her the truth…

“I was just doing this to try and help you out. I don’t need the work. And when you started grilling me about that extra help, well, that ticked me off.

Then I got choked up.

Random bit of trivia about me and getting choked up.

It rarely happens.

But when it does, I don’t get all blubbery. I can be very articulate. It’s like an out of body experience. With my mind I can observe..oh, look, I’m starting to choke up. Isn’t that interesting. And at the same time, I keep talking and say what I have to say.

“I am not going to do your roof.”

“What about the siding?”

“Don’t think I want to do that either.”

We shall see

The Lost Art of Thank You Notes #1

In 1985 we moved our little family to the East Coast so I could pursue my dream of being a marriage and family counselor.¬† I was 27 years old.¬† Married with two little girls in tow.¬† Up until then I had been working full time in construction with my dad and uncle. I came to the realization that if¬† I didn’t at least give it a whirl I would always wonder.

Pictures of our girls in the back seat of the Dodge Colt pulling a U-haul when we moved to New Jersey.

We ended up living in Northern New Jersey 5 years before deciding to return to Iowa.¬† The weekend before we were to return , the local church that had taken us under their wing for five years, threw us a farewell party. We’d become family in the truest sense of the word. ¬† As the program wrapped up, one of my friends, John Reilly, asked me to come up front,¬† to present us with a going away present from the church.¬† (Keep in mind, on a good Sunday, there were maybe 80 in attendance).¬† John whispered something about not loosing the envelope!¬† “There’s something in there to help you get resettled.”¬† Later when we got to the car, I opened the card and found a check for four thousand dollars.

Blew me out of the water.

Over the next week,  while in the midst of packing, I  jotted off several thank you notes, not thinking much about the act  at the time.

It was the right thing to do.

I was reminded of that check this past Sunday night as I was reading a short entry from the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

It was titled  The Lost Art Of Thank You Notes:

Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.  And despite my love of efficiency, I think that thank-you notes are best done the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.

¬†¬†¬†¬† Job interviewers and admissions officers see lots of applicants.¬† They read tons of resumes from “A” students with many accomplishments.¬† But they do not see many handwritten thank-you notes.

¬†¬†¬†¬† If you are a B+ student, your handwritten thank-you note will raise you at least a half-grade in the eyes of the future boss or admissions officer.¬† You will become an “A” to them.¬† and because handwritten notes have gotten so rare, they will remember you.

¬†¬†¬†¬† When I’d give this advice to my students, it was not to make them into calculating schemers, although I know some embraced it on those terms.¬† My advice was more about helping them recognize that there are respectful, considerate things that can be done in life that will be appreciated by the recipient, and that only good things can result.

¬†¬† For instance, there was a young lady who applied to get into the E.T.C. ad we were about to turn her down.¬† She had big dreams; she wanted to be a Disney Imagineer.¬† Her grades, her exams and her portfolio were good, but not quite good enough, given how selective the ETC can afford to be.¬† Before we put her into the “no” pile, I decided to page through her file one more time.¬† As I did, I noticed a handwritten thank-you note had been slipped between the other pages.

¬†¬†¬† The note hadn’t been sent to me, my co-director Don Marinelli, or any other faculty member.¬† Instead, she had mailed it to a non-faculty support staffer who had helped her with arrangements when she came to visit.¬† This staff member held no sway over her application, so this was not a suck-up note.¬† It was just a few words of thanks to someone who, unbeknownst to her, happened to toss her note into her application folder.¬† Weeks later I came upon it.

¬†¬†¬† Having unexpectedly caught her thanking someone just because it was the nice thing to do, I paused to reflect on this.¬† She had written her note by hand.¬† I liked that.¬† “This tells me more, than anything else in her file,” I said to Don.¬† I read through her material again, I thought about her.¬† Impressed by her note, I decided she was worth taking a chance on, and Don agreed.

     She came to the ETC, got her masters degree, and is now a Disney Imagineer.

¬†¬†¬† I’ve told her this story, and now she tells it to others.

¬†¬†¬† Despite all that is not going on in my life and with my medical care, I still try to handwrite notes when it is important to do so.¬† It’s just the nice thing to do.¬† And you never know what magic might happen after it arrives in someone’s mailbox.

Randy Pausch


Those 5 years we lived out East were life changing. It really was a watershed time in my life. I am toying around with¬† writing a series on that season of our life.¬† The good and the not so good. If I end up doing so, this will be the first installment. ūüôā DM

Ode to the blue collar man (ie. my father)

Ode: An¬†ode¬†is a kind of¬†poem, usually praising something. … An¬†ode¬†is a form of lyric¬†poetry¬†‚ÄĒ expressing emotion ‚ÄĒ and it’s usually addressed to someone or something, or it represents the¬†poet’s musings on that person or thing.

(Long time readers may remember a version of this post from 2016.¬† It showed up on my “blog stats” this morning and I thought it was worth reposting. DM)


My dad graduated high school in the early  50’s.

A local attorney¬† (Remley) who at one point owned the farm my dad¬† lived on,¬† offered to pick up the tab on his college tuition “because¬† he had a knack for math.” My grandparents were not rich.¬† They’d raised a family through the great depression, then after WW 2,¬† shipped, case after case of canned food and clothing to grandma’s relatives¬† back in the old country (German).. .so grandpa and grandma never really got ahead financially. Dad opted not to go to college, instead went into the service, then went to work at a packing house. After that, he started¬†¬†driving a cement truck for a local cement company. ¬†¬†At some point, he was asked to come into the office and help behind the counter in the lumber yard portion of the business, eventually rising through the ranks to manage both the lumberyard and the concrete plant.

(Remember what I told you about math.) ūüôā

In the early 1970’s dad went into business with his brother as a general contractors. They built up a multi-million dollar construction company, employed one  hundred eighty men over the course of a 30 year span, one of which was me.

This is an ode to the  blue collar man that shaped my life..


Ode To The Blue Collar Man





of a


The heart of

a musician,

the mind of

an engineer.

But somehow..

between raising a family,

paying the bills and farming the land,

his steel guitar  got misplaced in the mix.

Life is a pendulum.Sometimes we learn

by example, and sometimes we choose

a different path.

Me…A life coach?

Took my dad to the dentist this morning.¬† Dad is 87.¬† On the way home dad¬† mentioned G. W., a former employee of his who he’d taken to a rehab center, back in the day.

Dad said the day he took GW in, the guy at the front desk said:

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† “Look at the door…There are no locks on that door.¬† You can leave the same way you came in.¬† On top of that,¬† if you’re not interested in dealing with your problem, you¬† might as well leave right now, and not waste any more of anyone’s time.¬† Real change has to start between your ears .”

The guy checking GW in, was himself an former alcoholic and knew what  was what.

That conversation made me think about some thoughts I’ve had rumbling around in my head the past month as we’ve begun a new decade.

This past year, I had two different people suggest to me¬† I would make a great “life coach.”

To be honest, after the second conversation, I did do a little looking into that idea, because it did stir something inside of me.

After doing some reading,¬† I decided I am not interested in jumping through all of the hoops¬† that would get me certified.¬† ¬†I love my current job too much to give that up completely, not saying I wouldn’t be open to doing a little coaching on the side.

Heck,¬† in an informal sort of way, I have been doing “life coaching” for¬† years anyway.

Just for fun, I decided to identify¬† areas of my¬† life¬† I have had to work on, and would feel comfortable working with someone else with…

Dealing with a low self esteem.

Dealing with crippling  shyness.

Dealing with poor boundaries.

Living a balanced life and living with margin.

Marriage and relationship issues.

And finally, I¬† have presented several workshops on¬† identifying and pursuing your life passions and interests…

Wife has told me multiple times she could see me being a motivational speaker.


I’ll close with this thought:

One of the secrets to a¬† (my)¬† happy life is coffee.¬† ¬†That’s right, coffee.¬† ¬†It’s from the vegetable family, it’s full of antioxidants,¬† and doesn’t leave¬† you with a hangover the next day.


If someone were to approach you and ask you to deal with  certain life situations..which areas of life would you feel  comfortable giving input?

This time it was different.

Caught up with someone last night we hadn’t visited with for¬† 5 years.¬† ¬† Over the years whenever we’ve talked,¬† I would come away from those conversations feeling like I’d been interrogated.¬† ¬†(And judged.)

Last night was no exception,

Since it had been five years, there was a lot we caught up on….

Another grand child on the way, my good health compared to my peers in¬† construction, honey bees, wife’s involvement with hospice work, personal debt,¬† the normal every day stuff you might expect…

At some point, the topic of conversation came around to retirement,¬† She’s looking forward to retiring this Spring.¬† Where was I at with all that?¬† The pro’s and con’s of drawing social security early?

And that is when that sense of having to justify myself, rather than just catching up for catching up’s sake kicked in….I could hear that familiar slightly judgmental tone in her voice.

But this time it was different.

I laughed.

We were talking about me wanting to take an active roll in how we handle these choices, rather than turn it over to an expert.  Our accountant has been a lot of help, because that stuff is always changing..but other than that, I am very interested in personal finance.

Side note… I think with a little more education, I would make a great financial planner. JMHO ūüėČ

I said ,”Listen,¬† It is not rocket science.¬† ¬†Years ago, I picked up a book called Sound Mind Investing, that¬† is what’s next after getting out of debt.¬† It was¬† highly recommended by Larry Burkett (Pre- Dave Ramsey/ Mary Hunt/ get out of debt guru’s) )…¬† At the time, Larry, said a person needs to be thinking about goals after getting out of debt, or there is a good chance you’ll go right back where you started if you don’t….

(So the Sound Mind Investing book, has been sitting on the shelf for at least 10 years, as we’ve moved in the direction of getting debt free, and in the last several months I have been rereading it again.¬† (I ordered the updated copy¬† which I would highly recommend if you’re at all curious about this topic)

I then rattled off a handful of other things that gave me confidence I have some sense of what we’re doing….

I have been talking with our tax guy.

The fact that my construction business is a Sub chapter S, gives us way more options.

The fact we home schooled the kids for 9 years, gives me  confidence  I have the ability to learn something new, and do it well.

I¬† talked to her about our risk tolerance when it comes to money management (neither one of us are risk takers), so we’re not doing this blindly.

And finally, I said, “Well, check back in 10 years and ask me how it went.” ūüôā

I love the confidence that has come with getting older.


Still feeling the magic 43 years later…

Action photo from work this week.

“Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”¬† ¬†My father


Most days I love what I do.¬† ¬† ¬† I would be lying if I told you every day is like that…it’s not.¬† Once in a while I do have a¬† job that will suck the life out of me, but it’s usually not the work itself but some people related issue.

I can still remember standing in the doorway at my grandma’s house¬† back in 1976… the day I told her I had chosen not to go to college, but instead work full time for my dad. (He owned a construction company with my uncle Johnny.)

“Oh Douggie ” she said..sadness on her face, sadness in her voice…¬† ¬†I knew she only wanted what was best.¬† Thing was, already at age 18 I knew I loved construction.¬† Absolutely loved it.

That was 43 years ago and I still feel the magic.

Most many days I come home physically exhausted, which makes me sleep like a baby.

Hard to put a dollar amount on that.

Well, better call this good enough.

Wife is probably wondering where I am with her morning  cup of coffee.

Take care. DM





Love your neighbor as yourself

Here’s three short stories from my life this past week…

On the gardening front…

I texted my¬† neighbor Mark on Friday : “Next time you are hauling manure, would you mind dropping off one or two bucket loads? … whatever $25 would buy.”

(I’m planning ahead for next seasons garden and fall is the perfect time to apply manure.)

He wrote back, “OK¬† Yea, how about $0?”

I am still savoring Mark’s generosity.


On the honeybee front…

My bee mentor has been managing bees for about 40 years.¬† His name is Curt.¬† When I checked on our two hives earlier in the week, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing.¬† It looked like¬† capped brood (that’s up and coming new honey bees) above the queen excluder and a dark uncapped substance lower in the bowels of the hive.¬† I was concerned I may have some nasty¬† disease getting a foothold in the hive.¬† The excluder is a screen that (in theory) prevents the queen from¬† going where you don’t want her to go.¬† Normally, queens are slightly bigger than her smaller worker bees and she can’t squeeze through, although once in a while, it happens.¬† There is just so much I can learn via the internet or a phone call.¬† What I really needed was someone who knew what they were looking at to make a house call.¬† Texted Curt, Next day we set up a time for him to stop.¬† He manages a 120 hives of his own, and I didn’t feel right about having him stop without compensating him something, so I addressed it right up front.¬† ¬†All he asked for was a few yellow apples when I start picking.

I was SO appreciative of his generosity of time.¬† I’ve mentioned it before but Curt is the perfect mentor.¬† He doesn’t come across like a know it all. He asks great questions and doesn’t feel like he’s in a rush when he’s here.


And finally on the construction job front.

I’ve been¬† framing walls on a commercial project the past month.¬† Couple of weeks ago, the electricians were “trying” to pull their main wires through some buried conduit.¬† There were two of them (Brian and Joe), and¬† Joe was having a heck of a time.¬† Joe didn’t ask, but¬† I stopped what I was doing and grabbed onto the pulley rope with him.¬† Couple of big tugs later and the first wire was through.¬† ¬†He really¬† appreciated it. He told me that final joint at the end is always a bugger.¬† He had one more wire to pull, and It turned out to be even tougher. The two of us, side by, side, both covered with sweat, pulling with everything we had.¬† I’m not an electrician, and it wasn’t my responsibility but¬† he needed a hand.¬† I didn’t do it for any other reason than that is how I was raised.

Met Fred (the owner) of the electrical company later in the week.  Introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed working with his guys.  (There have been other random interactions throughout the week. besides me helping pull wire.)  On Thursday I asked Brian if need be, could I borrow one of their scissor lifts to install a handful of hangers?  (Ours was going back to the rental store the first of next week.) Absolutely he said.  He showed me where they hide the key in case their crew were not around.

On Friday Brian told me they had their weekly shop meeting¬† and was told not to hide the key on the lift.¬† Fred the owner told Brian to “give Doug the combination to the job trailer, s where I could find¬† the key for the lift.”

I was humbled by their trust.


I had a great encounter @ the Lowes customer service desk this week as well.¬† This post is getting long enough, so I’ll save that story for another time.¬† How about you?¬† Any good encounters lately that left you encouraged?¬† I would love to hear about it, and I love details ūüôā DM


One of many (thoughts)

I mentioned an hour ago, my mind is a tangled up mass of¬† thoughts.¬† There’s a song in my heart so the tangled up knot is not stress related. (For which I’m thankful) ūüôā

Thirty minutes later, I was out in the orchard picking up branches.¬† My mind went to a comment I’d left on a Dave Ramsey facebook group this morning.¬† (Dave Ramsey in case you’ve never heard of him is a money management, get out of debt author and speaker)

Someone on the group asked the question:

 Where would you love to retire?


Out of the 82 people who answered, only one person mentioned they loved where they currently lived, wouldn’t mind being able to go somewhere warm in the winter, but 81 of them¬† said something other than where they were.

While I rarely leave comments on an open forum (except with those of you I know via blogging, I decided to say something….

“Two thoughts.

Love what I’m doing, (I’m a carpenter) as my dad was fond of saying “retirement” is not a word in my vocabulary, so plan do keep doing some variation of that as long as I’m physically able.

Secondly. Love where we live. Plan to stay right where I’m at, as long as I have any say in the matter.

Years ago, when my life was spinning out of control with too many commitments,¬† small children, work, financial know, the normal every day, stuff all of us deal with, I remember wishing things were different.¬† I remember saying to someone, “Peace and contentment are entirely under rated.”¬†

What I wouldn’t give for a more peace filled life.

Here’s a picture I’ve shared before from that season in my life… I taped it to the wall to remind me business does not automatically equal progress:

When I read later about¬† Henry David Thoreau¬† tromping off to the woods to live on Walden’s pond, I remember thinking to myself,¬† why did he only stay there the better part of two years?¬† Why not stay there long term?¬† I made up my mind at that point, to do just that…create my own version of Walden.¬† I hate water, so I didn’t need a pond ūüôā¬† (I can’t swim, don’t have the patience to fish, plus with standing water you have to deal with mosquitoes).

And so, since¬† 1995 I have been slowly moving in the direction of a life that I don’t need to take a vacation from. Here’s what it looked like in 1995:

…an old run down acreage with a set of 100-year-old farm buildings. Curb appeal it did not have. The house and out buildings hadn‚Äôt been painted in 50 years. Nothing appealing¬†except that it was 4 miles from town, and the foundation on the house was still solid.

I ¬†have been¬†¬†slowly ¬†carving out my own version of Walden here ever since….Laying hens, apple trees, honey bees, lots of flowers,¬† garden beds, a dog, no TV, lots of books to read.

My vision of Walden  would probably looks different from yours.

But I would suspect it would be built on the same foundation stone.

The stone of living life intentionally.

Talk to me about living life intentionally. What does that mean to you?

It is never to late to start.

Take care. DM


What she said/ what I said

When I got to the job site on Wednesday,  Sherry and her husband were sitting on their back deck.

“You are a slave driver!” she said.¬† “I was up until midnight,¬† so I could have those boards you needed ready. “ (I am paneling her 4 seasons room with car-siding.)


Did I just say that, I thought to myself?¬† . ūüôā

She laughed.

I laughed.

It was all good…

Been working off and on for this couple the past couple of months.  A lot of health issues going on.

A lot of heartache.

I’ve had great talks with both of them.

Deep stuff/ fun stuff.

Wife and I share a love for the Little House on the Prairie series, so we’ve even had conversations about that.

Took it to the next level that morning.

Don’t remember if Dale Carnegie mentioned teasing in his book on people skills.¬† ¬† ¬† ūüėČ

Felt like I was in slightly uncharted waters.


Have you ever experienced some heavy duty heartache and had someone(s) in your life do a great job of helping you regain your bearings?¬† How did they do it? What did they do?¬† What didn’t they do?….or, if you want to,¬† Have you ever experienced the¬† opposite?


I had a good week.¬† Great week actually.¬† Received (3) unexpected tips from 3 different customers….plus a huge lead on two potential¬† projects for next year.¬† One of my customers from last year, was¬† bragging about me to this potential client…she even repeated¬† to me some of what she said about me.

That was neat.

Met with them in person yesterday morning.¬† Had a great rollicking conversation.¬† At one point, the husband looked a little uptight, (His arms were crossed, and there was this look on his face).¬† ūüôā

I asked, “What are you thinking about right now?”

“I feel like curling up in the fetal position.” ūüôā

I laughed,

He laughed.

I think this would be a fun project.¬† (it’s a mother/ daughter addition to their house plus a new garage).

I will keep you posted.

Well, time to get moving.   DM