“It was a very good year . . .” was the title of a song and the opening line of the lyrics. It was composed for Bob Shane and the Kingston Trio in 1961 by Ervin Drake. It was later covered by “Old Blue Eyes,” Frank Sinatra. So, how was your year? Can you say it was a very good year when you think about 2015 in retrospect?
Let's be realistic. The chances are the positive things that happened during 2015 for most people, outnumbered the negative things. Of course, I think it's likely that most people tend to remember the negative things a bit more and thus, may consider it a bad year and are looking forward to the new year to be better.
And, also to be realistic, there are a percentage of people who truly did have, what can only be described by the average individual as, a bad year. That sucks! But, for most, if you look back realistically and honestly, on the whole, you'll probably come to the conclusion your year was actually, a pretty good year, especially when you compare it to others who truly had the really bad year.
My 2015 In Review
I can't review your year, so I'll review mine to give you an idea of how you may want to look at your own year. Of course, most of our lives are very complex, even when we've simplified it as I have. So, I'm only going to touch on some of the “high-lights” and “low-lights.”
High-lights of 2015
I traveled approximately 12,000 miles on my nomadic main trek (that actually began on December 8, 2014). My travel took me through half (24) of the lower 48 states in 2015. I saw many places I'd never been before including Muskogee, OK; Roswell and Deming; NM, Los Algodones, MX (my foray south of the border); Winterhaven, CA; Lake Havasu City and Payson AZ; Hawthorne, Manhattan Beach, Calabasas, Redding and Shasta Lake, CA; Coos Bay, OR and Crater Lake, OR; Leavenworth, WA; Rigby, Idaho Falls and Moscow, ID; McAllister (a gorgeous piece of heaven), Bozeman and Billings, MT; Yellowstone National Park, Cody and Sheridan, WY; Sturgis and Deadwood, SD; West Branch, IA (birthplace of Herbert Hoover and the location of friends who farmed the largest farm I've ever been on to my recollection) . . . and so much more.
Most of my driving was on what is termed blue highways (and some red highways). Blue highways are typically the old U.S. routes crossing the U.S. built long before the interstate system of limited access, high speed (mostly) freeways were developed. A lot of the blue highways may have followed what were the trails blazed by early pioneers and explorers. Red highways are tertiary roads, usually state and county highways and roads. They connect the growing cities, small towns and villages in each state.
My lowest altitude was at sea level and exceeded 10,000 feet above sea level at my highest elevation. Going up presented considerable stress on My McVansion's engine and drive train and, of course, the air was thinner up there. Going down presented considerable stress on the drive train and the brakes. The views were beyond breathtaking.
I met and interacted with old friends, family and a wide array of interesting and exciting new friends. I learned so much about the U.S. and so many facets of American life outside my own world. I gained knowledge and insights from people about things I never knew or took the time to learn or experience. I camped in deserts and high plains with wonderful people, sharing stories and meals and helping each other with a variety of things as experiences and opportunities presented themselves. Of course, I've done this all my life and find these experiences to be the best and most fulfilling.
I connected with a friend from our Air Force days over 44 years ago. Matt took me to downtown Portland, Oregon. There he introduced me to Claudia, an inspiring, talented chanteuse who fronted a terrific “big band.” It was just one of 23 such bands performing in the Portland area, from what I learned. I met up with a woman in Montana I had briefly crossed paths with in Falls Church, Virginia several years earlier. She now has a cabin near a tiny town in Montana with views from her sizable, yet small “ranch” in Montana terms. Her stories about her experiences in the TV news media had me spellbound. I met the daughter of the late TV celebrity, author, speaker and entrepreneur, Art Linkletter, and enjoyed some wonderful conversations about her father and her own experiences RVing.
I finally connected with one of my favorite bloggers, Glenn Morrissette, a musician, composer and arranger in Hollywood (and former Jersey boy, like me) and a full-time vandweller. I stopped and visited with my friend Dan Poynter, who was just out of the hospital recovering from a very bad fall he took in January. His home sits atop a high hill, (a foothill of the California coastal mountains) overlooking the Santa Barbara area and the Pacific Ocean. It has 360 degree views. Again, a breathtaking experience.
I met up with numerous vandwellers, RVers and readers of my blog along the way and cemented more friendships of like-minded individuals expressing their desire/need to travel and be free from the traditional lifestyle most people in the U.S. lead. Some of them, by first name, include Carl, Lyn, Charlene, Lois, Sylvianne, LaVonne, Lesa, Steve, Dan, Denny and others.
I cemented a growing friendship with John & Sharon Abert, who just recently became full-time road warriors. John and I met through this blog. John started following it couple years ago. I visited with John and Sharon at their former home in Cherokee Village, Arkansas at the start of the 12,000 mile adventure. John and I come from very different beginnings, yet, we are traveling pretty parallel paths in life. I have great respect for John, his knowledge, experience and intellect. He challenges me constantly.
Likewise with each of the other folks I mentioned. I continue to be amazed at the caliber of people I continue to meet. Each has such a unique and interesting story that led us to the place and point when we met.
While I was in Phoenix I shared time with several of my long-time friends from my more than 30 years of affiliation with the professional speaking profession. The National Speakers Association, DC Chapter of the NSA (formerly the National Capital Speakers Association) and the Veteran Speakers Retreat I coordinated for a dozen of the more than 25 years I've been part of that group. I met up with and shared our birthdays at a lunch with my favorite (and actually, my only) former sister-in-law, an international aerobics choreographer and trainer and my former (and one of several) brother-in-law, an international security consultant.
I met with my publishing friend, Patrick Grace, in Huntington, West Virginia – and was later interviewed by telephone on a Huntington radio talk show by the host, Jean Dean, and Patrick as I sat on the beach in Manhattan Beach, California. You can listen to it here.
I was one of the subjects of a short YouTube documentary video along with my friends, John and Sharon Abert. The documentary, “Ed & The Aberts” was produced by Michael Tubb who drove up from Texas to interview and film John, Sharon and me. Click on the title to view it.
While in Issaquah, Washington visiting another of my former brother-in-laws and his wife, Michelle, and my nephew and niece, Don and I went out on a “guys night out” to shoot some night photography. Don produced a fantastic time exposure of me with a background of more stars than I've ever seen in my life. I've titled the photo “A Starry, Starry Night.” It's not only my favorite profile photo, but adorns one of my credit cards. Here's the original photo and a current Photoshopped version I've used. And, as I've been composing this article, Don sent me another fantastic version of the photo he turned into a piece of art. I'll introduce it at a later date.
While I was in southern Arizona, I went to Los Algodones, just across the border from Winterhaven, California, (actually) near Yuma, Arizona. There I was referred to a couple dentists by some of my vandwelling friends. It was my intention to finally get some dental restoration accomplished. Algodones, the Mexican border town is noted for having about 350 dentists in a four square block area. It's the place to go to save a small fortune. I went. I saved the small fortune. I found two dentists who did excellent and painless, I might add, work. I am pleased. I still have a little more work to be completed. But, I fulfilled another goal.
I visited my friends at Tremendous Life Books, my late friend, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones' publishing company, operated by his daughter and a good friend, Tracey Jones. TLB is located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Tracey had decided to make some major changes both in the business and her life. She went over her plans with me while I was there. I had the humbling privilege of sitting with her staff (all friends) and sharing some ideas and thoughts I had from my own experience and knowledge bank for their consideration as they were planning their changes.
I attended the 2015 Veteran Speakers Retreat, this year near Dulles Airport. It was the second year I attended as a participant and not as the guy running the show. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and schmoozing with all my friends. When I was running the retreat, I didn't have the time I would have liked to have enjoyed sharing with my friends. This was good.
Another positive highlight of 2015 has been the continued downsizing of the stuff I have in storage. The majority of my “estate” of “stuff” I eliminated in 2008 and through 2009 when I was leaving the “Oakhill Ranch” and for a number of months after I left the ranch. That was a stressful experience, to say the very least. However, at of the end of 2008 I had been involved in the audio recording/production, video production, audio and video equipment and systems industries for 45 years.
Additionally, I was winding down what was, at that time, about ten years in the book publishing industry. I wish someone had told me before I acquired all the sundry equipment and assets I ended up with that one day I'd have to get rid of it all. I would have handled things a lot differently.
Needless to say, the audio and video end of the business resulted in more stuff than I ever imagined. Even though I sold off, a lot of equipment over the years as I was regularly upgrading, a lot of stuff remained. Additionally, I still had a lot of office equipment and new books from the publishing business. I also have some antique, but of little value, amateur radio equipment. Much of it dating back 45 to 50 years.
So, for the past seven years I've been selling this stuff off, throwing stuff away and donating stuff. This year, since I got back to my West Virginia base camp, I've been getting rid of more stuff. I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. I still won't be rid of everything, but I'll be able to compact it so it will fit in one small storage unit and save me more money. The rest I'll get rid of the next time I'm back here at base camp.
The final positive highlight for 2015, I'll make note of, occurred on Sunday, November 1, 2015. It was seven years to the day from the day I no longer had a fixed residence or place of business. It was also on that day in 2008 I cut my monthly overhead by about 80%. But, I awoke on this seventh anniversary of my emancipation day when I became a happily houseless vagabond, read a long blog post by Tim Ferris, author of the “4 Hour Work Week,” and found the affirmations I needed to take the next major step in my life. I formally declared myself “retired” from my, by then, 52 years in the audio recording/production, equipment/systems, video production and book publishing industries.
That was, probably one of, if not, THE most difficult choices and decisions I've had to make in my life. Maybe you've experienced it. Maybe you're facing it. Maybe you're fighting it. Maybe you don't think such a day will ever come. And, maybe you can't wait for that day. I guess I could have turned that decision into a negative. In fact, of every highlight I've outlined so far, it is probably the most life changing, powerful, freeing and important positive event of 2015. It's definitely the most important decision since 2008, when I made the decision to embrace living a free life.
So, I can easily say, this has been a great year for Ed Helvey. There is so much more, but this is more than enough. I hadn't realized just how great a year it was until I just finished that last paragraph.
Low-lights of 2015
Yes! Not everything was positive in 2015. Fortunately for me . . . and for you, since you're reading this, the low-lights of 2015 were far fewer than the high-lights.
I lost several friends to death this year. Among them was a fellow recording engineer/producer, Jim Smith, whose notable career I helped launch. Jim was only 66. I attended a surprise party for his 66th birthday. Art Gliner, a radio personality, student of humor, speaker and friend for about 35 years, died at 80. He dealt with dementia for a number of years. Another was my friend, Dan Poynter, who I visited at his hilltop home near Santa Barbara, California. I saw Dan, again, in August at the Veteran Speakers Retreat. He was looking better. Two months later he was gone at 75. I lost a friend near Philadelphia who was the husband of a dear friend of about 35 years from the speaking field. Bill Harbaugh passed at 97 and was one of the nicest people I've ever known. And, I lost my friend Adeline Ross at 93, who was, Carolyn's mother. Carolyn is my friend who allows me to use her place as my eastern base camp here in West Virginia. Altogether, there were at least eight friends who left this world. Sadly, at my age, there are more to come.
In January, as I was on I-5 heading up to the Tejon Pass, about 4,200 feet above sea level, traveling from Clovis, California in the central valley to Hawthorne, California (LA suburb) to visit my son. As I was ascending to the pass, the "heart" (engine) of My McVansion had a “heart attack” and gave up. I had a blown engine. That puts a damper on things pretty quick. Sitting on a siding on a busy interstate halfway up a mountain, 85 miles from your destination and about the same distance from where you had just left isn't fun.
That event did all but deplete my cash reserves. I managed to limp into Hawthorne after several hours and flattening new tire. I found a fantastic engine rebuilding place in Hawthorne with great engine technicians. But, there was a bug in the engine, even after it was rebuilt like new. It took nearly two months to get it resolved. So, I lost the better part of two months of travel due to that incident. But, I got to spend a lot of quality time with my, then, 36 year old son. And, I learned a lot about the LA area I didn't know before and probably wouldn't have learned if the incident hadn't occurred.
My last sources of extra business revenue finally dried up. I knew one day they would. It was inevitable. Change happens, like it or not. So, the extra revenue that has been supplementing my financial requirements for the past seven years is no longer. This may have actually had some impact on my decision to formally “retire” from the professions I've loved and been passionate about all my life.
One of my sister's (I have two) life got worse. She's been dealing with challenges all her life, but the last couple years seemed to be, possibly, the two toughest years. My only blood niece (her daughter) has been having behavior issues since she became a teenager. The court has tried to help, although my sister hasn't accepted their decisions as help. I guess I could understand if I were in her shoes. My niece was placed in a military academy, until she made some bad choices. The court then sent her to a boot camp school in a rural region of Virginia with other girls with various behavioral issues to, hopefully, help them. Not being an expert, I can't decide if this is actually a positive or negative. Needless to say, this is a low-light for my sister and, consequently for me.
I'm sure there a few other low-lights for 2015, but those are pretty much the ones that stand out.
High-lights vs Low-lights
Overall, I'd have to say, hands down, for 2015, high-lights win. I should also mention, the old “what goes round, comes round” concept has shown itself this year. My son was there when I needed him while stuck in the LA area. I'm blessed to have him. I hope your kids are a blessing to you, too.
Many, many years ago, decades, as a matter of fact, someone was in a very difficult life situation. The situation not only impacted that person, but several children. I was in a position at the time where I was able to help all of them over the next decade or two. This year, gifts came to me from that person. Unexpected, unrequested, just gifts freely given. Needless to say, I'm very thankful for them. They countered some of the negatives that occurred. Again, I am blessed. High-lights win!
So, what does 2016 have in store for Ed Helvey. An exciting new year. New opportunities abound. New places to visit are on the vista. Lots of new people to meet and learn about. Many old friends and family are on the agenda, too. There are personal goals for my health and well-being. There are financial goals to replace the lost revenue streams. And there are projects that have long been on the “drawing board,” but I've continued to put off. Now that I'm “retired” from the recording, video production and book publishing business, I find I'm drawn back to these projects.
So, I've set personal goals for my health and well-being. I have a goal to attain a specific target weight for this year with certain milestones to be met. Many have told me I look fine the way I am. No matter! I'm not comfortable with where I am. So, I'm undertaking my goal for my reasons. I also have a few final dental restoration things I want to get done, yet. Again, these are for myself.
Developing new revenue streams really interest and excite me. Yes! I could have continued doing what I've done for 50+ years. But, I really don't want to. I don't feel I'd have the freedom I have if I have to keep “selling” myself in a market I'm no longer competitive in. This frees me to eliminate a lot of equipment that hasn't been pulling its own weight. I like that.
I'm looking at really expanding my on-line business ideas. I'm going to expand my affiliate/associate marketing. I hope you'll make some of your purchases through my affiliate/associate arrangements. The thing I like about this is that if you're going to buy something anyway, if you buy it through my site, it won't cost you anymore, but the vendor will compensate me. Everyone wins.
I may experiment with some eBay and Amazon Marketplace ideas, but only products that I don't have to physically handle. They either have to be delivered electronically or drop shipped by the manufacturer or wholesaler. I'm also considering opening a Cafe Press store (or some other similar online store) where I can create my own line of branded mugs, caps, clothing and such. These all sound like fun and I can do them while I'm traveling the country and meeting you.
I have more ebook content than I actually know what to do with. So, yes, I'm going to focus some energy into turning this content into ebooks. Some may also become audiobooks. Both are within my wheelhouse.
I said I was retiring from the audio and video production industries. I didn't say I was going to give up or ignore something that has been part of my life for a half century. So, I'm exploring some podcasting ideas and developing my YouTube channel that's been around for a while with no videos on it. I'm not sure what's going to show up. I certainly have the production skills to create some professional programming. Again, I'm hoping these may eventually generate another small stream of income.
I have at least one video documentary that's been in the back of my mind for several years. I have colleagues from coast to coast I'll be contacting for their input and, most likely, adding their production expertise to mine. I can't even tell you how many years of combined experience I have with this assembled group. Once I get this idea formulated a little better and put some sample content together, I'll consider doing a crowd funding project to raise the seed capital.
I also thought it would be fun to do some small, niche oriented seminars and workshops for people interested in learning more and sharing the ideas of living free, frugally, minimally and simply – whether it's a mobile lifestyle or a more traditional lifestyle. Another idea I'll play with.
And, there are the serendipity projects. Those are projects that pop up that just look like fun, I can utilize the talent, expertise and equipment I possess and create something that may or may not generate some revenue for the other individuals involved and myself. The operative word is that it must be fun for everyone involved and be something we're all passionate about.
Can I do all of this? Maybe. Maybe not. Will I do all of it. Same response. I certainly will not undertake everything at one time. One thing is definite. I DO NOT want to create another JOB for myself. It will be a process. Even if I only get to play with two or three of these ideas this year, I'm going to have fun. It's going to be another great year. I'm sure there will be a few low-lights, again. But, that's to be expected. I'll deal with it as it comes. The target is to have as many highlights as possible so, again, I can say, “It was a very good year.” Maybe, that's my theme song for 2016.
It's your turn, now. Review 2015 and recall the high-lights and low-lights and weigh them to determine if 2015 was a very good year for you. Then, set your sights and your goals for 2016. Plan to make 2016 even better. Share your thoughts in the comments or on the Facebook fan page where we can all share and be inspired by each others high-lights.
Live free and be happy. EH