Iowa Has Been Googled

I've been reading teasers about this for months, but it was announced today that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is going to build a server farm in Council Bluffs, Iowa...just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Now there's something more cool than "The starting city of last year's RAGBRAI" to talk about)  (Forbes Article Here). This is a massive boon to Council Bluffs I'm sure and pretty cool for the state in general.

The bottom line is that GOOG is concerned about power and the consistent delivery thereof.  MidAmerican Energy Co.     (other-otc:       MDPWL.PK  (Thank you Mr. Buffett) just spent $1.2 billion upgrading their systems, etc. 

Bring on the anti-GOOG crowd now to discuss conspiracy, corporate welfare, and invasion of privacy, etc.

Another Geographic Arbitrageur Strips Away the Varnish

Anyone considering the geographic arbitrage play (keeping your big city income, working remotely, cashing out your equity, using it to free up your time and career options, and moving to the heartland), should read this post at The New Charm School.  I remember when Jennifer posted that she and her husband were looking for the right place to move, deciding upon geographic regions, etc. 

Now, she's finally stripped away the layers of varnish and has exposed the real grain and texture of her soul...to herself. She's no longer globe trotting and living out of a suitcase.  She's traded her Donna Karen's for Justin Ropers and is livin' la vida loca somewhere in Texas.

It's nice to see how relocation can facilitate the exposure of the true you.      

If Charles Ingalls Had Venture Funding (or How America's Heartland Is HOT)

Joel Kotkin, internationally recognized author on global economic, political, and social trends, has written yet another fantastic piece called Little Start-up on the Prairie.  Maybe it's that we in the Midwest are just jazzed when someone notices us or that our geometric shape stood out when flying over it, but the bottom line is that our humble agrarian rooted section of the country houses much of the greatest economic growth potential for the future.  Kotkin's tale begins in Aurora, Nebraska, a town of 4500.  Kotkin states quite simply that,

"Aurora and other places in the American Heartland will provide a critical outlet for the restless energies and entrepreneurial passions of its people. In some senses, such a trend represents a reprise of the region’s role in the evolution of the country and the shaping of its national identity."

In fact, since folks are realizing that on-shoring and in-sourcing are not only economically feasible, but highly desirable, the problems shift from lack of affordable housing...to a lack of any available housing at any price and a dearth of workers. 

Kotkin goes on to mention Iowa and specifically Des Moines many times in the piece highlighting that,

"In virtually every measurement, students in key rural states—particularly the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas—tend to perform better than those in more urbanized ones, as measured by graduation rates, college attendance and enrollment in high-level science and education programs."

The key take aways for me are:

  1. Be bullish on the Midwest (and specifically Des Moines) economies. 
  2. Iowa has a massive amount of talent and future skilled workers from a robust and respected University system so we must cultivate that talent.
  3. We must impart upon these young minds that the best for them does not lie 6 hours away to the north and east.  Rather, it lies here.   There are great reasons to visit other places but even more reasons to build a life here.
  4. The opportunity to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond can accelerate your path to success.  I've lived that coming from Riverside, CA where I was but a simple GPS coordinate on a suburb that extended 250 miles in any direction. 
  5. The talent pool here is immense.  It seems every day that I meet someone new that teaches me something. 
  6. The people here are different.  There's something deeply rooted in much of the Midwestern population, but it's subtle.  It's a pleasant, hard working, almost zen-like kindness that's exuded since years have not been spent strengthening a "coastal exoskeleton."
  7. Buy as many houses and high rise condos as you can.  We will be successful in our quest to convince the next generation (is it Z now?) that staying can be profitable and cool, and someone will need to rent to these people as they flow through the more natural progression of home ownership. The life path of a twenty-something is so very skewed in the large metros where someone graduates college and is faced with the prospect of a $600k starter home 1.5 hours from their job.  We can help break the cycle of thinking that this is acceptable by providing a wonderfully fulfilling alternative.
  8. The ethos does exist that, "If I can't make it on the coasts, I'm a loser compared to my peers that can".  This type of thinking is outdated.  In fact, if making it means spending 5x on housing and generating debt, then yes, you're a loser.  I'll take the label and remain more economically viable.
  9. Renewable energy is perhaps the most clear example of the power of the Midwest economy.  Daily, I read economists and social commentators (I almost used "Socialists") that bemoan the continuing process of discovery and innovation in this area.  "We're starving kids in Mexico" and "we'll never have enough land or corn" are the battle cries.  Thankfully, few have listened and the process of harnessing the true power of the earth goes on.  If we put the brakes on or take one step back in this area, we'll simply hand over the power to those who never stopped believing.  Recently, Iowa State lost a $500 million funding opportunity in renewable energy to UC Berkeley and U of I (Champaign-Urbana).  Maybe we need a journeyman-actor-Governor to lead our charge?  Who would you pick?  I'd pick Brandon Routh since Tom Arnold would have a tough time using complete sentences.

Of course when I executed my geographic arbitrage from CA to IA, I really didn't appreciate what I was doing.   I knew that I loved what I'd seen and I was drunk with joy over housing prices.  It turns out that I'm smack dab in the middle of Ethanol Alley and the heart...of the heartland Renaissance.  Michael Landon would be proud.

middle income buyers bail

It's widely reported that the middle income buyer, the buyer pinched most in the LA, California housing market, is bailing in favor of getting more for less elsewhere.  Joel Kotkin, the master analyst, author, and commentator on this subject wrote a piece that appeared in the LA Times on this today.  His article describes the necessary economic readjustment that will inevitably occur in LA since a massive and very vibrant economic sector, the middle income family, is moving out much faster than they're moving in. 

I believe that we're barely scraping the surface of the "scorched earth" in the LA area.  A massive percentage of the mortgages given in the last few years were negative amortization loans.  Many of these loans were taken out by very smart people.  It takes a while for smart and productive people's mistakes begin to pop up on the radar...but they will.  High limit credit cards and peak valuation home equity lines can go a long way. When the "good people begin to go through bad things" you'll see a more powerful correction in prices and economic conditions. 

DsmnightThe time to buy in LA may be only a few years away.  Once the economic dust has settled and barring a major earthquake or 24 like scenario, things will likely reach equilibrium.  Until then, many boutique cities and smaller Midwestern enclaves like Des Moines will flourish.  Our metro area has 99% of big city amenities without the hassles and pain associated with them.  We're seeing the "condo, office space, and retail" combination thrive in suburban areas.  Downtown is seeing flats and condos rising from the ashes of ancient manufacturing and warehouse facilities that have rotted for years attracting the young professional set, pre-kids and pre-McMansion desires.  Additionally, the nightlife and coffee house culture that seems to go hand in hand with this style of living is attracting and keeping the youthful twenty-somethings.  These folks may actually stay in Des Moines versus heading off to LA, Chicago or NYC for their assimilation into the debt laden high society collective. 

My wife and I have considered purchasing a downtown condo as a rental and as a possible "retirement home" for our post-kid life but have yet to pull the trigger.   The more I type though, the more interested I'm becoming in this option.

Why Iowa? From a CA expat

I thought I'd chime in this topic that was floated a while ago.  I'm not sure who started it...but here's my two blog-cents.  Why Iowa?

  1. Agrarian roots seem to give Iowans even long removed from farming a warmth that says, "I've got a pot of coffee on and something in the oven...come in and sit a spell"
  2. Neighborhoods still have "marauding bands of kids of various ages" being kids, sometimes doing bad stuff, but mostly just being curious kids.
  3. There are few walls and fences.  Neighbors talk, see each other, and interact more.  We did not have this in our former home...and we relish it now.
  4. Quality of life.  This is a broad generalization...but the ability to "Pretty much do what you want when you want without having to plan too far ahead" is my definition.  Getting in the car at 5PM and heading into the heart of downtown Des Moines is no problem.  Getting into the car and just getting onto the freeway was a problem where I was from.  I routinely don't remember the last time I got gas, and my wife has halved her petrol usage while doing whatever she pleases.  Everything is just close.
  5. Connectivity to a thriving business community.  I have met more people in the greater Des Moines business community in the last 6 months than I met in all of my career in CA.  From top business leaders to venture capitalists...from business blog coaches to branding experts...from renewable fuel experts to ..you get the idea.  If I'm looking to open the door to something, I've got multiple folks lined up with keys and looking to assist me. I hope I can give more back than I've taken.
  6. Housing.  One can easily procure a 3br, 2ba, 2car garage type home in a very nice neighborhood for $150k.  Additionally, one can find a $80k 2br home and a $500k 5br home.  All of these places could be within the same general area.  At the end of the day the "normal" American progression from starter home...to family home...to big dream home...and everything in between is obtainable. 
  7. Weather. I know, coming from CA the cold has gotten to me a little and frozen a few brain cells!  The bottom line is that I enjoy the differences in weather, the rain, the snow (we've only had 1 inch this year so far), and the seasons.  I've written before that weather is such a small part of normal life when you're busy with the family that it really doesn't matter as long as you can do what you want to.  I enjoy sitting around a fire on a cold night as much as I do around a patio table on warm summer evenings.  Also, if you do your own yard work (as I do now), you have a full 3 month reprieve from doing anything!  It's not as cold and snowy here as up north in Wisconsin...and not as temperate as Kansas City.  I think it's just right.

We chose Iowa about a year ago...and it has most certainly chosen to embrace us, welcome us, warm us, and provide us with new friends and opportunities that we never dreamed of.  It's our turn to give back and we're going to make that a priority in 2007 and beyond.

Thank you Iowa...and that's why.

Another Geographic Arbitrageur Story

Jennifer and her "New Charm School" blog continues to fill us in on her transition to fully independent non-coastal dweller!  She's ditched the full-time paycheck and living La Vida Loca in Texas.  Awesome.  I think Jennifer and I are competing for top spot in Technorati for the Geographic Arbitrage tag...and that's about ALL I can say we're competing on...because she promptly kicks my blogging rear in everything else.  Watch out Ms. Warwick...I'm gunning for a sub 75 ranking soon :)

The Heartland

Two things I'd not yet experienced occurred the other day as I was driving from Des Moines to Peoria, IL.

1.  Frozen windshield washer squeegee bucket.
2.  An E-85 ethanol pump

Both are pictured below.  Life is like a cob of corn...you never know what you're gonna get.

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People Drought

Today, the Des Moines Register posted an editorial piece entitled:  The Issue:  The People Drought.  The piece highlights the major challenge that Iowa (like most of the non-coastal cities) will face in the coming decades.  According to demographers and other experts, we'll face a massive shortfall of workers here.  It's estimated that by 2012 (only 6 years from now mind you) that we'll have 150k more jobs than workers to fill them. 

It’s estimated that Iowa will have 150,000 more jobs than workers by 2012, and it could get much worse thereafter. Rather than new businesses coming to Iowa, the specter is of businesses leaving Iowa because they won’t be able to hire enough workers.

Living in California all of my life until 2005...I never had to face an issue like this...nor do I think we'll have to face it here.

Here's why.  These dire predictions of worker shortage seem to rarely if ever come true.   The statistics assume that at "retirement age", baby boomers will perform a mass exodus from the work force.  Wrong.  Using the same statistics, I'm sure we'd find that a majority of those boomers have under capitalized their retirements..and thus will be changing careers, filling in at mall jobs part time, and the uber professionals will be called in to perform their acts of gray haired wisdom at companies around the state. 

No one here is throwing illegal immigration into the mix either.  You can continue to put off the inevitable by allowing unfettered immigration to "fill the jobs"...but what job deficits are we really talking about here?  Are we facing a lack of 150k skilled workers, burger flippers, or doctors?  No one ever really makes that clear when they speak expertly.

The core of this insane political football remains:

  1. If education was the priority of this state above all else...we'd have the best starting point of ANY state from which to build our foundation.  End of discussion.
  2. If Iowa and the Midwest puts its full force behind becoming the scientific and ag/biofuel technology leader...we'd have no trouble attracting smart people and entrepreneurs and venture capital after the initial ethanol hangover wears off.
  3. Stopping illegal immigration will force the economy to realign itself with the proper market forces at play...this will throw all formulae off by an order of magnitude.


Fall Colors

We're approaching the milestone of our first full year in Iowa.  We moved into our Des Moines metro home last year just about the first week of November and had missed most of the leaves dropping.  This year, we've had numerous leaf pile romps and much to my surprise (being a CA kid) the leaves don't all change or fall at once.  They do it in stages and the mix of colors just in my own back yard is breathtaking.  If you have a moment, check out the Mitchgroup.com Iowa Home Office Web Cam while it's still sunny outside.  I've positioned the camera in the backyard where you'll see what about 48 hours of leaf dropping has done to my grass.  It's about 42 crisp degrees today, clear, and beautiful. 

We're starting to see the neighbors' houses again...which we'll see until March when the leaves explode again. 

Tom Evslin on Ethanol...and then there's Doug's Opinion

I love reading Tom Evslin's blog.  There's always a fresh perspective to twist your synapses a bit.  He posted a wonderful piece entitled:  Ethanol:  Boon or Boondoggle?  This subject is near and dear to me as I'm smack dab in the middle of Ethanol Alley.  Evslin's piece talks about the science, environmental impact, and efficiency (or lack thereof) of producing ethanol.  I propose that although this part of the discussion is valuable...that the most important piece of the ethanol discussion is the mental shift that the citizens of the United States have undergone in the last 12 months regarding our energy independence. 

The debate has shifted away from "Can we, should we" to "How can we, what technology should we use".  Over a billion dollars of venture capital has poured into my humble Midwest ( that my family and I adopted last October after executing geographic arbitrage to Des Moines, IA from SoCal) and there's no sign of slowing. 

Those that have poo poo'd the inefficiency of corn based ethanol are sitting back now and watching hundreds of millions more gallons be produced from this method.  Additionally, our beautiful and humble state of Iowa is "getting it" by helping the Universities pursue the technologies, methods, and breakthroughs that will likely spawn the next generation of cellulosic ethanol production (making fuel from any plant/vegetable matter like corn stalks, grass, or ground up trees). 

Additionally, home grown Iowa start ups will provide supporting technologies and platforms to solve the other inefficiencies in the process of creating ethanol and getting it to the market place (distribution, logistics, etc.) (Contact me via email directly if this last sentence intrigued you)

The bottom line here is that we've begun the transformation and it will only take a hero to make it happen in a respectable time line.  I had a great conversation with my dad last week (I'm so stoked that my parents live a 12-hour drive away now versus 2500 miles).  During that conversation I found myself again stumping for an icon, a Presidential candidate that will arise and cut through the BS of the political process and promise us a Kennedyesque Man On The Moon Plan (this link contains my revisions to the speech appropriate for this discussion) to become 75% independent within 8 years (if we choose to re-elect him/her).  I'm a pretty fiscally/socially conservative guy...and I find myself passionately begging for a progressive tax levy on all Americans that will create an energy Independence race fund to drive our global dominance in this category.  Every single person I've talked to is in favor of such a levy.  Is this our rallying cause?  Is this the scientific area that the U.S. will dominate in this Century? (Stem cell is too much a political football) Is this my calling to run for office? I think not.  Where's William Katt when you need him?

Honored

I was honored to have some commentary on Boutique Cities from a recent post...published on Joel Kotkin's website.   Thanks again Joel and I look forward to a Des Moines visit sometime soon.

Here's a snippet from Joel's Bio.
internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends,
Joel Kotkin is the author of the newly published, critically acclaimed THE CITY: A GLOBAL HISTORY from Modern Library. He is also author of the widely acclaimed, best-selling book, THE NEW GEOGRAPHY, How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping the American Landscape (Random House, 2000).

Getting Attention...in Des Moines

Thank you Mike Sansone for pointing out this wonderful piece in the Wall St. Journal on the changing face of PR and "Attention Getting" in the blog era.  I promise it's worth the read.  The article points out many truths about blogging and getting noticed. 

One of the key points established in the article is that in blogging, "There's also etiquette involved. For starters, once you find an appropriate blog community, you can't just expect to jump right in and have it instantly hawk your wares or link to you. "It's like going to a dinner party," says Mr. Rubel of Edelman. "You don't just come in and start selling your product. You listen to what other people are saying and find a way into the conversation."

Very accurate.  After you've been blogging, linking, making relevant comments, trackbacks, etc...you will begin to get some "street cred" if what you have to say adds to the conversation.  My efforts (pleasures) have yielded links from a few A-List bloggers that have driven a ton of traffic to my blog.  In turn, that traffic and those links have driven a few key topics that I discuss (and my name) to first page google results.  I'm fairly confident that I could not have paid for this publicity...and it all happens between about 4:30AM and 6AM each day here at Midwest Command (home office in Des Moines)...rather than in a high priced PR firm in NYC.

Like most things in life...you must simply start doing them and seek out those who already do them well...and model their behavior to increase the velocity of your success.

Boutique Cities

I was just introduced to a blog written by Ben Casnocha.  Anyone who lists Burn Rate as suggested reading on their blog is a web friend of mine :)...so nice to meet you Ben.  Also, I grew up in Glendora just to the west of your new college.  Claremont's downtown will provide you a sliver of the "feel" you probably have in SF without all of the madness (and without all of the digerati...because no matter how far up on the list LA County moves in terms of VC funding and tech start ups...it's too spread out to have tangible collection spots for these these types).  Try Winston's if you haven't already.  It's a wonderful place to have breakfast on the patio (in December).  If you ever bump into John Tulac downtown, tell him Doug Mitchell says hello.  He's a fantastic lawyer, educator, and mentor that had a massive influence on my life and my entrepreneurial spirit.

Ben recently posted a piece called The Emergence of Boutique American Cities.  His post along with the quotes he provides from Joel Kotkin do a good job of explaining this phenomenon. 

America now consists of "boutique" cities -- Boston, San Francisco, and New York City -- which house educated, elite, and wealthy residents at the exclusion of most everyone else. In boutique cities the debate is over where to put the next sushi bar, or if one neighborhood has too many coffee shops, or how condos should be regulated...not how to solve the affordable housing problem.

What boutique cities leave behind, however, is the "incubation of social mobility" that metropolises historically have provided. Houston, Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis: all these cities are now better "aspirational cities" for middle class people. The problem is they're all trying (and failing) to become boutique cities by introducing slick cultural ammenities.

I have a much greater clarity on this subject since I executed my Geographic Arbitrage to Des Moines, Iowa from Southern California.  Des Moines is attempting to become more "boutique" (albeit at the slower Midwest pace), by renovating many of the old warehouses and complexes downtown...creating flats and condos within walking distance to downtown jobs and restaurants.  We already have the "Court Ave. District" with enough restaurants and coffee shops to support the demand. 

I believe Iowans are realistic about their slim chances to rise up among America's hot boutique cities.   We have about as much chance to become boutique as finding a cup of coffee in San Francisco for less than $1.  We still have a 3 hour a day show on the number one AM talk radio station here dedicated to AG business (that's AG for agriculture for my West Coast readers).  Heck, 30 minutes outside of the Des Moines metro you'll find only corn fields and a bit further east...the I-80 World's Largest Truck Stop. 

Unlike the boutiques...Des Moines is not full of elites and those who service them.  It contains a rich blend of wealthy folks and common folks and plenty that lie between.  The metro provides the opportunity to "move up" in life's ranks and progress from modest beginnings to the penthouse flat.  The people here in Des Moines seem comfortable with this reality.  I've mentioned before in postings that Des Moines social events often produce a collision of cultures yet all seem to blend quite well.  (The farmers don't wear overalls to the Embassy Club for the Cigar dinner and the elites don't wear suits to the state fair). 

I think a key success factor for the smaller metros today is the wide availability of broadband...making  workers "location independent" (read Karlgaard's Life 2.0 for a primer).  One can find numerous small metros now that have scaled down versions of what the big ones have.  My beautiful metro has enough to keep me and most I know satisfied.  There's upward mobility for the corporate types...and if you look, you can find the technology/start up culture.  There's probably not enough choice for true big city metro elite but I can now live in the burbs and get downtown in 15 minutes to eat in the more elite restaurants, giving no concern to traffic or crowds.  Now, if we could just get In-N-Out to come out this way.

A Norman Rockwell Moment

I did a turn around trip the other day.  No, not the Vegas turn arounds that dotted my youth.  This day, it was a day trip to Peoria, IL from Des Moines, IA.  It's about 280 miles from here.  It was a beautiful day.  I left before sunrise and was able to click this picture on my new Motorola Q phone from the driver's seat.  Just another reward for executing my Geographic Arbitrage.
After a fruitful day of business, I headed back out on the open road.  The air was clean, the temperature was mild, and life was good.  I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a late lunch on the way back.  DQ not only feeds my habit for banana malts...but it feeds Warren Buffett's pocket which in turn feeds the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

I was in Galesburg, IL which could just as easily been named, "Main Street USA".  I sat down after ordering my meal and was followed in shortly by an elderly couple.  They sat across from me as I played with my cell phone, still wearing my sun glasses.  They must have thought I was a real city slicker.  After a few moments, I put down my phone, put on my regular glasses, sat back, and marveled at this couple.  He had a hearing aide and used a cane.  She looked well put together for a woman obviously in her 70's.  They chatted as they nibbled their frozen treats. After a while, she told her husband, "I'm a bit chilly and the air conditioning is blowing right on me."  As if he had wings, the husband sprung up and went to the car to retrieve his wife's sweater.  He didn't use the cane and he moved about twice as fast as he did when entering the building.  He put it on her with the care of a mother swaddling her newborn.  My heart was warm.  They sat for a while as did I.  I wanted to strike up a conversation with them but thought better of interrupting their moments together. 

He loves her.  She loves him.  On this day, things were very right in Galesburg, IL.  I felt a sense of contentment the rest of the way home that doesn't come in a pill or a bottle.  It's a sense of love a man has for his wife, his family, what's happened in their life together...and what's yet to come.            

Best Quality of Life - Iowa

Forbes released its "Best States For Business" top 50 list recently, and Iowa faired 25th.  Right in the middle...and typical for Iowa :)

But guess which state came in first in the Quality of Life category?  You guessed it....Iowa.   It's tough to describe to people what "Quality of Life" means but you just know it and feel it when you live here. 

An article in Today's Des Moines Register discusses the results a bit further.

Geographic Arbitrage - Neighborhood Selection

I'm beginning a series on Geographic Arbitrage designed to help someone considering the plunge.  I'll try to break things down into categories like housing, psychology, finance, etc. for simplicity.  Today, I'm going to discuss housing and type of location/neighborhood (urban, rural, suburb, downtown, etc.)

When becoming an equity refugee, besides the main choice of WHERE (Read Karlgaard's Life 2.0 book)..you're going to relocate, you need to think about what kind of house you want and what type of surroundings you want.  Bigger, smaller, easier to maintain, more land, etc.

It's easy to say, I'm moving to the Dallas area, but upon further review, one finds that options abound.  If you're 1 hour from DFW, you can afford more house, and get more land and seclusion...but if you fly often..you've probably just changed the location of your headache.  Since I had traveled quite a bit throughout the U.S. before executing my geoarb, I knew what to expect in this area.  I recently met a consultant who'd moved to Dallas from Des Moines about 13 years ago.  He chose a more rural setting about 1 hour outside of DFW.  He travels via Dallas Fort Worth airport about 2x per week.  That means 4 trips back and forth and the traffic is horrible around there.  He was in his early 50's and seemed to have the "I'm just gonna put up with this for now since I'm doing pretty good and my kids are in college in Texas" vibe. 

Perhaps you're like me, a city dweller  who appreciates the idea of "The big sprawling ranch, a couple of cows, and Ford truck to explore my acreage...but would never occupy my time with such maintenance or upkeep.  We have 2 small children and an addiction to good steak restaurants so living out in the country instantly lost it's appeal.  Of course there are some locations that are say 20 minutes from downtown or the airport...and still provide seclusion and acreage.  If you've visited my new home town of Clive, Iowa, you'll see what I'm talking about.  Twenty to thirty minutes out of downtown Des Moines, you're seeing fly over country. 

We came here believing that we wanted a huge backyard, perhaps a wooded acre like our friends had. 

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Thankfully we didn't find one. We began looking at homes with similar lots sizes to our former home in California.  We picked a lot that was about 1/5 of an acre, only now we had a 2 story house (versus 1 in CA), we actually have a "bigger lot".  It was the perfect amount of extra yard to gain.  I can still maintain it very rapidly.  We had a gardener for nearly all 8 years of living in our CA home but moving to the Midwest rekindled my desire to be "closer to my home and to nature."  Yeah I know we'll see how long this lasts...but cutting the grass and making the yard look pretty is something that we can do with the kids...and something that you don't actually have to do between late November and early March.  (Since most things stop growing period).

We found ourselves looking in Clive, IA, the neighborhood that numerous websites and the book Life2.0 said was, "The best in Iowa" in so many words.  Clive is certainly more expensive that its counterparts closer to downtown but is about half the price for double the space as in CA.  For reference, I could find you 15 homes in the west end of  Clive for $225k-$275k that would be about 2500-3000sq ft. finished.  Remember, we have basements.  We just finished an additional 1300 sq. ft. in our basement bringing our total to 3700.  I now have a huge guest bedroom, kid play area, massive bathroom, and what I call, "The Man Room"...a cavernous place containing a library, granite wet bar, 300 bottle wine cellar, and smoking lounge with ventilation system for my cigar habit. 

Clive is near all of the amenities, niceties, and new shopping facilities, etc.  Again, we didn't realize how addicted or "used to" these things we actually were.  The concept of living on a wooded acre in the "older section of town" had appeal...but it wasn't a practical match to our lifestyle.  We thankfully acknowledged this early in the search and our focus shifted toward the west end of the Des Moines Metro where most of the growth and "new stuff" is concentrated.

Another key thing that we desired was "A sense of community".  This is a tough one to pin down considering the fact that you can't get inside of your neighbor's heads to see if they're good people before you move there.  For us that meant, Lots of kids in the neighborhood, parents chatting outside in their front yards, well maintained yards, and lots of parks and activities within walking distance.  We drove through our neighborhood a few times during our search and so did our Realtor.  She reported seeing moms chatting at the community mailbox, kids riding bikes, etc.  We knew that Clive was the one.  Our community is situated around a small lake where I can fish with my kids too.  Wonderful. 

Of course like most neighborhoods, we've found that there are some neighbors that are rarely seen, some are very quiet, and some have the potential of becoming good friends.  Someone 2 streets down just organized a block party.  We met a ton of people from the surrounding streets, the kids had a "decorate your bike, scooter, or wagon" parade and competition...and I met some future golfing buddies.  They even got the Clive Fire Department to bring a truck down and show all of the kids the inner workings.  My sons eyes were as big as those truck wheels...and I choked backed a few tears as he shook hands with the fireman and said, "Thank you sir" (He's three and a half) Yeah I'm sappy that way but this is IT!  This is the Midwest United States with corn fields, a big State Fair, people walking dogs, saying hi to your neighbor, lawn tractors, and pork chops man.  I've gotten more joy from our neighbors here in 9 months than I received in 8 years at our house in CA.  Every single day, my kids go outside and interact and play with my next door neighbor's 3 sons. 

So, when choosing your neighborhood, consider your lifestyle.  Be realistic about what you want and what "sounds cool".  Do you like Williams Sonoma and PF Changs?  Do you like a newer home versus a 100 year old Victorian with all of it's charm (and aging infrastructure issues)? Do you go to plays and theater and symphonies?  Do you like having no lights, neighbors, or kids around to bother you?  Do you want to drive a John Deere lawn tractor for 8 hours every Saturday (and then again Wednesday this time of year)?  Ask real questions and confront your own reality.  Some people pull off the Green Acres approach...but we didn't take the chance.

Drive your future neighborhoods if you can.  Visit, learn, find contacts and ask questions.  Get a good Realtor....I mean one that actually helps buyers find homes more than a "listing hog".  In my case, I dealt with a bunch of old school Realtors that have NO CONCEPT of what it's like to help someone who lives 1800 miles away understand what they're looking at on line.  These people took their own sweet time getting back to me in email too (if they EVER responded).  The first Realtor who answered me promptly and mirrored my communication style and preferences...got the business.  Use the web and read books to make some sense of all the choices you have.  Subscribe to magazines that focus on local areas or sections of the U.S. 

Above all else, once you've found "home", be confident that you will make it work.  Barring an accidental home purchase in your cities "war zone", neighbors will come and go, your kids will grow, new businesses will likely spring up, etc.  You'll be able to make a go at it and if things still don't work, you can move again!  Just DO IT!

Have the Geographic Arbitrageurs Left the Building Already?

Thanks to Business Lit for directing me to the Blog Calacanis.com.   The author followed up today with a news blurb about the continuing data stream that suggests coastal real estate markets are hurting...bad.   If you read one of his earlier posts about the same topic, you'll see that it got a LOT of response.  I can understand why.  Where once people could count the 5-figure increases in home value every month, now their houses are ticking time bombs with "losses" of measurable value per month.  "It's just paper losses," some cry.  Tell that to the guy who's on an interest only ARM and hasn't gotten around to refinancing yet.  "My payment is going up by WHAT!!!...but I can't afford that with gas prices, milk prices, and.......," blah blah blah.  His house now wont appraise for WHAT HE OWES.  That's called being upside down and it's a fantastic recipe for foreclosures.  (Good for investors like me). 

I pulled the trigger 12 months ago on my Riverside county CA home.  I waited an extra year to gather the courage to execute my geographic arbitrage and received an additional $100k for my timidity.  What a gift. 

When I did pull the trigger, the home sold in 2 weeks. I didn't have multiple offers.  I didn't have people clamoring to buy it.  I think that was the beginning of the "end".  Of course some people still experienced that..but at 1800 square feet, our home was at the bottom of the size range common today.  We actually went on vacation the day it listed.  I bought a fax machine and signed the papers while away.  We came home to a closed deal.  My home was purchased along with 4 others in my town by an investor.  The investor put $30k down on a $540,000 purchase.  They intended to rent it out.  Taxes and insurance were going to be about $800/month.  Market rent was about $1800-$2000.  I'm not a mathematician, but I don't have the stomach for that one.   I'm guessing they were banking on an appreciation that would allow them to pull more cash out, etc.  I'll do some research and see what's happened to my old house and report back. 

I had purchased at the "bottom" of the market by accident in 1997..and now had sold at the perceived "top" of the market...at least until the next cycle pulls things up as it always done.  Now, I've purchased 3x the space for 1/2 the price and am living a very nice life in one of those "Boring fly over states".  Frankly, I think we should keep embellishing the image of places like the Des Moines Metro area of Iowa.  We're all just here watching the corn and soy grow here in Ethanol Alley.

I was listening to my old LA talk radio station today, KFI 640 AM.  Bill Handel mentioned something that I was not aware of.  He mentioned that there were about 2 or 3 mortgage companies still advertising on KFI (mega Clear Channel station), when not too long ago, there were more than 12.  The mortgage business quickly sheds the excess suppliers when there's little incentive to refinance and people are renting to wait out the market. 

It is happening.  There are houses sitting here in Des Moines where the market has seen only slightly above average appreciation.  This house near mine was already reduced...and there are hundreds more like it around town. 

If you only make $300k on your house in CA versus $400k..don't fret.  You'll still be very well positioned.  You too may find yourself smoking a cigar, pulling a bottle of wine out from your cellar, and putting on a movie in the theater room.  Humidity and cold are a bit easier to deal with than one might think :)

Iowa Is NOT Flat!

I formulated my grand strategy to ride in the U.S's most celebrated bike ride soon after moving to Iowa.  I'd get in shape, see the state that I now call home, and learn how to become comfortable in spandex biking shorts.  The ride is called RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. 

Now in its 34th year, RAGBRAI attracts over 15k people from across the United States, and some from other countries.  I personally saw folks from the U.A.E, Italy, and from the most exotic of countries...Southern California.  RAGBRAI is really a melange of stimuli:  25% bike ride, 25% state fair, 25% camping trip, and 25% Mardi Gras.

The ride's route changes annually but it tends to cycle from Northern, to Central, to Southern Iowa.  It begins on the Western half of the state and moves Eastward every time.  The reasoning for this directional choice seems to be a belief (misbelief?) that prevailing winds are Eastward this time of year.  This year the route was through Central Iowa stopping in the town next door to mine.  This gave me an excuse (and probably a life saving one) to stop after the 3rd day versus going the full 7.   The idea is that towns host "stopping points" along the way...some mild some wild.  The big draw of pie and pork chops was not overblown in the media.  Every church and senior center in Iowa prepared delicious pies and a bevy of other food and goodies to keep riders right as rain.

This year, Lance Armstrong decided that he'd been wasting his time all those years by spending July in France.  He rode the last 4 days of RAGBRAI giving talks along the way as an advocate for cancer research spending.  He's committed to doing the entire ride next year and has hinted that he may bring along some celebrity friends.  Surely this will become the Sturgis of the cycling world.  Get ready for Lance-a-pa-looza.

Day 1
54 Miles:  Sergeant Bluff to Ida Grove (Map)

My first day I took special care not to overdo it and try to outrun my ability.  I was warned by the newspaper, websites, and other blogs that the first few days had hills.  If you've only been to Central Iowa, you'd have a tough time believing this as did I.  Much to my chagrin, all of those sources were right.  I often found myself peddling just a bit faster than some were walking their bikes. I refused to get off my machine...opting for granny gear, head down, no talk, sweatiness to reach the next peak. Other times, I was blazing downhill at 35 mph.  This route was balanced.  Ups led to big downs and a cool off and welcomed rest period.  Amazingly, 54 miles went pretty quickly.  I never peddled to exhaustion, rather I seemed to be in cardio heart rate mode for about 8 hours of the 10 it took to get there.  Upon arrival and set up of our campsite, my buddy and I began to find a prone position out of the sun.  Prone yes...out of sun no.  For 4 hours I lay there sweating through clothes and trying to understand my physical condition.  I felt "off"...I had trouble completing thoughts.  I was exhausted mentally and physically.  My water/Gatorade/fruit smoothie consumption was very high all day so I knew I was not dehydrated.  Additionally, I had eaten about 5000 calories to keep me going all day so "bonking" was not an issue. I was simply SPENT of all energy.  Weighing in at a scale tweaking 250lbs on a 6ft. 1in. frame was the core problem and I was paying the price for my penchant for 20oz rib eyes and dipping pizza in bleu cheese dressing.  We spent a night of tossing and turning in my 2 man tent trying to find comfort in the hot Iowa night.  Rain drops cooling my skin at 5AM woke me and day 2 was on.



Day 2
77 Miles: 
Ida Grove to Audubon (map)

I will never forget this day.  Just the ride out of town began with leg paralyzing hills that never seemed to go back down.  This day provided the most feet of elevation climb of all.  Top this off with a stiff headwind that was gusting to at least 20 mph.   A rider's reward for this hilly pursuit was a robbery of downhill speed and rest due to wind resistance.  There was little conversation between main stopping towns, only pain and sweat.  Riders cursed under their breath.  A man from Illinois was heard saying, "Does Iowa have a headwind in every direction? #[email protected]#%$$%@"  There was simply no relief.  We began this day at 6:30AM and arrived at our destination town at a little before 8PM.  I had spent 10+ hours on a bike and had the redness to prove it (in more than one spot).  Again I had more trouble moving, thinking, and doing.  Another buddy of mine Tom met us at the campground that night, hooking up so we could do the last leg together.  We had a couple of beers, walked the town square, ate as much as possible and headed back to our mobile domicile.  At 1AM, I woke again, scrambling along with many other campers to put our rain fly on. It looked clear when going to bed and the forecast was for "partly cloudy skies".  That's Iowa speak for "It could downpour but we really don't know."  I should have gone with my gut but my body and mind would not execute.  After some frustration we simply draped the rain fly over the tent and by then, the rain had stopped. We woke at 6AM and began to tear down.  On the way out of town, we were again met with grinding hills.  Gerard quipped, "Is every town in Iowa built in a sink hole expletive expletive expletive!"

 







Day 3
68 Miles: 
Audubon to Waukee (map)

Ah the home stretch but not so fast.  This day like all others began with more hills.  Mike legs ached and burned as though I'd been riding for over 100 miles.  Just getting to the outskirts of the town where breakfast was being served hurt badly. A raspberry white chocolate latte and some muffins procured from the local Methodist Church and we were on our way.  Tom was fresh and spry but that would all change.  The route notes indicated that the first 26 miles of this 68 mile day were as hilly as before..but HUZZAH!!!, the wind had subsided a bit and there was little net elevation change, i.e. downhills follow uphills that allowed for rest.  The first 26 miles didn't pack the severe punch of day 2 but tell that to "The new guy", Tom.  Eight miles into this day, Tom's bike somehow broke a spoke and we spent nearly 40 minutes at the mobile bike repair station getting a new wheel.  Imagine a corn field, a bunch of bike riders, and a truck with everything one needs to get fixed up.  What a sight.  The prices were exactly what you'd pay in their shop too.  Thanks to good Midwestern values and a desire to help its fellow man, the bike shop got us on our way again with no complaints.  At about mile 40, Tom began to get annoyed with Gerard and I.  His physical discomfort was obvious, no longer praising his cycling shorts and seat for comfort, rather cursing most things including Gerard and I for "Just leaving him behind, etc."  I recognized this behavior since I had done it with Gerard the day before.  Step 1, anger.   We began to pace each other, trading off the lead position, and began to make some progress.  The last 20 miles or so were FLAT.  Even with our energy stores depleted, we could maintain a 15mph pace.  Oh the joy!  If Tom had moved past the anger into acceptance, I think we really could have cruised.  I had energy again...the inevitable boost one receives from knowing they're nearing the end.  This leg ended on my "home trail" west of my town of Clive.  I felt like a confident tour guide at this point, sharing my local knowledge with Gerard.  My wife called and arranged to meet me along the route with the kids.  As we got closer, Gerard and Tom pulled back in true Tour de France style allowing me to bask in the glory of my home town.  They gave me my moment.  Approaching the mini-van, I saw the kids and they were holding signs!  The signs read "Go Daddy" and had hand prints all over them.  If not for the emotional exhaustion of the ride I surely would have crumbled and wept.  In an instant my pain and strife were gone and I'm standing in front of my beautiful wife and children. The thoughtfulness of my wife never ceases to amaze me and I'm truly blessed to have her.  After plentiful hugs, kisses, and greetings from fellow riders, we set out to reach the final destination.  We arrived, met the wives, loaded our gear, and it began to downpour.  Mother nature winked at me just then and put a tick mark in the Doug column.  That night as lightning lit the sky and thunder rumbled across the heartland, we broke bread together (topped with cheese, sauce, and toppings) and had plenty of liquid bread (beer) to nourish our bodies.  We sat around and told tall tales of our adventure while the kids played..and life was good. 

Although our bodies were weak, our spirits had already been lifted by friendship, love, and the buzz from achieving a physically and mentally demanding goal. I hadn't felt that physical sense of accomplishment in a very long time and I'm craving it again already.  Bring on the hills.  Bring on RAGBRAI 2007!

 

If you're cosidering Geographic Arbitrage

If you're considering doing what I've done with (or done TO) my family, moving to a family friendly, no hassle, wonderfully underpopulated place like Des Moines, Iowa, please read every article and list you can on the many choices you have.  The latest Best Places piece has just come out and no surprise, 3 Iowa cities were among the top 100. 

If you're doing your research and you have no boundaries, i.e. no family or friends to consider when moving, you'll probably toil as I did for about 2 years about where to go.  Ultimately, my wife said, "I want family or friends there so we have some infrastructure."  Well, that was smart and I'm not sure why I didn't use that as a criterion from the get to at least limit my choices from Anywhere USA to 3 places.   That limited us to Ohio, Alabama, and Iowa.  Each of these places has some ups and downs....but Iowa truly has all of the amenities that someone coming from a populated coastal area or very metropolitan area will desire...without all of the commensurate hassles that typically come with those amenities. 

When shopping for homes initially, my wife and I sought to replicate our friends house and lot. They live on what would be called the "older and established" side of town.  What that means literally is lots of trees, some bigger wooded lots, less of the "newer amenities", and (my perception here)...older people.  (The author is using a broad brush here since I've only driven through neighborhoods there and used comments made by realtors to reach this assumption).   We thought we wanted this park like setting with an acre of trees, seclusion, etc. 

But we found much to our dismay that we were far more taken with newer suburbs, close to the shopping, new restaurants (Des Moines has a TON of places to keep your belt expanding), and communities where there were few fences and kids running wild on the streets with parents chatting at the mailboxes.

I can say with all honesty that lack for nothing here in Iowa in terms of the things my family does.  There are tons of parks, lakes, bike trails, green belt trails, shopping, movie theaters, IMAX, cultural opportunities to keep us busy.  When we're hungry, there is a massive selection that I've yet to tap into.  From upscale to family dining to the movie theater that sells beer and pizza, we've really got it all. 

Another unique opportunity that Des Moines provides is that downtown is mostly 15 minutes from anywhere.  Downtown (Des Moines) mind you is the capitol city of this state and has some tall buildings, a developing river walk, a Science Center, etc.  So when the newscasters say, "Today in Des Moines," you're actually the center of the conversation.  Anyone from Southern California who lived in the more affordable burbs 1+ hours away will confirm that "News about Los Angeles literally had no meaning or impact on us."  I probably visited Los Angeles or the beach about 4 times in the last 8 years we lived there (3 of those trips were to catch cheaper airfare from a different airport by driving 1.5 hours out of my way and I saw the beach from the plane window) .  Between the traffic hassles and crowds there's really no appeal when you have two small kids under the age of 4. 

I've traveled quite a bit and have had the chance to experience different climates, population levels, amenities, etc.  Granted I didn't live in these other places.  But after a while, you get a "sense about a place" very quickly.  My sense about Des Moines was that it really did offer the things that would enhance my family's quality of life, financially allow me to retain my position of power since I wouldn't have to dump all of my equity into another expensive home, and allow me to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.  I've already met more business people and leaders around the Des Moines metro in 6 months than I did in my lifetime in California.  Is that because I'm now liberated?  Do I have a new confidence that I should have found there but couldn't?  It's a little bit of many things.  When there are smaller number of technology firms to choose from, sending an informed email introducing yourself gets noticed.  When you offer up smart business plans to funding groups hungry to fund tech companies in Iowa, they listen. 

Iowa is a very educated and very kind state.  We're a major service economy...but just drive for 20 minutes and you'll see that we're still very agrarian.  The people here seem very conservative..but politically, I hear more overt Bush bashing than I ever heard in CA.  All in all, I'd say that Iowa is a very welcoming place.

Now, if you've noticed I've not mentioned the most glaring difference between CA and IA...the weather.  Here's the synopsis.  (For the benefit of those who don't know what kind of temperature range one can experience in CA)..Remember that when you hear that "LA is 72 today, Newport Beach is 68, and San Diego is a balmy 70," that most people don't live there.  (If you're willing to plunk down $600k-$700k for  a median price starter home go for it). The millions of scrubs like me who had to live about 35-50 miles inland from the beach or the coastal climates, can reach 100+ degrees when the people on the coasts are getting breezy 68 degree temperatures.  (I promise this is true).  So, summer time means mostly above 90 and there's probably a couple of weeks of 100+ thrown in there for good measure.  OK so it's a "dry heat", but like I always say, "Dry or not, I typically don't run around, stand around, or play around in the heat.  That's what climate control is for." Summer in CA is brown, dry, and often full of smoke from massive fires (this varies year to year but there's been quite a few in the last few years).  Summer is Iowa is cooler than where I used to live...but there's humidity.  The humidity varies though.  It's not always stifling and causing full body sweats.  It changes with the systems that come down from Canada, come up from the Gulf, or that slide across from the West.  The trade off is that Iowa is green and beautiful all summer long.  My home has plenty of large mature trees so a 90 degree day on my deck with high humidity is somewhat acceptable (unless you're visiting from CA in which case you'll probably complain).  Fall is the relief that Iowans dream of when it's hot and sticky.  Cooler nights, the light jacket coming out of the closet, the leaves turning (and falling), all are prepping the populous for the holiday season.  Winter is invigorating at the start.  Leading up to the holidays, it's neat to wake up and have snow on the ground, build a snowman, shovel the white stuff with my boy, etc.  It can be below zero but mostly things don't hurt unless it dips below 28 or so.  (My friends in Vermont will probably mock me for being so weak).  The holiday bustle gets us through about January.  February hits and people long for Spring.  Spring is a wonderful time of back and forth with the weather.  It cannot decide to be snowing, raining, or sunny and warm.  One day in fact I sat on my patio in March, had a cigar until about 9PM when the temp was about 78 degrees...and the next day there were icy chunks falling from the sky.  The day after that, I was back on the deck smoking a robusto until 10PM.  Tornadoes and thunder storms are always a threat though concentrated in Spring and Summer but it just something you deal with.  Mother nature can put on quite a show here.  It seemed that last April, every other day we were having severe t-storms..but for the last few months, things have been very quiet (of course the Northeast and Ohio Valley have been hammered). 

It really is nice to have things change up a bit from "another day in paradise", but that's a hard sell.  Most everyone from here takes the weather with a grain of salt because paying in that area provides deposits in so many more.

If you are considering a move, I'd suggest you get REAL about what matters to you.  College sports, pro sports, parks, biking, hiking, fishing, education, sense of community, cultural opportunities, proximity to other major cities, airport connections, property values (and growth curve), family values, etc...and then make a short list..and go there.  Don't do touristy things, visit communities, talk with real estate agents, do web research and you'll feel very comfortable with your outcome. 

Would I go back?  I don't ponder this one too much because something would really have to be RIGHT to make me do that.  I'd have to "the perfect storm" of gobs of money, a house that was paid for or heavily subsidized near the coast, and a whole list of other things I've never thought of. 

I really enjoy it here and am proud to call Iowa my home. 



All of God's Beauty Is Shining Today

I am blessed with a wonderful wife, children, and family.  Today, I can add to my list of blessings the wonderful weather and springtime beauty of the Des Moines metro area.  The sun is shining, there's a cool breeze, and we're forecasted to have 70's for quite sometime.  After a relatively mild winter...it's not like we've "earned" this one as much.  But since it's our first winter in Iowa, we feel giddy now that we can play in the backyard and run wild with soccer balls and playsets.  Amazing!

Chalk another one up in the WIN column for our execution of geographic arbitrage.  We've taken our California pay and life to a wonderful Midwest city for 1/2 the price...and am now making that freed up capital work for me. 

The house is in escrow

The offer we had on the house was sweetened without asking.  The people that had placed the offer $25k below asking price were investors.  At some point, the buyer's lender said, "You need to only purchase 2 homes per month as part of your investment strategy instead of 5 at once"...apparently.  Good news for us since ours was one of the houses they seemed to really want.  Easy rentability, move-in ready, etc.  So, the buyer upped their offer to $10k below asking price without us asking (I was ready with the counter offer for their amount already when the phone call came.)

I was already a bit nervous about the market (see previous post) and this lifted a lot of stress from my shoulders.  We're in escrow and actually have the option to lease back from the new owners so our moving window can be 60-90 days if we'd like.  All of this has been completed while we were out of the house on business/vacation.  The house listed the day we left...and enters escrow the day we return.  No "please exit the house so we can show it" 4x per day with 2 kids and 2 dogs.  I couldn't have asked for a better scenario. 

Now, we will go home and liquidate, make our arrangements, and begin our Midwestern Adventure.  I love it when a plan comes together.

On Geographic Arbitrage and Corn Fields

Thank you Rich Karlgaard www.life2where.com for helping me finally pull the trigger on the big move from the "skyrocketing coastal markets" to the flyover country.  Reading Karlgaard's book "Life 2.0" and Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life", have really helped me to grasp what it means to exit the California race for AM freeway position and enjoy a fuller life.  Now, I'm taking my CA income and job to Des Moines Iowa. 

We were able to spend some time there and my business travels keep me in the Midwest quite often and I've come to enjoy it.  I realize that living there, snow, cold, etc. will be a shock for a while.  But, as I frequently say to friends and family, "I don't know about you...but I tend to drive 2 hours a day to work inside an office after exiting a climate controlled car and then it's too jammed on the freeway all weekend long to actually go anywhere without popping a vein and I have 2 kids under 3....so what am I missing by moving to a different climate???"

As discussed in Life 2.0, we'll probably find a very nice house of roughly 2.5 X the size for about $250k.  Yes, you can write a check for houses like that coming from CA.  I wont but the thought of saying, "I'll write you a check right now if you take $25k off so I can go buy the Volvo instead of the Hyundai" feels nice.

The most important aspect of this move is obviously my family since money in the bank and a great house doesn't mean jack if things aren't good at home.  My wife is a native Californian with relatives all over with frequent interaction.  I'm an only child with parents in Ohio and have a very small family who doesn't get together.  This has been a long road for her and to hear her say to our friends and family that, "This is the right thing for our family and for our future" makes me beam with joy.

I plan to chronicle the move  and plan to write essays/articles on my "transition" to that Midwest lifestyle...and I can't WAIT for "The Iowa Caucuses" :).

My friend who just moved from CA to Utah told me, "You know Doug, on Sunday, you just want to put a bullet in your head".  After laughing for about 5 minutes and joking about "Knowing who isn't Mormon by looking outside on Sunday at 11AM and watching smoke rising from the backyard BBQ and listening for the roar of NASCAR on the idiot box"...my friend admitted that he's actually starting to wind down a bit and is enjoying the slower pace.

I look forward to that. 

A new milestone

Interesting headline today from the WHOTV Des Moines NBC Affiliate. "Iowa's Hispanic population tops 100,000"  (full text of article) http://www.whotv.com/Global/story.asp?S=3714103

As we prepare to move our family to the Des Moines area from Southern California, this headline is nothing less than shocking...considering that what we're used to...is probably 100k hispanics in a 10 sq. mile area   I will not miss the taxes here that simply go to fund the fact that we have an open border with Mexico.  Legal immigration good.  Illegal immigration bad. 

corn fed white bread

took some time before my stint in NC to visit our best friends from CA. They are originally from here and moved back to be nearer to family and escape the CA rat race. They came to Des Moines (DM from here on out) due to a job landed by Tom, the man of the house.

Wow, what a nice place. The author fully realizes that humidity and winters come into play. But, 1 acre and about 2200sq.ft + 1400sq.ft walkout basement for 200k is enough for me. 5 min from airport and 10 from downtown. Gorgeous neighborhoods. The newer neighborhoods remind me of CA which is BAD. Really, housing design has fallen apart. In an effort to grow more quickly and keep prices down, I guess builders have homogenized to the detriment of the US psyche.

All in all however, the houses and neighborhoods are very different, beautiful, and give u the sense that you're "in the country". Funny for us from CA...no one puts up fences and walls really between yards (can u say crap on the neighbors yard fido). Yikes! That actually makes me nervous. Can you tell I'm a CA native? I'm nervous about the level of interaction between neighbors. I'll get over it at the first backyard bbq.

Tom and Gina have 1 acre. You can't see the roads, houses, or anything behind them. Feels like being at a cabin in Big Bear w/o actually driving 1.5 hours from Corona.

More later. I can and probably will move here.