Biking with the dogs

We biked in the woods thrice last week, only stopping to water the dogs and to eat salal berries, thimbleberries, blackberries, dewberries, salmon berries, and red huckleberries. We covered ten miles some days, no more because of the dogs.

Baxter has diabetes incipitus, so he must never be without water. He drinks as much as Peggy, Bonnie, and me together, so much water that his pee looks like water. We carry a gallon for a ten-mile trip and, on warm days, stop every ten minutes or so to check him for heat exhaustion. We note whether he collapses in a heap or hunts for game in the bushes. We check his gums to be sure they are pink. We talk to him to gauge his alertness. We give him time to catch his breath.

We are aided in our attentiveness by reminders of how everlastingly guilty we would feel if we ran him to death. I say we, but Peggy leaves Baxter’s care on the road to me, which is a reversal of what we do at home where she looks at the dogs’ piss, pokes at their poop, feels their bodies for growths, observes their eyes; and sometimes works herself into a panic for little reason that I can see. I took Bonnie to the vet last week simply because Peggy was worried about a fleeting pain. The vet didn’t know what to make of it, and suggested x-rays. I demurred at the price, and came away with a bottle of anti-inflammatory pills of which only two were used—and them only because we had them.

Without dogs, we would bike faster, farther, and sometimes on pavement, but dirt and gravel are conducive to slower speeds and are easier on their feet. Their joy is worth our sacrifice. It is even worth having to bathe them when we get home.

Thoughts of investing

There are as many mutual funds as there are stocks on the Wilshire 5000 (which actually contains 7000 stocks). Many mutual funds charge a four to eight percent sales fee, a one to two percent advisory fee, and a 12b1 fee which goes for advertising. This in a market that averages ten percent. Less than half of these actively managed funds earn, after expenses, a return that is equal to the market, and that’s in one year. With every subsequent year, the winning funds have less chance of beating the market average again. By year five, the number is down to one in four, and those investors who own a market-beating fund pay higher taxes (due to the fund’s portfolio turnover) and incur greater risk.

Impartial financial writers often advise investors to not even try to beat the market. Instead, buy a fund that replicates the index. The passively managed Wilshire 5000 index fund that I own has no sales fee, no 12b1 fee, and a 0.1% maintenance fee. Furthermore, the portfolio turnover rate is almost nil (compared to 100% or more for many managed funds), so there are few capital gains. I also own a bond index fund that follows the broad American bond market, and a third fund that tracks the EAFE (Europe, Australasia, and the Far East) stock index. I own 50% American stocks, 5% foreign stocks, and 45% American bonds. If I were younger, I would own more stocks, but since there have been whole decades in which the market lost money, I can’t take the risk.

Yesterday, I heard over NPR that the stock market might crash this very week due to the domino effect of mortgage loan defaults. The brokerage houses are in a panic. The hedge fund managers can’t slow down long enough for their in-house shoeshine boys to polish their shoes. Some fund managers have even stopped honoring redemptions.

Maybe the sky is about to fall, but then again stocks are never more popular than at the end of a bull market or more shunned than at the end of a bear market. This is why I mostly ignore the prognosticators. I say mostly, because I understand only too well the twin emotions of greed and fear that drive the market.

Still, I’ve seen the market drop 38% without being tempted to bail. I’m not brave; I just think in terms of shares instead of dollars. If I own 100 shares of a mutual fund, I will still own those 100 shares whether they are worth a lot or a little unless I sell them. This means that I have reason to hope. If I owned 100 shares of stock, it would be a different matter because a person can ride a stock all the way to the ground. By contrast, a mutual fund is spread across many stocks, and my investments are spread further than any actively managed mutual fund. If big company stocks are rising, I rise with them. If small company stocks or Japanese stocks are having their day in the sun, I get in on some of that. If no stocks are going up, I have bonds to fall back on. And no matter what, I won’t pay high fees and taxes.

My only indulgence is 350 shares of a fund that invests solely in oil and gas exploration. It’s breathtaking to watch its movements on a given day, and, over the course of a year, it can go up or down by 80%. I tell myself that I should sell it while it’s flying high, but I love that fund. It’s like having a poisonous snake for a pet. The snake kills your rats, but then you can never trust the snake not to kill you too, and there’s something attractive about that.

Scandi Festival

I helped my Masonic Lodge staff a food booth at the Scandinavian Festival last week. When I arrived, I was handed a fake-embroidery vest and a pointed hat that looked like a limp dunce cap. Our specialty was meatballs on a stick. I assumed they were called meatballs-on-a-stick, so when a customer asked me for a frickadeller, I asked her what she was talking about. She pointed to our big sign (which I hadn’t read), and looked at me as if I had pretty much ruined the exoticism of her gustatory experience.

Another customer asked what kind of food we had. I knew what kind of food we had. We had Costco precooked sausages and Don Juan tortillas, but I didn’t know what kind of food we were supposed to have. I called Donald over since Donald was the only one of us who actually knew what he was doing. “It’s Swedish,” he said. Of course, Swedish meatballs, why didn’t I think of that? Maybe for the same reason that I don’t know what countries constitute Scandinavia. Sweden and Norway, I suppose. Denmark, perhaps? Finland possibly? Do I care? A little.

I neither hated my shift nor loved it. Mostly I watched women, felt mildly annoyed when we had customer, and wondered if everyone else who was serving food (eating appeared to be the point of the festival) was as fake as we were.