A few days ago, we decided to cancel Hulu, one of our favorite streaming services. When I went to make the change, there was an option to pause the service for 12 weeks with no fees, so that’s what I did. The same night, I went to HBO Max, a favorite we canceled in May and cranked it up again after six months. Going into the holidays, we have months of HBO shows and movies that built up over the summer.
I call this The Streaming Shuffle and going forward, it’s how we’ll save a bit of money and always have entertainment options accumulating in the background.
For most of my adult life, this wasn’t possible. Once a choice was made about which cable or satellite service to use, you were locked in. You had their dishes and set-top boxes, which made it a hassle to switch. And that’s how the services liked it.
Now that TV is quickly transitioning to web-based streaming services, the hardware is mostly gone and so is the lock-in. The options are based on monthly subscriptions that can be turned on and off at any time. Finally, we can choose what works for us.
But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. What once came with a single service is now spread across multiple. To replicate the selection of cable or satellite you must now subscribe to a number of streaming services, each with its own monthly fee. And it adds up quickly. Here’s a quick run-down of the major players:
Cable Alternatives (local networks, plus cable channels):
Hulu + Live TV
Streaming Services (each with its own libraries and licensed content)
Today we have a wide selection of services, but they’re all fragmented and have independent pricing. It’s not reasonable to subscribe to everything, so we have to figure out the right mix for our tastes, which can mean subscribing to five different services, with five log-ins and five bills. What’s a person to do?
Here’s what we did…
We watch a lot of sports and like to have a service like cable/satellite to access local events, news, and sports channels like Fox Sports for soccer. For this, we subscribe to YouTube TV, which is a pretty impressive service. It includes an unlimited DVR service and is about $70 per month. Hulu offers something similar.
In terms of the streaming services, some of our services will stay put. Netflix, for example, is subsidized by our T-Mobile plan. We use Amazon Prime for more than entertainment, so we’ll stick with it, too. But outside those, we’re doing the shuffle between:
Having just restarted HBO, it will carry us through the holidays. Meanwhile, the other services will be introducing new shows that we’ll miss, initially. Maybe in 12 weeks, Hulu will, again, be the darling, or maybe AppleTV+. That’s the beauty of the streaming shuffle: the good stuff accumulates so when you switch, it seems like there are more options and less brainless browsing.
What are you enjoying on HBO Max right now? Reply and let me know.
Every few hours, I get an email that looks like this:
These emails are an indication that someone has signed up for our new project, or at least the free version of it. When I find them in my inbox, I can practically feel the dopamine flowing through my brain. Each email is just a data point, but together they represent a trend, and hopefully a foothold.
The project is called Build Livable and it is currently taking up most of my waking hours. My goal is to help homeowners save time and money by understanding the phases of construction and planning ahead for each phase. Informed homeowners can hopefully help builders and architects, too.
I wake up thinking about this project, work on it throughout the day, and send myself emails about it in the evenings. This is not driven by a deadline or a demanding boss, but a passion for creating it. I want nothing more than to see it come to life and be useful to people. I believe it can.
You might wonder what, exactly, is taking so much of my time, and it’s a good question. Let’s take a look.
At the beginning of this year, I set out to write about the experience of building custom homes and share what I’d learned. Like writing a book, I took it phase by phase and tried to capture all the things I wished I had known in the beginning. That project was mostly completed by summer and was book-length, about 70k words.
The whole idea changed when our friend, James, said he thought it should be digital and have videos, downloadable docs, etc. Of course! A book wouldn’t do. A website could be multimedia, easy to update, always-on, and have an enrollment fee. The project needed to be on a website and when that realization set in, my entire outlook changed. I was no longer limited by the book medium and could create a richer and more useful experience.
Part of what made me excited was the potential to create it in-house, with low overhead. By using a platform designed for online courses, I could design a very basic version of the website in a few days. The early challenge was not technology as much as branding and design. Over time, I picked colors and fonts, developed a logo and overall feel for the website. Web design is not something I consider a specialty, but I deeply enjoy the process.
The new website went online relatively quickly. The bulk of my work now is focused on filling the guides with useful content and filling the custom list with connections.
Getting people to a new website is always an uphill battle. New websites do not attract attention on their own. In the beginning, a reliable way to generate traffic is through advertising. I started to spend $10 a day on Facebook advertising and targeted people interested in construction, architecture, Dwell Magazine, etc. That’s helping a lot, but I’ll need to do more.
Website traffic, by itself, isn’t all that useful. We needed a way to turn visitors into connections we could contact in the future. In my experience, offering access to a free resource is one of the best ways to make that connection. If you invite people to test drive a resource for free, they may be likely to stick around.
For this, I pulled a couple of chapters out of The Complete Guide and created a free mini-guide called, “Start Your Construction Project on the Right Foot”. It has checklists of questions to ask builders and architects before hiring them, along with how to collect and organize ideas. The key was providing a useful and free resource along with nicely designed downloadable documents that could be printed. People love checklists!
The free guide went live a few weeks ago and since then, a few people per day have enrolled and confirmed their email addresses. It’s satisfying to see them choosing to be involved.
I think of the free mini-guide as a machine running in the background that will hopefully make connections with many people over time. With it in place, I could switch my attention back to The Complete Guide and go into full production mode.
And that’s what’s happening right now. My days are currently filled with formatting and editing the text, creating diagrams and downloadable documents, researching materials, and conducting interviews with homeowners and building pros. This is probably the most comprehensive resource I’ve ever developed. Here’s an example of a draft diagram:
I love every minute of it, in part, because I believe in it. I believe it can help homeowners save time and money. I believe I have the skills and experience to help them be prepared and work effectively with construction pros. I believe I can make it easy.
Each time someone enrolls in the free guide, the email in my inbox is a reminder that there is a need for this sort of resource and people are interested. We just have to keep finding them and showing them that we can help. The people who have chosen to be a part of Build Livable will hopefully choose to enroll in the Complete Guide when it’s ready. I believe that they will.
I recently hosted a webinar about Big Enough and just before it went live, I snapped the photo below and put it on Instagram.
The immediate response from followers was questions about the technology and tools in the photo. Today online meetings are common and a lot of people are looking for ways to make the experience better. This inspired me to share.
The setup in the photo is something I’ve wanted for years. I’ve worked from home since 2003 and have hosted all kinds of meetings and webinars, all the while wishing it was easier. I kept saying, “Once we move into the new house, I’m going to get it dialed in.” For me, that meant quality and ease of use. I wanted to be able to transition into video mode in seconds, with everything at my fingertips.
Today, I feel like I’m on the right track and learning as I go. I’ve been able to address most of what I wanted to do, but there will always be ways to improve (like using a dSLR camera). My goal right now is to look professional without spending thousands of dollars. This version of a home studio is in the DIY category compared to many.
Let’s take a tour.
Note: As always, I do not have relationships with third parties and earn no income from recommending specific products.
Microphones have been a part of my professional life since 2007 and I generally opt for a good mic that plugs into the computer with USB. The mic I have right now is quite good and affordable. I like that it can be muted with a soft (and silent) tap. It’s called El Gato Wave 3 ($150).
I use a camera that captures video in HD (1080p), which helps the video look crisp and clean. When side-by-side with a built-in camera, the difference is obvious. I like that the camera sits nicely on top of the monitor, has a visible indicator light when it is on, and a hinged door that covers the lens when it’s not being used. The model I have is a Logitech c920 ($70)
Lighting is one of the hardest elements to get right. I sit by a window and usually have natural light, which is nice but always changing. To help, I acquired two small LED panels that sit atop small tripods. They have two controls: brightness and light color (Kelvin scale). I love that the lights can be powered by a cord, or rechargeable battery (purchased separately). The batteries make them extremely portable and easy. I use:
I’ve worked solely on laptops for years and made the switch to having an external monitor that could handle more than a laptop screen. I chose this 27” LG ($450)
I prefer sound, like media played from the computer, to be nice and clear. Often the speakers that come with computers or monitors don’t work that well, so I use nice-ish speakers that are powered by USB. Thankfully, the speakers we used for our Computer/TV in the guesthouse were impressive and I and transferred them into the new office. Creative Pebble Speakers are small but mighty. ($20)
The first thing we did for the office was plan for having a lot of outlets. That helps, but most of the office tech is centrally located, so I found a power strip with a flexible cord, mounting holes, flat plug, USB outlets, and surge protection. It’s been reliable and I like the design, in part, because it can be mounted under the desk. Addtam 10’ Power Strip Surge Protector ($20) I also use a wireless charging pad: Tozo W1 ($13)
I consulted with a couple of friends about reducing room noise and learned a few things. First, sound moves in predictable directions. If you are facing a wall and make a sound, the sound waves will bounce off the wall in front and also hit the wall behind you. This is the source of many echoes. I wanted to dampen the sound in the office by adding acoustical panels on opposite walls that absorb the sound waves rather than reflect them. I used two kinds, each with different looks and costs.
Rhino Acoustic Sound Panels – These are more functional than beautiful, but do the trick and can be arranged in a variety of patterns. $55 for 6 panels.
Acoustic Design Works – These are very effective and stylish. You can order them in a variety of colors and shapes. About $42 per panel.
I’ve been trying to figure out what should be in the background of my videos in addition to the colorful sound panels. I have enjoyed having a fiddle leaf fig in the shot, but fear that it will soon take over. (See above)
The office has a closing door, which helps. However, the dogs seem to get excited about me talking to someone in the room, so we sometimes usher them to the car with a handful of treats. Aside from that, my biggest problem was using a Macbook Air laptop for online meetings. It wasn’t quite robust enough and the fan noise became a problem. Now, I use a Mac Mini under the desk and haven’t heard any noise or had any performance problems since.
All the cords drove me a little crazy and made the office feel like an IT department. The problem was that the cords all had to stretch from the center of the table to the edge. My desk is inexpensive and over ten years old, so I thought it would be fun to customize it by drilling a big hole in the center of it, where all the cords could disappear from sight. Pardon my bragging, but this was a stroke of minor genius. Just don’t look under the desk!
I’m feeling more confident about the office set up all the time. Getting it right means constantly tweaking settings, organizing the gadgets, and more. Now that the days are shorter, I need to up my darkness game and there are always more ways to dampen sound. One thing that can’t be too disturbed is the space for Maybe to be while I work.
When you live in a small place, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of awareness. There can’t be that many secrets among a few thousand people on an island, right? After having lived on Orcas Island for a few years now, I’m realizing that the island is full of traditions that aren’t at all accessible, or obvious.
We share a chat app with a few groups of friends on the island and a couple of the women started to talk about finding paddleboards for Halloween. Paddleboards? What a weird thing to use as part of a costume, I thought.
After a bit of questioning, I found that there is an island tradition called “Witches on the Water” or “Witches Paddle” that takes place on Halloween day. Just like it sounds, women on the island dress as witches and paddle around a section of the island and back.
This was news to me and I didn’t want to miss it. There were no announcements or fliers. In fact, the only way we knew the location and timing was by asking friends. I believe this is by design. No one, I assume, wants it to be a big deal and I hope the witches forgive me for highlighting it here.
On an uncharacteristically sunny fall day, about 40 witches boarded their vessels and paddled out across the cold waters of the Salish Sea.
All-in-all, not a bad way to spend a Halloween afternoon.
It started on what seemed like a typical autumn day. The weather was calm and Sachi was feeling the pull of crab traps. That feeling, which I feel too, is similar to the feeling of gambling; a rush that comes from the chance to win. Every fisher feels it, I assume, and many know that as long as you’re on the water, there’s no way to lose.
We boarded Short Story and headed out to Deer Harbor with our supplies in a small bucket, a cooler, and a dry bag. The whole process happens by rote at this point, having gone to check the traps on most days of every week since mid-July.
This day would be different, but not that remarkable in isolation. As one of the traps came to the surface, I heard Sachi say, “Whoa!” in a tone that was part surprise and part anxiety. It looked as though an alien had entered the trap. It was a bright orange sunflower sea star with 19 arms and we weren’t sure what to do.
We both were flummoxed for a moment. We knew sea stars are harmless to people, but this 19-armed creature looked like it evolved to be a warning to humans, like a brightly colored spider or snake. Some scientists now believe that our reaction to spiders and snakes is innate and not learned. Perhaps, somewhere in the backs of our minds, an ancient voice was telling us that the bright orange creature in our trap could be dangerous.
In reality, we humans are far more dangerous to it.
Sea stars on the pacific coast of the US have had it rough recently. Starting in 2013, over 90% of them died due to sea star wasting disease. No one is certain what caused it, but many think the culprit was a sudden change in ocean temperatures. Sea stars that used to be incredibly common in our area simply vanished over a few years. Since then, the ocean ecology seems to have been out of balance.
The widespread collapse of sea stars, a top predator and keystone species, has had dire consequences for many of the West Coast’s marine ecosystems. For example, the local extinction of sunflower sea stars, which can live for up to 65 years, has led to an explosion of their primary prey, the Pacific purple sea urchin. On a single reef in Oregon, the population of these animals increased 10,000-fold between 2014 and 2019, to more than 350 million individuals.
I was aware of their plight and we brainstormed how to get the sea star out of the trap unharmed and back into the water without touching it. But first, I needed to take some photos. With that out of the way, we dipped the trap back in the water and turned it on its side, and with a little shake, it fell out gently and drifted back down to the shadowy depths.
My first thought was our friends on the island who work for a non-profit organization funded by UC Davis called SeaDoc Society. Their work focuses on ocean science and the rehabilitation of the Salish Sea and its inhabitants. I looked forward to sharing what I thought was a good sign for sea star recovery. I put the photo on Instagram first.
A week or so passed and an idea struck. I enjoy browsing Reddit and occasionally post photos. One of the communities that seemed perfect and has over 19 million members is called, “Mildly Interesting“. I thought the sea star fit that description, so I shared the photo on Reddit with a short note about it being endangered. This is where things started to hit high gear.
Reddit is designed to be a democratic system. Once something new is posted, the members of the community can each give it one vote: up or down. When something gets traction, the upvotes outnumber the downs, and the post has the potential to ascend to the top of the community page and possibly reach the front page of Reddit itself.
When I went to bed that night, it was obvious the photo struck a chord. It had thousands of upvotes, with new votes coming by the second. I couldn’t wait to check my phone in the morning to see what developed as I slept.
To my surprise, the post received over 30k upvotes overnight and reached the Reddit front page at position #10. I was so excited and read almost every comment, including 100+ versions of the question, “how did it taste?” Such is Reddit.
That day, I received a succinct message from someone who asked if I was interested in licensing the photo to news organizations. I agreed. He sent over an agreement and questionnaire that gave me a chance to tell the story. I was careful to promote the photo as possible evidence of a sea star comeback and its connection to ocean ecology.
These kinds of relationships are unpredictable. I figured there was no harm in licensing the photo and I might earn a few bucks. More than anything, I expected nothing to happen.
A few days later, a friend on the island shared a link that was a surprise. Fox News had picked up the story and used the photo on their website along with quotes from me, the “fisherman”. I found it hilarious.
Messages poured in from friends and family calling me, “The Fisherman”. If only they knew that Sachi is the real fisher in the family. One of my favorite parts of the article is this quote at the end:
“LeFever did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.”
At a personal level, this was a fun and exciting event to watch unfold. But it’s also a reminder about how little this kind of media exposure matters. It had nearly zero impact on my career or livelihood. I did earn a $75 licensing fee for the photo, which is nice.
The real outcome, I hope, is building awareness about the sea stars of the Salish Sea and sea star wasting disease. Every person who learns about it is one more potential advocate for taking care of the ocean.
According to Reddit, my post has been viewed over 3 million times and shared over 1,000 times in the past two weeks. The Fox news article has been widely viewed and shared as well. It was not my intention, but I count the few minutes it took to share the photo as a small part I could play in helping the sea stars get more attention and hopefully rebound.
Since that first catch, we’ve seen three more sunflower sea stars in our traps, so there is growing evidence, at least from our boat, that they are coming back. Here is one escaping just as we pulled up the trap:
✅ What if you could build a small business that satisfies customers and promotes the lifestyle you want?
✅ What if you could work from home and earn a living without employees?
✅ What if measures of success included happiness, health, and free time, along with income?
In 2007, my wife and I set out to build a business like the one described above. We have achieved that goal and today, I’m sharing how we did it. It’s a decade-long story of hard work, ingenuity, and trusting relationships.
This 30-minute event is based on the lessons in my book, BIG ENOUGH, which tells the story of transforming our two-person company, Common Craft, into a successful business that’s built around the lives we want to lead.
It’s a story of calculated risks, business experiments, and an absolute belief that a business can be designed to promote the long-term health and happiness of its owners.
Join me in this FREE 30-minute event and I’ll walk through ten lessons we learned along the way.
What you’ll get:
30-minute presentation by Lee
A free chapter of Big Enough (digital)
The chance to win a signed copy of Big Enough, plus 3 stickers, and a pair of Big Enough Socks!
Saturday was supposed to be rainy, which is the norm for this time of year. I thought we’d do indoor house projects, like organize the garage or get to some painting touch-ups. Then, the weather cleared except for a brisk wind that was perceptibly warmer than it had been in days.
Sachi decided to head to the grocery store and we loaded up the car with trash and recycling for a trip to the transfer station on the way. I couldn’t help but think of the connection between her trips. Old food containers would become full again. My plan was to walk to a nearby nursery that was having a plant sale and she asked twice about dropping me off. I wanted to walk and she relented.
Not far from home is a wetland area that is often flanked with birders in the summer, who park on the side of the county road and lug long lenses along the shore. The wetland and its views are so commonplace to us that we don’t notice it often. But on this walk, I did.
Across the road from the wetland, I noticed a little trail leading up the hill that I’d never seen before. Long branches were arranged lengthwise on the sides of the trail, which I took as an invitation. After a short hike, I found a bench overlooking the wetland and a sign that marked it as public property.
I stayed on the hill for a while and took in the view. The wetland below has a story. In the 1970s, a neighbor, who was a professor of ornithology, noticed that the area was attracting a variety of birds. He worked with several neighbors, who owned the land, to create a conservation easement with the aim to establish a waterfowl preserve. They flooded the former fields and the fowl came in droves. Today, the preserve is managed by the county and is a permanent part of the island that is open to the public.
On an island like Orcas, there is always pressure to develop. Over time, much of the island, and especially the properties with shorelines, have been purchased and developed. But there are exceptions. Multiple organizations like the San Juan Preservation Trust work with property owners to preserve wild spaces so that the island can continue to offer access to the public and provide homes to wildlife. The waterfowl preserve is one of those spaces; a permanent slice of wildlife.
I walked back down the hill and by the preserve and eventually arrived at my destination: the nursery. Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead and Nursery is no typical nursery. It’s a destination that’s known around the world for expertise in the field of permaculture. They have been developing the property for over 35 years to be an example of a permaculture system at work. People arrive from all over to attend their design courses, become farm interns, and experience the homestead.
If you’re like me, you’re asking: perma-what? It’s a good question and one that seems more difficult to answer the more you learn about it. Any attempt to explain it is a risk and I’m sure some may take exception.
Permaculture is an approach to agriculture and lifestyle that is focused on sustainability, self-reliance and working within natural systems. In part, this means designing farms and gardens to work as a system that includes livestock, water, waste, energy, and vegetables. A common example is a chicken, which not only produces meat and eggs but consumes plant waste and produces manure that serves to fertilize the ground. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Visiting the nursery is a cultural experience. A number of people live and work on the homestead, which is a maze of houses, gardens, greenhouses, and farming equipment. The people who work there are amazingly knowledgeable and very friendly. They all seem to adhere to what seems like a standard style: dirt-encrusted farmer, and proud of it.
I browsed one of the nurseries by the entry and considered a couple of trees that were priced at 50% off, but I was walking. Trees are popular among permaculturists, as they represent a permanent part of the garden that can produce fruit and shade, and be enjoyed by both humans and livestock. That’s part of the idea. Instead of constantly pulling plants in and out of the soil, it’s better to plant something permanent.
At the side of the nursery, there was a tent where a couple was managing the transactions. I approached and asked about garden design services. A friendly worker said I should talk to Doug, who was further back in the property. She said, “He looks like a crusty permaculture dude.” Message sent.
I wandered into the maze to potentially find Doug, but also see what was there. Permaculture gardens are rarely the manicured gardens you might expect at a normal nursery. Instead it feels more laissez-faire and unkempt. Weeds mingle with plants, grass grows everywhere, and the property is dotted with pile after pile of decomposing plants. This is all intentional and part of the idea. Nature is messy and unkempt and that’s how the plants like it.
I finally saw Doug who was deep in conversation among the rows, so I kept walking. I could have stayed at Bullock’s much longer, but the rain was coming back, so I made my way home. It is a fascinating place.
That evening the rain arrived on time and I heard the now-familiar pitter-patter of it on our skylights and metal roof. I had been anticipating it all summer and wondered how the rain would sound, especially at night when it’s time to sleep. Listening that night, I thought about permanence and entropy. Try as we might to establish wetlands, gardens, and homes to be permanent, the universe eventually has its way with human projects.
But I didn’t want to think too deeply about that while sitting in a new house. To me, Flattop is permanent. It will be here longer than me and in between, all the things that we see, hear, and do, are permanent parts of our lives. The sound of rain on the roof was one of them; a bit of gentle percussion on a permanent drum that’s perfect for sleeping.
You’ve probably heard, but worm poop is worth its weight in gold. At least that’s how it seems. The “castings”, as they are called, make for amazing garden fertilizer that you can buy. As we’ve discovered recently, you can also make it yourself, or run your own little worm farm/production facility.
When we lived in Seattle, the city encouraged composting on a city-wide scale. Along with garbage and mixed recycling, we had a yard waste container that was picked up every two weeks. We were supposed to put compostable food in the container with plants and leaves. In fact, we could be fined for not doing so.
We kept a little bucket under the kitchen sink with a compostable bag. When making dinner, food scraps went into the bucket and eventually into the yard waste container. When we first started composting, it seemed like a time-consuming extra step, but over time it made sense. Along with helping the city turn food waste into compost instead of it going to the landfill, our normal trash stayed relatively clean and less odorous.
Then, we moved to an island. In our location, trash trucks do not arrive to cart away trash, recycling, or yard/food waste. Like so many other things, we must do it ourselves and feel motivated to make it as easy as possible. Trash and recycling are easy and much more affordable than in the city. Every six weeks or so, we load up a vehicle and go to the transfer station.
Food waste is another matter. The island waste company is in the planning stages for a facility that processes compost where residents can drop off food and yard waste along with the trash. As always, the goal is to keep materials on the island instead of having to pay to remove it by ferry.
In moving into the new house, we needed to develop a system for our food waste. We consistently cook at home and produce a good bit of the stuff. Sachi started looking into what we could do and learned about vermiculture or vermicomposting, which means using worms to process food waste and turn it into fertilizer.
The idea is pretty simple: You put thousands of earthworms, like red wigglers, into an outdoor container with food waste. The worms eat the food and turn it into gold in the form of castings. That’s the beauty of this system. It converts waste into fertilizer for the next round of crops. Win-win!
Sachi researched how to make it easier and discovered a system called Subpod. This is a milk crate type of box with two bays for the food waste and walls with worm-sized holes.
You place the box in a raised bed with the majority of the box under the surface.
Then, you add worms, shredded paper, and food waste to the box, which becomes a buffet for the worms. The rest of the bed can be used to grow food.
Back when we built raised beds, we built one specifically for composting and sized it for two Subpods, just in case. Then, we ordered the Subpod and the worms. A few days later 2,000 red wiggler worms arrived in a bag from the perfectly named Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. We were in business.
They can come and go as they please in the surrounding soil and are likely to reproduce. Over time, the food waste turns into rich soil that can be transferred into a vegetable garden.
A lot of people build their own compost bins and they usually work great, but come with some issues. The food waste can attract pests and rodents, there can be unsavory odors and overall messiness. The Subpod mitigates the issues because it’s sitting in soil, with a cover.
Now that the system is rolling, we collect food waste in a small bucket under the sink, grab the coffee grounds and tear up some carbon-filled egg cartons or paper, and take them to the Subpod every couple of days. The composting process required aeration, so Subpod gave us a giant screw to mix it up and an insulating blanket to keep the compost covered so it keeps temperature and doesn’t dry out. Other than that, we just wait.
The instructions/rules for using the Subpod are handily placed on the underside of the bin:
When we give people a tour of our property, I often ask if they want to see our worm farm. And we are growing worms, but really, it’s a processing plant that processes plants.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.