Friday, January 30, 2009

Scoutmaster Mike: Going Back To Gilwell, Weekend 1

Last weekend, I had the chance to spend time with my fellow Wood Badge Staffer compatriots in our first “On The Hill” Course Development Weekend. Since I’m a first year troop guide, this is my first experience at this particular rodeo. Granted, I was a participant back in 2007, and I had a great time doing it. After I completed my projects and received my beads, I was surprised somewhat to get an email shortly thereafter to ask if I would be willing to serve as a member of the staff for the Spring 2009 “LDS Friendly” Wood Badge Course. After checking the schedule and bartering with Christina to see if it was doable, I finally said “Yes, I’m game, I’ll do it”.

To give you a little idea what a Course Development Weekend is all about, it’s where the staff comes together (for an entire weekend) once a month, usually six months in advance, and starts modeling out and practicing the presentations and blocking of the course. The syllabus for “Wood Badge for the 21st Century” is *HUGE*, and it’s a training event that goes from sun up until sundown (and later) for six days. In our area, these courses actually break up to be two full days and one half day over two weekends, with a break in between. That means that, to make sure everyone knows what they need to do and to schedule and plan everything correctly, these Course Development weekends are *critical*!

I arrived up at Boulder Creek after a moderate rain and the sections of Skyline and Hwy 9 that I drive to get there being encased in fog and cloud cover. To say I white knuckled it to get there would be an understatement. Still, all that washed away pretty quickly as I got in to the kitchen at Boulder Creek Scout Reservation and was greeted by my compatriots and we all sat down to a well cooked meal by our own “4 Bead Café” staff. Not only are the people who run the 4 Bead Café great cooks, but they all are former Course Directors for Wood Badge (not sure how many other areas that put on these trainings can say that  ). After we had dinner, we all took our gear and put it into our tents we’d be staying in for the weekend, and from there, we got down to business.

The most important thing for a first Year Troop Guide to do is get comfortable with making presentations, because as a Troop Guide, you will be making a *lot* of them! We had a bunch of the staff sit in on our presentations, and then we listened to feedback related to our presentation style, our content, our overall approach and the tools that we used. To say that this could be unnerving is quite the understatement (LOL!). Imagine standing in front of a bunch of people who have been doing this stuff for years, and you are the greenhorn giving his first practice presentation to a group of longtime vets! Add to the fact that my presentations were still on my computer, and had not been made into flip-books yet (as is Wood Badge custom) and I pretty much felt like I was standing in the middle of a six lane highway with my pants around my ankles. Fortunately, these old pros were there to help guide me, not rip me apart, and they also made it clear that they had all been in this exact same spot at one point, and knew what it felt like. After a round of presentation practice and some talk about other logistics, we all turned in late.

A hallmark of schedules for Course Development weekends is the fact that there is a lot to do and almost no time to do it all, so there’s very little down time. You’re marking or practicing or critiquing or being critiqued just about all the time, with breaks for meals and hitting the bathroom the only diversion. It’s a lot of work, but amazingly, it’s never dull. In many ways, but the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I was amazed at how quickly it all went. We then said our goodbyes and drove home, and I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one who thought to themselves “wow, that was a lot of work… I’m pretty tired… I can’t wait to get together and do it all again!”

See, I’m convinced that I’m weird and crazy, because I actually like this whole Staffer thing. What’s also great is that I feel like I’m really getting to know these other staffers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call many of them second family. I’m sure that for the veterans, they have those feelings on an exponential level. So I’ll be biding my time, practicing my presentations, changing things up here and there, and thinking about what I need to do so that I can make the most of my time “On the Hill” when I “Go Back to Gilwell” :).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Amber :)


My little girl turns eight today :). As many of you may know (and some may not) 8 is the age that children can be baptized and confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We will be celebrating that very event next Saturday, February 7th. Our friend's Sherri and Paul have a son (Seth) that is just one week younger than Amber (7 days exactly to be more precise :) ), and since these two have known each other since they literally were infants, we thought it only appropriate to celebrate their baptism together. We had a laugh saying that the flyer looks almost like a wedding announcement (LOL!). We hope those in the neighborhood can attend :).

Tonight we will be celebrating with a sushi dinner (Amber's choice :) ) and I'm sure Christina has a lot of fun things planned for her today. I'll be heading out a little earlier than normal so I can get in on some of it, but I wanted to make sure I told the world how much I love my precocious imp, and that I hope her day is really special today :).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Scoutmaster Mike: Nick's Eagle Project, Phase 2

Last Saturday, while I was away for Wood Badge Course Development Weekend, Nick arranged to have a few friends, family and helpers come to our house and drive throughout the neighborhoods surrounding us to pick up the items he hoped people would donate.

Nick made 1000 fliers that were distributed through a number of San Bruno neighborhoods the previous Saturday. The request was for items that would help the Peninsula Humane Society and their mission to help care for stray, injured and abandoned animals at their shelter. The crew below answered the call and much thanks to them (and a few others who are not pictured) for giving up a part of their Saturday to help Nick gather up the items:



Groups of two boys with an adult and a car/truck went out to go and gather up items that were on the curb in front of houses for this drive. To be honest, I wasn't sure how this would turn out, and not being there when it happened, I was all sorts of anxious while I was up at Course Development Weekend. Around 4:00 PM on Saturday, I had the chance to check my phone and see that I had a Voicemail message. As I listened, I heard the following (paraphrased)...

"Hi Dad, it's Nick. We've finished the Eagle project and... the garage is FULL! Seriously, you can't walk in here right now, it's a pile about three feet deep and covers the floor of the garage. So yeah, it was a success, and we have a lot of stuff. See you when you get home!"

When I got home Sunday afternoon, This is what awaited me:



Now, the collection phase is over, but there's still a lot more that Nick and others need to do. The materials need to be sorted, categorized, and condensed, where possible, and then need to be delivered to the Humane Society office. Oh, and then there's that little element called a "write up" that has to be done so it can be turned in, approved, and signed off. But overall, Nick has done very well with this project. Granted, he handles some things in ways that I personally wouldn't, and I try to make suggestions here and there (as does Christina) but it's important to let him drive this, and drive it in the way that he feels is best. If we do everything for him, it doesn't meet the requirement of a youth led and managed service project, so we have to appreciate that he'll do thing in certain ways, and we have to accept that (infuriating as it may be at times (LOL!) ).

As I close this missive today, I want to share one more picture. This was attached at one of the pick up locations by a Girl Scout troop that pooled together their contributions. I thought their leaving this sign as a way of encouragement was terrific, and I plan on keeping this as a part of his project to show him that people he doesn't even know are rooting for him and hope that he succeeds :).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ego Over Matter: Week 3: Shuttered Due to Impatience

Aggghhhh!!!!!!!

I hate having to write these, but every once in awhile, it happens. What really sucks is that it could have totally been avoided.

Yesterday, I got to work, had all my gym clothes and everything else I normally pack, but I realized I forgot something fairly important... my training shoes. I was wearing my black dress loafers, and the rules in the gym are you have to wear shoes. I felt bad that I had to miss two workouts last week, so in my impatience to get on with it, I decided to just buck up, look a little silly, wear my dress shoes with my workout clothes, and go about my workout. Big mistake.

See, I know this... workout shoes have support in places that dress shoes just plain don't. What's more, when you get used to a certain lifting mechanic, wearing different shoes can mess with your form. That's exactly what happened. As I was coming out of the hole in my second set of squats, I felt a twinge in my lower back. The instant it happened, I just muttered under my breath "awwww, crap!!!!", because I know what will progress from here. It's been almost two years since I've had a back wrench ordeal, but it's here again, and oh, let me tell you, it is not fun at all!!!

What happens first is a slight bit of tenderness and a little bit of stiffness in movement. Getting up and sitting down becomes a little challenging, and then walking becomes a slow and laborious effort. However, the true extent of the damage and how bad the ordeal will be is never full discovered until the following morning, after you have had a chance to sleep (that is, if you get the chance to sleep). When I got up this morning, I could barely stand without whimpering or gritting my teeth. I actually went and got my hiking staff so I could hobble around the house. Needless to say, I'm working from home today.

I know the drill, and I know the exact steps to follow.... 800mg of Ibuprofen four times a day for the next four days, Ice and compression on the muscles followed by a bit of heat, and then repeat the process. Lie down with the hips slightly lower than the rest of the body for a period of 10 minutes, and then slowly stretch the muscles to get them to relax as much as possible. Within five days, I'll be somewhat back to normal.

Wow, it sounds like I'm an expert at this particular ailment, doesn't it? Well, that's because I am an expert, at least I am when it comes to my own back. The sad thing is, I thought I had this beat two years ago, when I dropped fifty pounds. Well, over time and with my desire to get stronger, I let a fair amount of that weight come back. Now I will have to pay the price for that decision, as carrying more weight around the middle exacerbates this problem. It's frustrating because I'd dealt with this on and off for over a decade, and having had a reprieve from it for two years was wonderful. Having it back in my life again is both disheartening and frustrating. And it was my own impatience that caused it to happen. I felt guilty about blowing off a workout for a stupid reason, and then I did not adjust the workout because of the change. Both mistakes will cost me big time in the coming weeks and months. The worst issue? Squats and Deadlifts are officially off my list of training for at least 8 weeks (insert Fred Flintstone curse mutterings here).

Well, this is not going to be fun, but it's life and it's where I'm at. It's looking like I'll not be training the rest of this week, and many other activities will have to be curtailed until I can get somewhat back to normal. So a word to the wise, or at least those who don't suffer from impulsive impatience... if something causes a change to your routine, don't be afraid to change your routine, of call it of entirely until you get everything back to normal again. Otherwise, you may find yourselves, like me, hobbled due to impatience.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Madd Money: The Economy and the "Mall Effect"

I realize that I probably seem a little bit strange in this day and age, where very prognosticator is talking about "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" and "consumer spending falling off a cliff" and many other doomsday scenarios. I also find it interesting how much of it lined up perfectly with a presidential election cycle.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that there aren't dark clouds about, or that there aren't people who have genuinely gotten hit with the current economic downturn tht we are seeing, nor am I denying that we are currently in a recession (now that there is concrete data that proves the point), but still, I've yet to see major indication that life as we know it is about to end.

One of the prime indicators that I notice, and I see it every day when I come home from work, is the "Mall Effect". My train station is next door to one of the Peninsula's better known malls (The Shops at Tanforan). In this economic downturn and the loss of consumer confidence and all that's been reported, I'd expect the mall parking lots to be empty or at least closer to half full... yet that's not the case at all. Instead, the lots looks to be 80-90% full on any given day. Now, it's entirely possible that there are a lot of people out just "window shopping" or "hanging out" (and let's face it, that's a common pastime for a few generations of teenagers now, I know it was when I was one), but that still points to the fact that people are out and about in the marketplace. Additionally, at least with the people that I am currently talking to, there has not been a major increase in unemployment. For every hundred or so people I know, I think there may be one or two that are now looking for work because of being laid off... and hey, that fits with the current numbers.

So what's my point with this particular missive today? I'm a strong believer in the notion that "my economy" is more important than "the economy". What's more, "my economy" is really the only one I have any control over. I want to encourage everyone to focus less on "the economy" and look to your own economy instead. How are you doing? What does your savings rate look like. How are your retirement contributions? What does your liabilities side of the balance sheet look like. To borrow from the oft sung primary song, have you "built your house upon the rock" or have you "built your house upon the sand"? If you have built your house upon the rock of holding tangible assets from a position of actual ownership, then as the rains come down and the floods come up, it's a good bet that your house will stand firm. If, however, you have "built your house on the sand" of credit and leverage, this may prove to be a very challenging time, and as the rains come down and the floods come up, we may well see may houses built on the sand "wash away".

Granted, that particular song is meant to be a metaphor for building a testimony and having faith, but it's not too far a stretch to apply it to your own economic well being. Take a look at where you are at today. Look to see if you have a cash emergency fund, if you can clear out debt, if you can make a larger contribution to your etirement savings, and while you are at it, perhaps make a point of picking up some long term staples to keep in your home. If you find that yor house is currently built on sand, consider this a chance to move and rebuild on rock (and for those scared of the market gyrations, consider that this may well be a great time in the history of the market to get a *great* deal on the market as a whole, which is how I'm treating it :)!).

Most of all, look around you and see what is happening in your own life. Don't give too much attention to the pundits and the prognosticators. They are paid to pontificate on the overall state of the world as a form of entertainment. Personally, I'd rather look at the actual numbers and actual actions... and judging from such actual actions like the "mall effect" in my town, it doesn't look to be as dire as the talking heads are making out to be. Time will tell if I'm right or wrong on that particular front, I guess :).

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Take on "My Japanese Coach"


Well, it took me less than one month to go against my original statement, but based on the reviews I have seen and many of the comments that I have received regarding it, I decided it was time I bit the bullet and spent a little money on my quest to learn Japanese.

My first foray into the language was to get the book Japanese Step by Step, written by Gene Nishi, from my local library. It helped me to get a feel for things such as Hirigana and Katakana, and helped me to see how Kanji is constructed. It also showed me a number of areas that I could develop for formal speech. It was an intertesting read and worth it to get through the first five chapters.

My second resource was to use Marc Bernabe's book "Japanese in MangaLand", also from the public library. I quite enjoy this book, as it uses something I'm already familiar with (i.e. untranslated Manga panels) to put the language into situational context that I can actually see, and thus it has helped me increase my immediate understanding of some things. This is definitely going to be a repeat checkout item, and may well be a purchase later on down the road.

Both titles have drawbacks as I see itThe first is the fact that, since Hirigana, Katakana and Kanji are so foreign to me, that I started spending a lot of time writing down the characters so that I could hope to remember them and understand them. I am developing some ability to write and recall Hirigana and Katakana, but I have to admit it's going slowly. Additionally, while it's great to "read" the text and learn how to write it, I was missing a third element, and that was how the words should sound. Granted, the roma-ji and lower-case and capital case helps a little, but there are nuances that are lost when only text is available as a reference. Additionally,I wanted to have something that let me hear what I was saying and give me a chance to critique it. Short of finding someone who is fluent in Japanese (and has a lot of patience to sit with me) what's a guy to do?

An answer was shown to me when a co-worker suggested that I check out the video game "My Japanese Coach". This is a title published by Ubisoft and is made for the Nintendo DS (of which I just happen to have :) ). It has the ability to show pronumciation, allow the individual the ability to record their voice and compare it with the original pronunciation, and it has a writing tablet that lets the user practice writing Kana and Kanji as often as they wish. Each level has a variety of practice exercises and "mini-games" that must be cleared to earn "mastery points"; you have to earn mastery points before you can continue to the next lesson. There are a total of 1,145 "lessons", with various mini-games packaged with each lesson. I have gotten through just three of them so far, and with that, my master rank is that of "Baby"... as you can see, I have a long way to go (LOL!).

So what made me break down and get this title? First, I liked its interactive capabilities, and the fact that it allows me the ability to practice writing characters endlessly without having to use up reams of paper (environmentally sound, ooh :) ). Second, the pronunciation element is very helpful, as it lets me hear how the words are supposed to sound, and the ability to record and compare my voice with the game voice is neat. The mini-game aspect is cool, in that it gives me several ways to master the material and it does so in an engaging and fun manner. The real kicker here, though is the replay value and the total time per dollar of purchase. If we look at each "lesson" and say that each one will ultimately average an hour of my time at minimum (currently, I think that is possibly an understatement, but it may be more accurate as I become more proficient), then this is a game that has, at minimum, 1100 hours of play time. Take some time to think about that... that's a lot of replay value for $30.00.

Does the program have its drawbacks? According to a number of native speakers, yes. There are some isses with stroke order on certain characters (and yes, that can make a difference in how the words are pronounced or accented, I've discovered), so this most certainly will not be my be-all and end-all or definitive source. Still, with what it offers, and for the price, I felt it would make for a good investment.

No matter what method is employed, the user ultimately has the best chance with the tools that work the best for them. I'm intrigued to see how this program holds up in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Madd Money: Thoughts on National Thrift Week


I owe Blunt Money for this one, so credit goes to her for stimulating the topic...

Started in 1916, and running until 1966, there was a "National Thrift Week", where the focus was to "a coast-to-coast celebration of American ideals like diligence, hard work, responsible consumerism, and smart saving". Instead of self-denial, the main focus was to develop self-control.

In some ways, today, self-control has become a dirty word. We have been raised in an era where self-control has not had to be exercised by many. Easy credit and easy terms and "how much a month" has done a lot to erode the ideas of waiting and saving for a goal. I'd compare it to someone who discovers alcohol (and I ask forgiveness from LDS readers who would gasp at my including such a comparison, but we have ample evidence of exactly what happens to people who drink to excess without appropriate restraint). It can be argued that, for many, having a little taste of wine or spirits does little or no harm, but diving in and drinking to excess can have both acute issues the next day (intense hangover) or chronic issues over time (alcohol dependency).

Using credit to excess also can leave you with both a nasty acute hangover in the short term and a potentially chronic debilitation when it comes to long term financial health. Self control, on the other hand, allows the person to keep a healthy distance between behaviors that will be detrimental, and allow them to do things that will be beneficial to them (and as for me and my LDS ilk, alcohol has been something we have been specifically guided to steer clear of completely. Were it that debt could be so completely proscribed :) ).

But there is more behind National Thrift Week than just self-control. Here are some of the ideas that "Bring Back National Thrift Week" wants people to have in the front of their minds:

Reestablish an On-Going, Year-Round Public Education Campaign
Create a Thrift Savings Plan Available to All Americans
Support Credit Union Expansion and Innovation
Expand Community Development Finance Institutions
Repurpose the Lottery
Reform Usury Laws
Keep Credit Card Companies off Campus
Establish More and Better School Savings Programs
Create State Commissions on Anti-Thrift Institutions
Create a U.S. Financial Products Safety Commission
Question "More Consumer Spending" as a Main Solution to Economic Problems

There's more ideas, and many of them will probably raise a few eyebrows, and I'll confess to not exactly having warm fuzzines for every one of the ideas, but having a dialogue on this topic is definitely long overdue.

If you’re interested in helping to bring back National Thrift Week, visit their web site at www.bringbackthriftweek.org.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

25 Random Things...

Twenty five random things about me (I did this on Facebook a couple of days ago, and decided I liked the list and want to keep it around :) )…

25) It takes a lot of effort for me to sleep past 4:00 AM on any given day.

24) I’m an all purposes omnivore. I’ve yet to come across a food item in general “cuisine” that I will not eat.

23) I am actively learning Japanese… I’m not necessarily doing a real good job of it or progressing rapidly, but I am actively learning it (LOL!).

22) If I ever get the opportunity to serve a “couple’s mission” with my wife, my first choice is to do it in Japan.

21) Snowboarding == breathing to me. I hope I can ride up to my dying day (and also hope that that day is *way* in the future).

20) My Facebook friends list is a bizarre cross section and culmination of my life and varied interests… good luck trying to figure out who belongs with whom (LOL!).

19) I’m “Otaku” (Manga and Anime Geek) and proud of it.

18) My current favorite band in the world is The Seatbelts.

17) I’ve been married now for 16+ years and am loving every minute of it.

16) I qualified to represent South Lake Tahoe in the Master’s Division at the USASA Nationals in 2004, but couldn’t go because I had finals for school scheduled the same week.

15) Facebook has actually helped me “reunite” with lots of people from my past, but most telling is it has reunited me with *all* of my former High Wire/Vanishing Eden bandmates :).

14) My little nephew Travis rules and I totally dig him.

13) I am excited that both of my sisters are finally engaged! I can now acknowledge the existence of the men in their lives (it’s a brother thing (LOL!) ).

12) I am torn between rolling my eyes at my son and his “emo-tasticness” and smiling because he’s actually pretty darned savvy and knowledgeable when it comes to current music. I still roll my eyes, of course; it’s a mandatory part of the “Dad Code” :).

11) My kids have willingly followed me into my obsession with Native American Pow Wows, and they are becoming rather good at their chosen dance styles (Amber does Fancy Shawl, Karina does Jingle Dress, Nick does Southern Fancy Dance, and I do Northern Grass).

10) My voice can be heard in a video game (you have to own “Karaoke Revolution Volume 3” or have an Xbox Live account, but if you play KR and load the song “China Grove”, the “guide singer” that you hear is me :) ).

9) I am a trivia geek of the highest order, and some of the obscure things I remember are a bit disturbing.

8) About half of the music on my iRiver is of Japanese origin. The other half is obscure early 80’s alternative or Native American Pow Wow songs.

7) I have a sewing machine and I’m not afraid to use it.

6) My kids are every bit as “Otaku” as I am.

5) I’m in the market for a crew cab 4x4 pickup. Is anyone selling one :)?

4) I am rabidly anti-debt. My mantra is “I don’t borrow money!”

3) I am not someone who ever does anything half heartedly. Either I could care less about something or I’m all in, usually to obsessive levels. Snowboarding, Scouting, Native American Dance, Japanese Culture, Life-Hacking, Debt Elimination, etc… all of these are truly over the top excessive passions of mine :).

2) I have a strange fixation with cleaning and organizing things, but it usually doesn’t come into play unless there’s something else mission critical that I need to do (when I was back in school, Christina always knew when finals were just around the corner, because the house became steadily and more extremely clean each day).

which leads me to the number one random thing about me...

1) I am the textbook case for Procrastination

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Humor in the Situation

I received an interesting comment over the weekend, and it led me to do a little bit of reflection. Someone commented that it was amazing how much of myself I put out there, and the way that I can comment on it, both the good things and the bad, or if not actually bad, at least potentially embarrassing.

I thought about this for a little bit, and I came to realize a few things about myself over the past couple dozen years or so. Somewhere between the ages of 15 and 22, I developed a sense of humor, and I think in many ways, that has made a tremendous difference in my life.

To put this into comparison, when I was a teenager, I felt very isolated and somewhat out of step with everyone else I knew. For the longest time I thought it was something related to my personality or my "just not belonging". Looking back at those years, I was painfully shy, very awkward, and absolutely resistant to anyone poking fun at me. Being the butt of a joke or in any way being ridiculed was the most painful thing for me, and I'd often lash out at people who did it. Needless to say, this invited similar treatment to continue. It stemmed from wanting so desperately for people to "like" me, and so I'd try so very hard for people to like me by any means necessary... hardly a recipe for success. Looking back, I realize that I was a bit of a miserable twerp... who would want to hang out with someone like that?

As I grew older and put myself into endeavors that required criticism and rejection, I learned to open up and let go in ways I was never really willing to before. Two primary expoeriences in this vein were working for a modeling agency and being a musician. Modeling was fun in a way, but talk about learning to deal with rejection! I remember well going out for well over a hundred calls and getting asked to participate in perhaps a dozen or so opportunities. To put that into perspective, that was less than a 12% success rate... but it also meant I got to do a dozen or so things I wouldn't have done had I not gone out there. Likewise, it helped to teach me that really little things like the placement of my eyes, or the skin tone that I had, or the part and texture of my hair, while practically identical to the other person, made a difference between getting a gig or not getting a gig. What can you do in those situations? I learned to laugh about it. I also learned to laugh at some of the calls I went out on, as well as some of the more interesting propositions for work I received (and believe me, in San Francisco, as a male model, you can get some rather intersting, and some might say frightening, propositions... and yes, there were quite a few I turned down for being a little too interesting (LOL!) ).

As a musician, I had to deal with a totally different kind of rejection. I wanted to play in modern rock or alternative bands, but I didn't have a voice that lent itself to that styling. I had a big, loud, scratchy rock voice that worked great with heavy metal. Now, don't get me wrong, I like metal just fine, but it was not my core influence, and singing about metal stuff just never felt entirely right with me. My first band has all sorts of songs that I wrote in deadly earnest that were, for all practical purposes, me wearing a mask and pretending to be someone else. I learned to deal with the rejection and the "inauthenticity", and slowly opened up to letting myself be more "me" as time went on. In effect, I learned to let those alternative influences come through and be part of my style. So what if they didn't exactly fit the music I was performing... we weren't a cover band, so why should it matter if my influences were more Sisters of Mercy than Guns N' Roses? With that, I decided that a smile would do more than a sneer, and a touch of humor would often disarm people and make them more comfortable.

Later on, when I started writing in newsgroups and such, I came to a realization early on that, when someone approached a topic with a little bit of humor, and sometimes with a bit of self-deprecating humor, it allows others to share with you and feel less pensive or guarded. It also allows you the ability to make comments about what you see on a slightly safer ground, since it's lots easier to comment about people's "motes" when you've adequately identified your own "beams" :).

So yes, when people see what I write and wonder how I can be so open and so willing to skewer myself in public, the answer is that it took a lot of time and realization that, in many ways, whether it be an accomplishment, a failing, a shortcoming or even a tragedy, sometimes the best way to deal with it and communicate about it is to find the humor in the situation, and put the humor up front. Honestly, the alternative is just way to painful to deal with much of the time, but somehow, finding the humor makes even the worst times feel a little more bearable :).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Scoutmaster Mike: Nick’s Eagle Project is Underway

On Friday Night, Nick invited some of the boys from the Troop to come over and start getting things set up for his Eagle Project. Nick decided to create an Animal Needs drive for the Peninsula Humane Society. To that end, we had a friend of ours at church create a flyer that we could distribute. The flyer was then duplicated onto 500 sheets of paper.

The goal was to get a group of the boys together, cut the paper so that each page produced two flyers, punch a hole in the top of the paper, thread and loop a rubber band through the top of each flyer. This took the assembled group about three hours to do, and then they went upstairs and played video games until late into the night.








The next day, we had a bunch of additional helpers and drivers come join us so that we could distribute the flyers to 1,000 houses. We mapped out three housing sub-divisions in San Bruno to get that total number, and then we hit the road and started hanging flyers.












About three hours later, we received confirmation that the 1,000 flyers were all distributed. To close out the day, a number of us descended on the Extreme Pizza in the Bayhill Shopping Center.




Next Saturday, the boys will go back to those houses and streets and see what has been setout for them to pick up. Since I will be at a Wood Badge Development weekend, I will not be able to help out this time, so it will all be on Nick’s shoulders to direct and guide the participants (as it should be, actually :) ).

Wow, it’s hard to believe that we are finally on our way to making this all happen, but by this time next week, all that will be left is to distribute the items we collected.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Madd Money: The Economics of “Stepping Up” A Vehicle

This is something I’ve been considering for several years now, and I think it may well be time to do something about it. I’m a snowboarder, I’m a Scoutmaster, I help advise a Dance Team, and I work with Order of the Arrow on various projects. Thus, I am seriously considering getting a full sized 4 wheel drive crew cab truck.

Now, I realize that that is a blasphemous statement to make... What?! A truck in this day and age?! Again, I’m thinking about this based on the things that I actually do. I camp regularly with a scout troop and I often haul youth and equipment with me to many places. The past couple of years, I have been packing up my Ford Escape to the bursting point, adding hitch racks and roof racks and all sorts of other options to it. I was about two steps away from buying a small trailer to better carry stuff when I finally said “you know.. a truck would just plain make a lot more sense!”

Now understand, I am not talking about anything fancy here. I’m not even talking about anything that necessarily looks pretty. All I want is a vehicle that runs well, will be durable, has off road capability, and can, in a pinch, act as a hotel for me and one other person if necessary. It would also be a vehicle that I could put four or five passengers in (i.e. a modest crew cab vehicle with a six foot bed would be very cool).

Let’s be frank... I realize full well that I will be, for all practical purposes, slowly destroying this vehicle. This is not a purchase for cruising or impressing anyone, it’s for going off road, running on non-paved areas, going up to the snow, out to the desert, and any number of other places. Therefore, I’m not looking to spend a lot of money to do this. Ideally, I’d like to potentially take the fair market value of my 2001 Ford Escape, whatever it will sell for, and use it to purchase something that will fit the bill. The good news is that I don’t need this immediately, so I can wait and see what comes around in the coming months. “Crew Cab 4x4 5000 10000” is now a regular expression I’m keeping close tabs on :).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Madd Money: The Cost of a Great Day of Riding



Every year I look at my favorite sport and I realize that it becomes more and more expensive to indulge in it as time goes on. While I can appreciate the fact that inflation has its sinister little hand in all of this, it's also impacted by having three growing kids and their desire to participate as well.

Yesterday, Nick and I went up for a day of riding at Nick's favorite snowboarding destination; Homewood, which is right on the shore of Lake Tahoe. I have a deal with each of my kids that, so long as they are doing well in school, one day a year I am willing to let them have a day off from school to go riding with me. This has two benefits. The first is that it encourages great participation in school. The second is that, midweek, most ski areas offer discount lift tickets :).

Just for grins, Nick and I decided to see what a day of snowboarding would actually cost us. We're both well used to the "day tripper" lifestyle when it comes to snowboarding, both from an economic as well as a time standpoint. Here's the breakdown.

Bridge toll to cross the Carquinez Bridge: $4.00
Breakfast (in the car; bagels and cream cheese, water, grapes): $3.00
Gasoline purchased in Auburn: $20.00
Lift Tickets: $49.00 (midweek discount $39 adult and $10 youth prices)
Lunch (brown bagged; PB&J sandwiches, juice boxes, snack bar, apple): $3.00
Gasoline Purchased in Vallejo: $27.00
Dinner in Vallejo (McDonalds; Kids meal and small combo meal, strawberry shake ): $8.25
Bridge toll to cross the Bay Bridge: $4.00

Total money spent: $118.25

Now, to be fair, that value might look a little inflated since I gassed up in Auburn after not starting the trip with a full tank (with these comparisons, it's always best to start from a full tank, then add on what gas was purchased along the way, with a top off when you get home). Still, the Escape averages about 18-20 miles per gallon, and the round trip is about 440 miles from San Bruno to Homewood, so $47 for gas seems about right (and was a nice surprise after a few years of $3.00 a gallon gas prices :) ).

This cost is of course going to vary depending on where we go, what the gas prices are at the time, and other factors. We can't get around the bridge tolls, though Fastrack is looking like a better deal every day :). Packing our own food makes a big difference in total cost outlay (resort food is * ridiculously* expensive) and packing dinner would certainly help as well (when I go by myself, I usually do just that), but I usually include a stopover for food when I bring the kids.

However, the true value of the day isn't as tangible as a dollar amount would indicate. To borrow a line from those Visa commercials... "watching my son grin from ear to ear after spending a great day on the hill... PRICELESS" :)!



Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shedding Of Innocent Stuff: The Dreaded Room, Aftermath :)

PARCA came and took all of the extra stuff away (well, at least all I could bear to part with at this given point in time, that is :) ). So how does everything look now?



The closet that had three shelves of VCR tapes and DVD's? Cleared out. Now it's just clothes... and a Styrofoam head to hold my Wood Badge regalia and preferred scouting hat... OK, I admit it, that's a little weird (LOL!).



What to do with all of the various tchotchkis? I figured they'd look good on the window sill. Well, *I* like them there, anyway :).



The book shelf after a MAJORpurge. The Samurai swords and cedar flute now look like they actually belong there :). Plus, the bunch of white storage boxes that were sitting on the side table have been relocated and are no longer front and center (thank goodness). A cork board and accordion file now act as the place to catch papers and notices.



Notice that the behemoth computer armoire is now practically empty. When I bought this big piece of furniture almost ten years ago, it housed a massive 23" CRT monitor, a Sun SPARC class server and just about every computer item I ever owned. Needless to say, I've downsized my rig considerably since then... perhaps the desk should be downsized correspondingly (jury is out on that one at the moment :) ).



The other side of the closet. Having made enough room by liberating several pairs of pants out into the wild (wow, that almost sounds suggestive (LOL!) ), I determined that I had enough room to place the office chair when I'm not using it in there. Since the computer armoire has a retractable desk surface, and since it closes up, there's no simple place to put the computer chair. Having the ability (and the room) to tuck it away in the closet is a huge space win!



And here's the odd "over the stairs" closet. The white boxes that used to be out on the bookshelves and the side table have been repurposed and put in here. Moast items either have a designated shelf or area they now belong to, and most are immediately accessible now. Truth be told, I can probably do more with this, but all things considered, this is a major improvement over what was there before :).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: The Dreaded Room, Take 2

It’s rare for me to post a Shedding entry two days in a row, but I figured it was time to give an update. Yesterday, I wrote about how I was up at 3:00 AM trying to get a handle on this. Well, yesterday when I got home, I decided to keep doing what I was in the process of doing.

I am one who finds that the best way to bring order to chaos is to jump in and go for the jugular. To that end, I decided to pull out all of the items in the closets (and I mean all of the items). Christina was overjoyed to see the office in the state it was in this morning, so she was noticeably dismayed when she say everything spread out on the family room floor and futon once again.

What were items found? Here’s some of the gems:

• a large set of videotapes from the Standard Deviants that covered mathematics from Algebra through Calculus (out of date and now available in their entirety through the San Bruno Library)
• some DVD’s covering “Learning to Skateboard” Volumes 1 and 2
• some old VCR tapes of "Snowboard Porn" (no, not really... that's what all of us snowboarders call the videos where riders are doing insane tricks and leaping off of massive cornices and riding sheer cliffs... it's all of the stuff of snowboarding fantasies, and us everyday guys just staring... and drooling.... and wishing we could be doing what we are seeing... OK, maybe porn is the correct term (LOL!) ). Anyway, I decided to keep my three favorite videos, and I let the others go.
• several music VCR collections that I had not seen since we moved into our house back in 1999 (obviously not all that important (LOL!) )
• about 50 cassette tapes that I really want to make sure I keep… and about 300 that I have not listened to in any meaningful way in 15-25 years. Seriously.
• two large format coffee table books that I’d read cover to cover, and really didn’t see myself reading or referencing again
• some clothes that I had decided had seen their day in my wardrobe, and was time to let someone else have a crack at them
• items associated with the dance team regalia making process. There’s a dedicated cabinet in the garage for all of these items now, thus they were easily relocated.
• lots and Lots and LOTS and ***LOTS*** of PAPER, from just about every imaginable source.

The paper is, without a doubt, the number 1 biggest challenge to keeping any semblance or order in this room. All of the financial transactions that relate to our house, our retirement and any investments we make is stored in here. Likewise, anything having to do with Scouting is also kept here. I confess, I’m paranoid about any financial transactions falling through the cracks, and I want to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to Scouting activities and responsibilities, so these are my all time worst offenders when it comes to “pack rat” tendencies. Still, I have found that there are good ways of tackling this stuff, and here’s what I’m currently doing.

I have a bunch of “Red” file folders. This translates to “Hot” or “This needs to be acted upon and soon". I have a large accordion folder in my office on a side table, and this is the landing area for all papers (well, ideally it is; sadly, that doesn’t happen as neatly and nicely as I’d like it to), and the Red folders stand out and get a daily perusing to see what I need to do “that day”.

I have a bunch of standard Manila colored folders, and these are my general purpose folders, i.e. active accounts and stuff that’s happening soon, but not urgent.

Finally, I have a bunch of “Blue” folders. These are my reference and my “pack rat” folders, where any data that is historical that I may need someday (perish the thought I should ever have to have an audit), they are there. My ultimate goal with the blue folders is to scan them and store off the contents onto a DVD (save the files that require a signature or otherwise).

Net result… I was up until 2:00 AM clearing all of this stuff out, and I have a cloth shopping bag full of papers that need to be sorted and dealt with. The good news is that I have an hour each day on the train to dig through these and junk the stuff that I don’t need (and though my paranoia is rampant, I am getting better about what to throw away).

Oh, one other cool thing I discovered through this process… the monster of an armoire desk that I have, while it is very nice and elaborate and closes off everything terrifically… is an absolute beast for the size of the room. What’s more, with the changes I’ve made, all that’s being used in it is the top surface to hold the laptop, an external drive and a wireless mouse and keyboard. In short, the humongous armoire desk may itself be a candidate for finding a new home.

Pictures coming soon :).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: Tackling the "Dreaded" Room


I think it's safe to say that we all have a spot in our lives that we either:

a. allow to be chaotic and messy to keep everything else together

or

b. one place just ends up being chaotic no matter how hard we try

In my life, there are two places that fit this bill. The first is (and has always been) the garage, but we have taken steps to rectify that. The second place in our house is the one that is much more troubling and more difficult to deal with. However, it's the one that gets to the point where it must be dealt with much more quickly than the garage. This is our "4th Bedroom", AKA my office.

Now, if this room were truly "just" an office, then it might be easier to deal with. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Due to some oddities in the way that our house was added on to by previous owners, the upstairs is a little unusual. The room itself has an odd shape. It's about 10' wide and about 12' feet deep, not counting the standard two door closet (which itself is about 5 1'2' wide and two feet deep). Add to that the fact that there is a bump-out that is four feet deep on both sides (to accommodate the staircase that leads upstairs to the addition), and you soon realize that this is a room that doesn't have a lot of options when it comes to actual floor and wall space. The bump-out does have an advantage, in that it has an extra single door closet space, but the floor of this closet begins two feet off the ground (again, because it needs to accommodate the stairway underneath, and having an angle in the room would have just plain looked odd).

Back when we first bought this house, this room served two purposes and two purposes only. It was my office, and it was where my music equipment went. It wasn't meant to be anything more than that. However, as our family grew and space for other items was needed, the closet became not just my closet for my clothes, but it also became storage for kids toys, family photos, video equipment, and all of the other things that families aren't sure what to do with. This of course spilled out into other closets, shelves, drawers, etc. Add to that fact that, at the end of the day, it just seems there's no place to put [fill in the blank], and it somehow ends up in here. Thus this room's life cycle is like an ocean wave, where the clutter and disorganization build up to the point where it forces action, and a flurry of activity cleans it out, but never 100%, because there's always something that needs to be taken care of and there's just never enough energy or time to completely take care of it, and then other areas of life intervene, and the room gets piled up again, and the cycle keeps repeating.

I actually woke up at 3:00 AM this morning with an urgent anxiety... I have to get a handle on this. It's ridiculous for there to be an entire room in a house that gets this treatment as often as this one does, but why is that the case? It's because of the multi-purpose and undefined notion of this room. It's an office, it's my closet, it's my personal library, it's storage for media, it's storage for scouting stuff, it's a spare bedroom/guest room... it's all of these things, but because we allow it to be all of that, often times it's none of those things, and more times than I care to admit, it becomes "that room where the door is never open, and the stuff is allowed to accumulate until we can't take it any more". Whenever people come over to our house and wonder that it is so clean, I always chuckle a little bit under my breath and think "just don't ask to see my office."

So how am I going to handle it differently this time? Here's my strategy:



1. I have a closet that is set up for clothes, and thus, I have decided that, if it is not clothing related, it does not belong in there. Somehow an entire three shelves have become dedicated to DVDs and VCR tapes, because we have no place else to put them.



2. There are a bunch of items in the odd closet over the stairs, and their relationship to each other is very questionable. This closet is going to be designated as the "office closet", meaning office supplies and work related materials ONLY will stay in here. All other items will need to be relocated or liquidated.

3. There is a large futon in this office that often ends up being a holding place for [FILL IN THE BLANK]. The futon is not all that comfortable a place to sit, and it doesn't make for all that good a bed when it's folded out. On top of that, it's also rather bulky in its overall size for the room, but it's been of good utility when we have needed a place for someone to sleep (be it when a kid is sick or a parent is sick). thus, for the time being, the futon stays, but it needs to be designated as a couch or a bed, not a clothes rack, filing cabinet or some other purpose.


4. This room needs to have a "perimeter sweep". Just like the garage, if an item stands in front of another item, it's not in a good place and needs to either be relocated or liquidated. As this cycle repeats, I realize that "liquidation" is often the most appropriate action, but boy is it tough sometimes to actually do that.

And thus, the never-ending struggle with this room continues. Since I do so much better with things when I somehow "bare my wounds" for the world to see, this room will now be the focus of "Shedding of Innocent Stuff" until it is purged. Do I think this will be the final time? Unlikely, as I have said this too many times to count, but I know that with public recognition of a problem, action follows. Stay tuned for further developments ;).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Madd Money: Free E-Book From Suze Orman Available for Seven Days



For those of you concerned about your financial situation, if I said there was a book that was available that could give you some ideas to implement immediately, that it was timely and overall well written, that it might well be the best small book you read this week… oh, and for a limited time, it’s actually FREE to download and keep if you get it before the cut-off date, would you read it?

If the answer is yes, then I have a suggestion for you... Oprah Winfrey had a program this week with Suze Orman, and Suze has written a book called “Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan”. This is available as a PDF format E-book, completely free, until Midnight Central time on Thursday, January 15th. Once you have downloaded it, you can save it to your computer and there it will be, ready for you whenever you want to use it.

A recommendation, though… it is an “Action Plan”, so if you are looking for some timely suggestions as to what to do for this calendar year (which may well prove to be challenging for many). this might be a book you might want to read sooner rather than later :). Suze has her fans, and her detractors, but from my reading of the material thus far, her advice is pretty good and I think just about everyone will find some items in here worthy of their consideration. Happy Reading!!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Letting a Kid Spread His Wings

Every once in awhile, you have a chance to see that something you have wanted to impress on someone actually comes to happen. I’m not entirely sure what I have decided to do is a good idea or a bad idea, but it’s how I was convinced to allow it that I want to share.

I’ve been a bit of an ogre when it comes to my kids’ online presence. Personally, I’m a Dysanite when it comes to interacting online (at least I’ve always attributed the following to Esther Dyson… “If you wish to be truly free, one must be 100% open about everything”). Thus I’ve pretty much always operated as an open book as relates to my own online presence. However, I’ve pretty much shot down any of my kids getting online because I was not sure they were able or ready to deal with it.

I told Nick several months ago as he was getting frustrated about my not letting him do certain things and reacting angrily or going off sulking… “dude, if you want to convince me that you should do something, that’s what you need to do… convince me. Not have a tirade, not cop an attitude, and not get in a huff because I don’t see your point of view. Find a way to convince me, and you might be surprised as to what I might do.”

Well, I came home and I found the following on my desk:

Dear Dad.

I am writing this letter to ask you to consider letting me have a Facebook page:

Please consider this:

1. [Friend’s Name] has one and he always talks about it. I promise not to write stupid things or put up any truly personal information (like phone numbers or address).
2. Mom is going to talk to [Friend’s mom] about the rules they have about it.
3. I agreed that mom can see it and check it whenever she wants to.
4. A lot of my friends have one and I want to be able to talk with them.
5. Mom says facebook isn’t as bad as myspace (we already had the myspace discussion, and that was a flat out “no”).
6. I will keep my profile and pictures private.
7. I won’t write anything bad (second time he mentioned this (LOL!)).
8. This is a way to be in touch with my friends and keep in touch with them.
9. I will be responsible.
10. This doesn’t cost any money (ooh, he’s hitting the “frugalist” in me (LOL!) ).
11. I will make sure to add only people I know.
12. I am not going to use this to make friends with strangers.
13. If mom ever sees me doing something wrong, she can take me off facebook.

So, Dad, I am asking for your permission to obtain a facebook page. I know you will make a wise decision, and please contemplate it deeply (most likely – yes :) ).

I Love You,
-Nick


And thus, I decided to let my son have a Facebook page, with three additional provisos:

1. His “first friend” will be me, with a “know” link that says I’m his Dad (with a fairly obvious connection that his picture is in my own facebook avatar)
2. I have his username and password, and I reserve the right to go in and monitor any and all communication on his page (including his Inbox).
3. I have editing right to change, remove, or block anything in he site that does not meet my approval.

I agreed to this for one reason and one reason only… he convinced me. He is now realizing that sulking, tantrums, or “buttering up” doesn’t work with me, but showing he has a game plan and understands the ramifications of what he may or may not do most certainly does. My goal all of these years has been to help my son grow up to make ethical choices and to understand the responsibilities that surround them. I certainly hope that this will not be one of those times where I think to myself “oh man I shouldn’t have done that”, but for now, I’m feeling pretty good about this decision. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I’m With The Band: The Beginnings

It may surprise people who meet me at this stage in my life, but when I was younger, I looked a lot different :). I remember distinctly the emotions and the attitude that led me into wanting to join a band when I was 18 years old. Prior to that, I was a music geek, loved music, had a level of minutiae knowledge of bands that was quite prodigious, and I enjoyed tooling around on my guitar, but honestly just figured that I wasn’t cut out to be a musician.

Well, that changed soon enough when I turned 18, and those changes had a profound effect on my life, in good ways and not so good ways. I’ve talked about these in many places over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever really told my story of my life as a musician and what it actually meant to me to be in that whirlwind for the near decade I was actively pursuing music as a career. Thus, it’s time to add another schizophrenic element to this blog. This is my first entry in what I guess will become a fairly significant series of posts called “I’m With The Band”. Today I’m going to start at what’s effectively “The Beginning”

Sometime towards the tail end of 1985, I broke up with a girlfriend, and that was a rather intense experience (it wasn’t one of those nice “can we still be friends’ type of breakups, either). I found myself dealing with a lot of emotions and frustrations that I wasn’t sure how to handle, but more to the point, I could make some clean choices if I wanted to. I could pour my attentions into my schooling (I’d just started my first year of college a couple of months before), I could pour my attentions into working and making some money, there was lots of things I could somehow do. I could start mending my relationship with people in my church, of which I was actively in the process of ticking off at least half of the people there at the time. What I didn’t expect was to be sitting in the college cafeteria one day, talking to another guy who I’d just met, sharing some quick conversations about music and what we liked and didn’t like, and how it seemed aggravating that all of the stuff we liked was spread around a bunch of different genres, and you were somehow weird if you liked more than one of them. Being a fan of New Wave and Heavy Metal? Sure, but pick one or the other, you can’t bge both or do both in the same band… or can you? With that casual conversation came the beginnings of a decade long pursuit.

On the plus side, I tried to play bass and be a meaningful “musician” in a band as it was forming, but ultimately I discovered what my true musical talent was, and that was as a singer. I would start to come out of my shell, inch by inch, and the introverted and shy, though hyperactive, kid would soon enough develop into a much more gregarious and forward (though still hyperactive) man. I made some great friends during these very formative first three years, where myself and my friend Mike Welsh (the aforementioned first conversation) would meet Eric Johnson, Jeff Winkler and Mike Kaluski (as well as a number of other people who would come and go) along the way as we developed our first true band.

Negatives that came from this time are entirely subjective, but there’s no question that my ultimate choice of going to BYU at some point was completely halted at this stage (I grew my hair out, you can’t have long hair at BYU, hence no attending BYU for me). In addition, I developed some *very* bad habits and attitudes about money at this time in my life, not at all helped by the fact that we wanted to get things rolling and *FAST*. To do that, you need gear, you need transportation, and you need to be able to promote your band in a broad manner. My answer to all of this was to get credit and run it up like a maniac, which I did in spades. It goes without saying that the rock and roll lifestyle is somewhat diametrically opposite of a lifestyle of an active Latter-day Saint. Is it possible to be a rock and roll musician and an active, observing member of the church? I’ll say yes, it is possible, but it’s definitely a challenging undertaking. Were I to recommend to anyone a course of action and a career path that included living the gospel standards to their highest level, I don’t think I would include striving to be a rock and roll star as being a good way to go about it. Of course, this is coming from someone who did not live up to those standards at that time in his life. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have shared that reality with my children (not in any vivid detail sense, mind you) but its common knowledge that Dad became inactive while he was a musician.

I’ll share more about the development of this first band (that went by three names; Crysis, Monikker and Ricochet) in our next installment :).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ego Over Matter: Week 1: Powerlifting Periodization Routine

It’s the first full week of 2009, and thus it’s the first week of my Periodization routine. This has been a shake-up to the system; only two days into it and my body is totally sore and I’m aching in places I haven’t ached in years (LOL!). This is a good thing; it means I’m getting away from being complacent and I’m taking a targeted approach to training.

This first week I’m working through the exercises and determining what my abilities actually are, with an emphasis on around 85% of maximum weight and doing 3-4 sets of 10 reps each. My routine is as follows:

Monday/Thursday:

Bent Legged Deadlifts
Powerlifting Style Squats
Leg Press
Leg Extension
Seated Leg Curls
Crunches

Tuesday/Friday:

Bench Press
Incline Bench Press
Close Grip Bench Press
Lat Pulldowns or Chins (though the latter will take awhile to get to, to be honest)
One Arm Dumbbell Rows
Biceps Curls
Crunches
Reverse Crunches

Weeks 1 through 4 will be marching up with lower weight and more reps until I determine what my peak level with 10 rep sets is. Wednesday is my day of rest… which doesn’t mean I don’t work out, I just don’t train with weights. Elliptical trainer or other cardio exercise will fill the time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Madd Money: "Dollar Cost Averaging" Or "All In"?

It's a new year, so I've been thinking of the markets and such lately with the new year and a new time horizon.

I’m paraphrasing a quote that I saw on AllFinancialMatters regarding the approach of “Dollar Cost Averaging”. The idea is that, as investors, those of us who invest a set amount each month in a retirement fund (401k, IRA, etc.) often refer to ourselves as “dollar cost averaging” in the market. The point that I found interesting was as follows:

“Not only do people think that they are dollar cost averaging when they actually invest 100% of their savings each month via 401(k) plans or similar (…) but also that they ARE dollar cost averaging.”

Hmmm... I had never really considered this in this light, to be honest. I know that, when I sold all of my single stock shares last year, I decided to not just go out and buy a bunch of shares of a mutual fund or Index fund. Instead, I opted to take the better part of a year and exhaust the funds slowly and invest them in the market at a set rate over the course of a year. Generally speaking, this turned out to be a smart move, because the value of the shares declined over the course of the year, and many of the shares that I purchased, especially after October, were at a serious discount from what I was paying in April. So in this sense, this meets the criteria of Dollar Cost Averaging, and Dollar Cost Averaging is what I was doing.

Now let’s turn to the more common scenario that most of us are familiar with, and that is our regular contributions to a 401K plan, ROTH IRA, or some other option such as straight mutual funds or stock shares. If I were to, say, take $2,000 every month, and that $2,000 was invested in the stock market through an enforced savings and investment plan (self directed or otherwise), I’m not really dollar cost averaging. In fact, I’m making a lump sum investment. I’m just doing it regularly enough that it follows many of the same rules as Dollar Cost averaging (meaning I buy more shares when the price is lower than I do when the price is higher. Were we to, instead, place all of our money first into a money market fund, from the start or finish of a year, and then take that lump sum and each month put a little bit of it into stock shares… yes, that would be true dollar cost averaging. It might also be seen by many as a bad deal, too, because those shares while locked up in cash could have the potential to earn gains and dividends higher than the cash interest (of course, with greater payout potential comes greater risk).

I found this whole discussion interesting because of the original blog post topic, which was “how long would it take to get even” when it comes to recouping the losses of 2008. The original blog’s point is that it might take 4 to 5 years, if the individual in question were to have invested on December 31st, 2007 and then done nothing at all until December 31st, 2008. Fact is, most of us don’t invest that way, nor do we have the benefit of huge windfalls of money at any given time. Most of us need to stay the course, invest in up times and down times, and as time marches on, those boom and bust cycles, when mixed in with higher purchases of lower priced shares and the potential for dividend yields for those less costly shares netting us more of them, it’s entirely possible that we will do alright over the years it takes to come back to the original value. However, it won’t really be “returning to an original value". Instead it will be varying investments at varying rates, where one month may have gains, another month may have losses, and when all is said and done, and all dividends are reinvested, and more shares are picked up over time, the net rate of return at any given time may well be a good, if not spectacular rate. Given enough time, these factors work even more in the individual investors favor (generally speaking).

Thus, my plan is to stay the course and keep putting in the rate that I am, which it turns out is an all or nothing bet made twice a month for perpetuity. Should be interesting no matter what happens :).

Monday, January 5, 2009

My First Step into Learning Japanese

Ohayo gozaimasu! Jikoshokaisimasu!

Yeah, that's not much, but hey, I'm just starting out :).

I made a goal this year that I wanted to learn conversational and written Japanese, for what is probably a fairly silly reason. My love of Japanese Manga and Anime is the driving force behind this, and the biggest reasons are that I want to actually read, hear and understand the stories the way that they were meant to be seen by their target audience. I want to be able to do this without using subtitles or having to wait several years for dub versions of shows or stories to appear in the U.S. (And quite often, many cool stories never get the dub treatment here in the U.S.).

Thus it it for this reason that I have picked up the book "Japanese Step by Step: An Innovative Approach to Speaking and Reading Japanese" by Gene Nishi. Having read a few reviews on it, I decided it was a good first place to start so that I can get my feet wet and see how this all works. This is also going to be the first major goal of mine that I attempt to accomplish using my public library or the Internet as sole resources for materials. I want to see if it can be done without having to actually purchase anything, or own the materials outright. While I've heard a lot of people give high marks to Rosetta Stone software, I'm not there yet, and I'm not entirely sure I want to go there for this.

Like so many goals in my life, I don't want to invest a lot up front for something I may ultimately grow frustrated with and stop doing. Also, much as I hate to say it, I have a lot of past experience with this mindset. I usually start by spending a lot of money, and realizing later that there are many resources that are as good or better than what I paid for freely available through the library or on the Internet. For once, I want to take on a goal from the opposite end, start low or no cost, determine if I actually will do this for the long term and gain some proficiency, and from there, then I'll decide if I want to invest in it further.

Nihongowa wakarimasen, but I'm certainly going to try to change that. Here's to new beginnings :).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Madd Money: Old School Shave the Best Value In Town :)


What you see above is my morning rig, and with one exception, it's as old school as you can get without owning a straight razor (and someday, I may actually get brave enough to try one again :) ). Last year at this time, I decided that I was going broke keeping myself in Edge Gel and Mach 3 blades, and after having read a few other bloggers comments about ditching the new and disposable stuff for the "classic" approach, I likewise decided to ditch my canned foam and Mach 3 razor, and went on a quest to find what all the fuss was regarding the "classic shave".

With a little encouragement and some research, I decided to go the DE (Dual Edge) route and invested in a Merkur Combed 1904 Safety Razor from Germany. I liked this one because it has heft to it and a nice, long horn handle. Just placing it on the skin and letting gravity do the work is all that is needed. I will have to confess that this was a splurge purchase, but it's made a lot more comforting in the fact that these types of razors will literally last generations. I've tried numerous different blades, and have had success with German Merkur Solingen blades (nice and clean feeling) and Feather blades from Japan (ridiculously sharp and require a delicate touch) but my favorite are Personna blades from Israel. What's more, it's possible to get packs of 100 of these blades for less than $25.00. That's a two years supply of blades, and literally pennies a day for a shave :).

I use a preshave oil from the Art of Shaving, and I find this to be a very helpful component to a morning shave. It's not essential, and it does add a bit to the cost of a shave, but it does make for a nice touch and a smooth glide. About $15-$20 per container, depending on which one you choose to use.

The big pot in the back is a neat device called a "Moss Scuttle". They are made in Canada by a potter that makes each one by hand (I heard a few rave reviews about these and decided to try one out. The classic scuttle is made for hard soaps, where the soap sits on a platform and water drains down into an inner chamber that holds hot water. What's cool about this is that this is designed to work with tube and tub creams, which are my preferred types (instead of holes, it's a solid cup, and the fill point for the inner chamber is small enough to fill with water, allowing the inner water to stay hotter longer). Fill the inner chamber with hot water as well as the upper cup, soak your brush in the upper cup, drain off the top level of water while keeping the inner water inside, Spoon off a half teaspoon of soap into the top cup, swirl up the cream, and you have a warm lather that stays warm for the duartion of your shave and just plain feels fabulous going on :). Cost of the item, $65.00 American.

My brush is Badger Hair, made by Vulfix, and it is large enough to be comfortable and efficient, but not so big as to be a mess to clean up. Plus, it fits the scuttle perfectly. The brush I have cost about $45.00, and like the Merkur razor, with proper care can also last generations.

This past year has been a quest to find a hard cream that works well with the Moss Scuttle, and I have found two that I love. The first is from Italy and it's called Proraso. It has a lanolin base and eucalyptus oil, and the second is made in San Francisco from a company called Nancy Boy. Their cream has a great consistency and feels terrific in the skin, but its real staying power comes from its fragrance, a mix of Lavender, Peppermint and Rosemary essential oils. It may sound like it would be overpowering, but it's not. A tub of each costs about $15.00, and for face shavers, a tub will literally last you a year of daily use.

The little stick is barber's alum, and is used for the ever essential "nick" treatment that you have to deal with every once in awhile (no matter how good you are at shaving, nicks are inevitable, but alum block takes care of it quickly). I got this stick as a Christmas present, but an average 100 gram block costs about $6.00.

The area that you can go absolutely nuts on is after-shave; there are so many choices out there and different varieties. I tried several and found one in an unlikely place. A friend recommended that I try Thayer's Witch Hazel and Rose Water tonic as an after shave, and I gotta say, I think it works great. What I really like about it is that there is no alcohol, so it cools down the skin, and emolliates without burning, while using the witch hazel to act as a final antiseptic to protect the skin. A 12 oz. bottle goes for about $9.00.

Finally, the last little touch that I have used for years and years (and is my favorite "fragrance" of all time) is called "No. 4711" from Germany. as you might guess, this is made in Cologne, Germany, and it's where the phrase "cologne" comes from :). Nice citrus based scent, never overpowering, and the bottle I have has lasted close to a decade and will probably last me into next decade. I have no idea how much I paid for the bottle I have now, but I consider it a bargain for how often I use it and how long I've used it.

So I'm sure that some are scratching their heads wondering why this is a Madd Money entry. Doesn't seem to be very "frugal" on the surface, until you take a closer look. The costs of setting up this rig will take me a year to recoup the setup costs (mostly in the cost of the razor, scuttle and brush) but those items will last indefinitely. With the cost of the Personna blades, and the price for the cream and other items, it actually costs *less* that buying the current blades and foams that are disposable. Even with the lower cost, the real reason I love this rig is the fact that shaving, which used to be a total chore, is now something I truly look forward to doing. That change alone made the investment worth it :).

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Madd Money: Using NetworthIQ to Track Your “Game Score”




There are a lot of tools out on the net that allow people to track how they are doing and do something to see where they stand. While many of these tools vary based on their complexity and what they track, personally, I like something that gives someone a high level view to see if they are gaining or losing ground. I liken it to a quote an old colleague of mine said some years back… “my favorite game is Quicken, and I try to beat my high score each month” (LOL!)). To that end, I have found the NetworthIQ tool to be rather cool (I was introduced to this tool via Meg over at “The World of Weath”). If you like something that lets you look at your finances with a feeling of “getting the high score in a game”, then this might be right up your alley :).

NetworthIQ is designed to keep track of your assets and your liabilities in a way that’s fairly straightforward. There are a lot of different ideas as to what constitutes an asset and what constitutes a liability (some people include their house as an asset, others do not consider their primary residence an asset, since it requires money to maintain and does not create actual revenue beyond potential appreciation value or when it gets sold). Regardless of philosophy, NetworthIQ lets you keep track of key areas and determine what your bottom line financial health may be.

NetworthIQ lists the following areas as assets:

Cash
Stocks (those not held in retirement accounts)
Bonds (also those not held in retirement accounts)
Annuities
Retirement (all 401(K), ROTH IRA and whatever other retirement options you have are listed here)
Home (I use the general consensus price from Zillow.com ).
Other Real Estate
Cars (values derived from “Fair Market Value” at KBB.com)
Personal Property
Other (I put my kids 529 plans in this category)

On the liability side, NetworthIQ lists the following:

Home Mortgage
Other Mortgages
Student Loans
Credit Cards
Car Loans
Other

The NetworthIQ page then calculates your total net worth appreciation (or depreciation) and compares it with your monthly liabilities (increaded or decreased) over the previous month, and provides a handy little graph to show how you are doing. What’s more, for those who are a little more willing to “let it all hang out”, you can get a “badge” to display on your site or your blog that gets continuously updated and shows your ups and downs.

My own net worth statement looks *really* skewed by comparison to many others, but that’s because I have no liabilities and own my home free and clear. If I were to exclude my house as an asset in the net worth calculation, we would be about at the median of people in our age group, with perhaps a little less in retirement (unfortunately, that also includes the recent market downturn). The good news is that, since the market has been so battered, this could be a *great* time to bag some investments at a fire sale price (provided of course that my logic of investing in the entire US and International market via index funds is a long term good plan. I’m long term optimistic, but we shall see :) ).

I think this is one of the neater tools out there in that it tracks at a very macro level and just says where you have gone up and where you have gone down. For some, that can be extremely motivating. What’s also interesting is that you can see how you rate compared to other NetworthIQ accounts (though, to be frank, some of these numbers look screwy and I have a strong feeling that some of the entries are totally bogus on the top end). Still when using the median values, you can see some interesting trends as relates to others on the site and their tracking.

I like that NetworthIQ is easy to update, the criteria is easy to understand, and the program is objective. What’s also cool is that you can share this information with others if they want to know where you stand, or if you feel so compelled to share it with others.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: The Garage Deep Clean

New Year's Day was spent in a flurry of activity, and it was perhaps a little more intense than I truly intended it to be. I woke up at 6:00 AM and went into the garage. With the exception of having dinner at my wife's parents place, the garage is where I pretty much stayed, all day. That, and going in and out of the living room and kitchen area to pack up all of the Christmas items we had out.

My goal was simple. There had been a creeping and growing amount of boxes and items making a second perimeter around the garage. I wanted to see how much of this stuff I could get rid of. Here's what I determined:

* We purchased a bunch of really fragile glass ornaments about ten years ago. We've been way too paranoid to put them up on the tree in the past, but this year we decided to give it a try. Since they are just plain gold, silver and burgundy balls, and since we liked the more eclectic mix of ornaments we've gathered over the years better, we decided it was time to let these ones go. In the process, we reclaimed a whole storage box worth of space.

* We have various totes and boxes that have made their way into the garage, most without lids, and most just end up on the floor as "dumping areas" to be dealt with later. This is an example where too much organizational media can actually lead to disorganization. I realize it sounds weird to say "we're getting rid of a bunch of organization stuff to get better organized", but in this case, it's true. Plus, with the added factor of not always having the fall back of putting things in a random container, one must go through the effort of actually putting things where they genuinely belong (shocking, I know (LOL!) ).

* I have an external frame backpack that I haven't used in close to four years. The internal frame pack is what I now use for outings, and my son has one that's best sized for him. This isn't needed by me anymore, so I'm giving it to the troop.

* I have a bunch of vinyl albums that I have not played in close to 10 years. It's a pretty good bet they will never get played. Gone.

* Somehow, a lot of scouting paraphernalia has made its way to my garage. It needs to go back to the troop closet at church and not be in my house.

* I have a table router that I bought when we first bought the house for all of the projects I would do. I've used it three times in ten years. time for it to find a new home.

* I have a number of items that I purchased from back in the days when my garage was Pinewood Derby central. Some of the tools are useful and definitely needed. Others I will likely never use again.

* I have a lot of stuff that is used by the Native American Dance tram that I help advise and support. Much of this stuff is in great shape, but having it packed all the time makes it bulky and hard to maneuver. By taking the items out, hanging them in see through bags from the hanging rack in the garage, I can stow the big trunk they usually go in up on the high shelf over the workbench, and use it when it is appropriate. Large scale floor reclaim :).

* There's paint that is the old color of rooms that are no longer that color. Why am I keeping this?

* I have three folding tables that were a big part of my Cub Scout teaching curriculum when the house was Cub Scout central. Now that my son has moved on and we use the church for most of our activities, I'm a little torn on what to do with these. Do I need all three? Not likely, but I can definitely see keeping two of them. The question is, which one to get rid of?

* There's a lot of sporting goods gear that has been worn by my kids through their growing years, and the smallest of the gear now needs to be given a new home. I have some serious emotions about the "Lion" snowboard that is now too small to be ridden by anyone... that board has now been part of the family for almost ten years, and every one of my kids learned to ride on it. Still, its time to let another family take advantage of it now.

Fourteen hours, four trash bags, three donation bags, and a lot of equipment that needs a loving home. My goal for this new year (remember, no resolutions :) ) is to commit to taking a really hard look at the items that come into the garage. It took a really long time to clean up this dumping ground, and I really don't want to do it again (LOL!).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year’s Winter Cleaning

First, to anyone who reads this, I want to wish you all a Happy New Year and a happy and productive 2009.

As many of you know, I do not believe in New Year’s Resolution. Instead, I believe in making concrete goals and a way to have an action plan to achieve them. Resolutions are just wishes unless they have a concrete game plan, and that game plan is actually followed. At that point, it’s not a resolution, it’s a goal. It’s with this mind set that I offer the following.

Every New Year’s Day, literally starting with the official start of the New Year, I make it a point to stay home and do a deep cleaning of our house. This is also in conjunction with our putting away all of the Christmas decorations (always done on January 1st in our house) and in that process, we always go through and move everything, vacuum every thing, scrub everything, dust everything, you name it. In the process, we also take out a notebook and we make notes on all areas that need work, or are of concern, or otherwise just become pet peeves. From these notes, we set action plans for the areas we can do something about, make projections for the areas we can’t immediately, but would like to, and then set a long term plan for items that will be further down the road.

For 2009, we have determined that the following areas are critical and need to be addressed somewhat immediately:

The garage is overloaded. We have cabinets, shelves, and shelving units that surround the garage. In addition, we have a number of trunks and other items of a random nature that perimeter the cabinets, making it virtually impossible to get into the cabinets without moving the items. When we first moved into this house, we had, arguably, the best organized and cleanest garage in the neighborhood. We most certainly cannot say that now. This is a key area where a concerted dejunking, reallocating of needed items, and deciding exactly why we are holding onto certain things must be done. It always amazes me that every time I do this, no matter how many times I do it, I always seem to determine that there’s still something else that can be downsized. Perhaps it comes from the fact that each time I go through the process, I learn a little bit more about what I actually use and what I don’t. Plus, when you start to let go of things, it becomes easier to let go of other things, too.

My office is the catch-all room. It’s the dirty secret in our house that the house is immaculate except for two places, the garage and my office. Both suffer from the same issue, and that’s overload. We did a massive downsizing of old books and other items, but somehow keeping this room uncluttered is just a royal pain. I also have a longer term goal going forward… I’m looking at the possibility of either converting this room to a genuine guest room, or potentially a bedroom for one of the girls (they currently share a room). To make that conversion, I have to reach the point where the contents of that room are either considerably downsized, or otherwise reallocated. Three key areas make up the bulk of the clutter in this room, and that is media (meaning CD's, DVD, VCR tapes and computer media), craft supplies (mostly associated with my work regarding the White Otter Dancers) and Scouting. My plan is to utilize used media places and sites like mediabuyback.com. In addition, papers that are not essential to be kept in their paper form will either be scanned and stored electronically, or gotten rid of entirely.

We have three fruit trees that produce a good quantity of Peaches, Nectarines and Apples. During 2009, I plan to use some techniques I’ve picked up on the web to set up a square foot garden in our back yard to expand the capacity of that garden space. I’m not gutsy enough to tear up the lawn and make that a garden patch (at least not yet), but the terrace boxes are totally fair game. This will require some observation and determining which areas get the best sunlight, as well as revamping the sprinkler system and adding some heads.

That should keep us busy for the next few months. Expect to see updates on all of these projects right here :).