Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Madd Money: When the Market Swings, Stick to the Plan

Well, yesterday was exciting, wasn't it? A $700,000,000,000 bill was up for a vote... and it was defeated! Wall Street heard the news, and it had a hissy fit to the tune of a 700+ point drop. Congress got the message from the American people, who are slowly, it seems, waking up to the fact that we don't want more debt to come to the aid of institutions and people who made bad choices. To be honest, I'm surprised that the bill went down (most of us thought this was a done deal). What I found interesting was that this was a bi-partisan defeat. It looks like the rather large outpouring of dissent from the people of this country made something very clear. Pass this bill as it has been explained to us, and expect to be thrown out on your butts, regardless of your political party.

Now, of course, comes the big question... what should people do? I can't speak for anyone else, but here's what I plan to do.


Well, OK, nothing isn't really accurate. What I mean to say is, I'm not making any changes to my investment plan. In fact, I'm going to take this opportunity to make a larger contribution than normal into my ROTH IRA. I'm close to maxing it out for the year, so I might as well max it out now. Why am I suggesting putting more money in? Am I not paying attention? THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END!!!! OK, hyperbole much (LOL!)? But that's what a lot of people in the media are hawking as though it were the gospel truth.

Here's my take on this. After Wall Street finishes with its hissy fit, and the gyrations of this recent spate of news has had a chance to be digested and considered, then things are going to get back to where they should be. Will that be ultimately up or down short term, I have no clue, but I do have faith that history, while it may not repeat, tends to rhyme. Based on that rhyming, most five year periods in the market have made money. To date, all of the ten year periods since the beginning of the 20th century have made money. That includes a lot of pull backs, bear markets, and even the Great Depression. Thus, since my timeline for my money isn't in the days, weeks, months or even years ahead, but is in decades, I'm happy to stick to my original plan and I'm actually enjoying this opportunity to get my preferred investment vehicles on sale.

Some things to consider that are components to my reasoning. I don't invest in individual stocks, I invest in growth oriented mutual funds. I'm also a proponent for index fund investing; most of my IRA holdings are in two index funds:

70% Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
30% Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund

With this allocation, you really can't get any more diversified across stocks than this. Instead of owning single stocks with a lot of risk, I invest in funds that hold a *lot* of stocks. In many ways, I'm invested in the entire stock market, both nationally and internationally. This means my investments tend to follow the tide; they will be lower when the market is lower, and higher when the market is higher. While it may mean that I may not do as well as some investments when they are making a killing, it also means that I tend to not take as much of a bloodbath when certain stocks get slashed. Thus, regardless of the market gyrations, any money I do not need in the next decade gets invested and I forget about it (well, OK, I don't completely forget about it, but I do not look at my balances any more than once a quarter to get a gauge, and I don't do any playing around until December, and that is only to rebalance my funds to be where I want them to be (meaning I make sure that 70% is in the total market fund and 30% in the international market fund, and in my preferred ratios in my other investments, such as my company's 401K plan).

Thus, in my nothing more than amateur armchair personal finance geek manner, my recommendation to anyone who is nervous about what is happening, I would suggest asking yourself, what is your goal, and what do you intend to do with your money? If you don't need it in the short term, , I'd suggest not worrying about it and using the market gyrations to get your favorite investments while they are on sale. If you have any plans of using your money for a concrete purpose within the next five years, I'd say "get it out of the market and put it into a respectable savings vehicle", such as a high yield savings account through a bank like ING Direct. Do not play in the stock market with money you are depending on in a short period of time, as you have the potential of getting creamed if you do that, and often at the least opportune moments. Whatever you do, don't just run around scared because talking heads on the TV are telling you to be scared. Know your goals, learn about your investments, and most of all, have a game plan and stick to it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Lives of Others: Comparisons Are Compelling

As many may know, Latter-day Saints are generally not ones who go out to see R rated movies. I have a general policy that I will avoid them about 95% of the time. Now, I will do my best to not be a hypocrite here and admit that, yes, I have seem my share of plenty of R rated movies in my life, and many of them I’d just kinda’ shrugged off and said “eh, whatever”, meaning they didn’t really leave much of an impact or impression on me (making it typically easy to ignore most of the R rated fare out there). There are, however, a handful of “R” ratings out there that I have seen and will genuinely say I’m glad that I have seen them and I appreciate what they tried to project and the manner in which they did. “Schindler’s List” is an example of a movie that I have no problem telling people I’ve seen and would even recommend to others to see. I am going to add another film to that list, “The Lives of Others”.

As I’ve seen people refer to the United States as a country slowly drifting towards jingoistic socialism, as the current political rhetoric du jour likes to spout, I found it both chilling and fascinating to see what life was like in a true totalitarian socialist/communist state, in this case East Germany, and specifically East Berlin. The notion of being watched and monitored, every word, every action and every utterance having the potential to be used against you, every act under constant surveillance for daring to wish to speak one’s mind in protest, to have your life and livelihood held captive by a government that would do anything to keep people in line, including making those closest to you (friends, family, and loved ones) become informants for the state. That is the core of this movie, and I can honestly say it was a heart-rending, painful and ultimately sad film to watch, yet with all that, I couldn’t take my eyes away from it.

The general story is that of a Stasi Captain, long trained in the arts of interrogation, surveillance and fact gathering. The story takes place in the pre-Gorbachev era Soviet Bloc (1984). The Captain gets an assignment to spy on a noteworthy playwright and his girlfriend, and to observe their every move and action in the hope to catch the playwright involved in something incriminating. The man is under surveillance because a Party big-wig has an interest in the playwright’s girlfriend, and wants to eliminate the playwright as a suitor. The story follows the Captain as he sets up surveillance of the couple, and as the movie progresses, we see a change overcome the Captain, where at first he cooly observes, the begins editing his reports, and then actively assists in helping this man do something that exposes embarrassing facts about the East German regime and the GDR. I’ll leave it at that for those interested in seeing this film.

There are some areas where I found myself thinking 'hmm, that's odd". Knowing what little I do about organizations like the KGB and the Stasi, those organizations worked as groups, with those who were doing the snooping being snooped on themselves to ensure compliance, so some of the scenes where information is modified and expunged didn’t quite ring true with what would have likely really happened back then. That the system was corrupt and could be manipulated is well known, but not as easily as was portrayed (but then, this is a movie, and going at it the way I’m describing would have made for a much longer film). In addition, it seemed that the transition of the Captains sentiments and allegiance was, while not like a light switch, seemed a little fast and aggressive compared to what would be seen in real life. Likewise, so many situations where suspicion was raised and then left to just set would likely have been addressed much faster in the real GDR (the paranoia of the GDR was legendary, and barring active bribery or manipulation, would have been really tricky for such a high ranking individual to game the system that much). Again, this is a movie, so a little suspension of disbelief is required, but fortunately, not much is needed, and the central point is made, that even in the midst of totalitarian regimes and oppressive systems, its our own personal actions and thoughts that ultimately determine our freedom and our character. It’s also a strong cautionary tale for those who would want to trade elemental freedoms for security and a guarantee of protection by having the government do everything and take care of everything. Give the government too much control of people’s day to day lives and the East German system is a classic example of what could result.

For those looking for a warm, fuzzy and "feel good" movie, this definitely isn’t it. If, however, you ever wanted to see a film that made you extremely happy to be an American, even with its numerous faults and issues, this is a must see.

Friday, September 26, 2008


No, not really, but his commentary as "not your typical president" was awesome, and I found myself listening and agreeing 100% with everything he said in this rant (which, frankly, should be no surprise to anyone who knows me and knows how much of a Ramseyite I am (LOL!) ).

Hear Dave Go Off!!!

One area I absolutely agree with Dave Ramsey about, regardless of the surrounding rhetoric... if there is a theme that I am hearing over and over again during this election cycle, it is how many people are looking to the government to fix all of their problems. Now, this may seem *really* strange coming from a Democrat, but, and I'm going to put all of the emphasis on this that I can...


I'm sick of the government subsidizing everyone's screw-ups. I'm sick of the government overreaching itself to try to pander for votes, and that goes for both Democrats and Republicans. Please, everybody, be accountable to yourself, your family, your friends and your faith, then start working outwards. The "Nanny State" has gone too far, and I frankly do not want to wake up and find myself living in a Socialist country (though I fear we may already be there). I want to live in the Democratic Republic that I love so very much, where emphasis on freedom, free enterprise, and individual effort and determination actually count for something. Hopefully, all of you who live in the U.S. feel the same way.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

200 Things

My friend Sarah posted this, and I decided I liked it, and was going to steal it (though I guess it’s not really stealing when it’s offered). The idea is to highlight the things you have done out of the 200 items on the list. The things I have done are in purple!

1. Touched an iceberg
2. Slept under the stars
3. Been a part of a hockey fight
4. Changed a baby's diaper
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Swam with wild dolphins
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a tarantula
10. Said "I love you" and meant it

11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris ( I was 4, but I was there :) )
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Stayed up all night long and watched the sun rise
15. Seen the Northern Lights
16. Gone to a huge sports game
17. Walked the stairs to the top of
The Statue of Liberty
18. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
19. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
20. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
21. Had a pillow fight

22. Bet on a winning horse
23. Taken a sick day when you're not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Taken an ice cold bath
28. Had a meaningful conversation with a beggar
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Ridden a roller coaster
31. Hit a home run
32. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
33. Adopted an accent for fun
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (Been to Italy, looking forward to someday go to the UK and Denmark)

35. Felt very happy about your life,
even for just a moment
36. Loved your job 90% of the time
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Watched wild whales
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Gone on a midnight walk on the beach

41. Gone sky diving
42. Visited Ireland
43. Ever bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited India
45. Bench-pressed your own weight
46. Milked a cow
47. Alphabetized your personal files
48. Ever worn a superhero costume
49. Sung karaoke (heck, I helped develop and test Karaoke Revolution :) )
50. Lounged around in bed all day
51. Gone scuba diving
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Done something you should regret, but don't
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business (I think my various bands count :) )
58. Taken a martial arts class (done two, Bok-Fu and Aikido over the years)
59. Been in a movie
60. Gone without food for 3 days
61. Made cookies from scratch
62. Won first prize in a costume contest (I am a competitive Halloweener :) )
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Been in a combat zone
65. Spoken more than one language fluently
66. Gotten into a fight while attempting to defend someone - verbal not physical
67. Bounced a check
68. Read - and understood - your credit report
69. Recently bought and played with a favorite childhood toy
70. Found out something significant that your ancestors did
71. Called or written your Congress person
72. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over

73. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
74. Helped an animal give birth
75. Been fired or laid off from a job
76. Won money
77. Broken a bone
78. Ridden a motorcycle
79. Driven any land vehicle at a speed of greater than 100 mph
80. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
81. Slept through an entire flight: takeoff, flight, and landing
82. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
83. Eaten sushi
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read The Bible cover to cover (well, at least never in one continuous effort)
86. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about
87. Gotten someone fired for their actions
88. Gone back to school
89. Changed your name (it wasn't legally changed, but I went by "Kelly" as a stage name for several years :) )
90. Caught a fly in the air with your bare hands
91. Eaten fried green tomatoes
92. Read The Iliad
93. Taught yourself an art from scratch
94. Killed and prepared an animal for eating (do fish count?)
95. Apologized to someone years after inflicting the hurt
96. Communicated with someone w/out sharing a common spoken language
97. Been elected to public office
98. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream
99. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
100. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you
101. Had a booth at a street fair
102. Dyed your hair
103. Been a DJ
104. Rocked a baby to sleep
105. Ever dropped a cat from a high place to see if it really lands on all four
106. Raked your carpet
107. Brought out the best in people
108. Brought out the worst in people
109. Worn a mood ring
110. Ridden a horse
111. Carved an animal from a piece of wood or bar of soap
112. Cooked a dish where four people asked for the recipe.

113. Buried a child
114. Gone to a Broadway play
115. Been inside the pyramids
116. Shot a basketball into a basket
117. Danced at a disco
118. Played in a band

119. Shot a bird
120. Gone to an arboretum
121. Tutored someone
122. Ridden a train

123. Brought an old fad back into style
124. Eaten caviar
125. Let a salesman talk you into something you didn’t need

126. Ridden a giraffe or elephant
127. Published a book
128. Pieced a quilt
129. Lived in an historic place (San Francisco's p[retty historic, but no particular house or anything like that)
130. Acted in a play or performed on a stage
131. Asked for a raise
132. Made a hole-in-one
133. Gone deep sea fishing
134. Gone roller skating

135. Run a marathon
136. Learned to surf
137. Invented something
138. Flown first class
139. Spent the night in a 5-star luxury suite
140. Flown in a helicopter
141. Visited Africa
142. Sang a solo
143. Gone spelunking
144. Learned how to take a compliment
145. Written a love-story
146. Seen Michelangelo’s David
147. Had your portrait painted
148. Written a fan letter
149. Spent the night in something haunted
150. Owned a St. Bernard or Great Dane
151. Ran away
152. Learned to juggle
153. Been a boss
154. Sat on a jury
155. Lied about your weight
156. Gone on a diet
157. Found an arrowhead or a gold nugget
158. Written a poem
159. Carried your lunch in a lunch box
160. Gotten food poisoning

161. Gone on a humanitarian or religious mission
162. Hiked the Grand Canyon
163. Sat on a park bench and fed the ducks
164. Gone to the opera

165. Gotten a letter from someone famous
166. Worn knickers
167. Ridden in a limousine
168. Attended the Olympics

169. Can hula or waltz
170. Read a half dozen Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books
171. Been stuck in an elevator
172. Had a revelatory dream

173. Thought you might crash in an airplane
174. Had a song dedicated to you on the radio or at a concert
175. Saved someone’s life
176. Eaten raw whale
177. Know how to tat, smock or do needlepoint
178. Laughed till your side hurt
179. Straddled the equator
180. Taken a photograph of something other than people that is worth framing
181. Gone to a Shakespeare Festival
182. Sent a message in a bottle
183. Spent the night in a hostel
184. Been a cashier
185. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
186. Joined a union
187. Donated blood or plasma
188. Built a camp fire
189. Kept a blog
190. Had hives
191. Worn custom made shoes or boots
192. Made a PowerPoint presentation
193. Taken a Hunter’s Safety Course
194. Served at a soup kitchen
195. Conquered the Rubik’s cube
196. Know CPR
197. Ridden in or owned a convertible
198. Found a long lost friend
199. Helped solve a crime
200. Responded to a NJP newsletter (???)

I'm not tagging anyone, but if you want to do this, it's fun!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In Praise of School House Rock!

It's amazing to think that it's been 35 years since the first episode of School House Rock was broadcast on ABC back in 1973. I honestly cannot remember a Saturday morning between 1973 and 1980 or so when I didn't turn into ABC in the mornings for their regular programming, but also to see these short educational snippets. I loved School House Rock, and I'm sure there are quite a few others out there who did as well.

While it's been broadcast on and off for the better part of 35 years now, I think it's safe to say that the Generation X kids that grew up with it the first time around probably have the fondest memories of it. How can you tell if you are one of these people? Well, here's a few possible clues:

The phrase "it's quite interesting, a noun is a person, place, or thing" brings an instant flashback of the Statue of Liberty covered in snow.

The word "conjunction" brings to mind a train yard.

You cannot repeat the preamble to the United State Constitution without breaking into song.

The number 9 is referred to as "naughty number nine".

The phrase "see you later, Alligator, and don't forget my my my mashed potatoes" is forever associated with the 19th amendment of the Constitution.

You cannot hear the phrase "the shot heard around the world" without humming the rest of the song.

You know all of the words to "I'm just a Bill" and can recite them 30 years later.

I can say "Lolly Lolly Lolly" and you can automatically complete the rest of the line.

If you can fill in the blank for "________! that's what's happening!"

You know who Interplanetary Janet is.

Honestly, I could go on and on and on about this, but suffice it to say that, in the 70's, many kids of my generation felt like the school systems let us down, but we pulled through because School House Rock taught us all of those things we didn't adequately learn in elementary school. Yes, some of the shorts are firmly rooted in their time, and would be seen as more than a tad bit corny by today's kids and tweeners, but that only adds to their charm, IMO.

So here's to you, School House rock, and all of the madcap people behind your creation. Thank you for being a part of my childhood and thank you for being such a wonderful memory for me today.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Larsen House, Now In Stone Gray

I realized it had been awhile since I told everyone that I was going to be repainting my house and refinishing the deck. It's been done for awhile now, but I just had a chance to take some pictures, so now you can see the difference.

Here's a far-away shot of the house with the new paint. I like the sandstone color, although I have to say it looks more "tan" than "gray", but what do I know, I'm not a painting professional :).

A closer shot of the house.

From our back yard, and there's the deck with the "California Rustic" stain that I fell in love with (OK, fell in love is a strong phrase, but really, I like it a great deal :).

Finally, one additional step I took... I pulled down the overgrown honeysuckle trellises and gave the entire fence all the way around a strong pressure wash. The net result is that my poor apple, peach and nectarine trees will finally get to see some sunlight and hopefully produce some fruit again (the apple tree is already going gangbusters :) ).

All in all, I think we did a good job on the place. Much thanks to my dad for the assistance and the loan of the power sprayer. It helped considerably. So to all our friends, please feel free to come by and pay a visit, only don't look for the light blue house, because it isn't there anymore :).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Leaving Behind The "White Man's" Indian

This topic is one I find myself coming back to time after time, and I’d like to reflect a little on it, if you all don’t mind. Many of you may know that I am involved with Order of the Arrow, which has as a component many Native American traditions and an appreciation of Native American culture (so yes, I guess that mean’s I am a “White Guy Boy Scout Indian”, and I have to accept the pejoratives that go with that. It’s a fact, I’m white, I have no native blood, and I am indeed a respecter and a "fanboy" of Native American culture. If that makes me a twinkie, a ya-ya, or whatever phrase such an image conjures up, so be it. I am what I am.

For many “white people” like me, our expectations of Native American’s was likely spawned by the John Ford westerns of the early to mid 20th century. In those, square jawed cowboys like John Wayne went up against blood-thirsty savages or monosyllabic villains. Occasionally, we would see a sympathetic character, but usually, it would be one that reinforced many old stereotypes. For the record, I *hated* most of these movies, and I especially hated their portrayal of First Nations peoples. To that end, I am happy that films are being made to tell more stories from the native perspective, i.e. from their own viewpoint, and being told and/or produced by native people. “Skinwalkers”, the most recent film I’ve seen from this tradition, isn’t entirely and purely a Native American production. Still it is told entirely with Native American actors and the majority of the story takes place within a Navajo reservation.

What intrigued me most about this movie (based on a Tony Hillerman book) is the fact that it shows a broad and varied patchwork of experiences for modern Navajo, and steers clear of most of the stereotypes white people would associate with them. Native people’s today do not want to freeze themselves in time. They are not a museum piece, they are a vibrant and multi-faceted people who are alive and growing and thriving, and are changing just as the world around them changes. Skinwalkers explores that dichotomy well, the cooperation, and occasional clashing, of traditional culture on one hand, and those who have had different experiences and do not necessarily want to be bound by traditional ways, and the accommodations made by all to coexist and work together.

Seeing Wes Studi in the role of Joe Leaphorn, an urban native, was an interesting contrast with the roles I most associate him with (Studi is perhaps best known to white audiences at “Toughest Pawnee” from Dances With Wolves and “Magua” from Last of the Mohicans). In these movies, Studi plays the classic 18th and 19th century Native American, with buckskins, shaved head with scalp lock, and all of the classic trappings that most white people consider the quintessential Native American to be. By contrast, Joe Leaphorn is one who has grown up and lived much of his life in a big city, away from the reservation and its traditions, and comes back due to his wife’s health and desire to return to the reservation. This is markedly different from Adam Beach’s character, Jim Chee, who has lived his life on the Navajo reservation and works and desires to serve two purposes, both that of a Tribal Police officer and that of a Navajo medicine man. The differences between these two men and their different ways of looking at the world go to the heart of the story. The film itself is calm and somewhat subdued. Dialogue is spare; neither “Chee” nor “Leaphorn” are very “talkative” characters, and as such, the actions of the film help to propel the story along.

What I liked most about this film was the fact that it was entirely a native cast. This allowed the story to be told purely from a native perspective. Add to the fact that Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) was the director, and I think this comes very close to giving audiences a fair, clear and undistorted look at a piece of the native experience today, and shows how off the mark the white man’s interpretation is most of the time. Personally, I would be happy to see the John Ford/John Wayne “White Man's" Indian stereotype relegated to the dustbin of history, and I hope to see many more films made in the future by Native Americans that tell their story from their perspective and their experience.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Symbol of "The Door"

As per a previous post where I said that I've started seeing movies that I might not otherwise see, either because they might not be available other places, or I just somehow overlooked them, I came across a Korean movie made in 2003 called "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring". It was an interesting and contemplative movie, very quietly paced and told as a Buddhist fable.
The story follows along the lives of a Buddhist monk and his young apprentice during the stages of their lives, the choices that they make, and how those choices ultimately affect them and being their lives full circle towards the end.
Since this film is told from a Buddhist perspective, there are some elements that I found rather interesting, and brought up some questions of my own as to whether or not they were cultural oddities or if they were in some way meant to portray deeper meaning. One aspect that I found fascinating was the notion of the use of doors where there were no walls. In the buddhist monastery, there are two doors that separate the main shrine area from the sleeping area for those who stay at the monastery. However, there are no physical walls that actually surround the doors; the frames are free standing. Yet the actual doors are used to enter and leave the areas. Likewise, at the edge of the lake, there is another gate and pair of doors... but no wall to surround them.
Part of me loooked at that and thought "how silly, just walk around them"... and yes, during the film, there are occassions where the characters do exactly that. Interestingly, the times that the characters actually do, it is to allow them to give in to a baser instinct. The section called Summer has a romance that builds between the young apprentice and a girl visiting the shrine. As his interest in her builds, we notice that he stops using the doors to come near her. There is very little dialog in the movie, so most actions are meant to be interpreted by exactly that, their actions. I found the idea of physically standing doors where there are no walls, and the idea that we make a conscious choice to use the doors, as a way to look into our own spirits. It left me with an interesting question. Is the free standing door meant to be a way of showing our humility, and our willingness to accept a higher purpose? What does it say to us (and about us) when a door is set, and there is no wall surrounding it... will we choose to use the door, or walk around the door? If we choose to use the door, what does that say about us? Likewise, if we walk around the door, what also does that say about us?
This reminds me of the phrase "integrity is what you do when no one else is looking", and the door that stands alone a reminder to preserve boundaries and a sacred space between ourselves and others, and to be wary of when we are willing to breach that sacred space. When we have doors set in walls, then the door is the only way that we can enter. When a door is placed in a space without a wall, then we must make a conscious choice to enter through the door. I liked this symbolism and its something I'd like to keep for myself as a reminder going forward.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008: Changing Things Up Again

OK, I caved.

I said I was going to simplify things, and I was going to limit distractions and things to clutter up my home life and time, but I decided that there were enough co-workers and enough proximity and enough variety, plus enough of a company incentive, that it made sense to go and do it...

I joined a gym again.

I swore I would never do this again after my last bout with a gym back in the mid to late 90's. Part of the benefit of buying our house was so that I could have a squat rack/power cage, all the free weights I needed and never have to set foot in a gym again. Well after several years of mostly using my squat rack as a snowboard tuning bench and clothes line, I decided to let go of the concept of the home gym during the latter part of 2007. Besides, my training approach had changed, and I wasn't really in need of the big home weights set anymore.

Fast forward a year, and a bunch of co-workers decide to make a habit of hitting the 24 Hour Fitness that's just two blocks from my work. I literally pass this gym every single day as I walk from BART up Montgomery to get to work and back. Proximity, can't really get any better. The only thing that would be more convenient would be to have it in my building (we do have a health club as part of our work building, but that one is *way* more expensive than I would want to pay for any gym membership). Hours, this one is truly a 24 hour place, at least from Monday through Friday. Starting at 5:00 AM on Monday morning and running through 10:00 PM until Friday, it's a 24 hour a day gig. That means even me with the insane weekly schedule can get in super early in the morning or super late at night if I chose and use the facilities. Add to the fact that a good bunch of my co-workers go at a regularly scheduled time, the fact that the membership at the one club is actually quite reasonable, and the fact that my company will reimburse $20.00 of my membership each month as part of our company benefits package... hey, what's not to like?

I started going three weeks ago, and since then I have made a commitment to not miss a day if I am in at work. In short, if I come to San Francsico to work, I have no excuse to not train. The only bye clause I get is if I need to be home or I'm out of town, but it's already gotten to the point where I feel guilty if I miss a day, so I am hoping those instances will be few and far between.

My current split consists of the following:

Monday: Chest and Triceps + Cardio
Tuesday: Back and Biceps + Cardio
Wednesday: Legs + Cardio
Thursday: Shoulders and Traps + Cardio
Friday: Lower Back and additional core work (abs, obliques, etc.) + Cardio
Saturday: General Conditioning Through Activity
Sunday: Rest

My goals are somewhat modest in that I want to maintain the lower weight I've worked to be at, have better stamina for Pow Wows and just plain look a little leaner and cleaner :). When I get to the point where I can be Mr. Clean's stand-in (not just from the neck up but from the neck down as well), then I'll be happy (LOL!).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Madd Money: Movies Courtesy of my Public Library

About a year and a half ago, I made a deal with a co-worker of mine to buy a portable DVD player. Now, I had considered this to be a sort of ridiculous luxury, and I debated with myself if I would ever really use this thing. Since it was used, and since it was purchased by said co-worker for the express purpose of keeping him occupied for a round trip flight to Buenos Aires, I figured the price asked ($150) along with the relative newness of the model in question (Panasonic DVD-LS82) that it might be a good deal overall and, hey, I might actually get some use out of it.

Well, a year and a half later, I can say that dollar for hour of use, this has turned out to be one of the best value purchases I have ever made, in that I actually use it almost every single day. It’s generally my companion on the BART train to and from work, plus it makes curling up in bed with a movie or a documentary very easy to do… some may debate whether or not that’s a good or healthy thing, but so far, I have no complaints :).

Still, I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to the movies I buy, rent or see. I have unusual tastes in entertainment, and most of Hollywood’s fare leaves me cold, meaning I’m leery to buy DVDs outright unless they really fit a particular interest or I know that they are transcendent films that I’ll watch over and over. For instance, my top five movies:

A Hard Days Night
The Princess Bride
Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Real Genius

Are ones that I own outright and am glad to own them, since I know I will watch them again and again.

Others, ehh, I may watch once and genuinely not be interested in ever seeing them again. What I dislike slightly less than buying a dud DVD is renting a dud DVD. I’m all for taking chances here and there, but most of the time, I’m not even willing to go the route of renting because I’m just “not feeling it” with a lot of titles. So what’s a guy to do when he has a portable DVD player, an hour a day to work with, and wants to expand his interests and motivation to see movies he might not otherwise see? San Bruno Public Library, to the rescue!!!

What I love about my public library is that they have *lots* of different titles from sources I might not see at the typical video rental place. Since it’s a public library, they have a *great* selection of movies based on literary works (if you are an Agatha Christie fan, a Jane Austen fan, or dig just about anything ever produced for the BBC, the library is a gold mine for these types of titles).What’s even better, it costs *nothing* to get these titles on loan for a week.

This past week, I decided to treat myself to three movies that I’d been curious about, but otherwise either didn’t feel like buying outright, or hadn’t had a chance to see. Two are from Japan, and one is from China.

The Castle of Cagliostro” (Hayao Miyazaki’s 1979 feature film co-writing and directing debut, based on the Maurice Leblanc stories of master thief Arsene Lupin, and has long been on my list of movies I’ve wanted to see but somehow never got around to seeing. For Miyazaki fans, this shows his work before he founded Studio Ghibli).

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Knockin' On Heaven's Door)” (a 2001 standalone feature length film from the ground-breaking, off-the-wall Japanese anime series, of which I happen to be a huge fan… yeah, I’m just as amazed that I’d never seen this one, either) .

House of Flying Daggers” (an absolutely gorgeous 2004 Chinese “wuxia”, along the lines of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Hero”, though it’s so much more than its genre would indicate; you don’t have to be a fan of martial arts to enjoy this movie, though if you are, you will certainly not be disappointed).

Now, I have to get some ideas for what I’ll be checking out next week. Personally, I think I’m going to dig a little more into the Korean movie section (both because I tend to enjoy Korean wave movies and I want to give myself ammunition to study and learn Hangul... but that's a topic for another post :) ). Who knows, this may become a regular part of this blog, but don’t be surprised if the titles I talk about are somewhat out there. That’s just the way I roll (LOL!).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11/2001 - The Morning I'll Never Forget

It was just a little after 6:00 AM on September 11th, 2001. I drove into work at my usual early morning agreed-to time, and I ran into my co-worker, Sheri (we both worked the early shift at that time). Sheri looked at me and said "did you hear that a plane slammed into the World Trade Center?" My first reaction was that some idiots in a Cessna went joyriding and crashed into one of the towers. Since I had a radio in my lab, I went in and turned it on, sat down.....

and did not move for close to three hours.

I just sat there, listening to the whole situation unfold. After I realized how much time had passed, I came out of the lab to see the rest of my company out in the hallway, watching a television screen. Nobody moved, nobody spoke, we all just did our best to comprehend what we were seeing. I was shocked, I was hurt, I was dumbfounded that such a thing could happen. Mostly, I was profoundly sad. Sad to hear about and see so many people that lost their lives on that fateful day. Sad and proud for the firefighters and emergency people that went in and tried to save people, only to get crushed by the falling buildings. Sad and proud to hear about the airplane that crash landed and to find out that passengers decided to take on the terrorists and prevented what could have been even further damage, at the cost of their own lives.

That day, I was both sad to be an American, and proud to be an American. I saw the worst that humanity could throw, short of a nuclear attack, and I watched so many people pay an ultimate price. I also saw the resolve of America firm up and clench its fist. Regardless of partisan politics, regardless of who did what and when and how, I joined 300 million other Americans that day and said "this is personal, and whoever did this must pay for it".

Seven years later, much has been said, and much has been done. Some don't like *how* it's been done, but we need to remember that we were attacked, we were maimed, and we were hurt. But we got back up, and we determined to fight a good fight. Regardless of the spin placed on the story or the aftermath, seven years out, I beg everyone to please remember that we did not ask for this, we did not request to be attacked, but we were, and we committed troops to help purge those who would try to attack us again. Regardless of your personal politics, please say a prayer tonight for the men and women who have committed to fight on our behalf so that we may continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty that we still have. They didn't ask for this fight, but they are fighting and dying on our behalf. Also, say a prayer for the families who lost loved ones on that fateful day. Finally, make a pledge to do all that you can to help make a community and world where such vicious and horrific acts may become so unspeakable that they dare not be performed. It's a tall order, to be sure, but we owe such resolve to those who have served, and died on our behalf. To not pledge to do so means those men and women have died in vain... and that's an outcome I won't be able to accept.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pow Wow Weekend

Over Labor Day weekend, the family went to Camp Pollock in Sacramento to attend the annual CIHA Labor Day Pow Wow. This was a great weekend in that it was Amber's first experience at a weekend long Pow Wow and it was a chance for Karina to try out her new Jingle Dress. How did everyone look? Well, see for yourself :).

A cute picture of Karina and Amber with their new friend Jessica before the Grand Entry

Nick and Dad waiting to line up for Grand Entry (I had to run back afterwards to our camp site to retrieve my cuffs and armbands (oops!)

Karina showing off the Jingle Dress Lauren created for her (and yes, I think just about everyone at camp complimented her on it, too).

A good shot of Nick in a blur of Fancy dance action.

Nick taking a break and looking rather sweaty.

A cute shot of Amber out in the Arbor

Amber loves it when the "water boys" come by and give the dancers drinks :).

I love this picture of Karina in action.

Karina getting a "cool down" after a long night of dancing.

Karina and her new friend Jordan that she met over the weekend.

Amber and Karina share the winnings from the kids raffle. Just what they need, sugar late at night (LOL!)