Friday, October 31, 2008

A Halloween To Remember :)

Halloween is a special day in my life, more so than perhaps only a handful of other holidays and special anniversaries. You see, Halloween is the day that I proposed to Christina back in 1991. Now this should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows me (of course Michael and Christina got engaged on Halloween!), but what’s not so readily known is the circumstances that led up to that momentous declaration and decision, and the somewhat serendipitous way that it happened. Over the years I’ve been both lauded and excoriated for the way I did this (LOL!), and the story has taken on a life of its own over the years as well, so I wanted this HAlloween to set the record straight, once and for all, as to what happened, how it came about, and what ultimately resulted (well, one of the results you already know about… Christina was crazy enough to marry me, for which I will be eternally grateful :) ).

So let’s set the way back machine for Halloween Day, 1991.. It was going to be a day unlike any other, but earlier in the day, I figured it was going to be unique because, for the first time in many years, I was not scheduled to play a show, promote for a show, or somehow be involved with another friend’s band in putting on a show. For once, I decided I wanted to clear the calendar that Halloween, celebrate Christina’s recent arrival in her apartment in San Mateo, and be the happy little domestic couple giving out candy to little kids who would Trick or Treat. After a couple of hours, we realized that nobody was coming to the door. As we walked out and saw some people gathered on the common porch, we asked where the Trick or Treaters were. The people laughed and said “nobody trick or treats the houses and apartments around here… everyone goes to Hillsdale Mall and does their Trick or Treating there!” Hmmm… I must admit I’d never considered that, and it did sound a little odd to me, but hey, when in Rome… so we decided to grab our coats and head down to Hillsdale so we could see what the kids were doing. Besides, I was willing to bet that the mall was probably done up quite well for the occasion.

As we arrived at Hillsdale Mall, we watched the little (and not so little) Trick or Treater’s run about from store to store and gather up candy, treats and other items (not to mention a rather brisk business at several of the novelty stores for last minute costumes). It was here where I chuckled and said “huh, I wonder if I’ll ever bring my kids to a mall to Trick or Treat”. Christina and I joked about that idea, and somehow that little side comment about trick or treaters morphed into a conversation about having kids and about marriage in general. Now, I wasn’t at that moment all that keen on bringing up the topic of marriage, because at the time I was quite broke, making very little money, and carrying a load of debt. I didn’t particularly see myself as stable husband material at that particular moment. As Christina asked me at what point I could see getting married, I said a very honest “oh, three to four years, realistically.” After I said that, I looked at Christina, and she had an expression that would not be out of place had I directly slapped her. She stammered “f-f-four *years*?!” I tried to explain why, and how it just seemed so unrealistic at this stage, when something deep down told me:

“Michael, shut up. Now! Christina has just told you something major here… she doesn’t care about your financial situation, she doesn’t care about how suited you feel you are to be a husband… she just telegraphed to you in huge block letters that she wants to marry you! YOU! And she doesn’t want to wait four years for that experience. Be a man and step up!”

With this realization, I had to find a way to really make sure I was reading the situation right, so I immediately changed tactics and said “Hey, I have an idea… let’s go and, for the fun of it, see what kind of a ring you might like. I mean, we are here, and the mall is open late tonight… c’mon, it’ll be fun.” With that, we decided to go and take a look at the dozen or so jewelry stores that were in Hillsdale Mall at that time. We looked at lots of different styles, and many of them were, while nice, just nothing that screamed out to either of us “oh yeah, that one”… until we came to a Zales Jewelers on the bottom level. Over in the corner was a small display and in it was a neat looking ring with a bunch of very small diamonds surrounding a center stone, all on an asymmetrically angled ring. This was the one that Christina couldn’t take her eyes off of. I liked it, too because it was unique; truly different than anything else we had seen. Her eyes lit up and her smile was all I had to see.

I asked the lady behind the counter if we could have a closer look at the offset ring with the slightly angled band. She brought it out and Christina tried it on. As I saw her smile widen, we had the following exchange:

“So, you like *that* one, huh?”
“Oh yes, very much!”
“Really, you don’t think it’s a little odd looking?”
“Oh no, I like it so much. It’s unique. I’ve never seen another one like it. If I had to choose a ring, I’d *definitely* choose this one.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes, I’m completely sure!”
“I’m glad to hear that… Maam? Yes, thank you very much for your time… we’ll take it!”

As the lady behind the counter thanked me for agreeing to purchase the ring, we had to make a decision on payment. I told her I’d make a 20% down payment, and finance the rest (for my long time readers, this was before my financial epiphany, so yes, you’re going to cringe at my saying this, but yes, I did finance the ring… it was a spur of the moment decision, after all). I decided to go with the classic De Beers philosophy of two months of salary for an engagement/wedding ring, and fortunately, this particular ring fit in that philosophy and price range :).

As she handed me a loan application, and as I was filling it out, Christina’s expression went from smiling, to looking at me quizzically, to showing genuine concern, to complete and total alarm. She realized what I was doing, and that I was actually following through with purchasing the ring she was looking at. She would nudge me and say “um, what are you doing?” I of course, decided I was not going to answer. She looked at me again and said “are you doing what I think you’re doing?!” Again, no answer. At this point, I started whistling (yes, I know, but I really was having fun at this particular point in time, and the anxiety of the situation was actually quite entertaining :) ).

When the lady came back and said “OK, all is in order and your loan has been approved”, I thanked her, removed the ring from Christina’s finger, put it in the box that they gave me, and I stuck the ring in my pocket. I suggested that we should probably leave. Christina just nodded and followed me, looking a little like a deer caught in the headlights. As we were walking into the main courtyard of the mall, I suggested that we should go to our favorite little sushi haunt near her apartment (Isobune on Burlingame Avenue).

We drove over to the sushi place with a little Peter Murphy playing in the background (symbolic, yes, as the album “Deep” was one of the first things we listened to on our first date roughly a year earlier) and we walked in and asked for one of the booth tables. As we sat down and ordered, I looked up and there was Christina, looking at me with an expression that told me she really couldn’t take it anymore. As I talked about what an interesting night it had been, such fun at the mall, such cute costumes, and now here we were at one of our favorite places, it just seemed like the night was going so wonderfully. Still, for some odd reason, I felt like I was forgetting something… what could it be?

At which point, the “Kelly trademark smirk” made its appearance, and I said “oh yes, now I remember…”. I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled out the ring, opened the box up, got down on one knee in the aisle and said the following:

“Christina, you have put up with a lot regarding me. Some might say I’ve put up with a lot regarding you, too. Tonight I realized that we both want to do this, and we don’t want to wait until everything is perfect. We want to go fir it right here and right now. In front of all of these people, and all of this dead fish, I hereby ask that you marry me. I can’t guarantee that we will be rich, I can’t guarantee that we will always be comfortable, but I hereby promise that life will never be boring. I love you and, please say yes!”

She did, I slipped the ring on her finger, we kissed… and the whole restaurant clapped.

And with that, Christina and Michael were “semi-officially” engaged. We were officially engaged two days later when I made the formal request of her father (old country Germans and Austrians tend to take this seriously, and so did I. I was relieved to hear him say in his thick Austrian accent “thank you very much for asking, I’ll gladly have you take her off of my hands” followed by a hearty laugh :) ). With that, we figured it would just be a quick announcement and a few plans made to get the rest taken care of. However, looking back, we made an interesting decision… since she was born December 3rd, 1968, and I was born December 7th, 1967, we thought it would be cute to have our wedding be between those two dates. Little did we realize that trying to get married in December would be one of the most challenging things to pull of, and with so little time, it would be virtually impossible to book a church or reception area. We decided, though, that we wanted to have that little tradition, so we both said “OK, let’s shoot for December 5th, 1992. That will give us a whole year to prepare, no pressure, and lots of time to get everything in place.”

What would follow would be one of the most defining, and I’ll dare say, necessary years of both our lives, and just how fateful the decision to wait a year to actually get married would be… but that story, my friends, will have to wait for another day :).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here?

I’m reaching a point where I have to admit… my blog is suffering from an identity crisis. What is the ultimate purpose of this thing? Am I blogging for myself? For others? For my posterity? What drives the topics that I choose? Is this a Personal Finance blog? Is it a Religious or Philosophical blog? Is it a Life Hack blog? Is it a “share quirky stories about your family” blog? At the moment, it seems to be “all of the above”, but there’s definitely a trend developing, and I’ll have to see what I want to do about that trend.

First, I’ve gone back to see many of my posts and there seems to be two main angles that get the most stage time, Personal Finance and General Philosophy/Life Hacking. Some could say that these are two sides of the same coin, and I guess in a way, they actually are.

Personal Finance interests me because I see it as a major problem in many people’s lives. I realize I may not be the best example for people as to how I got to where I am today. Let’s face it, telling the world “I worked for Cisco for 10 years, and I got lots of stock options” doesn’t offer much inspiration. It's also not been terribly relevant for the past several years, as it can be said that the glory days for that stock have long since passed. However, it is a hope that the things that I am doing today (focusing on thrifty decisions, placing a truer emphasis on value rather than cost, and letting go of a sense of “Stuffitis”) may very well resonate with others, and I do find that there are areas I do enjoy talking about and perhaps learning and sharing some newer insights.

Life oft-times revolves around our actions and the way that we see the world. I am an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The process of living as a member of that community informs many of my life decisions. Still, there are many things in my life that I do and that I find pleasure in doing, and just want to have make my life better and more effective, that are not necessarily 100% wrapped up in the Gospel or in the scriptures. Many times, of course, there are efficiencies of life that I have learned and that I practice that have come totally from the Gospel and understanding and applying the scriptures to my life. Thus these are areas I want to talk about and encourage others to, if not discuss, at least consider, while providing firm application of the ideas and ideals, and why and how they are effective (and sometimes, how I’ve found them not to be effective without some personal tweaks).

At the end of the day, I have to decide who and what this blog is actually for. Is this blog for external viewers, and do I write this blog for you? Or is this more of an online journal that I’m making public, and in the end, is all of this really just being written for me? While I enjoy writing and pondering ideas, I enjoy it more when I feel there might be some other people who could benefit from what I have to say. I’m not so arrogant as to think that my ideas will somehow revolutionize the world, but it’s possible I may inspire someone, and they may choose to look at how they do things a little differently.

This blog is also an “Accountability Partner”, where I put my ideals out there, and let the site, and the people who view it, take a little piece of that effort and record it for themselves in their thoughts and their hearts. It encourages me to think that people may actually come back and say “so, did you follow through on what you said you were going to do?” That’s encouraging, and it makes me want to keep striving. Partially because I want to move forward anyway, but also because it invests my ego just a little bit to say “I wrote it, and I put it out for the world to see… am I strong enough to live up to what I said I’d do? And if I’m not… am I brave enough to admit I was wrong?” It’s easy to crow when you do something that looks and feels great, when you have an accomplishment to post about. It’s another feeling entirely when you have to “eat crow”; admit that an idea you had, an approach you tried, an opinion you harbored, was actually wrong, ill advised, or just plain didn’t work out. My goal is to actually post successes and failures, the achievements and the shortcomings. If I feel I’m right about something, I’ll try to explain why I think I’m right. If I mess up, or otherwise don’t succeed, I want to hold myself accountable here.

Thus I guess the answer to my title question (Where Do We Go From Here?) is “where I’m already going, and let the chips fall where they may". Not everything I write will be fun, not everything will be informative, and not everything will somehow have some deep cosmic meaning. What it will do, however, is give me a way to put down my thoughts, examine my motives, and keep vigil as to the ideals I seem to profess having. Likewise, it will give me a chance to keep some thoughts, goals, and projects at the forefront of my thinking, and hopefully allow others to either give me encouragement to keep at it, or to say to themselves “Hey, now that’s something that I want to do!” Either way, I’ll be here for you (and me :) ).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

From Asleep to Enraged in 10 Seconds!!!

OK, I admit it, I’m probably one who needs a little work on this particular attribute. I’m a relatively high strung guy, and I tend to get excited about stuff and I’m the King of hyper-motivation when it comes to getting some things done. It’s one of the reasons I work well as a Scoutmaster; I’m little more than a kid in a grown-up’s body, plus I have the emotional energy to match it many times. This is great when the emotions and the circumstances are positive. It also, however can be a huge negative when the emotions and circumstances are negative. In short, I tend to overreact to bad news, especially when it relates to members of my family.

The recent challenge du jour has been in regards to homework. For the most part, my kids are good students; generally bright, articulate, and get things done when they need to be… however, we seem to have run into a rough patch when it comes to one child's math class… they're looking to be getting a C.


Now, understand, I wouldn’t mind if the issue was struggling with Math and that was the best they were able to do. I certainly wasn’t a Math wiz when I was younger, so I got my share of C’s, too. That’s not what’s got me up in arms. What has me so frustrated and agro about all this is that the reasons the grade is so low is because of missing assignments, and a fairly big project that needed to be done on the computer at school, a lost password, and no mention of the fact until it was too late. THIS is what set me off.

I’m a firm believer in letting people do what they need to do in the manner that best works for them. I also realize that my way isn’t necessarily the best way for everyone. I discovered when I went back to school full time in 2003 that my peak learning hours were between 4:00 AM and 8:00 AM, with a gradual drop off from there and a real wall being hit around 2:00 PM. Thus, I can understand if another way of doing things needs to be done, as long as it gets done. However, it looks like that “getting done” isn’t happening, even with Mom cajoling and pushing. Thus, now it is time for Dad to get involved.

I know Christina tends to dread bringing these situations up with me, because I’m not one who handles situations like this in a cool manner. See, I tend to get over emotional about stuff like this because it was a lackadaisical attitude and a sloppy and disorganized approach to life that doomed me to the lower reaches of GPA during my middle and high school years. I vowed I would not let my kids do the same thing. Thus, I tend to fly off the handle when it comes to stuff like this. You’d think I’d be empathetic and understanding, but you’d be wrong, oh so very, very wrong!

See, I’m one of those people that abhor and react most violently regarding others to the traits I most recognize in myself, especially the ones I greatly dislike:

I know I’m disorganized.
I know I procrastinate.
I know that I rely way too heavily on a “fly by the seat of my pants and wing it” philosophy in my personal and professional life.

I’m also trying very hard to change those aspects about me and my life, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. However, I can spot it in anyone else a mile away, and I am swift and merciless when it comes to dealing with it in others. Yes, I am aware that that makes me a world class and monumental hypocrite, but I’ve come to appreciate the fact that my existence at times is best exemplified when I am a warning sign to others (LOL!). In other words, my response very often is “shape up, unless you want to end up like ME!!!”

This is my way of apologizing to everyone for waking them out of a sound sleep on Monday night while Mom and I discussed this particular issue, and to also apologize to one child who received a moderately rude awakening and a fairly stern talking to about how we were going to be allocating their time for the next several weeks, until the end of the semester. This child was informed that they have now been assigned a micro-manager for their schoolwork… ME!!! It also means that they are going to have to get used to a different way of turning work in, as it has to be proofed and initialed by me before it goes out the door, and the teacher in question will know that I will be keeping tabs and following up. Here’s hoping that good and thorough work up front will prove to be the path of least resistance.

I’m sure it will be much more favorable compared to "psycho daddy" as a homework warden (LOL!).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Madd Money: Three Cheers for the EMERGENCY FUND!!!

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fan of the Ramsey Baby Steps, and the one that I’m the biggest fan of right now is his third Baby Step, where you fully fund an emergency fund with three to six months of expenses (we have taken it to the out edge and have six months of actual income set aside). The whole point for having the Emergency Fund is so that you have a rainy day fund, because, inevitably, it will rain!

It’s important to decide what actually constitutes an emergency. This is one of those grey areas; some people will only look at the life or death situations, and some are more liberal when it comes to defining an emergency. Well, Christina made the call that what happened this past weekend in our van constituted an emergency, and we acted accordingly. What happened was I brought five young men up to Cutter Scout Reservation for the Order of the Arrow Ordeal weekend. My wife’s van was the only vehicle that could seat everyone, but even with the van, everyone and their gear was piled in tightly. When we got to the twisty and winding part of Hwy 236 (the one leading from Castle Rock to Big Basin in the Santa Cruz Mountains), I heard one of the boys say “Excuse me, Mr Larsen, I think I’m... {SPLAT!!!}”.

Yep, one of the boys got carsick and let loose. The resulting smell caused another boy to get nauseous and lose it, but thankfully he lasted until I could pull over and get the van door open and him outside of the van. Needless to say, the rest of the ride up, even with as much of a clean up as we could do, was not pleasant, and while the boys spent the lion's share of the weekend participating in the various activities associated with Ordeal weekend, I spent my time pulling out seats and floor mats and scrubbing down all of the surface areas with hot water and TSP, while also using a tin full of white sage and burning it like incense in the car in the hope of killing the odor (white sage is used for purification in native american traditions... if anything needed to be purified, it was the smell inside of the van!). No such luck. We were able to mask it pretty well and the drive back was tolerable, but we kept the rear windows vented and the sun roof open the whole way home to bring in fresh air.

I had called Christina to warn her, and then held the phone a good foot from my ear to let her vent (this is her beloved van, after all, in which she has to drive kids various places, and carpool with… thus this was not good news to her at all). When I got home, and she got into the car to check it out, she said “I really appreciate you scrubbing down the car as well as you did, I know it wasn’t a lot of fun… but I can still smell it. I’m sorry, but we have to get the car detailed”. Fortunately, a good friend of ours (who is a Police officer in one of the nearby towns) told us of a place that does forensic level car detailing… meaning they often do clean-up of the police cars, which see their share of incidents involving not just vomit, but urine, excrement and blood… and sometime all four at the same time! Hey, if it’s good enough for Police departments, it’s good enough for us! Thus with that recommendation, we contacted them and asked them to do a number on the car, from stem to stern internally. I must admit, the car could have used this anyway, but this particular event pushed it from the "nice to do" category to "absolutely essential" one.

It wasn't cheap, but it was worth every penny. The good thing is, this is exactly why we have an emergency fund. Granted, it’s not really what I wanted to spend the money on, but then, when you have an emergency fund, it’s there for any situation you don’t really want to spend the money on. That’s what emergencies are! The great thing is that we will be able to just pay for it and then use our allotted for savings to refill the emergency fund. That’s one of our mandatory emergency valve rules; when the emergency fund gets tapped for any reason, and it dips below the agreed to threshold, all other savings and investment options are temporarily halted until we’re back to the desired threshold. The good news is, it looks like we will only need one pay period to get back to our agreed to level.

Today, I am singing some serious praises to the Emergency Fund. However, Christina is probably singing even louder than I am (LOL!). For the record, honey, I’m sorry, and I hope this will make up for it. From here on out, it’s a hard rule of two drivers, two cars, a door seat for every passenger… and Dramamine shall be consumed by everyone in the car before departure :). Let’s just say that this is one emergency I want to ensure *never* happens again!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Viva la difference!!!!!

You have to love the difference between how teenage boys and teenage girls think… or perhaps it’s the difference between how teenage boy leaders and teenage girl leaders think and direct (LOL!).

In my role as Scoutmaster for my Church’s Boy Scout Troop, I am effectively a “spare wheel” when it come to leadership regarding our Young Men. This has been a standard procedure in our Ward for many years; the Scoutmaster, any assistant Scoutmaster’s and Venturing Advisors are adjuncts to the young men’s organization and spend the third (Priesthood) block with the Young Men in their classes. This is a long way of explaining why I was teaching a lesson on Sunday about “choosing attributes in your future Eternal Companion” to the teenage boys in our church.

This is one of those classic lessons where you want to get across the idea that there are many important things to consider when you are going to be choosing a mate for time and all eternity. Hey, it’s a big deal! Sometimes, I get the feeling that boys aren’t really thinking about those things (OK, unfair comparison here because, at their age, I totally was thinking about those things, probably way too soon than was healthy, so I have to bust myself on that one and move on :) ).

Part of this lesson had us writing on the whiteboard the attributes that we wanted to have. Needless to say, the first half dozen attributes were all physical ones (well, at least the physical ones any teenage boy would outwardly express in a Priesthood class; let’s just say that many of them didn’t make it on the board (LOL!). We determined the following from a smattering of responses:

Blonde/Brunette/Redhead/Black hair (there was no consensus, and there was some love for all of the choices :) )
Not too EMO (that was from my son, who apparently doesn’t want any additional competition in the EMO department (have I mentioned my son is twelve (LOL!) )
Enjoys sports
Strong Testimony
Likes children

And so on. To their credit, having a testimony and being active in the church was important, but from the vantage point of this discussion, it was sort of an “oh yea, and that” by comparison.

I found out later that day while we were attending the baptism of one of Christina’s primary children that the Young Women had the same lesson. I walked into their classroom and there, on the board, were their answers to the same questions. Here’s what they wrote down:

Returned Missionary
Strong Testimony
Active in Church
Honors his Priesthood
Good Provider
Wants children (notice the subtle difference there :) )
Not too short

Now, to be 100% objective, I did not sit in the Young Women’s class, and I did not see what may have gone on before hand as to how they polled for the responses, but I cannot help but notice that the weight of the answers was the inverse to the Young Men answers. The Young Women started out their list with strong spiritual aspects and attributes, and then ended with a couple of “Oh yeah, cute, well built and tall would be nice”. It’s entirely possible that the Young Women’s leaders wanted to have them emphasize the spiritual aspects before even mentioning the physical aspects… or again, it’s just a real manifestation of the difference between how the Young Men and Young Women think…

Thus, as a service to my Young Men’s quorums, use the list and cultivate the areas the Young Women really care about. It will be to your benefit. To the Young Women… now you know how our Young Men really think… are any of you surprised (LOL!)? Still, please be patient with them; they are young, they are na├»ve, and in many cases they may be just as nervous to say what they really think as anyone else. I do have faith that they will grow up, they will mature, they will ultimately serve missions, and I’ll dare say the lion’s share of them will return with the attributes you are after. At that point, I highly recommend using kind words and a strong net :).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Madd Money: New Hero Rides into Town... Meet Tightwad Tod

JD over at Get Rich slowly gets the props for posting about this guy first, but I have to say I love the premise and I'm looking forward to reading more from him.

Tightwad Tod is the blog of Tod Marks, a senior editor over at at Consumer Reports. While much of Consumer Reports site is paid content, many of the blogs are available for free, and Tightwad Tod's is one of the free ones :).

Tod Marks is a senior editor at Consumer Reports, and he's been writing about how to save money for 17 years. It will be interesting to see what he has to say, and what opportunities might come out of reading his suggestions :).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: Seeing Things The Way We Are

This weekend, my son and I will be heading up to the Santa Cruz Mountains to participate in the Ordeal Weekend for our Order of Arrow Lodge. It’s an event we have done together twice, and now this will be our third time together. Last year, he went through for himself to receive Ordeal membership. Last spring, he served as an Elangomat (meaning Friend or Guide) to others going through the Ordeal for the first time. While this was happening, I was in another part of the camp going through the process to receive the Vigil Honor (and no, I’ll not tell what that process is, if you want to know, join and get there yourself ;) ). This weekend, Nick will be acting as an Elangomat again, and he has the chance to seal his membership in Order of the Arrow as a Brotherhood member.What's more, he will be an Elangomat for fellow members of his Troop, so this time, he will actually be leading his own friends through the process.

So what does the title of this post have to do with the preceding paragraph? It always interests me that we have opportunities where we can get away from it all, think, ponder, pray, meditate, and learn a little bit more about ourselves and where we fit into the world. These actions allow us to open our eyes just a little bit more, and they let us see a little more clearly what we as people need to do. It’s been a year since my son was elected to be an Ordeal candidate. In that time, he has learned a bit more about what it means to serve and be part of a bigger group, and to contribute to the success of that group. I’m proud of him and what he has been able to do in a short time. By contrast, my own involvement over the last year has changed somewhat with the receiving of the Vigil Honor. With it comes a greater expectation, and through that expectation, I’ve determined that I need to be more aware and alert to the things that I need to do and the example I need to set.

As a member of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am often instructed and counseled to read my scriptures daily. Oftentimes, I have had to ask myself “why am I being asked to rehash things I’ve already read a bunch of times before?” I’ve come to see that it is because there really is no one world, one absolute reality, but billions of them, and each reality is informed by the viewpoint and the vision of the individual living that reality. Unlike a stone crag that juts out into the ocean, impervious to all that buffet it, human beings are really very small boats that have very lightweight anchors. We get blown about all over the place. Likewise, we are also very swift and maneuverable; we can change course very easily and maneuver very quickly and with great agility even the most treacherous of areas. Thus the words that we are taught, and the counsel that we always seek those words, is inspired because of the fact that we are such lightweight and agile but easily blown about vessels. We need to be reminded where our home Port is, and we need to be reminded of what the windows on the bridge are supposed to see.

This weekend, a new batch of boys will be coming up to find out a little bit more about who they are and how *they* see the world. Here’s hoping it will be a good experience for them, and for us as well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: Releasing Captive Books Back Out Into The Wild

The stack for consideration to be downsized.

The ones that Powell's actually wants.

This is a hard post for me to write, it really is. My books are a reflection of my personality, and I think it's safe to say that for many people, there is a certain connection that they have to the various books that they have accumulated over the years. Jerry Seinfeld did a riff on this a decade or so ago where he poked fun at people holding onto books as though they were big game trophies. I laughed at the comparison for two reasons. First is because it's funny, but second... is because it's so painfully true.

We live in a modest sized house that is considered large for the area where we live (I thought it was quite small when I first viewed it, but then I grew up in Danville, CA where the average house is somewhere around 3000 sq. ft.). Having come off of living in San Francisco for several years, though, we were definitely stepping up in total house and land space. Still, with an active family of five, space comes at a premium. The choices are to expand the house to store stuff, or find a way to let the stuff back out into the wild. Those who follow this feature know I'm dedicated to the latter :). More to the point, I'm trying to practice an ethic of either library borrowing of books (hey, my tax dollars go to support a fantastic library in my town, so shouldn't I take advantage of it?!), or the notion of "if I like something enough to keep it, i need to like it enough to be willing to let something else go".

When I decided to tackle this particular demon, I figured the best way to handle it was to get every single book that we owned in the house out on the floor, This very act is a huge catalyst, because it forces you to take action. Every single book was up for consideration, nothing was sacred... OK, that's not entirely true. Each family member has their own scripture quad. Those are considered sacred and those will not be parted with. The several BYU Religion course manuals that I own will also not be parted with. The collections related to the teachings of the Presidents of the Church... I have all of them, and they will not be gotten rid of, and certain key commentary books that I love, such as James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ, Le Grand Richards A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Neal A. Maxwell's All these Things Shall Give Thee Experience shall always have a place in my home. I'm old enough now where I actually know people who have written books, and they have either given them to me with personal inscriptions, or I have a few older titles signed by the author. Those, of course, stay. Just about everything else, though, was fair game :). After I put everything out on the floor, I sorted on topic and grouping of titles. After sorting, I applied my "Pillars of Stuffitis" with some unique caveatrs this time:

1. Were the books that I had up to date and accurate?
2. Were they books that I actively read or considered likely I would actively read them in the next two years?
3. Were there more comprehensive and up to date details about the topic available online and from better sources than the books I owned?
4. Was there really and truly a likelihood that any of these titles would be something my children would be looking to read in the next two to three years?

With that, any books that passed at least two of the four tests above were returned to the shelves. What remained were titles I'd need to consider carefully:

Scouting publications: Generally speaking, I keep all up to date publications and purge any that are out of date. My lone exception is my Order of the Arrow handbook. That's the one that I got when I first joined O.A., and I refuse to update it or part with it. Also, general purpose externally published scouting books I will keep, no matter the age.

Native American Studies: Many of the books that I have are redundant, woefully out of date and/or are missing up to date information. Also, I'm doing away with books that reinforce old stereotypes. Plus, with so many great sites online dedicated to this purpose, I want to support their efforts. Still, I kept a number of books related to anthropology and essays about life among the various tribes from first hand account, as well as artwork books from artists such as George Caitlin, Karl Bodmer, photographic work by Edward Curtis, and contemporary artists such as James Bama and William Terpening. I also kept a couple of books that were collections of projects for Pow Wow craftwork. The rest I decided to let go of.

Music books: These are of two flavors, those with very "faddy" concepts and those with "timeless" content. I opted for the timeless ones in most cases, and purged the fads. Also, with sites like Guitar Alliance and other music specific sites that use media for their presentation, many of the printed books are becoming redundant. I'd much rather see a school music program make use of these than have them just collecting dust on my shelves.

Computer Books: This has been one of the bigger paradigm shifts for me. Due to sites like W3 Schools and others devoted to specific topics in computing, programming, systems and network administration, and having access to the O'Reilly Network for general content books online, the days of needing shelves of books to reference has become less necessary. As a matter of course, I still keep a certain number of books I consider essential, but they have shrunk *way* down from what I used to hang onto.

General Reference: A handful of good titles related to things like home repair, gardening, and various art and craft techniques, but a lot of repetition in what I had made it easy to shed a few of them. In addition, much of this content is much more up to date and relevant through online sites.

Children's Books: This isn't too hard for us, as we regularly purge books that will never be looked at again once the kids outgrow them. We hang onto some classics simply because they are all time favorites, but that's just a handful of titles.

The Classics: Here's where I'm going to be seen as a total "Philistine", but I'll say it... this was an area where we did a lot of pruning. I have come to the conclusion that, if I really want to read a Jane Austin novel or something from Alexandre Dumas, the library shelves are *overflowing* with these books. You practically trip over the number of copies of Herman Melville's Moby Dick that are on the shelves. Also, due to the fact that many schools assign these books for reading and make them available through school, it pretty much negates my being required to have them at home. I can just hear the people shouting "For shame, no Iliad or Oddysey or Aeneid?! No Cicero, Seneca, Plato or Socrates? No Shakespeare? No Milton? No Voltaire? No Hugo?" As of this past weekend, the answer is "no". Not because I don't find the books valuable, but because I decided that I will more than happily check the book out of the library if I get a major itch to get my Greek on (or fill in your language of choice).

College Textbooks: Really, no, I'm not likely going to be opening these again. Even if I do, there is typically better available writing on the subject available in many different resource locations. College textbooks are the real big game trophy hunting titles. Seeing as I was *not* a Math wiz as a kid, and seeing as I had to work my tail off for four straight semesters to bring my skill level up enough to complete Calculus, I absolutely kept that book on my shelf for all the world to see. "Why yes, I did make it through Calculus, why do you ask? Oh, I see, you are admiring my 800 page volume of Discrete Calculus of a Single Variable. Yes indeed, quite a ground breaking work... can I interest you in a vintage copy of Tindall's America, per chance?"... c'mon already (LOL!). News flash, by the time the kids are in their classes, they'll have their own textbooks to work through, and they'll be considerably more up to date than the dusty tomes I'm holding onto for swagger rights. Let it go and roam free. It's deserves it. What's more, it may still be relevant to another poor late teen or early adult that might find benefit from that particular title.

So some may ask, what was the final outcome of many of these tomes? A number of books went home with a good friend of mine to reinforce her home schooling curriculum for her kids. She was all over the collection of Lost Civilization books that I had; she saw them and just said "I'll take them all!", as well as some young reader titles that I had and the kids had fully outgrown. A number of books will be making their way to my favorite online used bookstore, Powell's in Portland, Oregon. What I love about Powells is that you can use their online interface, punch in the ISBN numbers, and within seconds, you will know which books they want and which ones they don't (yep, the don't pile is still pretty full, and the "wanted" list from Powells, while not massive, was certainly interesting). The small collection of books up top were the ones they wanted. The larger collection were books they didn't. Powells sends you a mailing slip where they pay the postage, and then they give you a store credit for titles that you want to get at a later date (I've already used their service a number of times in the past and found some terrific titles I might have passed on in other venues or purchasing them new).

Thus it's time for a plan B for a number of the books that were not claimed by my friend or by Powell's. Where they will ultimately go, that's hard to say. Once thing is for sure, these books will not be stuffed back into a closet, or thrown away (that's something I just can't do; it feels like I'm puting a beloved pet down). They wil find their way into the hands of readers who want to read them, at least if I have anything to say about it :).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Facebook and the Celestial Kingdom

Don't think I'm too much off of my rocker with today's blog post. I have a point with it :).

I'm not really sure what happened last week, but for some reason, I sat down with some thoughts in my head about who I'd like to see and what they were up to. There are quite a few people I've wondered about over the years, and each time that I've thought to look for them, I've come up empty handed. This week, I just felt an urge to do a little bit of poking around and posting some thoughts and comments to some friends Facebook walls, because, really, that's the whole point of a "social network", right? We invest time and effort into fostering and rekindling relationships because these people matter to us... at least that's how I tend to view them.

I had a strong impression that this was the time I should do some direct name searches, and see if those people who had eluded me in other ways could be found... and find them I did, in spades! The most surprising was a dear friend from high school that I'd long since thought I'd never see again... and it turns out she was living in the same house she grew up in. She ribbed me a little and said "if you would have just called the number you knew from high school, I would have answered".

I found something very profound in that statement... a part of me had long wondered how this person was doing, but for some reason I never thought to just go and contact the home and family where she used to live. Instead, I'd poke my nose around sites on the web, looking to see if I might somehow run across her, maybe do some kind of drive by "hey, I just found you here, how cool is that?", and somehow feel content that I'd made a connection with somebody. How many years ago could I have just screwed up the courage to make a phone call and say "hey, I was thinking about you, and I wanted to know how you were?" Part of me felt like I was being nosey, like I was butting into someones life, and did I really think I had a right to do that. It may sound silly, but these are things I think about.

I realized that a lot of the time, I do the same thing with Heavenly Father and with Jesus Christ as relates to my interaction with the Gospel. I'm perfectly content to have these roundabout experiences where I try to find something or have something pertinent to the gospel appear in my life, but the simple and most direct route, that of just going up to my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ and saying "help me to have this" or "teach me to walk in the light", those are the things that make me nervous or intimidate me. Maybe it comes down to fear, wonder if we have any business asking. To use my Facebook analogy, in many ways, I felt like going to this old friends house or calling that number would be a strange thing to do, like I would be an intruder, and who did I think I was, anyway? It's only after we make that contact and realize, "Silly dude, of course you could have called or contacted me. That's what friends are for, right?"

Since more times than not, I make these notes for my own memory rather than for any necessary entertainment value for others (although hey, if you enjoy reading them, that's a definite bonus :) ), I felt the need to write this entry today. The feeling of reuniting and rekindling friendships, that sense of relief that I'm welcome in someones life, that there's good feelings and good memories and, sometimes, forgiveness for past oversights or bad actions, has been such a wonderful blessing to me today. I'm on a natural high from a number of conversations I've had, and I think that, in a way, I've had just a little bit more of a peek as to what the Celestial Kingdom might actually be like, and what kind of attributes a person needs to have to feel comfortable there. What's more, I've realized that, if someone matters to you, it's a good bet that you may actually matter to them, too. Still, there's really only one way to find out. If there's someone you've been wondering about, try to find them. Directly. Stop with the roundabout "Oh, I'll ask a friend of a friend, or check some site some place"... go directly to the source if you can, say hello and explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. Then let the chips fall where they may. It's entirely possible you may not be welcome, and you will know that soon enough. It's also possible that those people will be really happy to have heard from you, and your knowledge and experience of those people, and your potential future interaction with those people, will be greatly enriched. Again, potential shades of the Celestial Kingdom right here and now... I think I can deal with that :).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: The Bass Rig: What's It Worth?

OK, it's been a week since I have put the bass rig on the market. So far, no hits for the full rig, but questions for the various pieces have been coming in.

So what's everything worth? Truthfully, it's worth whatever someone wants to pay for any of the items. However, thanks to my perusing similar offers and opportunities on my trusty three sites, provided everything is in good working order, clean and ready to sell, I've come up with a fair market value as follows:

* Carvin BR-410 Cabinet: $250.00
* Carvin BR-115 cabinet: $250.00
* Gallien-Krueger 400RB Bass Head: $150.00
* ART FXR Elite Multi-Effect Processor: $100.00
* Tech 21 SansAmp RackMount Tube Amp Emulator: $100.00
* Alesis 3630 Compressor/Limiter: $75.00
* Signal Flex Power Distributor/Rack Light: $100.00
* Ozite covered 6 space rack box: $25.00
* Miscellaneous patch cables: $25.00

or some kind soul could take the whole thing off my hands for $1,000.00 even (or best offer, of course ;) ). Hasn't happened yet, but hey, I can dare to dream :).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

Note, comments are not enabled on this post. I have no intention of debating what I say in this entry. It’s just a statement of belief and fact as I see them, and I’ll let them stand exactly as is.

While having a discussion with a friend of mine, we talked a little bit about politics. I’m typically one who doesn’t get involved in in-dept political conversation because my views tend to be a little out of "the norm". When you say that you are a Latter-day Saint, people automatically assume things about you, such as that you are a Republican. Which I’m not.

On the flip side, when I say I’m a Democrat, then a lot of people get a totally different view of me, and I typically have to stop them and say “no, that’s not accurate, either”. By the time I explain where I’m really at, and what I really represent, most people tend to just shrug and go on their way. However, this time, I was given a comment to chew on, and it’s one that’s given me a lot to think about. I’ll protect the innocent and not drag them in by name, but here, paraphrased, is the comment that grabbed my attention:

The Democrat party has moved to the extreme left, and is NO LONGER the party of JFK.

BANG!!! In one sentence, I’ve finally had crystallized for me what I’ve tried to explain to others for many years! In addition, I’ve been given exactly the way to phrase why I stay with it, even when I feel that my party has drifted so far away from many of the ideals I personally hold so dear.

I can sum up most of my political views in a few basic sentences. They may seem quaint to some Democrats, but these are the principles of the Democratic Party that I hold dearly to, as well as some areas where I differ from mainstream Democrats today:

I believe there are areas where the government does have a solid need to be involved, where taxes and tax breaks need to be applied, and yes, I believe in a social contract with everyday Americans. I believe in social justice. I believe in giving help to those who are less fortunate or who have otherwise been harmed in the past. That is all classic Democrat party platform material. However, my view of that social contract and who deserves to receive the greatest benefits from it is decidedly out of vogue in today's Democrat circles. I believe strongly in the power and value of religious faith, in industry, in people willing to work hard, play by the rules, be frugal, become prosperous because of their own efforts, and support and give service to the foundational institutions that are the most stabilizing in society, such as traditional marriage and families, schools, churches, communities and the like. To echo the words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your Country can do for you, as what you can do for your Country”.

In my perfect world view, where would I like to see the lion's share of government monies collected in taxes go? Those not earmarked for establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense and securing the blessings of liberty (yes, I’m talking about the “promote the general welfare” section of the Constitution) should go to those who participate in the greatest manner as the greatest net producers and contributors in society, those that contribute the most to our nation. That goes for people, families, businesses, what have you. That goes for rich and for poor, let all have a chance to reap the benefits of the opportunity that this great country provides. THIS is where taxes and government funds should, in my view, focus the greatest amount of attention.

Now watch out, I’m going to get “politically incorrect” here and I may well be committing “Democrat blasphemy” with what I’m about to say… if one was a net drain on the lives and welfare of people (i.e. "the societal sinners", however you wish to personally define that; I have my own thoughts on what that represents and I’ll not be debating them here), those are the ones that I would look at applying more of a focus on collecting taxes from. You want to smoke, drink, do drugs, be a libertine, cause damage and live dangerously? Hey, it's your life, and you're free to live how you wish, but you're going to pay extra for it. Do you want to live a balanced, focused, productive, upstanding life, as defined by the greater good of society as a whole? Awesome, you deserve the tax breaks for providing the biggest net gain to society. Everyone deserves a chance, but nobody should be entitled to an unlimited free ride. I am 100% AGAINST wealth redistribution, and I am 100% AGAINST corporate welfare!

Thus I am what is often referred to as being fiscally liberal, but I believe the liberal policy should be applied in a socially conservative manner. That describes the Democratic Party that my father was raised in. It was that same philosophy and ideals that he helped pass down to me. The ideals of the party of FDR, JFK and RFK, and it’s the one whose ideals I still believe in. Work hard, live modestly, avoid debt, pay whatever down you can as fast as humanly possible, and then invest so that you can live comfortably and give to others. Willingly. To serve your fellow man and help those to have the same opportunities that you do. Ask not what your Country can do for you, as what you can do for your Country!

My world view, I've discovered, is becoming increasingly rare. Sadly, the men and women I used to be able to identify with seem to be dead or dying. It also feels as though the mantra today is “Ask not what you can do for your country, instead demand what your country will do for you!”… and frankly, that both saddens and terrifies me.

I feel somewhat out of sorts today, as though I’ve been marginalized because I’m not rabidly liberal, super left leaning, or one who wants to embrace the United States and its headlong march towards Socialism. I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness at times, trying to say to people that it is possible to believe in social justice and religious faith at the same time. It is possible to have fiscally liberal leanings, but not want to see it applied to an ‘anything goes’ mentality and morality. It is possible to desire greater opportunity for my fellow man without trying to game the system to somehow guarantee that outcome (usually with disastrous results). It is possible to be a Democrat who stands for things like God, allegiance to country, devotion to moral and religious principles, and even stand for not so favorable positions such as support for the troops that fight our battles in distant countries, the desire to not see the government leap head first into bailing out every single institution who made a bad financial decision, or to tear apart absolutely critical to society cultural mores like traditional marriage and religious freedom.

Some may suggest that I am really a closet Republican, but I’m not… I’m an FDR and JFK Democrat, and I’m proud as all getout to be one. While the hard leaning lefties get all the press, there are still those of us who believe in what the Democrat Party once stood for, and will continue to stand for it. I may be a lone voice in the wilderness, shouting things I know some don’t want to hear, but I will not abandon it. I’ll also not be afraid to say that there is much about the Republican Party that is done right, and there is much about the Democratic Party that is done wrong. Neither side has the corner on the market of virtue or vice. Thus, while I often feel like I don’t belong in the tent any more, I’m going to stay, and I’m going to fight so that the moderate voice of the Democratic Party is still present and accounted for.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Madd Money: In Praise of the TRACFONE

Today, cell phones are ubiquitous. I have made the acquaintance of many people for whom the land line is a quaint memory of their Pastoral childhoods, but was left behind with the changing of the century and millenia. Yes, I'm one of those archaic fuddy-duddies that still has a land line at home.

I'm still of the generation that hasn't entirely bought into the whole "life convergence" thing. While I have to admit the notion of having your camera, your phone, your computer and your MP3 player all on the same device may seem cool, it just strikes me as odd that anyone would willingly tie themselves down to an all-in-one solution rather than have components that can do the best job they may want them to.

See, to me, a cell phone is like an insurance policy. It's an OK form of communication, but it's not my only one, and I really don't use it all *that* often. Thus looking at these goofy contracts (well, goofy to me) that ask for anywhere from $50-100+ per month for two years or so seem insane to me. The idea of signing up for anything for that length of time, and committing that much each month makes little sense to me. What's more, I don't need every cool feature on the planet for a phone. I need something I can dial a number, press a button and talk to someone for the amount of time necessary. Then I hang up and can honestly go *days* between needing to use it again.

Fortunately, there's a device and service out there for people like me. It's called TRACFONE, and I am very much a fan. It's perfect for infrequent cell phone users, of which I most assuredly am. Between my home number and my work number, I really don't need to use my cell phone all that often. It's used for the occassional Scout outing when I need to coordinate something on the road, or for my various snowboard trips when I need to check in at home and tell everyone I made it OK. Otherwise, I can honestly go days without using my cell phone or receiving a call. Thus a model of a monthly charge doesn't make a lot of sense for me. TRACFONE operates on a model where you pay for your service and minutes up front, usually with a credit or debit card (both work fine), and the phone displays the "bank" of minutes you have. Usually I will buy 300 minutes at a time, and I will use the phone until those minutes are used up. Some active months, I may actually burn through those minutes, but in most cases, that bank of 300 minutes will last me three or four months (seriously).

I'll admit there's a bit of a premium for this model (I pay the equivalent of about $0.10 per minute any time I use my phone), but many months that works out to my effective cell phone bill being $3.00 to $6.00 per month. What's also cool about this model is that it's a great one to use for kids if you decide that they warrant a cell phone. My eldest child has a phone, and by design, his phone is also a TRACFONE, for the reasons I've described. Oh, there hasve been rumblings about this arrangement, make no mistake. See, TRACFONES are anything but sexy or cool. Well, that's not entirely true, you can buy some pretty cool phones through TRACFONE, but let's just say that *I* don't buy them. I get the bare bones models, and my son has a relatively bare bones model as well. He's even said he'd be willing to buy his own non TRACFONE phone... until I tell him that he'd also need to bank the two years worth of phone contract and monthly charges to use a phone that's not part of the TRACFONE network. He usually sulks at this realization, but it's helped him realize that there's more to a phone than just having the phone. He may thank me for this some day... but I don't anticipate that happening anytime soon. Right now, he still grumbles that he's the only Lame-O out of all of this friends who has one of these phones (LOL!).

If you are a phone power user, and it's your only existing line to the telephone network (no land line, etc) or you are into the ability to combine your voice mail, email, texting, camera and music into one device used ubiquitously, TRACFONE may not be much of a benefit to you. However, if like me a cell phone is just an occassional insurance policy, give TRACFONE and their approach some consideration. You may find it to be tremendously cost effective :).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Madd Money: From "Saving Silver" to "Going Orange"

In the past several months, I have undertaken a different method of simplifying and organizing both mine and our family's finances. There are a lot of things that we want to do, and it seems there's never really enough to do everything we want to. That's certainly true if we react to everything in the classic 'I want it and I want it *now*!" mode of thinking we as a culture have grown accustomed to.

What makes things even more interesting is the line in the sand I and my family have drawn that says "We do NOT borrow money". Well, OK, that "line" is more of a hypothetical wish, in the sense that if I were to say we were absolutists on that front, our credit card would not exist and we would use a Debit Card for every single transaction... yet we don't, at least not yet.

Still, since I am "tremendously reluctant" to pull out a credit card to purchase things I don't know for a fact that I have cash for, I have taken on a number of interesting processes to help me get into a mode of mentally and physically saving for things I want to get. For the better part of 2008, I made a goal to save money so that I could get dance outfits made for Karina and Amber (see my previous blog entries for the Labor Day Pow Wow to see what a professional outfit designer can do that I can't do as well (LOL!) ). Every pay period, I was allocated a small amount of money that is referred to as "Blow Money". Both Christina and I have these amounts set aside for ourselves. These are monies that we can use to do just about anything, no questions asked. Everything else requires a budget line item or a family meeting to discuss and declare. Blow money is exempt from that process. To that end, I decided to dedicate a large portion of my blow money to creating the girls outfits. The question was, how could I help motivate myself to save that money?

I came up with the following. Every pay day, I went down to the post office just down the street where I worked, and I purchased a single postage stamp with a $20 bill. in return, I received a single stamp, change to round up to a dollar, and then 19 silver dollar coins. Each $20 bill was used to purchase one stamp. As you might guess, each pay period I came home with a substantial number of Susan B Anthony, Sacajawea and President dollar coins. They all went into the clear piggy bank that I had. Once the bank filled, I could progress on contracting the work to make the outfits. I started this process January 15, 2008 and ended it August 31, 2008. The net result was that I put away a lot of silver dollars. The interesting part of the experiment was that I discovered just how hard it is to spend that money once it's been accumulated in that manner (let's face it, you're not going to go grocery shopping with a pocket full of dollar coins; the embarrassment of pulling out so many of them at the check-out line is enough to give most people plenty of pause... and for that very reason, it worked perfectly :) ). Ultimately redeeming the coins wasn't that difficult, though it did require that I wrap the coins, put our account number on them, and then deposit them and wait three days for the deposits to be verified.

So on the whole, the experiment was a success, with two caveats. The first is that, as stated, the very act of getting that many dollar coins over so many months made me very reluctant to spend them, and also made for a hassle when it was time to actually deposit them en mass. The second is that, while the coins were sitting in my piggy bank, they collected no interest whatsoever. Now granted, the total amount of interest we're talking about here, and in the time frame, amounts to about what a Happy Meal would cost. We're not talking about major amounts of money. Still, I wanted to get at least a *little* return on the money I was squirreling away.

Enter ING DIRECT. They make it very easy to have the equivalent of my "dollar bank", and set things up in such a way that you can categorize how you want to order your funds, what goals you want to set, and their set-up is such that there is a time-delay before you can get to your funds; any deposits that are placed into an ING DIRECT Orange savings account are not available for witdrawal for five days. For my purposes, since this is an account that is set up for middle term savings goals (i.e. the item in question is something that will be purchased in a time frame ranging from several months to five years) I liked the idea of an account that required a little amount of time for you to process transactions. For me, the necessary "cooling off" period allows me to reflect and think about what I ultimately want to do. Since I almost never buy anything on a whim, the five days doesn't bother me. Add to the fact that ING DIRECT accounts pay interest comparable to many Certificates of Deposit, and, well, what's not to like?

Setting up the account was quick, naming it for a specific purpose is easy, and the interface to transfer funds is very simple to use. What's more, I just like being able to log into a bank and see an account called "Blow Money" :).

So for anyone out there giving consideration to setting up a high yield savings account, don't necessarily want to cut ties with their current bank, and if you find that you don't mind placing a little bit of "are you sure?" logic into the equation, then I wholeheartedly recommend "Going Orange". If you can't handle the built in delay in the system, well, I can honestly say that my "Saving Silver" approach proved to be pretty darned effective, too (LOL!).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Using “Fast Offerings” to Fight Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day. The topic this year is poverty.

While my little blog is hardly a world player in the blogosphere, I like thinking about these kinds of questions, and trying to see what I can come with and what thoughts I might be able to provide to the discussion. Indulge me for a bit :).

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like most active members, I participate in two areas of financial responsibility and management as relates to my life in the church. All active members in good standing are expected to pay a full and honest tithe. There are many different interpretations regarding this, but for the sake of this discussion, I will just use my definitions and leave the debating as to their merits out of it. A full and honest tithe, in my world view, is based on my “increase”. When I realize an increase on something, whether that be the receiving of a paycheck, the selling of an asset with appreciation, or some aspect of my life where I receive something of monetary value that can be tangibly quantified as an increase, I pay 10% of the gross of that increase as a tithing. Since I became active again as an adult in the church (back in 1993) I have made this a priority in my life. In addition to this, there is also another aspect that I participate in, as do most members. Once a month, Latter-day Saints hold a fast, usually on the first Sunday of the month, and that fast is effectively the giving up of two meals for that day, and then donating the money that would have been used for those meals as a “Fast Offering” to the church.

I have a strong testimony of the value of both financial obligations, and I participate in both of them them willingly. While I think that tithing is a wonderful program, one that gives me a direct financial stake in the progress and mission of my church, it’s the idea of Fast Offerings that I want to suggest to the world at large as a concept to apply to the topic of “Blog Action Day” and addressing poverty.

Let me pitch this idea out to everyone, whatever your religious denomination or financial situation might be. Could you set aside a day each month, where you are able to agree that you will do without two meals? If the answer is yes, then think about what you would eat for those two meals. If you are naturally frugal and eat very inexpensive options at home, go ahead and add up what it takes to make those meals. If you like to eat out or have a zen for exotic or more gourmet style and priced foods, use that as your criteria. When you have done so and you have a dollar amount, commit to take the money you would have spent on those meals and donate it as a Fast Offering. LDS members already make this contribution each month directly to our church, and I personally feel really good about doing this, because I know that Fast Offering money is specifically set aside to help families in the church who are in need, whether it be to buy food, help pay rent due to a temporary crisis, or get much needed health care when those in need are unable to take care of it themselves.

For those reading this blog who are not LDS, could you do something like this? Absolutely! Even if you don’t want to donate the money to a church, consider donating it to a local homeless shelter or a food bank, or perhaps to another organization that you believe in that has made a stated goal of helping to fight poverty.

The beauty of the Fast Offering is that, with the exception of small children or those with medical conditions that would proscribe such a course of action, anyone can do it! It doesn’t matter if you are wealthy, decidedly middle class, or perhaps struggling to make ends meet; if you are one who can routinely guarantee three meals a day, every day, and a roof over your head, you are one who can participate in this effort. If you are one who cannot do that, or your situation is that you are *not* able to regularly guarantee three meals a day or a roof over your head, this is an example of a concrete action others can do that can directly help you!

I hear those who say “charity starts at home, and when I can take care of myself, then I can start worrying about other people”. While I understand the sentiment, I feel it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. When we approach the idea of charitable giving as something we will eventually get to when we can “take care of ourselves”, we ultimately find reasons to push out the day that we can actually give to others. When we make the point to give from the outset, even if we do not entirely know that we can cover ourselves, somehow the change in attitude towards giving to others first allows us to be better stewards of our own resources. Another way to put your own circumstances into stark relief… if you are curious to see where you stand statistically with the rest of the world, have a look at the Global Rich List. I found this to be *very* sobering... I put in my base salary, and discovered that, out of the 6 billion people on this planet, approx. 49 million people living today make more money than I do. Sound like a big number? It’s not… it translates to less than 1% of the world's population earning more than me. More than 99% of the world’s population earn less than I do!

To bring this into even sharper focus, how's this for consideration (also from the Global Rich List):

$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.

$30 could buy you an ER DVD Box set OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.

For some, it’s not necessarily that they don’t want to give, or that they aren’t willing to give, but they don’t quite know how to do it. I’ll be frank, if you are part of a church group, I would suggest making a point in your life to commit to paying tithing, even if you are a member of a church that does not actively do such a thing (I highly doubt a pastor or priest would turn down your desire to contribute :) ). If you are not actively involved in a church, take a look at the charities that matter to you, or find those organizations where you feel your dollars can make a difference.

If you do not feel comfortable with that type of amount up front, or you are unsure where to get those first dollars to contribute, I strongly suggest doing a “Fast Offering” as your first experience. Whatever denomination or lack thereof, whatever cause or goal you would like to associate with, this is an easy way that just about everyone can do something to make their stand and play a part. Seems like such a small thing, I know, but what if everyone did it? Do you think there'd be any real economic power in doing such a thing? Using the United States as an example... imagine if 300 million people, once a month, decided to forego eating two meals for one day, and then took the proceeds from that day of sacrifice and used that money with the express purpose of helping the poor, needy and most vulnerable. For the sake of argument, let’s just say that two meals was the equivalent of a breakfast plate and a happy meal at McDonalds (not recommending McDonalds for this exercise per se, but I can do quick math with those examples). In my area, the cost of those two meals turns out to be about $8.00 when all is said and done. That’s the equivalent of every person in America contributing $96.00 per year towards helping those who are hungry and in need. In raw dollars, 28 BILLION of them. Every year. Now that’s some power!!!

Will we ever see a day when poverty is not with us? Sadly, human nature is such that I would have to say no. At least not in the world we currently inhabit. My theology teaches of a time where Christ shall come to the earth and rule for 1,000 years, and during that time there will be no war and no poverty, and all will be whole. It’s a wonderful thought, but it’s not here today. My suggestion is that a Fast Offering is something everyone can do today, and they can make a habit of it that could profoundly affect the lives of millions. If you already do it, keep doing it. If you don’t, consider doing it. It could help draw us closer to that ideal of the millenium reign, and we can all say we had a hand in bringing it to pass :).

Memorable Quotes

"Members of Congress should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so we could identify who their corporate sponsors are."

Joy from Ohio (letter to the Dave Ramsey Show)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Madd Money: What Does it Mean To Be "Rich"?

I've got to tip my hat to J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly for prompting my thoughts on this topic (and yes, he also did a post today on this exact topic with this exact title... I never claimed I was terribly original :) ) but there have been a few thoughts rolling through my head regarding this, so I figured I could put my own spin on this topic.

It's easy to think that we have things tough because gas is expensive, food is expensive, living in the area that I do is expensive, and to bemoan the fact that "boo hoo, I can't go and do whatever I want to whenever I want to! If I was rich, I could!" Now, to be frank, I don't often have little pity parties like this for myself, but yes, there are times where I look at a goal in the future and just think to myself "this is just not going to be possible" and yes, I get a little self wound. It's times like these that guys like J.D snap me to my senses, or to borrow a line from Montgomery Gentry "I look around at what everyone has, and I forget about all I've got" (for those who know the rest of the song, I could just print out the rest of the lyrics, but what fun would that be (LOL!)).

Stepping back and taking an objective view... I have a family that is able to make ends meet on just my income. We have no debts. We own our home free and clear. Outside of income and property taxes, we have no other earthly obligations (I do have some Heavenly ones, though ;) ). We are able to, for the most part, live and make choices in our lives that allow us to do things for less than what we make, and we are able to save some of our income every pay period. Objectively speaking, I earn lower than the median average for households in my town (my choice, as we are not a two-income home, and we're cool with that), but we are in the top 25% for the US as a whole and we are (and this one freaks me out, to say the least) in the top 1% compared to the rest of the world population.

So what does it mean to be "rich"? Is it monetary purchasing power? Is it financial freedom? Is it having no obligations or dependence on others? I could argue that, on the balance sheet, while I may not make as much as many, I have managed to set things up so that I can live relatively independent from a need for money... let me make clear what I mean by that. I don't mean that I don't need money to live. Everyone does. What I mean is that our needs are actually much smaller than many other people that we know. Our house isn't the biggest, that's true, but it's large enough and comfortable enough to meet our needs, and it's owned free and clear. Our car's aren't the newest or flashiest, but they meet the requirements that we have for them, they are paid for and they have very minor upkeep needs. They don't necessarily get the greatest gas mileage, but they do pretty good for what they are. We enjoy a lot of activities that take place in our community that are of low or no cost, in many cases, and we do our best to be frugal and thrifty with our resources (note: frugal and thrifty means we try to make the best use and stretch our budget to get the best value out of things, not necessarily try to get the lowest price on everything... minor nit :) ). Thus, the actual income that is required to sustain us and carry us through is quite a bit less than many others that I know, which allows us to save and invest quite a bit of our income every month, and I feel very blessed to be in that situation.

So by these accounts, I should feel rich, I guess... but I don't. I'm not sure if it's because I've been so long accustomed to our consumer culture that I equate being rich with being able to go out and buy whatever I want to on a whim. Is that an accurate description? Or is there something more? Is the true meaning of what we refer to as "rich" better being described as being "content"? If that's the case, I think I'm closer to the word "content" than I am to the word "rich", but it's possible that they are both one and the same when you get right down to it. If you are content, you have a heart that is full. If your heart is full, you have room to give and care for others, when you can care for others, you have the ability to shape and effect the world around you, and when you can shape and effect the world around you in a good and positive way... isn't that sort of the whole point of being rich?

OK, I lied, I will close this entry by shamelessly borrowing from Montgomery Gentry, but please replace the word "coffee can" with "cookie jar" to be accurate (LOL!):

But I know I'm a lucky man
God's given me a pretty fair hand
Got a house and a piece of land
A few dollars in a coffee can
My old trucks still running good
My ticker's ticking like they say it should
I got supper in the oven, a good woman's loving
And one more day to be my little kid's dad
Lord knows I'm a lucky man

Monday, October 13, 2008

First Up: The Bass Rig

As I have ruminated on which equipment deserves the first push and effort to shed, I have decided to try out the following "Pillars of Shedding". All it takes is one pillar to remain standing, and the justification to keep the item is met.

The Pillars of Shedding are:

1. The item is actively being used by the principal owner.
2. The device has a specific place where it can be used and enjoyed by the principle owner.
3. There is more than a passing chance in the next year that the item in question will be of actual utility to the principal owner.

I have found the item that most readily fails the Pillar Test, and thus, my first concerted effort towards letting go and Shedding of Innocent Stuff will be applied to...:


OK, here's some true confession time. Back in 2001, I joined a cover band for what would be three months of rehearsals and one gig played. I was so excited about the idea of going back and playing my original instrument again (for those that don't know, I was a bass player before I was a front man), I figured it would be nice to get a rig so I could play bass with a band again. And while I was at it, I might as well get a rig that I could play the Oakland Coliseum with... stands to reason, right?!

Thus, for this small company get-together I would be playing for, I went and bought:

* a Carvin BR-115 (1x15") bass cabinet
* a Carvin BR-410 (4x10") bass cabinet
* a Gallien-Krueger 400RB bass head
* a Tech21 SansAmp Tube Amp emulator (OK, to be fair, I already owned this)
* a SignalFlex Power Distributor and Rack Light
* an ART FXR Elite MultiEffect unit
* an Alesis 3630 Compressor/Limiter
* a rack box to hold it all in
* and a Sampson Wireless transceiver, because, you know, using a 20 foot cable would have been *so* ridiculously sensible for the reception hall we ultimately played in (LOL!).

Three weeks after this gig, I was laid off from the company I was working at, which ultimately meant I was laid off from the band, too (since it was made up of people who worked for the company). Well, that's OK; I have this totally awesome rig that I would be able to play in any band, in any place, at any time.

Fast forward seven and a half years... I have not played another gig with it, I have not joined another band as a bass player, I have honestly not even fired this entire sucker up in over four years. Truthfully, honestly, soberly, and with much reflection, this is the most eligible candidate for Shedding. It is time. We must follow through.

But dude, how will you get your most excellent groove on? Are you willing to totally sacrifice your bass? Nope, I never said I'd sacrifice the bass itself, just the arena rocking rig.

A funny thing has happened over the last 10 years or so... the electronics industry has done a lot with the miniaturization of gear, and now, there's an absolutely awesome direct line box that I can plug into any amp or PA system or, heck, into a pair of headphones if I want to. It's called a KORG Pandora, and yep, I own one :).

So what's the next step? Do I try to sell it in one fell swoop? Do I try to piece it out and sell the individual parts? What's a guy to do?

The first thing I need to do is try to find out ultimately what I want to do with these items. In the case of the bass rig, I have a good feeling that these items, because of their durability and the need for bass players to exist in modern rock music and other genres, will actually find a buyer. Since I'm looking at a sale up front, I next need to determine an approximate value for the items I want to sell. For this purpose, there are three fabulous resources:

The Starving Musician

Craigslist is my all time favorite selling interface, because I can deal with local people and have the local people check things out and not have to deal with having to ship to parts unknown (plus it gives me the opportunity to examine cash up front). Also, it’s a quick and easy interface to update and keep current, with little hassle.

eBay is great because it lets you see if other items have been posted and it can give you a general idea as to how much they might be worth today in other parts of the country (of course, an item is really only worth what someone else is willing to pay it for, but I digress). Down side is that it’s not real helpful when you have an item that’s not already being offered by someone else.

The Starving Musician is, quite possibly, the best place to get used gear that is up to spec and has been cleaned, checked out and confirmed to be working when you get it out the door. I have a long standing relationship with The Starving Musician shop down in Santa Clara, CA; many items over the years have made their way to me through them, so of course they are also a prime source to determine approximate value of an item.

Next step, checking everything and making sure it all behaves itself before offering it for sale (let's face it, it would suck if I went through all the effort only to find out something is broken). From there, I will make the decision whether or not to try to sell the whole rig, or sell individual pieces. I'd rather sell the whole rig, to tell the truth, but that requires someone willing to buy the whole rig. I guess we'll just have to throw out the line and see who bites :).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: The Most Sacred of my Sacred Cows

It would be impossible for me to talk about the Shedding of Innocent Stuff without attacking my first and foremost "Exhibit A" of Stuffitis.

What you see here are the remnants of Dreamtank, the name of my former production company and the pieces of what were my life as a musician, in one form or another over the years. Believe me when I say there is no greater monument to the excesses of my ego, my need for stuff, and to my former obsessive compulsive self as exists in the remnants of equipment here. What is also very telling about all of these items is the fact that a large part of what you see here are the components of my major debt that I incurred many years ago. I think part of me hangs on to a lot of this gear simply because it is so intertwined with such a key period of my life.

Here's a shot of everything as it currently exists. What you see is what is left of all of the musical equipment that I have owned over the years (and this isn't even half of what I used to have!).

This strange stand-up item is my drum set, an electronic and MIDI amalgamation of pieces I've gathered over the years. The guitar hanging from the kit is my solid-body electric guitar, a 'black-tie" Fender Telecaster. The red instrument you can see just a little of to the right is my acoustic/electric hollowbody guitar, also from Fender, called a Telecoustic. The two buckets are full of various patch cables, MIDI cables, and connector cables of all stripes and kinds. There's probably about $1,000 worth of cables in those buckets.

The Omnirax table houses mostly synthesizer gear, including a Roland JD-800 synth, an E-mu Proteus-1 w/ Orchestral Synth device, an old Peavy SP Sampler, a Peavy SX-II Sampler front end (yep, they're separate; no idea why, really, other than that was the way Peavey made them back then), a Peavy MIDI-Master II MIDI Patch Bay, a ProCo Patch bay for swapping cable connections, a Roland DEP-5 multi-effect unit, an Alesis D-4 Drum brain for the drum set, and in the box below the table... my workhorse Mackie CR-1604 Mixer.

The oddly colored speakers are a pair of Alesis Monitor One reference monitors, with a small Fender Practice amp between them, as well as a Studiomaster MIDI diagnostic box, a MIDIman USB MIDI interface for any computer (eaiser to have all the equiment and swapout the computer rather than tailor the studio to the computer instead), a Roland USB Sound Module controller (for the same reason), and my cool little jam session controller, a Korg Pandora's Box. On top of all that is a nylon string classical guitar.

Here is the behemoth, a bass rig I could play any venue anywhere with. Yes, it's excessive, ridiculous and complete overkill, but man does it sound amazing! The rig is made up of a Carvin 1x15" cabinet, a Carvin 4x10" cabinet, a Gallien-Krueger bass head, an Alesis 3630 Compressor/Limitor, A SansAmp Rackmount module that can mimic just about any amp sound on earth, an ART MultiVerb effects unit, and a rack mount power manager, all in a nice rack-box. The bass is a Fender "Black-Tie" black and white Precision Bass.

Another shot of the Mackie mixer and my oldest still running piece of equipment, a SUNN SPL 7000 power amp that has been in active service since 1986.

Now, to be honest, I know for a fact that I wil not be parting with *all* of this, but much of it is fair game. We shall see what the future brings.

The Shedding of Innocent Stuff: Prologue

It's interesting to see what prompts certain people to finally step up and take charge of certain areas of their lives. For me, I have been looking for an extended period at the various areas of my house, going backwards and forwards, and wondering to myself "is there anything here I could get rid of?" The answer is an emphatic "yes" in so many areas, yet I always come up on the short end when I say "OK, great, but what am I going to *DO* about it?!"

I've decided that, much like my weight loss of last year, and the focus on training this year, that there needs to be a way to publicly shame myself into taking action. Therefore, I've created a new category to my blog called "The Shedding of Innocent Stuff". This will be an effort to chronicle my desire to rid myself of a disease I have had for many years called "Stuffitis". Now, to be fair, it's one thing to have an item (or two, or twenty) that one really enjoys and uses regularly, and I'll dmit that there's a level of connection to certain things that go into sentimental, but this new feature is meant to poke fun at my need to keep certain things well beyond their usefulness, objective purpose, and to say "OK, Dude, really... why on earth do you have this?!"

More to the point, this process will be a way to see what I ultimately decide to do with this stuff... and here's where you, dear readers, have a chance to chime in! If you see anything that looks moderately interesting, intriguing, disturbing, or just downright funny, let me know. Better yet, help me find a home for it, meaning outside of mine (LOL!). Needless to say, Craigslist or Ebay is about to see some increased traffic (or perhaps Salvation Army, Goodwill or friends... hey, don't knock it, a friend liberated me of an Olympic weight set, bench and power cage, so I know it's possible (LOL!)).

A note to those who may be concerned... this is not being prompted by any financial strain. It *is*, however, being prompted by the fact that I have chosen to do things differently going forward, and I am embracing an attitude of a more "voluntary simplicity" that doesn't require so much "stuff". Call it a breaking with the past, call it regaining space in my house, call it what you will, but I hope to present it as a somewhat amusing view into my reality and what I hope to do with it and about it.

Regardless of the method, if it gets posted, expect to see it gone and a report of how it ultimately gets gone :).

Friday, October 10, 2008

In Praise of "500 Nations"

Some may have noticed that I have a little side roll called "Currently Watching". This stems from the fact that I have a portable DVD player that has become a good friend, and that my time on BART (our local rapid transit provider) works out to about an hour every work day for me.

During the past month, I've decided to dig in and enjoy the various interesting and unusual works stocked at my local library (they have the benefit of having a number of titles I might otherwise never see at a video store, and they have the distinct advantage of usually not costing anything to check out). Sometimes, though, you need to make an arrangement to reserve a title or get it shipped from another library in the county. This service costs $0.75, and I'm quite happy I made that arrangement for my current DVD "settle in", a so far gorgeous program called "500 Nations".

Unlike most DVD’s you get from the library, which only allow for a seven day check-out, this one allows for a 21 day loan, and I am glad, because I see myself not just watching this, but watching it again and again until I have to return it.

500 Nations is over eight hours of episodes and also includes a CD-ROM with a bunch of extra materials. This series goes well beyond the traditional Plains Indian image that is so well known and almost synonymous with the way most people view American Indians. The series explores many different tribes ranging from the Maya of Central America on up to the Inuit past the Arctic Circle. Its scope is huge, and its mix of commentary, interviews, archival photographs and computer animation bring the viewer into the respective cultures and contrast their similarities and differences in a thoroughly interesting and profound manner... and yes, I’m basing this on having seen only the first episode. If the production quality holds up to this level throughout the entire series, I will indeed be impressed.

500 Nations was created in 1995, and features Kevin Costner as the series host. Coming off the monumental success of Dances With Wolves just a few years earlier, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Nor should it be a surprise that key actors from DWW are also featured, such as Graham Greene and Wes Studi, two of the most well known Native American actors today.

This series takes a very compassionate view of the Native American narrative, as well it should, in my opinion. The many trials and sorrows of the First Nations people, including alcohol, the spread of disease, corrupt practices of the U.S. Government to defraud tribes of their land and resources, the forced removal knows as the “Trail of Tears”, the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the stories from both the reservations and the forced practice of removing native children from their ancestral lands and housing them in Eastern boarding schools, stripping them of their native heritage and forcing conformity to a “western” ethos, are all represented. We also see truly ancient peoples, such as the Anasazi, the builders of Cahokia and the Mayans, as well as more recent events such as the various tribes and their participation in the American Revolution and the War of 1812 (on both sides), and popular legends, such as the first Thanksgiving.

Again, I’m only one episode in, but it’s thus far beautiful and compelling, plus it has that hallmark cedar flute soundtrack, so reminiscent of R. Carlos Nakai and others, that gives this program a different and ethereal flavor compared to more standard and somber documentaries (neat side note, Warren Buffet's son was the main musical producer and composer for the series). As I said, not only do I plan to watch this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I watch it several times until I have to return it to the library. Thus if you don’t see the "Currently Watching" entries change for awhile, now you know why :).