Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bopping Along to The Three O’ Clock!!!

It’s fun to be reminded of things in the past that just bring back strangely fun and wonderful memories. For me, much of my life can be compartmentalized in the music I enjoyed and the times it reflects. Unlike many casual listeners, I was an absolutely schizophrenic listener. I had no problem telling people I could listen to rock, new wave, punk, metal, disco, R&B, soul, funk, jazz, blues and country... in some case all on the same tape (yes, kids, I’m that old (LOL!) ).

Today, as I was digging through some old archives of music, I came across an album I hadn’t heard in years…. The Three O’ Clock’s “Sixteen Tambourines”. Oh, how I loved this group and the sound they and other similar groups spawned, the pseudo-mid-sixties vibe that was so prevalent to the Beatles and the Monkees and revived in the early and mid-80s. The Three O’ Clock were considered by many to be the centerpiece of the “Paisley Underground”, a style of music I was decidedly a fan of, and whose influence followed into my own musical career (many people may not have realized it, but my high tenor voice of the time owed as much to my listening along to and singing along to Michael Quercio as it did to any other influence… the long sleeved, buttoned up and untucked psychedelic shirts and collar broach I wore were also a conceit freely lifted from the Paisley Underground, albeit in a decidedly more glammed out fashion ;) ).

For ages, I have wanted to find their album “Arrive without Traveling” on CD, but alas it was never released as such. Well, imagine my surprise today, as I was dinking around on the net while listening to Sixteen Tambourines… that Arrive without Traveling and Ever After (their 1986 follow up album) were re-released in 2003 as a “double CD”. With the holidays coming up, I’m giving anyone who wants to surprise me for my birthday (it’s December 7th) or Christmas (do I need to remind anyone of that date (LOL!)?) the opportunity to do so :). My Amazon Wish list is right here (sure, this is a little mercenary, but what the heck, I’ve given gifts to people who have made mention of interests in the past, maybe fortune will smile on me the same way… and if not, ah well (LOL!) ).

Otherwise, today is a day that will be dedicated to my rewriting smoke tests, and Michael Quercio’s ever so familiar helium-sucking voice will be keeping me company today. Life is good :).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: The "Special" Challenges of Leadership

One of the things that Scout leaders try to instill in their boys is the ability to lead each other. Really good Scoutmasters know that they can step back and just let their boys do what they need to do, including stepping back and letting the boys cannibalize each other (within reason, of course; we don’t want to see boys get hurt or be deliberately malicious to one another).

Last week, my son, Nick, had the experience of doing his presentation “without a net” so to speak, and as I was watching him present to the youth, I decided I had two options. The first would be that I could do crowd control, and do the inevitable “hey, pipe down and listen” that is inevitable with 12 year old boys… or I could step out of the equation and let a little bit of “tough love” settle on the experience. After about ten minutes of the first approach, I decided that I really was doing a disservice to these boys having to always be there and shout them down to pay attention, so I decided to announce to them that I’d be outside if they needed me. In other words, I was going to leave them to their own devices for a bit.

Well, as you might guess, I was outside for about five minutes, when out comes my son and looks at me, pleadingly “will you please tell [fill in the blank] to sit still and pay attention?!” It was quite an interesting thing to see, my son coming out and being exasperated at having to try to hold the other scouts attention… the same issue I deal with every sing week (LOL!). I don’t want to make this sound trivial, because I could tell he was frustrated, and a little bit angry at how things were going, but I also had to let this transpire this way because it was a valuable lesson in leading others.

What I decided to do from this experience was to have every boy be in the situation where they would have to present to each other what they were working on, with the idea that I would be there for the first few minutes to help set the tone, but also to know that I would step out after I was finished. This gives the boys a very clear message… if you want to act boisterously and disrespectfully to your fellow scouts, don’t be surprised if they treat you the same way.

This week, another boy will be center stage, and he will have a presentation to make to help the boys meet their requirements and advance in rank. The next week, another boy will be responsible, and so on and so on. It’s my hope that these rotating presentations will have a “calming” effect on the boys, because everyone will have walked a mile in each other’s shoes :).

Tuesday's Scoutmaster Minute:

Jim Rohn once said: “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces, while regret weighs tons!”

Too often, we think that we can just do something at the spur of the moment. We can ace a test we haven’t studied for, we can make a lot of money in a short amount of time, we can carry a large boulder a great distance, but none of these things can happen without preparation. Sometimes, the preparation makes things easier than they would otherwise be.

We may find putting away ten dollars every day for forty years to matter very little, only to be surprised that that $10 a day could be equal to $1,000,000 40 years later (general rules of compound interest and a mderate 8% rate being used here ;) ). Earning $1,000,000 in a single year, though, or even less time, may be next to impossible.

We may not be able to carry a 1,000 pound load of rocks on our back, but we can carry one or two pounds of rocks several hundred times with great ease. Each of these shows the benefit of discipline and good habits in the achieving of long term goals.

At some point, we will not be able to do the big lift or get the big reward if we have not diligently been preparing for that day. In the end, we can prepare to succeed, or we choose to not prepare, and thus prepare to fail.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Madd Money: The Challenge of Unique Blogging

OK, I confess, I am really a man of very limited individual ideas. Almost nothing I write about stems from any terribly unique or creative space. Most of the time, a blog post is spawned because someone else has posed a question, or has written about something similar. Every once in awhile, I get on a high horse about something because an activity in my own life has spurred me to think about something, but honestly, there’s very little out there that I am writing about that hasn’t been covered by a bout a zillion other bloggers (and yes, I know, there aren’t really a zillion bloggers out there ;) ).

I try my best to not deliberately filch other people’s posts, but I have to be honest... Many times an article or a day’s post is spawned because of another blog that I read that has a similar idea. My post a few days ago about sharing conversion moments was a direct development of my reading J.D. Roth’s “Get Rich Slowly” blog. His post wasn’t about conversion; it was about talking to parents and other about making sound financial choices, and how that can often be a difficult thing to do. In these cases, I want to make sure that I do not take any undue credit for something that isn’t really an original idea; I gave J.D. credit for the ideas because, really, his article spawned my own.

At the same time, I’m looking to try to find my own voice, and my own way of reflecting things that interest and intrigue me. Still, even when I do run across or consider something on my own, it’s a good bet that someone else has also already covered it. I find Dave Ramsey and Eric Tyson to provide what amounts to excellent yet slightly differing opinions on Personal Finance. I’ll be the first to admit that these two men and the principles they have written about are where much of my philosophy of investing stems from. There are many times where I realize that my sharing any kind of “wisdom” related to the Personal Finance could also be better served by my just saying “look, do a search for Dave Ramsey and Eric Tyson. Read what they have to say!” Of course, the same could be said for Trent over at Simple Dollar or J.D. at Get Rich Slowly. If they are covering all of this stuff already, why would anyone want to read what *I* have to say about any of this?

It’s taken me a while to understand this, but the reason I read Trent and J.D. and other bloggers is not for their ground-breaking knowledge or unique principles… I read them because they are very much like me… everyday, regular, non professional people interested in finance, that look to their own behavior and actions, and share their own experiments with others. In many cases, this sharing may show good choices, or it may show bad choices. Inevitably, though, it shows their choices in a way that allows me to see how everyday real people with real families and real issues deal with things. Trent is in Iowa, J.D. is in Oregon, so their take of course comes from the part of the country they are from. I’m from the San Francisco Peninsula, so of course my take comes from where I call home. Much of the country, and those who might read my words, may not find much inspiration from what I may say, because they don’t have the challenges I face living in the San Francisco Bay Area… but there are those that do live here, so its possible that my take on these things may have some impact after all :).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Musings: Amber Meets A Hard Days Night

Tonight my older kids were invited to attend a Faith in God fireside at a friend’s house. Christina, in her role as Primary President and as a parent of one child who had completed the process and another who was actively involved in it, also attended. That left Amber and I at home. Amber felt a little bummed about being left home alone, so I decided to do something special... I decided to give her a screening of my all time favorite movie and see what she thought of it.

For those who have known me for any length of time, you all know that my number 1 favorite movie of all time is the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what Amber would think of this, having grown up in an age of hyper-cuts and fast action, relentless pacing. While “A Hard Day’s Night” certainly has elements of that (it was certainly a frenetic film in its day compared to all that had come before it), it was very tame by today’s standards. Still, this is my daughter, and I figured if it was something that I loved, and Amber being so much a “Daddy’s Girl” in the sense that she seems to want to be into the same things I am into, I figured it would be a good bet that she’d enjoy it, too.

She loved it. We had fun singing along to several Beatles songs that she’d heard me sing over the years and play in the car or at home, and I could tell she was having fun seeing these songs being performed. It was also cute to see how much she liked Wilfrid Bramble (the “clean” old man that is Paul’s grandfather in the movie). She’d ask me things like “were people really like that back then?” Of course, I had to explain that I had no idea if people were really like that, as I wouldn’t be born for 3 ½ more years (LOL!), but yes, based on the film clips and television I’d seen, Beatlemania was indeed every bit like that. It was cute to see which character she responded to the most and would laugh with and about. Based on her reaction, I think George was her favorite (which, if true, again mirrors her old man… George Harrison was always my favorite of the Beatles ;) ).

It was funny to hear my other kids when they came home. While they all got to go out and spend time with their friends and attend this fireside, it was cute to see that they felt a little jealous that Amber got to have a private screening of “A Hard Days Night” with her Dad. What it told me was that they saw me sharing something that they knew I loved very much with my youngest daughter, and they wanted in on that action, too. Not to worry, kids, this is one movie I can watch a thousand times and still love it. Let me know when you want to schedule another screening (LOL!).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Cause for "Conversion"?

Have you ever found yourself discovering something that makes a difference in your life? Something that, once you embrace it and you decide that “yes, this is something I can relate to” it changes everything that came before and profoundly alters the way that you look at life afterwards? Most people have these experiences many times in their lives. It can be as simple as discovering a new band that speaks to you in a special way and your appreciation for music is changed. It can be discovery of a new hobby or sport. It can be taking on a new career. For many, it can be making a determination to embrace their faith (or completely convert to another one). In fact, that’s the key word in most of these conversations, the idea of “converting” or being a convert.

Many times, we only use this word in the religious sense. A convert in the religious sphere is an easy thing to understand. When someone is born Jewish but later joins the Catholic Church (just using that as an example, no special reason, really) we say that that person is a “convert”. Likewise, my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) also refers to all new members that were not born into the church as being “converts” when they are baptized. However, I think this term gets underutilized in this light, as it’s not an identity, but a process, and it’s a process that happens in many different places, activities and stages in life.
When we have any doubts, it helps to actually decide what a word means. Thank you, CONVERT is a Latin word based on the word roots CON meaning “to” and VERTERE, meaning “turn around”. Thus, the word Convert implies more than just a change or a modification; it requires a physical interaction, one where a person, entity or thing has to actually do something to make the change.

Many things in my life can be said to be “conversion” moments for me. I consider myself a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though I was born into the church (I specifically consider myself a religious convert because I made an express decision at the age of 25 to specifically and purposefully life a religious life to the best of my ability). To some, I would really be considered a “reformed” Latter-day Saint, but I actually had to make a legitimate change in life, motivations and actions, a literal turning around, so I think convert still applies.

I am a convert to the sport of snowboarding. I made a conscientious decision to learn to ride, purchase the gear, and practice the sport until I became proficient at it. What’s more, I embraced the lifestyle and ethos of boarding. Now, I did not cease to be a skier in 1994, since I still know how to ski, and I can easily still pick up skis and go down the hill on them if I choose. However, I don’t, mainly because a day on skis is one less day on a snowboard, and frankly, that would make me sad (LOL!).

Some would say I am a convert to the practices of Native American tribes as relates to dancing and the knowledge I have gained concerning them. There is no mistake that I have been motivated to action to learn them, practice them and embrace the messages and inspiration they contain.

I also consider myself in a way a “convert” to the way that I handle my personal finances, in the sense that I do look to and apply principles I have learned from key sources (it almost sounds quasi-religious to say that I am a “Ramsey” follower or a “Tyson” follower, but it’s not a far stretch to say that the principles I have learned from Dave Ramsey and Eric Tyson are the ones I most often espouse and follow when I talk about or manage my own financial life).

Any change that “motivates you unto action” is ultimately one that gives a person a sense of power; it puts you squarely in the driver’s seat. Sometimes these changes can be so powerful and moving, they can be accomplished in a single day. Some, on the other hand, may take time and long periods of actual planning and deliberate execution. Ultimately, you reach a point to where you control the game, and that feeling of control is just plain awesome!

It’s not at all surprising that those of us who have these conversion moments want to share them with others. Of course, we are often disillusioned at times like this because, frankly, not everyone shares the same level of passion or enthusiasm as us about all of the things we are passionate about. This is true even within endeavors we have common ground with others.

Be it snowboarding, religion, The Total Money Makeover, or my irrepressible love of all things Yoko Kanno, I know not to be all that surprised when others look at me like I’m are a lunatic (or more often just politely humor me and my position). I may think what I have discovered is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but other people may be in different places about their habits and actions, whatever they may be. Sharing what we have learned or what we enjoy gets tricky in these spots, and it’s important to understand why. Some things hit people at an intensely personal level, and shake-ups of those paradigms can be deeply unsettling. It’s for this reason I tend to be careful when I talk about religion or personal finance, since it’s something so intensely personal and central to ones identity. I’m much less careful or concerned when I talk about activities, such as sports like snowboarding or activities like listening to music. The closer you get to ones own personal behavior and integrity (meaning what ultimately makes them tick), the harder it becomes to talk about change.

So how does one go about sharing their “conversion”, whatever it may be? J.D. over at “Get Rich Slowly” addressed this when it came to talking to family members about personal finance, but I think these ideas he described (with some tweaks from yours truly) work in all areas where we want to share what we are passionate about, even when it enters a sphere of “personal space” that may not be wholly welcome or desired by others:

First, Lead By Example (or Be the Example). The key take-home from this is that our actions speak way louder than our words do. Practice what you preach, and let others do the same thing. If you are exceptionally happy, successful, uplifted, cheerful, or otherwise engaged and such involvement intrigues others, people are going to ask what you are up to and what you are doing.

Next, Be Open to Answering Questions (but Just the Questions). I know that I am the type of person who, when someone asks what time it is, I tend to explain how a clock works (LOL!). If someone asks you about a hobby or activity you like doing, make a point to answer their question and answer it directly. Don’t assume they want to know more than the question they have asked. Try to be direct and answer just what they have asked. This has two benefits. First, it allows you to be a quick resource for the information they are after, and you can be seen as reliable. Second, this approach usually invites more questions. Again, do your best to answer just the question (don’t be cagey or evasive, but just focus on the questions asked)

Finally, Be Willing To Drop Subtle Hints. When I try to describe snowboarding to friends who don’t ride, I can either run down a list about the reasons I enjoy it, or I can suggest we go up to the snow together and just enjoy the day. Usually, I make it a point to pack an extra board and boots (this is not so effective if the person you are with isn’t the same size, of course). This way, the skier can see what I enjoy about my sport, it may lead to another round of questions, but most importantly, it gives them an immediate opportunity to try it out for themselves if they are so inclined.

Regardless of what we do and regardless of what the topic, activity or lifestyle is, most people don’t want to be “preached to” (well, my experience tells me that most people don’t want that; some do, but they seem to be a very small minority (LOL!) ). We want to feel like we are sharing a conversation with an equal, with a friend, with a colleague, and in that environment, we feel as though we can take to heart what the other person is saying. Whenever “preachy” attitudes or feelings (intended or not) come out, it creates an imbalance. Gone is the mutual respect and attempt at understanding, now it’s a matter of “I’m right and you’re wrong” or “this worked for me, so *you* need to do it this way, too!” Take the time and make the efforts necessary to be an equal to others, and you will not be one who is seen as looking to convert others to your way. Rather, you may find people converting to your approach and efforts on their own. Same desired results, way more enjoyable process :).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ego Over Matter: The Pen Is Mightier Than The Mouth

Last week, I put a lot of emphasis on the part of the equation that relates to training. This week, I am going to talk a bit about the eating part, as it’s just as if not at time even more important than the actual training.

There are a bunch of maxims that one can fall back on when it comes to talking about nutrition, how to do nutrition, and how best to maximize nutrition, but ultimately, here are the guidelines that I find the most helpful (and note, guidelines are just that, they mean nothing if an individual does not follow through on them):

First and foremost, it’s important to get a figure of your bodyfat percentage and overall weight. The reason for this is that it gives you a good clean idea as to what your actual lean body weight is. Let’s take me as I currently stand today. As of this writing, I stand at 220 pounds, and I’ve estimated that I am, approximately, 25% bodyfat (ugh, I hate having to say that, but yeah, let’s be frank and honest, it’s where I am actually at). That means that, distributed throughout my entire body, I am carrying roughly 55 pounds of fat. That’s both a lot and not a lot, to tell the truth. For a ultra trained athlete that’s really ripped, that would be huge. For an average everyday guy, that’s a little higher than normal but not alarmingly so, especially for one who’s gone through a bulk-up training phase. Thus, that means that, if I were to rip myself down to 0% bodyfat (an impossibility, but work with me anyway) I would have a lean body mass weight of 165 pounds.

Having determined that my lean body weight is 165 pounds, I can now start targeting my dietary goals. These have come from my own personal trial and error, so they are really only good for me, but they may work as a rough guide for others, too:

If I want to build muscle without going overboard on fat buildup, I need to meet my lean body weight multiplied by 19 for a daily caloric intake.

If I want to maintain muscle, I need to meet my lean body weight multiplied by 15 for a daily caloric intake.

If I want to lose fat with a minimal amount of muscle loss, I need to meet my lean body weight multiplied by 11. Any lower than that, and I start to catabolize muscle.

Taking the above examples, that puts me at 1700 calories per day to rip down, 2500 calories per day to stay put, and roughly 3200 calories per day to go to town and build mass without adding too much fat.

Once I have the caloric goals, I can then play my percentages game. I believe strongly in an inverted Zone diet, where 40% of calories come from protein, 30% comes from carbohydrates, and the remaining 30% comes from fats. I’m not slavishly devoted to those ratios, but I do try to aim for them. To that end, I do my best to make sure that the 40% protein, more specifically, at least includes 1 gram of protein per lean pound of bodyweight per day. That means 165 grams of protein intake every day at the minimum.

If I were to use the 1700 calorie value and 40% protein was literally 165 grams, 130 grams would be 30% carbs and 58 grams would give me my ratio for 30% for fats. Calculate the same percentages with the other values and you get the ratios and the numbers needed for both the maintenance and gaining stages.

So yeah, that’s all well and good, but what would one eat to make those values regularly? For starters, lean cuts of meat such as lean beef, pork, chicken, turkey and fish are a great lace to start. IF you aren’t a big fan of meat, milk and egg proteins are also good sources (perhaps easy on the quantity of eggs, but a few times a week doesn’t cause me any issues at this stage). Leafy green vegetables, beans, corn, squash (the three sisters of Native American tradition), items that have good sources of complex carbs, whole pieces of fruit where possible, natural peanut butter, saltwater fish, whole grains wherever possible, and an emphasis on eating things raw, whole and unprocessed whenever possible. Add to that approximately ½ to ¾ gallons of water each day and we are good to go :).

At the end of the day, though, the thing that helps me the most to get my diet in shape and stay on track is a pen and a piece of paper. It’s amazing what can happen when you make a conscientious effort to write down every morsel that passes through your lips and teeth. Many times, just having to say “wait, let me get out my flip pad so I can write that down” is enough for me to say “ehh, I’ll skip that one, thanks”. Thus proof, as my title says, that putting things in writing can probably do more to bolster will power than just about anything else one can think of… and yes, the pen proves mightier than the mouth (LOL!).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madd Money: Buying Who We Believe Ourselves To Be

Over the years, I’ve had a chance to look at and see the areas that I spend my money on, and what areas really matter to me and what ones don’t so much. I think it’s interesting to see what holds our attentions and our passions, and how, at least with me, there are clear trends and clear periods where certain aspects of my life are literally defined by the things that I own, purchase or otherwise accumulated.

My first wave of “rampant consumerism” was, without a doubt, my period in high school where I decided to try my hand at being a model. In addition to pictures, I actually made, for the first time, a conscious decision to “invest” in clothes and in a look that would carry over to my “career”. Looking back, it was a bit silly and a bit extreme. For a time, I actually allowed myself to be swayed by the labels I wore. I willingly incurred debt and spent way more than I needed to on clothes that could easily have been had from different sources and, realistically, looked exactly the same. That’s the 40 year old me speaking, of course. At the time, when I was 16, I had a very different mindset, and I felt somehow less of a person because I didn’t spend $175.00 for a Guess Denim and leather jacket (this was in 1984, I don’t even want to think what a jacket like that would cost today!).

My second “identity expense” period was, without question, my time as a musician. This was when I really went into overdrive and purchased just about *everything* on credit. This was a period of my life when I couldn’t fathom the idea of waiting for something. If I wanted it, I wanted it now, or I needed it now. I truly looked at life as a matter of not “how much” but how much a month, and can I handle it?” Opportunity costs for the future was a very foreign idea to me. My attitude was one of “it’s just money, I can make more”. Today, I see the remnants of all that purchasing, some of it very tangible (like my equipment) and some of it ephemeral and long gone… stage clothes, for example… I realized when I looked at old pictures that the only two things that I have left from that period of time that I wore are a broken off piece of Amethyst crystal that used to be part of a bolo tie, and a bone bead hat band I used to wear. As a way to “break with the past”, I made a choice to disassemble that hat band and I refashioned it into a bone choker for my son, which he now wears when he does Dance Team or ceremonial appearances with Order of the Arrow. Recordings of my bands material is now up on myspace, so in that sense, the money that I (we) paid to make those still reaps some small dividends, in that people nearly twenty years later can hear what we once did. All else, though (the flyers, the travel, the “schmoozing expenses”, etc., it’s all gone in the vapor of time, and in many ways, exists no where else other than my memories and a lot of old photographs.

My third “big wave” came when I decided to compete as a snowboarder. Now, understand, I use the term rather loosely here. Shaun Palmer and Craig Kelly never had a thing to worry about from me (LOL!). Still, I wanted for a time to be a part of the snowboarding world (and during my years as a competitor in the USASA and as a writer of the “Geezer X Chronicles”) I had that chance. This was during a period of rapid expansion and growth of my company, and I was reaping the benefits of such a life. To that end, I wanted to be philanthropic and I also wanted to experience the best of what technology was available at the time. When I tell people that I at one point in time was buying ten boards a year, they look at me incredulously (and I can’t say I blame them). To be fair, many of those boards ended up being donated to learn to ride programs, and I even used a board as a bargaining chip to help a boy earn his Eagle Scout award (first and last time I ever did that (LOL!) ). I realized that I was at a stage in my life where I felt that, somehow, I could “give back”, but at the same time, enjoy the fruits of what I was doing to their fullest. What’s proven to be interesting over the past several years, since I retired from competition, is that my favorite and most used pieces of equipment are not the top flight flagship items, but the “rock board” I bought for $100 just so I had a “beater” to drive in less than optimal conditions. That “beater” is now ten years old, and it’s till my most used and favorite piece of equipment. I went through a spate of purchases for clothing related to snowboarding (oh, you have no idea just how much my identity was tied to this sport for so many years) yet the pants and jacket I wear most often were the ones given to me by two dear friends as a way of appreciation for donating snowboards as a raffle item to their series. It’s for this reason that I will not part with them or replace them until they physically wear out. The clothes are just that, they are a jacket and a pair of pants… but it’s the connection to the people that gave them to me, and what that relationship meant (and still means) to me that cause me to still wear them nearly ten years later.

Today, Scouting is far and away my biggest series of ongoing expenses, and that makes sense, because outside of my being a husband and a father, my strongest piece of “external identity” is that of a Scouter. It is in many ways my finally coming to grips with the work that I want to have define me and stand as my overall legacy of my time here on Earth. The old Forrest Whitcraft quote comes to mind here… “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” Ultimately, that is what defines me, and it explains a lot why that is where the bulk of my discretionary money goes.

The things we spend our money on are ultimately reflections of who we are and what matters the most to us, if we are willing to step back and take a cold, hard look at it. We don’t really spend our money as mindlessly as many think. Most of us actually spend our money with great purpose and intent, even if we’re not 100% sure what that intent actually is. Thus, to really grab that tiger by the tail and ultimately gain control of it, spend some time and decide what your money and where you spend it actually says about you… and be prepared to question your findings, because you may ultimately decide that, while your stuff many not literally define you, it can speak volumes about you. Make commitments to either embrace or change those attributes and purposes, and your relationship with money will also most certainly be effected.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Surreal, In A Great Way

Chances are, Christina will blog about this as well, so I'm not necessarily beating her to the punch as I am just providing my own perspective on this :).

Yesterday, Christina has a chance to go through the "conference" process at Parkside Intermediate School here in San Bruno. This is a bit different than anything I'd heard of before... only the kids that have serious issues get one on one conferences. Everyone else gathers together for what is effectively a "job faire" for parents, only instead of dropping off resumes, they go from table to table to talk with different teachers (quickly) about how their kids are doing.

While this is not an intense or detailed time for either the parents of the teachers, it is a way to get a good and clear snapshot of what your kid has been up to the past few months. The reports that we got back were overall terrific. For starters, he has a 3.5 GPA. That's pretty good; it's better than anything *I* ever did in Junior High, that's for certain. What was even more cool and interesting to hear was the general reflections of the teachers. Nick's music teacher gave him good comments on his fingering technique for the viola (which he just started playing in September) and for the fact that she has noticed he is "working ahead" of the class (really? cool to know!). She also said that he likes to "push the boundaries" a bit, but is gracious and polite when called on it. Otherwise, no problems at all and genuinely a great kid to work with.

What was wonderful to hear was the fact that every teacher had similar things to say. Nick's science teacher said he couldn't wait to see what ideas Nick would come up with for the science fair, as his imagination had already proven to be tremendous thus far (this comes after his rather unique approach to presenting a plant cell model to the class... he baked a cake and decorated it with all of the cell model components... edible, of course :) ).

Even teachers we thought would be tough on him (Nick was sure that his Algebra teacher had it in for him (LOL!)) was nothing but complementary... and also said not to take too seriously the less than stellar few assignments that had been turned in thus far, because on the whole, his work shows he's able to do quite well, as long as he keeps focused and commits to being consistent. A number of teachers pointed out that he is one who gets things quickly and can just listen in class and do well on the tests without any aditional work. They mentioned this not just as praise, but also as a warning... he needed to realize that things may not always be so easy, so getting into the habit of studying hard even when he doesn't really need to will help him down the road when his class work gets more difficult and he cannot rely on "osmosis" as easily (seeing as this was exactly the issues I had later on, *I* am certainly taking this advice to heart :) ).

The most interesting feedback, though was on his interactions with other people. We see him at home, and behind the doors and windows of the house, he is free to be a kid and, more to the point, our kid. Thus we see him at times when the "coolness" factor is non-existant (LOL!). However, at school, just about every teacher said that he was "articulate, well regarded, well mannered and good spirited" to borrow a few quotes. A couple of teachers added the flourish of describing him as "a real charmer"... which I know all too well (LOL!).

Nick is used to me coming down on him because I'm the Scoutmaster, and as such, I don't allow him to get away with any "favored treatment", so it may seem like I'm rougher on him than many of the other boys. To an extent, I may well be, but at the same time, I'm also one who wants to take the opportunity when it presents itself to encourage and congratulate him when he's done well and has distinguished himself in an area that I think matters. This is one of those times, and thanks for indulging me :).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: My Son's Commitments

Yeah, I know, this is two SMM entries in a row, but I thought it only fitting to mention the fact that my son also went through N.L.S. and he has also made a contract that will allow him to put the leadership skills he has learned this past weekend into play.

By virtue of the difference between being 40 and being 12, Nick's goals are a little different than mine, but I was rather impressed to see what he decided that he wanted to do. His first goal was that he wanted to take a more active role in teaching basic scout skills to the younger scouts. To that end, he has been preparing an Orienteering course that he can teach to the Scouts that are still looking to complete their First Class requirements. His first session of doing this training is tonight. We shall see how it goes.

The next goal he set was to help promote the Dance Team in the Lodge and, to that effect, getting more youth involved with the Lodge in general. I liked this one since it dovetails nicely into some of the goals that I want to achieve as well, so we have some common ground on which we can both work.

His last objective is one I wonder if his mom is going to be thrilled with (LOL!). He's stated that he wants to help plan the next fellowship event that the Lodge puts on, as well as become more involved with the Lodge Executive Committee and participate in their meetings effectively (methinks this may be a way of him jockeying for a position as a Vice Chief at the Lodge level in the future). I've told him that any position that specifically participates with the Lodge Executive Committee is a pretty big one, and that it could mean a lot of time involvement, but as of now he seems intent on participating. Very cool :).

So tonight we shall see how much he has learned from the Leadership course, and I guess it's also a chance to see how much I have learned, and if I am genuinely willing to step back and let him do what he needs to do without undue interference. Either way, good luck, Nick, I'm proud of you for taking the initiative :).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: After NLS, New Commitments and Goals

My son and I had a cool experience this past weekend. We had a chance to go and participate in an Order of the Arrow training event called the National Leadership Seminar. This is a unique program in that all of the presenters are youth, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. Needless to say, this is an impressive bunch of young men, many of them coming from as far away as Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, and one trainer originally hailing from Hawaii (though going to school in Nevada). What also made this a special weekend for my son and the other boys was the fact that one of the trainers was the 2008 National Chief.

National Leadership Seminar is an opportunity for Arrowmen to go and get this training, and then apply it to the daily lives of the members of their Troops and Lodges. Much like Wood Badge, it is a course that has both a classroom and a practical requirement. Each participant, at the end of the course, gets a certificate of completion and a pin (a triangle with a fleur-de-lis in the middle). Upon leaving the course, the participant commits to completing three goals that will help them put the leadership skills that they have learned into practice. They have ninety days in which to do this. Once they have completed the three goals that they set, and have received the Lodge Chief or Lodge Advisor’s signature signifying completion, they send their completed “contracts” in to the Western Region Advisor and then in return receive the National Leadership Seminar patch, where the pin received earlier goes in the center of. They can then wear this patch on their uniform to signify that they have completed all requirements (much the way Wood Badgers wear their beads)..

From arrival on Friday evening to dismissal after lunch on Sunday, the weekend course timeline was full, and focused on the areas that allow youth and adult participants to see how leadership is focused on three areas. These three areas radiate out from one key element, Trust. The NLS program takes the idea of the “trust triangle”: at the center, and then uses three concept areas to build out and develop the rest of the triangle; The concepts are to BE (specifically, “BE COMMITTED TO”), DO, and KNOW.

Every time I participate in these trainings, I am able to come away with something new to think about. Having spent the better part of a decade and a half as a trained scout leader, one might think this would all be old hat, yet at each stage of my time as a leader, there are unique challenges that develop year after year, and interestingly enough, it seems that going to these events allow me a chance to see old issues through a new lens.

As I was thinking about three aspects of my own leadership, I was struck with three areas I could immediately apply these skills. The first area was a DO item, and it revolved around Communication. Right now, I am one of the few people in the Lodge that knows how to build regalia and maintain/restore pieces that our Lodge uses (I’m not the only one, by any means, but I have become one of the main go-to guys for doing this type of work, mainly because I enjoy doing it). I realized that, should I become incapacitated (wow, that sounds harsh, let’s just say unavailable) there would be a lack of people in the lodge that could do what I currently do. To that end, I’ve decided to make a guide and have some training and craft days where I can show the boys and some additional adults what it would take to make the items and actually do the work of restoration should it be needed.

My second requirement also has to do with the Dance Team that I advise for and which my son is the chairman for. We came to a realization this weekend that our Lodge Chief had scheduled an event that would showcase the Dance Team, the work we have done, the pictures we have accumulated, and perform demonstrations of what we do. It would be a big public relations event and generate a lot of publicity for the Lodge. It sounded terrific… until I heard the day it was to happen; December 6th. That’s when I’ll be away for Staff Development for the Spring Wood badge course. As I explained this, I saw the crestfallen look on our chief’s face… he realized they couldn’t do the event. It became very clear that too much of the knowledge and operations of this team is centralized in mine and my son’s hands. Without us, the Lodge cannot present a program. Not a good situation to be in. Therefore, I will be applying the KNOW/Guiding principal and the DO/Mobilize principal to identify additional adult and youth members to pass on the knowledge of how we set up, present and explain the role of the dance team to others in the Lodge and in the greater Council. This way, it’s not so critical if I or my son can’t be there. We can pass off the materials needed to another adult and youth member, and they will be able to make the presentations.

My last skill to be applied will be in an interesting new area that is just starting to take shape. We have two Wards up in San Francisco that have a small number of young men. These young men and their leaders want to extend the scouting program to these boys, but they are too few in number to realistically have their own dedicated Troop. One of the ideas that was floated (and I agreed to help with) was to set these boys and a few adult leaders up as a satellite Patrol of Troop 250. These boys and their leaders would come to the home base in San Bruno once a month, meet with and interact with the rest of the boys in the Troop, and then during the other three weeks each month meet in San Francisco and work on the same program and program ideas that we are working on. This is going to require the BE element referred to as “Developing Yourself and Your Team”. The challenge will be that I will have to accept that I will only be charting the course and asking for updates from these leaders as regards these boys. Effectively, I will have to trust that they will execute the program that we all help define together, and then have them communicate regularly with me to see that we are all advancing and developing the program together at the same pace. This will require me to put my trust in others in a way that I am honestly not used to doing, and this one may be the biggest challenge for me yet.

Thus with new purpose, I have some new goals to accomplish… and I have 90 days to do them in. Wish me luck :).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Inspiration: Love this Quote

"The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value"

- Thomas Paine

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: Mixer and Peripherals Find a Home

Well, it’s been a few weeks and I felt it only proper that I give an update. On the piecing out of the dreams that are Dreamtank:

The bass rig went up as a whole unit a few weeks ago. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get any takers for the whole rig. However, I did get some bites for the GK head and the SansAmp emulator, but no firm commitments or sales. Lesson learned: don’t try to see a bass rig as a full unit. Bass players are a picky lot, and they tend to like to piece out their own dream gear. This rig was my dream; it’s not likely to appeal 100% to anyone else :).

Thus a new tactic is underway this time around. I received a neat “presentation wall” from my company; they were getting rid of some older marketing materials and decided that it was either going to be thrown away or someone could grab it. I figured this was something I could use as both a backdrop for photos as well as a scrim and presentation wall for the White Otter Dancers and Singers. Thus it’s not clutter, it’s presentation material (wow, justify much (LOL!)?). Anyway, the backdrop will be well suited for photographing the individual pieces and this way I can possibly get a better hit rate for the items in question.

This past week, as I was discussing where and why I might actually keep or use the mixer and power amp set-up that I have, it became painfully obvious that I have limited use for these items in their current state or their current bulk at my house. Still, I did use them from time to time for Boy Scout or Cub Scout presentations, and they were always well received additions to the various Ward activities at my church. What was the common denominator? It was the church building itself. Who were the primary users or beneficiaries of the equipment? They were the people who met in the church. Thus with this ironclad logic, I approached the Bishop of my Ward and suggested a charitable contribution. I donate the mixer, patch bay, power amp box, cables and speakers to the Ward, and he gives me a letter saying I’ve done exactly that, with an approximate value of the materials donated. After mulling over the possibility for a week or so, he came back to me and said “yes, we’d love to have the equipment!” HOO-RAY!!!

In a way, this is a “cake and eat it, too” scenario, in the fact that I can donate the equipment to those who can use it, and for certain events that take place in the building, I can then requisition it again for when I actually need it (provided it’s in the building itself, which would be about 95% of the time).

Thus I can now cross off a good sized rolling box and a pair of reference monitors off of my list, and feel happy in the knowledge that these items have found a good home.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Madd Money: MKL Gets Blunt (1st "Interview")

Remember when I said I’d tell the tale of my being foolish with money and chances and opportunities I both fumbled as well as was blessed with? Really? Wow, you are one dedicated reader if you remember that line, and I thank you for reading ;).

All right, all kidding aside, I have my first official blog interview (cool!) posted over at Blunt Money. I was alerted to her request for “inspirational stories" regarding financial turnarounds (which I’m not so sure ours is) or attitudinal turnarounds (which I can say for certain is exactly what we have had). So click here if you’d like to know more about my mistakes with money than you may have *ever* wanted to know (LOL!).

My boy and I will be off to NLS this weekend at Coast Guard Island, so I’ll be pre-published through the weekend (plus another update on "The Shedding of Innocent Stuff"). I’ll catch up with everyone next Monday :).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ego Over Matter: Back In The Mass Building Saddle Again

It’s been awhile since I’ve gone into Ego Over Matter territory, and thus I decided it was time to do so once again.

Back in September, I made the decision to join a gym... again. This was prompted by a group of my co-workers that all decided that now was a good time to go and work out on a daily basis. I bowed to the inevitable peer pressure and decided, yes, I’d like to get back into the swing of things. There is a 24 Hour Fitness just a couple of blocks down the street near the BART station. This means I walk by it every single day, and therefore have no excuse whatsoever not to take advantage of the opportunity. Add to that the fact that my company offers a $20 per month reimbursement on club dues, and I figured that it would also be a very economical option compared to other activities vs. time invested.

I started going to this 24 hour fitness on September 1st. I’m now about ten weeks into training there, and I’ve definitely gotten back into the groove of weight training and trying to use the bodybuilding skills I once had down cold but couldn’t do much with (that’s the beauty of being over 40; I can actually put muscle on my frame now... of course, it now comes with a fair marbling of extra fat, but hey, most blessings usually have their down elements, too (LOL!) ). Thus I think it’s only fair to put into perspective what I’m doing right now and where I’m physically at (because this blog is my ultimate accountability partner… sick and twisted, I know, but hey, it works :) ).

Today is November 13th, and I currently weigh 220 pounds. Yes, that’s a disappointment based on my shedding all that weight last year, I'll say it right now. That puts me now just 22 pounds shy of my all time heaviest. However, at that time, I hadn’t been working out much at all, so I’m willing to chalk up a bit of that weight to muscle gains (OK, really muscle memory returns rather than any fresh gains). Down side is that I have expanded the waist I tried so hard to keep trim (SIGH!). Why is it that I can be rail thin and have a trim waist, or I can be muscular with a bulky waist, but I just cannot for the life of manage to pull off a muscular build and a trim waist?! I mean really, is that *too* much to ask?! I’m already getting Mother Nature’s input with regard to my hair (and lack thereof). PLEASE, I’m begging whoever will listen; help me overcome my Scandinavian genetics!!!

My general workout routine goes like this:

Monday: Chest & triceps, abs
Tuesday: Back & Biceps, abs
Wednesday: Legs, abs
Thursday: Shoulders, abs
Friday: extended cardio and, of course, more abs :)

Each day is constructed with three 3 set groupings, ranging in rep volume from 8 to 15, except for abs which get hit for 25 reps, worked from compound to isolation movements, in a full range, stretch and contraction spread (why yes, I *am* a Peary Rader fan, why do you ask (LOL!)?). Here’s an example of my current chest and triceps day:

1. Dumbbell Flat Bench Press (full range, 3 x 8-15)
2. Incline Dumbbell Flyes (stretch, 3 x 8-15)
3. Cable Crossovers (contraction, 3 x 8-15)

1. Cable Crunches (full range, 3 x 25)
2. Reverse Leg raises on Ball (stretch, 3 x 25)
3. Concentric Crunches (contraction, 3 x 25)

1. Close Grip Bench Presses (full range, 3 x 8-15)
2. Overhead Single Dumbbell Triceps Extensions (stretch, 3 x 8-15)
3. Triceps Pushdowns w/ rope and pulley (contraction, 3 x 8-15)

The goal with the above routine is to train in a circuit format, with minimal rest between sets, and the weight being increased when all three sets for each movement can be done for 15 reps. This helps me keep a long gaining momentum while still being both efficient and challenging overall. If I keep everything on pace, all of the above can be performed in about 45 minutes, and I leave the gym feeling pretty darned hammered (LOL!).

Now that I’ve had a chance to let ten weeks pass, I can now take out any oddities associated with “muscle memory” or changing up a workout schedule. Now I know that I’m back to a somewhat trained state, i.e. an intermediate level again, so training from here on out will be on more of a realistic continuum rather than a big jump each week just from getting back into the groove of training regularly after an extensive layoff. Let’s see what tomorrow, and the next few twelve week cycles, start to bring. You are all, of course, welcome to play along, as I’ll be posting here weekly with excruciating details (LOL!).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: Finding the Happy Medium

I came to a realization last night, and its one that made me feel a little strange. I’ve been too quiet as of late. Say what?! Dude, you are *never* quiet! Well, that may be, but what I realized was that I have gone from communicating too much to the families, and making a conscientious effort to tell them *everything*, to pulling too far back and not communicating enough.

One of my most conscientious Scouts called me last night and asked if we were meeting. I found it to be a strange question… it’s Tuesday, absolutely we are meeting, and I said as much. However, after I hung up the phone, I realized something. If he called wondering if we were, what did that mean for many other families that weren’t calling me? Thus, with that reasoning, I decided to see how many of our scouts would be there tonight. It was a sparse evening, just five of our regular scouts were there, out of the usual ten that attend. I asked the kids if there was anything special going on with school or other programs, and they said no, not that they were aware of.

We had a good time playing virus ball and steal the bacon, as well as planning what we will do the following week, but I came to the realization that, if I don’t communicate what is happening, there’s little chance that the excitement level or interest will rise in the boys. Carry that over several weeks, and then just about anything that comes along can pull them away, because as far as they know, either it’s the same old same old, or nothing is really happening, even if it is. Perception is 100% reality in this case.

On the flip side, when I communicate everything to people I get lots of times where I’ve asked for information, commitments, etc. and have not received responses. When I query them back, the reply invariably is “oh yeah, I get so much of that stuff I just ignore most of it"… meaning that too much information is almost as bad as too little, because they don’t know what they should be doing with what I’m sending to them.

So I’m going to try something different now. Before I used to communicate with everyone, or just the SPL, about what we were doing. Now I’m going to try to have a calendar and notification system that tells what is going on, and encourage projects for each youth member to take on and plan. This way, when they have a stake in what is happening, and they know well enough ahead of time what it is they are doing, then they can make appropriate plans and, likely, be there to enjoy the meetings and have a renewed involvement.

The trick is… how we can communicate what we are doing without overwhelming everyone and burying them in too many details? This is something I’ll have to experiment with over the next few weeks, but one thing is for sure. I’ve got to talk more (OK, you can all laugh at that, I totally understand (LOL!) ).

Cleaning House and Restructuring MKL’s Muse

OK, I’ve gone back through and realized where my blogging head is at, and what tends to matter to me. Some of them just fit my random musings and general philosophy, which is hard to pigeonhole into a true theme, but there are definitely a few that come into clean focus:

Scoutmaster Mike: I post a lot about Scouting and my general involvement with my Scout Troop, Order of the Arrow and Wood Badge. Thus, I’ve decided to lump these posts together under the heading of “Scoutmaster Mike”. This way, if you don’t dig scouting posts, you can skip them (hey, I’m giving like that (LOL!) ).

The Shedding of Innocent Stuff: I’m on an uncluttering binge, and I plan to hold myself accountable in this process, so expect to see this header from time to time.

Ego Over Matter: This is all about training, fitness and nutrition, a topic I enjoy plonking on about at times, plus I like the title line and love having excuses to use it.

Madd Money: Anything I tackle or want to muse about that relates to personal finance and my general take on it will be put under this heading and this group of keywords. Plus, this allows me to milk what’s left of my longest standing online moniker (boardmadd usually gets truncated to Madd by most people, and that Mad Hatter mentality and attitude suits me just fine (LOL!).

Anything else means I can’t figure out where to put it, or it relates to church, family, home, general philosophy, what have you. Thus, I'll be going through some housekeeping and changing some titles of old posts to use these headers to better group these posts (I'm not so organized that I can say I'll do any of these on a set schedule, but I think it will help me see where I really like to put my thoughts and energies going forward.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: Back to Gilwell

It’s taken me a little while to let it all sink in now, but I’m about to embark on an interesting journey, one that will probably consume a lot of my attention for the next six months or so, and one I will need to be very careful to not let creep into and completely overtake the rest of my life as well (LOL!). I received a call about this time last month asking me if I would be willing to serve as a staffer for the Spring 2009 Wood Badge course. I accepted wholeheartedly :).

For those who’ve followed this blog, you’ve read my recollections of Wood Badge, and what it meant to me personally to participate in it. I enjoyed the process and the time I spent on course as a participant, and I will admit that I’m an adult that proudly wears my beads, leather woggle and McLaren Tartan just about any chance I get. The completion of Wood Badge has been likened to earning a PhD in Scouting. Of course, when one gets a PhD in academics, one is then expected to use that knowledge to teach others. The same is expected in the hallowed halls (and fields) of Wood Badge. I had hoped I’d get an opportunity to do so, but I hadn’t imagined it would be so soon :).

So what does it take to serve on staff? Well, if my observing of others who are and have participated is any indication, hyperactivity and drive are two necessary components, and I think I have both of those in droves (LOL!). More to the point, though, I think that it requires adult leaders that have the fire of Scouting in them, and are willing to share that fire with as many people as possible, especially in the capacity of helping to develop leaders. To that end, I’m hoping to use this preparation time to not just get ready for staffing Wood Badge, but to also encourage other Scout leaders to attend as well.

I have a good friend who also has experience with Wood badge training, and he’s been an inspiration to me over the past couple of years (he’s the one that finally made me pull the trigger and go participate in the first place). There’s a lot of work that goes into making a solid team of Wood Badge staffers, but the whole point is to go into showing how to effectively and successfully model a solid Troop. I realize that many of us look forward to the gatherings, the staff development weekends, the chance to hang out together and hone our presentation and organizational skills (I make it sound like it’s some dry seminar, but really, you just don’t understand what it’s like until you’ve gone through it), but ultimately, why do we do this? As a Rookie staffer who hasn’t even begun his training to be a staffer beyond just looking at course syllabus, I realize I may have a totally different answer for this six months down the road. As of right now, though, I am doing this because I believe that trained leaders are essential to the long term success of the Scouting program as relates to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I cannot speak for all areas, but I can say that for our particular area, that training has not been made as high a priority as it should be. However, if a change is to be made, someone has to head that charge and have some “moral authority” with which to speak and lead.

A year and a half ago, I heeded the call of one who had that moral authority to make that petition (actually, I heeded more than one, but the one in my Ward was the most immediate and convincing (LOL!) ). Now that I have come out the other side and I have the chance to help staff this course, it’s my turn to encourage others to get out there and do it. Specifically, I am looking to really encourage my LDS brothers and sisters who are scout leaders at all levels (Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturing, district and council) to take advantage of this opportunity to have a course that is scheduled to not coincide with Sunday church attendance. Gang (and I’m specifically talking to any LDS leader that might be reading this), it is in our best interests to not just attend these LDS friendly courses, but to do all we can to make them SOLD OUT events. If we do that, we can assure that there will be more of them in the coming years. More to the point, though, we will be able to assure a level of trained leadership that our areas desperately need, and we will then be able to offer a program that the boys genuinely *want* to be part of, one that will make them excited to reach and achieve and accomplish the aims that scouting provides these young men.

I’m early in this process as a staffer, and I know I have a lot to learn. I also know that there’s much I shouldn’t share about it outside of the course, not because there’s anything secret about it, but because it just doesn’t mean all that much unless you bring yourself to Gilwell to experience it for yourself. Having said that, I’m very much looking forward to my return… “Back to Gilwell.. Happy Land” :).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Madd Money: Feel Like An Idiot For Following the Rules?

I try my best to steer clear of politics in general since:

a. I’m somewhat non-partisan; I’m an equal opportunity cynic to both major parties, though my registration and general sympathies are as a Democrat (and a moderate one at that)


b. I tend to believe that we as people have way more power over our own lives than any politician or government entity.

However, I’m looking around at the way things have transpired in the past few months, and the largesse that is being offered (which we as taxpayers are footing the bill) to individuals and institutions, and I’m getting to be more than a little bit frustrated at a few of these turns of events. See, it’s interesting that the government is rushing to the aid of people and institutions who effectively cooked their own goose, whether through ignorance, negligence or greed (probably a combination of all three). I’m not a completely heartless or clueless git; I realize that not doing anything could cause major repercussions in both the domestic and world economy. Yet I find it ironic that people who made a bad deal and are now suffering for making a bad deal are looking at getting some “relief”, while those of us who worked hard, played by the rules, and lived within our means the whole time will get nothing, nada, zilch, butkis. In fact we will have to bear the burden of these people's mistakes!

Back to the “I’m not stupid” part (well, I pretend to not be, but jury is still out as to whether or not that statement is entirely true), I happen to be in a lucky situation. First, I was fortunate in that I was able to make a large enough down payment to have a small mortgage and, second, through various means over the past ten years, I’ve been able to pay it all off. What that means is that I have 100% equity in my house. However, I don’t treat my house as an “equity position” or an “asset”, I treat it as exactly what it is, paid-for shelter for me and my family. That’s its worth, and what it is worth in the marketplace on any given day really doesn’t matter too much to me. What does matter to me, though, is that, even though I own the house free and clear, I could have it taken away from me if something doesn’t happen. That is, if I lose my job and can no longer afford to pay my property taxes (kinda’ sucks that I can own my own home free and clear but still have to pay rent to the government, and they can take my home if I can’t or don’t pay it).

Even though I have a fully paid for house, I can’t just sit around and be complacent; if I lose my job and cannot get another one sufficient to pay my property taxes, I could lose my home. For those curious, I bought my house in 1999 at the peak of the dot-com boom, after a run-up of housing values, but nowhere near the psychotic level of run-up that followed the dot-com bust. Translation: my property taxes are substantial, and take up a good percentage of my take home pay. I still count on having a job to keep the roof over my head, and when all is said and done, I’d like to keep that job.

Whether or not I like the bailouts of Wall Street, Detroit, homeowners or people with credit card debt that they cant pay for anymore, I have one thing going for me that they do not have, and that’s an almost total lack of anxiety of my own situation. Sure, I was responsible and I took care of my own house and didn’t spend beyond my means (actually, that’s not entirely true, but I’ll save that confession for another post coming soon), but we made it a point to pay for things with assets we had on hand rather than rack up debt. We made a massive down payment for our house that we saved a decade to produce, and we took a mortgage that was no more than twice my annual earnings and that could be paid back with no more than 25% of my monthly take home pay (as related to a fix rate, 30 year mortgage… you know, the rate that was once upon a time touted as what a responsible borrower would take and no more). Yes, people will be getting help. Yes, they may see some debt forgiveness, and yes, they may walk away from some obligations. Many will also walk away from these obligations in a state they probably wouldn’t want to walk away as: ruined.

That’s a word that doesn’t get used much anymore in our politically correct climate of today, but my grandparents used that word a lot, and I still know what it means. To be ruined is to have your credit, your reputation and your name damaged. Credit ratings for anyone who goes through these plans will be trashed for years. Their own reputations may take a hit because of this. Once upon a time, when a man was determined to be "ruined", he often saved face by committing suicide. Now realize, I’m not heartless (really, I swear!), and I'm hardly advocating anyone off themselves for geting into a bad financial situation, but it contrasts the fact that, for many, one’s name and one’s word are less valuable than they used to be. So yes, I guess I won’t be getting any help or any “bailout” from the Government over this, and frankly, that suits me just fine.

Still, before I get too high on my horse and run the risk of being hoisted upon my own petard (wow, now *that's* mixing metaphors, baybee (LOL!)), I just have to remind myself that, if we get into a spot where unemployment runs rampant, and I find myself out of work because of no bailout, with little hope of finding additional work, and I have to give my house up because our system is so broken that even those of us who played by the rules and honored our obligations can’t even pull it off... well, I guess I’m willing to swallow that bitter pill. I come from a line of family that put a lot of emphasis on “protecting one’s name”, and as for me and my house, we intend to continue playing by the rules, meeting our obligations wherever they may exist, and doing all we can to hang on to “our good name”. Here’s hoping that the current round of unpleasantness and the less than pleasant approaches to solving it allow the majority of us to do exactly that.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: Passing The Torch, So To Speak

It’s a tough thing to see yourself replaced in the eyes of your boys, but I knew eventually it would have to happen (LOL!). See, I’ve been a scout leader now for fifteen years, and for many of those years, I was the Young Turk with the wild ideas and the unique experiences and the different approach to things. I had the boys in my thrall for many years, and I honestly relished being in that position.

This past weekend, I bowed to the inevitable and watched my light get eclipsed by another younger leader who had the ability of holding all the boys (including my own son) in the palm of his hand. On Friday night, the boys and I, a couple of parents, and the new Webelos Leader, Andrew, set off on a hike from Helen Drive at the back entrance of Junipero Serra Park up to the top of the hill, one of our favorite camping areas called Iris Point. Junipero Serra is an interesting little place. It’s a patch of Eucalyptus, Oak and Buckeye forest in the middle of San Bruno. Up on Iris Point, there’s a camping area where, on three sides, you can see city lights and the San Francisco Bay all the way out to the East bay. It’s quite a view, and a nice little place to “get away from it all” without really having to get away.

The boys had a simple task this outing... well, somewhat :). They had to hike into the park, hike up the hill, set up camp, make dinner, sleep the night, break camp, make breakfast, hike the width and breadth of the park's trails with their gear on their backs, and make their way back to the cars. Anything they chose to bring, had to be packed in themselves and then packed back out. If they didn’t have it, they’d have to do without it. It was a case of every man for himself, packing as though he was the only one out there. To that end they did great, and I’m proud of all the boys for the work and preparations they made. To add to the fun, the boys invited Andrew and the Webelos scouts along for the weekend. Andrew had a few additional tricks up his sleeve to show the boys... in addition to a lot of backpacking and rock climbing knowledge and additional scouting skills (the bed he made for one of the boys out of a hammock and a tarp was nothing short of ingenious :) ), he brought along a small arsenal of machete’s, throwing knives, bullwhips, a boomerang and a llama hair sling that he’d made and used as a missionary in Peru (he told the boys of a number of times he had to use the sling to fend off feral dogs that would sometimes chase him and his companion down… and he’d smile from ear to ear as he described this, too (LOL!) ). Needless to say, the boys were more than delighted to learn how to use the bounty of extra stuff he was willing to shoulder in :).

As we set up all of our gear and camp sites, and had our dinner for the night, Andrew went and set up some wooden blocks a small ways from the camping area and created a throwing range for the boys. As I’d been up since 4:00 AM that morning, I decided I’d call it an early night. As I lay in my tent, I heard for the next couple of hours the tell tale “thock, thock, plink, thock” and the shouts of laughter and cheering to show that those boys were having the time of their lives (LOL!). With that, I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, as we all gathered our gear together, made breakfast, and set of on a day’s worth of hiking, each of us got an additional chance to use the throwing knives and hurl pinecones with the sling until our arms couldn’t take it anymore. As we all laughed and tried our hand at the sling, and I watched those boys look in awe and admiration at Andrew, I chuckled a little and took my position at the rear of the company, letting Andrew take the lead. I remembered my first feeling about a dozen or so years earlier, when I was the young buck that was handed the lead of a group of Scouts, and how the older leaders let me lead the charge with the boys, the “new Sherriff in town”, so to speak. Now it’s my turn to hand over the reins to another younger leader, perhaps a little more in tune with my guys. I know they still like me, and I expect we’ll still have plenty of adventures ahead of us (well, we will if I have anything to say about it), but I know that there are younger leaders that are coming up that will capture their attention, and I’m alright with that :) ).

Friday, November 7, 2008

What Can We Learn From "the World's Fastest Indian"?

Short entry today, but I’m a sucker for inspirational stories that feature odd-ball characters that tend to beat the odds just out of sheer determination and force of will. A few years back a movie was made to celebrate such a person, and of course, because of its tie-in to my favorite motorcycle in the world, I had to watch this. Somehow I hadn’t heard about this being originally released, but when I was in the library, I saw the title, read the back cover, and decided that I had to see this!

In The World’s Fastest Indian, we see the story of Burt Munro, a man in his mid sixties at the time from Invercargill, New Zealand. The story is set in the mid 1960’s, and is based around Burt’s continuous tinkering and improving his 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle to get leaner and go faster. Watching how he works, how he lives, and how he keeps at his goal, no matter what happens, is definitely an inspiration.

What I loved about this story was the fact that Bert faced opposition from just about everyone, yet he kept at it and received occasionally begrudging, and occasionally heartfelt, acceptance of his efforts. Watching him get from New Zealand across the ocean, and then from Long Beach to Bonneville Raceway was certainly an adventure, and a testament to a man’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. Here was an example of a man who made deals where he could, traded his services for help and accommodations, and stood strong to try to do what he felt he needed to do when everyone else thought he was nuts. Frankly, we need more stories like this, stories that prove that the can-do spirit is still alive and well in people (part of me would love to see what Burt Munro would be like today and with the nature of the motorcycle industry as it exists now; Burt died in 1978).

For more about Burt, check out his Wikipedia page HERE (caveat lector wiki, of course :) ), and about the movie The World’s Fastest Indian HERE (again, caveat lector wiki).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Madd Money: What's Helped Save You the Most Money?

Trent over at The Simple Dollar had an entry yesterday about describing the most concrete things that he has done to save money. I liked his answer, as it's one that I can totally relate to and agree with: use the public library instead of going to the book store and directly purchasing books and DVDs. For Trent, this was a concrete example that passed on some tremendous savings to him. He described an $80.00 per month book habit that was reduced to close to nothing (I can't say the service is 100% free because the public library is one of those things that our tax dollars pay for, so we do have a direct payment plan into access at our public library, we just don't know how much of it actually goes there :) ). While I do not have that big a habit, I most certainly had a love affair with book shopping at Barnes and Noble, with fits and starts and bank statements with the store's name emblazoned on it.

Over the last several months, I decided to give the public library a lot more of my reading and DVD viewing business, and the results have been tremendous. Our expenditures on books and DVDs has gone *way* down. Now granted, the library doesn't have every movie or every book I want to examine, but they sure do have a lot of them, and many times I get to see books or DVD's I'd otherwise never have considered. It's too early to say for sure how much we have saved, but judging from the lack of purchases from Barnes and Noble over the past few months, I would say we've probably "saved" at least $300 dollars.

That got me thinking more about Trent's article and trying to figure out concrete things that I have done to help me save money. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just some areas I personally have seen a difference in both changing my habits and being aware of what I am doing. In some cases, it has allowed me to apply money to different areas where I hadn’t before:

1. Clothing: I’ve made the decision to go with as much of a minimalist wardrobe as possible. Thus, I’ve tried my best to imagine living for two weeks out of a suitcase without option for doing laundry. Whatever can fit in that suitcase, that’s my wardrobe (and that includes two suits that normally don’t get used for anything else other than attending church and church service opportunities, but that’d enough to justify both of them). To this end, I try to pick items that have a classic quality to them and will be able to be worn for many years without retooling or restyling. Net result is that, each year, I spend no more than $500 total on clothing, and some years I spend even less. Also, I tend to look for items that, while not necessarily the cheapest, I have a good feeling will actually last me a long time.

2. Food: I almost never eat out while I am at work. I very nearly always take care of my own food, either from home or shopping in a store to have staple items available. Granted, there are the times the company springs for food, and I certainly take advantage of that (LOL!), but I make it a policy to shop as little as possible when I’m downtown. Also, I'm trying to really make a point of spending the least amount of money possible of food items that just I consume. Thus, when I go grocery shopping for items to make meals out of, I almost always buy generics, I but items in bulk , and I do my best to combine them and set them aside to be used when I need them. I'm also cutting down on meats and other expensive foods, and going with more vegetables and lover priced alternatives. I like to have a varied diet and want to have some fun with the food I eat, but I've realized I don't need to go overboard on expensive meats, as there are often good low priced alternatives.

3. Entertainment: I’ve definitely pared down this area considerably over the years. I used to be the first in line to grab up several video games that I know I’d love to play… problem is that, much of the time, I’d never get around to playing them. I have several games that are on my “to do” list, and have been there now for close to three years. I’ve heeded this attribute in myself, and I’ve decided to be *very* hardcore about the games I buy. Now, if there is no immediate time frame to play it, I don’t buy it, no mater how rare or unique I think the game might be. In general, if I’m not going to play it for a year, it’s likely to be a title I can pick up used at the local game store. Also, as one who loves video game strategy guides (more for the back story and the additional art galleries related to the titles rather than for the specific strategies offered), I’ve made it a point to also scale back here. I only buy the guide if, indeed, the game in question has enough additional artwork and back story items that I will, indeed go back to it again and again to enjoy those things. Otherwise, if I truly only want game hints, I use sites like GameFAQs to fill that need now. DVDs now mostly come courtesy of my public library.

4. Work and Commute:
I am overjoyed that I made the decision a number of years ago to work in San Francisco. While I still have commute expenses, they are considerably less than when I used to work in San Jose or Redwood City. My drive to my train station is 4 miles round trip, and on some days, that’s the only driving I do. Were I to live in an area with flatter terrain (my house happens to be near the top of a pretty substantial hill in my town  ), I’d totally consider commuting by bike to and from the train station. Perhaps that’s in my future one of these days, but I’ll need to get into better shape first (LOL!). the fact that I use the Bart Smart Card, which is attached directly to my company’s transportation Flexible Spending Account, also helps to insure that I have tax-free funds to help pay for the commuting.

5. “Keep Us Honest” Accounts: I’ve found that having set these up and sticking to them religiously to be a very valuable thing for us to do. Our ROTH IRA’s, my company’s 401K’s and our children’s 529 plans are all areas that we invest in each pay period, and we make it a point to keep to our agreed-to percentages. We have not automated this process yet, because we want to make sure that we are all clear on the fact that we are adding the amounts that we agree to and that we are comfortable with for these purposes. What’s great about these accounts is that, once the money is in there, we can’t get to it unless its for the defined purpose (college for the kids) or we reach the appropriate age for retirement fund distributions.

Some of these are actual concrete steps taken to help us save money and hang onto more than we spend. Some of these areas are actually more psychological and behavioral rather than just a list of tips to do to save money. Of course, may times, that’s exactly what we need to make the changes necessary. By making sure that we are aware of what we are doing, and are in the correct mind set to do what we want to do, but be open to ways where we can do what we want without having to pay a premium for the experience. So let me know… what are some of the things you have done, whether it be psychological or totally physically tangible, to help you save more of your money over time?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Saying Farewell to "My Bishop"

OK, deep breath, everyone... for those who know me presonally, no, this is not directed at the current Bishop of my ward, or any other Bishop from the past 18 years. This entry goes a little farther back in time. Lots of men have held the title and been in that position of responsibility, but when I say "My Bishop", I'm referring to one person and the profound impact he had on me, even at a time when I'm not even sure he (and definitely not I) knew he was having that impact. To protect his families privacy, I'll just refer to him as "Bishop T" from here on out. Truth be told, anyone who knows me and has known me for any length of time probably already knows who I'm talking about :).

Bishop T had the unenviable position of having to deal with me after I turned 17. At that time, I was not just drifting away from church activity, I was jumping into a speedboat and gunning the motor. Bishop T, however, took a keen interest in me, and made it a point to talk with me regularly. I know that, at times, I must have been very much a prickly pear to talk to in those days, but Bishop T had something going for him few other men in the church, or previous Bishops I'd known, had (or should I say, that I could perceive they had). You see, many Bishops seem to spring into life as fully formed versions of Captain Moroni. Stalwart men, strong in the faith, no blemish whatsoever on their pasts, eminently successful in whatever endeavor they pursued (and really, this makes sense; why would any Stake President call a Bishop who wasn't someone who could prove to be an eminently capable administrator?). In short, these men were all paragons of virtue (at least to my recollection), and oftentimes, I found them unbearable to be around (wonderful men though they were).

Bishop T made it clear to me from the get go that he'd seen life from both sides of the line. He'd lived the Dark Side, and forsaken it. He also let me know as much. What?! A Bishop who wasn't Lily White and perfectly spotless in every way?! Thus, when Bishop T talked to me, it felt like a kindred spirit was communicating with me.

Over the years, we had varying levels of contact. It was with great pleasure I saw him some years after I left my home ward and I came back to visit and tell him I was active in the church again. His smile was huge, and his happiness for me was evident. A few years later, I saw him and his wife at a public event, and we chatted for a few minutes, and then I decided to show him something I'd recently been given... my temple recommend. When I showed him that, he gave me the biggest grin, and then enveloped me in a bear hug that I thought would asphyxiate me (LOL!). He and his wife smiled conspiratorially at each other and said "Michael, we both knew that it wasn't a matter of *if* you would get that, just a matter of *when*." Yes, Bishop T knew me better than I knew myself, I have no doubt about that.

Bishop T's style and manner is something I try to emulate today. He was not just a man with a past, but a man who truly learned from his past, and he was one who did not glorify it, but made a point to talk about things he learned while he was living on the Dark Side of life. It helped me to know that, truly, there was a man who really knew how I felt, and yet he was not willing to make excuses, or let me make excuses. He knew that it would be so easy for me to walk away if everyone were to have just written me off and forgot about me. Bishop T never did, and he made a point to let me know that he never would. His wife would tell me later that he would talk to her about me, about the things that we talked about, and he'd say to her "ya' know, I just *get* that boy, and I think he *gets* me. I know I'm geting through to him, even if its just in a small way." Well, it's true, he did, and in much more than a *small* way.

Bishop T passed away last week from a sudden heart attack. He'd had health issues in the past, but he always beat them, and he had the spirit of a fighter. I knew anything that was going to take Bishop T down would have to be something to hit him swiftly before he would have a chance to fight back. In many ways, I think that was the best way for him to go. Still, it's a painful way to go for those who are left behind. All four of my grandparents have now passed on, and three of them had protracted illnesses, where the writing was on the wall and we all had plenty of time to prepare for it and accept it when it came. However, my mother's father went the way Bishop T did. One minute he was fine and active, the next, he was gone, as though a switch had been thrown and suddenly, he's out of our life. That kind of passing leaves a huge hole in the lives of those left behind. I'm sure Bishop T's family feels the same way.

I attended a viewing for Bishop T Sunday evening with my father, and I had a chance to visit with him one final time. Seeing him lying in state with his friends and family surrounding him, I couldn't help but smile for him. He was a wonderful man, a terrific Bishop, and now I realize... he was a terrific friend to me. When his wife came up to me, held my hand and thanked me for being there, saying "Bishop T is smiling from Heaven. I know he's very happy that *you* are here right now!" Several times during the evening, she would take me around to introduce me to severala people from Bishop T's side of the family I had never met and say "this was one of Bishop T's favorite kids... they used to share stories from the Dark Side", and I felt it confirmed to me that, not only was Bishop T and his wife and family very special to me... but that I was very special to them, too.

Sometimes we take for granted the people that are part of our lives, we always think there will be time to see them, talk to them, share memories with them, but the hustle and hurry of life gets in the way. Sadly, I will not have any more opportunities in this life to speak directly to Bishop T, but I have a firm testimony that what he stood for, and the testimony that he held, and that I also jointly hold, means that I *will* see him again after this life is over. I look forward to that day, when on the other side of the veil I and a fellow war buddy from the battle of the Dark Side will be able to sit together and be active friends once more.

There have been many men in my life who have served admirably and humbly in the role of Bishop, but to this day, there's still only one man who I will refer to as "My Bishop". God bless you and keep you, Bishop T. You left a legacy that will be cherished by many, but most certainly will be cherished by me. God be with you 'til we meet again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today's Election Day, and in That Spirit...

... I'm going to share the following with everyone

If You Can't (or Can) Say Anything Nice...

I loved this entry, and I would like it if *everyone* took advantage of such feelings today, regardless of what side of the political fence you are on. At the end of the day, we are all Americans, who all have the best interests of America at heart, and every four years, we get to participate in this incredible demonstration of national solidarity, where we the people get to vote for the person we want to represent us as President, and for the myriad other opportunities we can vote for and offer our voices. I don't care who you vote for or what you vote for so long as you get out there and DO IT!!! Vote your conscience, whatever it may be, with the best knowledge and spirit that you have, and keep our two hundred and thirty two year expirement moving forward.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Madd Money: Sending Your Kids to a Community College First?

I started off my college years at a Community College in Pleasant Hill called Diablo Valley College. For the record, I hated my first years there, but that's because I approached it all from the wrong attitude. I always thought that good, smart and rich kids went to four years schools. Stupid, lazy and poor kids went to community colleges. Looking back, I now realize that I was really stupid for thinking that way. Since my first years at Diablo Valley College, I've had the opportunities to attend two additional community colleges, one University of California extension and the competion of a bachelors degree program through University of Phoenix.

Much of our educational programming has been to look to the four year Universities first and foremost. This blog post intends to shake up that thinking and I'll present my reasons why I think we should.
Having now attended three different community colleges for various reasons (most of them having to do with proximity to work), I found that you can take some very good courses up front for very little money. The added bonus is that, in most cases, these classes are close to home, i.e. the family home. Why pay room and board, plus an inflated tuition fee, to take classes like Probability and Statistics, American History or Calculus? Why go away so that you can take Intro to C Programming, Macrobiology, Chemistry or any number of other early exploratory general education related courses? If one were to do a purely economic breakdown, four semesters at a well rated community college would perhaps cost about $2K when all is said and done, including tuition, books and miscellaneous expenses, compared with, potentially, $20K to $30K at a private institution (not counting room and board) or $10K to $15K at a state school (not counting room and board).
Community colleges allow the youth in question to still live at home and have a bit of a "maturation accounting" take place. In short, you can see if your kid is truly ready to handle being off on their own for an extended period. I came to the conclusion that the stupidest thing my parents could have done with me when I was seventeen was to send me off someplace all by myself without any controls or supervision. Of course, I might have made radically different choices, but I have a feeling my head wasn't in the game at that point anyway, so why send me halfway across the country to figure that out?
Since I am hoping that my son will be turning in mission papers after just one year in school, it seems to make sense to help him prepare at home, knock out the first year close to home, focus on his mission, have him come back from that experience, knock out any remaining GE requirements, and then transfer to the school of his choice at that point, where the full value of the school dollars will be going to the maximum of his determined educational goals. My daughters will not be considering missions until they are 21, which would be well into their Junior or Senior year of college, so this line of reasoning isn't as warranted.
Now, with all of this, there are other areas where I would absolutely suggest it is totally worth starting out at a four year institution, especially if the goal is to get a student into a Church School (yes, for me the draw of my children attending any of the Brigham Young University campuses or Southern Virginia University is entirely because they are schools run by and populated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). A large percentage of a BYU or SVU education is the various Religion courses, which, while offered in Instutute in many other campuses and through CES to students all over the country and the world, are not at the same level as what is offered at a true church school. Likewise, after a lifetime of living in an "outpost" related to the church, there's a genuine benefit to surrounding ones self with other members of the church (of course, this is a double edged sword. I used to believe that there were problems being near too few active Latter-day Saints. I've since learned there are plenty of challenges related to having too many LDS members surrounding you, too. I guess mileage varies on that particular issue :) ). There is also a tremendous value to networking with other people, and getting to know them and their life experiences, and on the whole, it may be best to have those life experiences be with members of the same faith, who share similar values, in communities that are, shall we say, less "tempting" than others (Provo, Rexburg, Laie, and Buena Vista are not exactly hotbeds of ribaldry :) ). 
Ultimately, as I've explained to my kids, it all depends on what you ultimately want to do, where you ultimately want to work, and what you really care about when all is said and done. A college education and degree is not necessarily a fast path to a job. You *can* work just fine without one (I did for close to twenty years, though the first six were quite lean ones because I didn't know what I wanted to do. Once I got into tech and doing QA, then I was able to grab tight and develop like a maniac). There's no question that getting a degree helps give the person a well rounded education, and can help fill the gaps a practical, seat of your pants approach like I took produces. 

In most careers, it doesn't matter where you start college, just where you finish. Nobody looks at your transcripts or resume and says "oh, look, you attended Diablo Valley College for your first two years of school. That's gonna' cost you, son!" No, they see "ah, Bachelors of Science from Brigham Young University" or "hey, you got your degree in Finance at U.C. Irvine", or in my case "cool, you got you BS In Information Technology through the University of Phoenix in 2005, good work going back and finishing that!" Interestingly enough, the president of my company found a lot of value in my story of how I learned and the schools I went to previously. He asked me what I did before 2003 through 2005, since the only education on my resume was my actual Bachelors degree. I told him the convoluted path, and the various community colleges I attended and what I studied at each. His answer was "you should include that! It shows that you've had a broad exposure to a lot of different educational experiences, and that's definitely worth commenting on.” 
Unless you plan on going into medicine, law or some other very specialized career, where you graduate from is almost not relevant, provided it is from a properly accredited school. What is is the fact that you did graduate, and that you have a work ethic that can get you noticed. As to my son and daughters, I've already made it very clear what will influence the decisions as to where they go and when they go (an acceptance letter from a school of choice will not be the end of the discussion, not by a long shot). The first is their overall grades and the courses that they take along the way. The second will be their own personal financial and personal management acumen. Proof of sound personal management over an extended period of time will be a prerequisite to going away to school. Third will be the full time job they will take on starting the end of their sophomore year, which will be applying for scholarships by the truckload. I have my friend Scott to thank for this suggestion... he made it his full time job from the end of his sophomore year through the end of his senior year and beyond to apply for every conceivable scholarship he had the potential to apply for, somewhere in the thousands. The net result over the course of several years was the fact that he paid for both his bachelors and his masters degrees with scholarship money, as well as room and board for that entire time, and he never had to ask his parents for any money related to his schooling.

I have committed to paying for college to as much of the level as I can (and I think we can probably cover it for all of the kids when their times come) but I've decided that I'm not going to just foot the bill for them. I learned through my own father making it very easy for me to skate through school with no effort or stake required on my part that I didn't really appreciate it, and subsequently I didn't put much effort into it. When I went back to school in 2003, it was mostly on my dime; my Dad did give me some financial help, as he said that he helped all of his other kids through school and graduation, and he'd feel like a complete heel if he didn't at least give me the same level of help he gave them. While I took him up on that, the lion's share of expenses (including living off of my savings while I was in school) was handled by me, and boy was that motivating! I smiled from ear to ear when I gave a copy of my diploma to my parents that said "Graduated with Honors", partly because I achieved something I thought I couldn't, but more to the point, I put a lot of my own money and living into getting that degree. I've decided that the value of that is truly immeasurable, and I will require my kids to do something similar. So even though I could pay for their full school, I'm not going to.

If they perform like rock stars in all three of these categories, and they get into a church school and make that their #1 choice as to where they want to go, then we'll do that. Even then, however, I may well suggest a local approach first. Not because they are slackers or losers, but because it could be a tremendously frugal and practical way to achieve their goals with very little in the way of future debt, lost time and a firm knowledge in what they want to achieve.