Life Outside My Cube

My life, a work in progress.

Category Archives: living_life

Thursday morning blahs

Failure to provide proof of financial responsibility, when required, will result in the following civil penalties imposed by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles:

  • Lose driving privileges for a minimum of ninety (90) days and up to two (2) years;
  • License plates and vehicle registration suspension;
  • License plate reinstatement fees for first violation, second violation, and third or subsequent violation (There is an additional non-voluntary surrender fee for failing to surrender the license, plates or vehicle registration to the BMV);
  • Require filing with the BMV (SR-22 or bond) to continuously maintain proof of financial responsibility for a minimum of three (3), up to five (5) years from the date of the suspension of operating privileges;
  • Vehicle immobilization and confiscation of plates for 30 to 60 days for violating FR suspension.  Third and subsequent offenses could result in vehicle forfeiture and a five (5) year suspension of vehicle registrations.

That sounds serious. Which is what my wife was thinking this morning when she asked if I’d gotten the bike insured yet (I hadn’t, out of laziness). So I drove the van to work today.

You would think I’d be terrified to be out on the road at all driving an uninsured vehicle. I have no explanation for why I rode to work the last 4 days. Looking back on it, that was really stupid. Stupid stupid.

There are a several things on my TODO list that I’ve been ignoring recently. I don’t have an explanation for that as well. Perhaps I’m just weak from the pounding I took last weekend at the volleyball camp, and it carried over into a kind of mental “don’t care” attitude. I know I have that state of mind, but I can’t pinpoint why.

Even this morning, I’m having trouble getting motivated to think through code problems, despite a good breakfast and coffee. I feel pretty lethargic physically and mentally.

I wish there was more to do at work. I’m stuck working on intermittent bugs, with no real project work ahead. Two major opportunities have disappeared within the last 2-3 weeks, which otherwise would have kept me busy through the summer and possibly into fall. Now, I don’t even know what I’ll be doing in the next month. I’m sure this affects my attitude.

So I’m a bit down today.

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Drowning

Perhaps I’m one of those people who need to learn things the hard way. Perhaps I just need a concrete example in order to burn in a principle. Regardless, I had to take the difficult road in order to learn that debt is to be avoided like the plague.

My wife and I began life together with debt – me with a car loan and her with a school loan. Over several years of apartment living we erased that debt, and enjoyed spending the surplus income. We took a couple car loans in later years, once even buying a living room set on delayed credit . Those were paid off as expected, and we rejoiced at the increase in spendable income when the loan papers were burned.

We borrowed some money from my dad to get set up in our first small house on a city lot. Spending habits changed a bit, less money going toward pleasure and more toward home expenses. I was adept at home repairs and improvements, so we built equity in our little house and sold it at profit some 4-5 years later. The gains were put into the next larger home, which again was mortgaged for 30 years. This time the improvements needed were quite a bit more substantial, and we had no saved money to put towards them, and our mortgage was high (large farmhouse in 5 acres). About this time, our income was significantly reduced, and we chose to downsize.

We again sold the house at profit, and bought a smaller one. We retained some $15K to cover temporary living expenses until my income would increase. It never did, and we plowed through that, $50K of credit debt and a $20K loan from a friend, before I was able to find a job. Soon after, we were able to move once more, into a condo of a friend. A year later we found ourselves owing $10K in back taxes. We rented the condo for $200/mo plus I did all the maintenance on his 4 condos, so we were able to put a lot more into paying down our debts.

The payments on the credit debt was killing us, though, and at one point we were late or missed a payment on one of the cards and went into default. We made arrangements with a collection agency – stressful times – and after a couple years, they offered to settle for half of the $40K remaining if we would pay $20K now. I sought a loan from my dad for the $20K and finally paid off that debt, though we now owed him.

Both personal loans have been paid off. We increased our rent to $500/mo so as not to take advantage of our friend’s generosity. We still owe most of the IRS money, and the remaining credit card is down to about $2K. Then just when I thought I could see the end of the tunnel, two of our cars died. Despite the literal ache in my heart, there’s now another car loan for about $14K.

It’s a heavy burden to bear. We’ve been prevented from more fully assisting our children in the life directions they’re pursuing. Paying for college isn’t even an option. Moving into a home suitable for us and my wife’s ailing parents has been and is unlikely. We’ve set a poor financial example for our children, and haven’t given them a strong financial footing. We’ve had our hands tied in so many ways, and felt the burden of living paycheck-to-paycheck for so long. My wife has been a supreme blessing by managing our checkbook for all these years. I don’t know how she does it – I tried for a little while, and the frustration was too much.

It’s been about 11 years since we started getting into this mess, and it’ll be another 3 years before we’re debt free, unless God has a greater lesson for us to learn. I can hardly wait for that day!

* Question 5

The Slough of Despond

Five years ago I was at the tail end of  self-employment, and a year from accepting a position with my current employer. I was working for my father on and off – he did not have sufficient income to pay me fulltime – and some programming, web design and home-business gigs. Unfortunately, there was not enough sustainable income, and my family was getting deeper and deeper into debt, which would at one point top $50K. I was feeling helpless, frustrated and depressed.

I had left my previous job 6 years before, to take on some work with my dad. He (inexperienced in software development, but too persistent to let that get in his way) designed and coded a software program used in the long-term care dietary business, and needed help with, well, Help. It wasn’t writing code, but technical manuals was fine with me to start with. I shortly after began to assist with software development, support, sales and marketing. It wasn’t long, however, until financial difficulties began. There was not sufficient income from the company to support me fulltime, despite my dad’s hopes and dreams that things would get better. He paid when he could – or wanted to – but it wasn’t enough, and we soon began relying on credit.

The peculiar thing was, I didn’t feel I could just say “no” to him and move on. By the time things were bad, I was fully involved and he was – to a great extent – dependent on me. I felt that to bail out at that point would be not only end my hopes for a work-at-home job, but also crush his hopes and dreams. How could I do that to my own father? I was beset on all sides – my supremely patient wife continued to urge me to quit, my bank account begged me to find a paying job, and my dad continued to not care about my financial situation. I felt helpless to act at all.

Well, I did act a little, and purchased a reseller account from a web host, thinking that I could fill in the gaps with web programming and hosting. Weak in the sales/marketing area, I found myself undercharging (per my astute wife) for work, and giving away too much for free. Hardly the way to make a decent income, but when you’re working for your friends (how else do you get started in this business?) I felt like it was almost an insult to charge going rates. Plus, I wanted to “build up the portfolio.” Unfortunately, since I did next to nothing marketing-wise, the web business didn’t grow. I don’t believe I was equipped to be a successful entrepreneur – I was only a technician (according to The E-Myth) and missing the kind of skills needed to grow the business. Here I was full of programming skills, but I didn’t know how to effectively do anything about getting clients. That was frustrating.

So I was in a horrible financial situation, feeling helpless and frustrated. There was a terrible amount of pressure to change my situation, but I seemed to be paralyzed. One reason might be that I sincerely thought that working from home was the Ultimate. Oh, we’d escaped the traditional church and were meeting in homes, we’d rejected public schools and home educated our children. Bringing the work home seemed like the next logical step, and God-ordained. Yet here we were in a much worse financial situation than we’d ever been in! What was I doing wrong? Were we totally deceived? I began a long period of self-doubt and depression over our situation. I lost interest in work, in the business, in home life.

What do I wish I would have done differently? I don’t think leaving the previous job was wrong; I’d do that again in a moment (besides, a layoff there was imminent). Here are some things I, in perfect hindsight, would redo:

– Talk openly with my dad about my finances, and ask pointed questions about his. Finances were never an open subject with my folks, and I didn’t get started of with a good foundation. Hence I had no savings to draw on, and we weren’t accustomed to changing lifestyle to accommodate reduced income. Anyhow, if my dad and I could have talked about my financial needs on a regular basis, perhaps we both would have come to the conclusion that it wasn’t working out, and bail earlier with no hard feelings.

– Connect with other web developers in the area in order to work cooperatively. I was lacking some skills, but perhaps with others we could have presented a full complement of abilities to potential clients. In an office, I find myself wanting to connect with other independent types at coffee shops, open workplaces, and the like – I should have jumped at those opportunities, or created them. Alone in a home office is no way to network.

– Get out my shell. I’m an introvert, and find it extremely difficult to cold-call and meet new people. Less so now, but much more then. I should have sought for advice on how to overcome this inward tendency, and how to improve those skills needed for an entrepreneurial business to survive.

– Open up to people. When things are going badly, I have a tendency to withdraw. I should have talked more openly with my wife and family about what I was going through, and drawn comfort from their love. I felt like nobody knew what I was going through. I’m sure some did, but I didn’t open up about it, to my loss. It wasn’t all about me and my failures (what I thought at the time); it was about the journey God was bring me – and us – through. That should have been shared more openly.

– Do that which I think or know is right. I was full of fear at what people would think, or how people would take my actions if I stopped working for my dad and friend (I’d set up a little home-business with a close friend that supported his business) and found a “regular” job again. Walking in fear is not a good thing, I realize now. I wish I would have gotten that back then.

A bright spot in all of this is that our eyes were opened – through that friend – to the beauty of God’s undying love and the hopeful theology of the kingdom during this low period. Had I not gone through these difficult times and been brought so low, I don’t believe I would have been as open to receive these truths. Through the slough of despond, God has brought us out into a beautiful vision of life and purpose. That’s a topic for another post, I think.

* Questions 6

The Need to Create

Men are born with the innate desire to create. Women are born with the innate desire to nurture, but that’s perhaps another post. Creativity is a general characteristic of both men and women (or mostly children, these days), but to men, I think, creativity is a need, a validating force.

Here’s an example. I write software in my day job. The aspect of the work I enjoy the most is creating new software. I derive a great deal of pleasure from taking an idea and implementing it from scratch, especially where I have freedom to choose my tools and use my experience and the user-interface skills I have to build a piece of software. The more complicated, the better. This is much more satisfying than maintaining existing code. Even writing a specification for a new project is satisfying. I really get excited when I can spend time in creative designing and coding work.

Many guys have a place to putter about – a shop, a workbench – but the real satisfaction often comes with creating something there. Building a picture frame, a table, a solar heat exchanger or a go-cart are all achievements that bring a lot of satisfaction to the average male. Well, they would for me! These kinds of work – some might call them hobbies – are a guy’s way of feeding that need to create that might be missing in his day job.

So here’s a test: find a guy – or a bunch of them – and see if those whose jobs are predominantly rote have a creative outlet somewhere else in their life. Then think about how much more fulfilled they might be if their primary job centered around that creative outlet. I’m not suggesting that the key to fulfillment in life is finding a job that you love, but that a job that doesn’t offer a creative outlet may be stifling.

Does your life feel flat-lined right now? Why not try creating something!

* Question 4

Monstrous Discrepancies

Much of our time is spent evaluating ourselves in light of other people. We change ourselves in order to model others who we consider “popular”. More often than not, those people we consider popular have the same issue, and are themselves seeking for people to model.

Our culture values peer modeling. All you need to do is watch television to see advertisers working hard to convince you that you need their product in order to be like the “pretty people” portrayed in their ads. In other words, the person you are is not good enough, you need to conform to the socially acceptable norm.

I’m sure many have bought into this lie, having given in to the continual pressure. Others may observe the insidiousness of this pressure and resisted. Mostly. There is undoubtedly something in all of us that begs to be “normal”.

Unfortunately, there is no “normal”. Well, that’s only unfortunate to the advertisers – we are all so vastly different! This is a good thing! We should be constantly reinforcing to our children that they are unique and loved, valuable and important. No one can take away that uniqueness; it can only be subdued by constant peer evaluation and conformity.

Besides, as I said before, reality is not what it seems. Many of those people to seem to “have it together” really don’t; it’s a monstrous discrepancy. Let’s hear it for those creative, unique individuals who aren’t afraid to be different. And let’s encourage them!

* Question 2

Meeting the Mytilidae Family

A number of weeks ago I took my wife out to dinner at a pretty nice restaurant. I don’t recall the reason – but who needs one? Great dinner + lovely wife + good conversation = well-spent evening.

There aren’t many restaurants in our immediate area that I feel are chef-driven. Most popular are chains of one kind or another, and while the food may be good, it rarely changes. We found a local bistro a while ago that is privately owned, and every meal we’ve had there has been extraordinary. Plus, they cater to gluten-free diners (like my wife).

This particular evening I was feeling a bit adventurous. In fact, I’m most always adventurous when it comes to food, but since this was a special occasion, I ordered steamed mussels as an appetizer, something I’d never tasted before.

I like clams, squid and all manner of unusually textured seafood, so mussels weren’t a real stretch. “Prince Edward Isle mussels steamed in white wine, garlic and lemon butter with baby spinach and Roma tomatoes,” in the shell. And boy, were they tasty! They tasted fresh, like the ocean, and with a bite of spinach, tomato, and the light sauce, it was a mouthful of seafoody goodness I won’t soon forget.

The wife loved them as well, and I really think we could have consumed several more plates, if we hadn’t already ordered our entrees. I read later that you should really think twice before ordering mussels in a restaurant, especially if you don’t trust the cook to properly evaluate them before cooking and serving. We didn’t have a bad one in the bunch, either in aroma or taste, so I was pleasantly reassured. I would definitely order them again at our bistro.

Question 1

April Fool’s Day Ideas

Make a bunch of photocopies of paper clip at the corner of a page, then fill the copier’s source tray with the photocopies.

Post sign explaining new voice activation features of office copier.

Embed certain office supplies in jello, a la The Office.

Insert a – very clean – rubber ducky into the 5 gal.water cooler bottle so it’s floating on top.

Replace all of someones pens with crayons.

Put googly eyes on a bunch of office objects.

Rent a stuffed/inflatable bear/animal and place it on the toilet in the restroom. Maybe even dress it. Don’t even think about this.

Hang a piece of women’s undergarments on the rear view mirror of the boss’s car, and make sure he drives when going out to lunch with the crew.

Gain access to someone’s car and turn on the fan, windshield wipers, radio and emergency flashers. Go out to lunch with them.

Move the refrigerator handle to the opposite side.

Completely cover someone’s car with post-it notes.

The Fusion of Entertainment and Enlightenment*

So we watched a couple episodes of a pseudo-detective TV program last night from a library DVD. I suppose my expectations were a bit too high. The first episode was just ridiculous – characters acting very foolish, non-realistic storyline, unbelievable characters. I barely made it through, and was ready to toss the rest aside as unwatchable. I was kind of insulted that the writers would think I’d find the material humorous, much less interest me in a solvable mystery.

My wife reminded me that, contrary to my expectations, she was only looking for entertainment, not a puzzle to solve. On that basis, and because my daughter was in agreement, I caved and we watched the second episode. It was some better than the first, and my attitude was better, now knowing what framework to put the program in. I was to be entertained, not thoughtful.

Reminded me of a video I’d watched earlier, in which a guy was making the case that mainstream Christian movies are not effective tools for evangelism because people who go to see films do so to be entertained, not taught. He proposed that instead, we ought to seek out films that are entertaining but also allegoric, or have a theme or story that could be the basis for conversation (like Narnia, The Matrix, Knowing and The Book of Eli).

Well, that seems like a reasonable conclusion, though I do wonder how much time the average person spends thinking about films they watch. You know, longer than just some comments on the drive home from the theater. While there may be some who enjoy the in-depth analysis, I suspect the vast majority simply are there for the entertainment, and once it’s over, it’s gone from their minds.

Does that sound cynical? Perhaps it is. I’d hope that all the money, effort  and prayer that Christians put into films is not just brushed off as so much second-rate entertainment. I do enjoy entertainment, to be sure, but I also like to think. I’ve found much more value in watching TED talks recently than anything else. Why? Because these people are all about sharing ideas, not just filling my mind with foolishness.

Someone wise has said, “Small minds discuss things, average minds discuss people, but great minds discuss ideas.” Instead of just seeking entertainment from our TV or films, let’s aspire to relate beyond trivial things or other people, and discuss and work through ideas. Who knows what enlightenment may result.

*With apologies to Mr. Beck

Changing Directions Again

I’ve been working on a spec for a new project that was looking to take 4-6 months of development, and was pretty psyched about it. It was for a current high-visibility client, and they had a lot riding on this app, and I was to be the project lead.

Today my boss told me that the client was not paying their bills and was going through some cash-flow problems, and that there would likely be a delay – not outright cancellation – of the project. Drat.

Fortunately, there is another unrelated project in the wings that I can work on, with a new hire, that will take us at least through the summer. But it’s not the direction I’d hoped to go, technically – it involves some major add-ons to an existing PHP/JS/Oracle product, and I was really hoping for the new C#/.NET MVC app would be approved.

So in one quick sentence, the direction of my work for the next 6 months changed dramatically. That happens often, I suppose, though we don’t always notice it. A quick decision, a wrong turn, the flick of a butterfly’s wing, and our life course takes a different direction. Or does it?

Being human, I so many times want the ability to predict the future, and when it’s somewhat possible (e.g. preparing for a long-term work assignment), I feel comfortable, in control. When circumstances outside of my control change all of a sudden, I’m disappointed, upset that my plans aren’t going to be fulfilled, thrown for a loop.

In the business world, plans are good, helpful, even essential. But they should always be subject to change. The more we hold tightly onto our plans, the more difficult it is to accept change, even for the better. I see this repeated over and over again on Kitchen Nightmares (a fav on Hulu), as stubborn people resist positive change, even in the face of bankruptcy.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this train of thought. Just a few tidbits, I guess. Don’t resist change you’re not in control of. Embrace positive change. Be flexible. Trust God. Enjoy your life journey.

Students and Teachers

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul strongly encourages – commands, even – the believers to follow his example in not being disorderly, working with his hands, and not being a burden to anyone. He specifically says they “ought to follow” him, Sylvanus and Timothy.

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you…(1)

Shouldn’t Paul have been encouraging these people to follow Jesus, instead of himself or his friends?

This wasn’t the first time Paul said something like this. To the Galatians he said, “Brethren, I urge you to become like me….”(2) To the Corinthians he said, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me,”(3) and “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”(4). To the Philippians he said, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”(5) And to Timothy, “Hold fast to the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me,…”(6)

I don’t believe these statements are the ramblings of a prideful superior. Rather, this is the pattern: students should follow the examples of their teachers. In all cases, those to whom he writes are his children in the faith. Most did not have the benefit of the writings of the 12 disciples that narrated Jesus’ life on earth. So Paul, as he himself followed the example of the Jesus he learned about from those disciples, gave himself as an example. This is what he taught Timothy: “let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers….”(7)

Years ago I was criticized as a parent because my son was “just like” me in many ways, and not acting or thinking independently / differently. I took this as a compliment (and so did he)! Children will imitate their parents. Just like Paul, our role as parents includes modeling Christ-like behavior for our children. As they shadow us, and grow and mature into following the one Perfect Example, we fill this most important role. This means paying careful attention to the way we walk and talk, but I believe we are entirely correct in teaching our children to follow our example, as we follow the example of Christ.

Children will also imitate others. Role models abound for our children, good and bad. It may be a sports figure, a television character, or a literary figure, or friends. This mean paying careful attention to the influences in our childrens’ lives; often limiting or eliminating exposure to bad examples.

Here’s hoping your relationship with your children will so far exceed the others in their life, and that your relationship with the Father will so transform your life, that in following you, they will be following Jesus.

(1) 2 Thesselonians
(2) Galations 4:12
(3) 1 Corinthians 4:16
(4) 1 Corinthians 11:1
(5) Philippians 3:17
(6) 2 Timothy 1:13
(7) 1 Timothy 4:12