Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Amazing Justini

He’s back performing his greatest trick…reappearing.

Last night, Angie and the kids helped move Justin back home. This is the fourth time he is returning, but unlike the previous three, this one is with my blessing.

He’s a different young man now that he’s been away from home for a year - a year in which he completely took care of himself. He paid rent for his small, but nice, apartment near Lake Ray Hubbard. He’s paid his car payment and insurance during this time. In fact, other than some tuition help, he’s taken care of all of his needs and wants for the last year. In order to do this, he’s worked his butt off. He commonly works 50+ hours at Pizza Hut, managing, driving, cooking, and generally doing whatever needs to be done.

The experience has changed him, too.

The change in him has been dramatic. He’s more responsible. He’s not afraid of hard work. Ultimately, he’s come to understand that sometimes we need to forgo the things we want because of the things we need. At the end of the day, that’s one of my definitions of maturity. Personally, I think he’s come to understand that his mom and I aren’t the monsters he thought we were when he left twelve months ago.

This is really the reason why we entertained him when he said he was thinking of coming back. Our relationships have improved during his time away…He is more pleasant to his mom and I, and we have really come to enjoy his company because of it. He’s funny, amazingly musically talented, and smart. The kids adore him, too.

The plain truth is that we are proud of what he is becoming…

And, if we can help him become whatever that is, we will. His objective is to come home so he can reduce his expenses. By doing this, he can work less and go to school more. This will allow us to add him back to our medical insurance. While he’s here, he will pay a small rent and help out around the house (he agreed to own the lawns as part of his rent). We’ll help him get his community college done as his long-term goal is to get into the music program at UNT.

I’m just proud he has a goal.

That’s the best trick he’s performed yet.


Monday, March 30, 2009

To the Moon, Alice

Just yesterday I was talking to Dylan about it. Our conversation was about our favorite movies (Saving Private Ryan) which led to a conversation about Tom Hanks, which in turn turned to a conversation about the movie Apollo 13. By the time we were done, I had talked about the moon missions and how I wished I was old enough to have watched and remembered. I expanded on how I used to cut class to see shuttle launches and landings.

I've always been in love with space exploration and still try to see launches, missions and landings on nasa.tv whenever I can. Perhaps that has fed my love of Star Trek and Star Wars, or maybe it is the other way around.

Space travel, to me, represents one of the great human achievements. When I look up into the night sky, I can't imagine that we [the collective humanity 'we'] actually walked on the moon. I just find that astounding that we launched a spaceship, landed it on a heavenly body, launched it off that body and returned it safely to earth. It is an awe inspiring achievement and one that I have personally yearned for our country to repeat in my lifetime.

Now, God willing, it seems that I may actually get my wish. Several years ago, President Bush announced an aggressive plan to put man back on the moon, and eventually Mars. I believe he was derided for that announcement, but I celebrated it. Apparently, so did NASA. They've been making progress to that end with their Orion delivery vehicle.

In fact, by as soon as 2015, we'll have vehicles launching for an eventual return to the moon by 2020. Assuming funding remains, we could realistically be on Mars by 2050 [my guess]. I would be 81-years old-by then.

Statistically speaking, the chance that I would be alive to see that is good.

And what a sight that would be...


Friday, March 27, 2009

Great Debaters

My wife has a good heart. She cares for others in a way I do not. She tends to err on the side of those in a weaker or subservient position. Me? I tend to side with those in authority. Not always, but usually – unless of course, we are talking about Congress…then, neither of us is a real supporter.

That being said, we often debate things that are going on in the news. The current debate is whether or not the police officer in the Ryan Moats traffic stop incident acted improperly..

At first, from the short clips I saw of the video, I was completely on the side of the officer, PO Robert Powell. I understand that cops are necessarily cautious during traffic stops. I also understand that four cops were just killed in Oakland, CA. So, I saw a cop handling a traffic stop, carefully, forcefully and within the law. Yes, HE was being a jerk, but he had people running from the car, the driver pleading with him, and he was trying to control the situation. The truth is that the driver ran a red light and then did not immediately pull over. I’m sure if every police officer had a dollar for every sob story they hear during a traffic stop, they would all be millionaires. I have no problem with him ordering passengers back in the car and threatening towing and other punishments for not following directions.

I would imagine that being a police officer is a hard job – not one that I would like to have, that is for sure (although carrying a weapon seems somewhat enticing) They have to protect themselves, control situations AND treat the people with which they interact with respect. That is sometimes very hard to do – particularly for a 25-year old man.

Ultimately however, especially as the whole video has become available, it would also seem that the officer did not exercise common sense after the situation was clear as to what was happening. Once it became clear that there was no threat to the officer, he should have been more understanding. He could have let them go at that point. I give credit to the driver for listening to the police officer and following directions.

Angie asked me what I would do if it were her in the hospital. (I did NOT take the obvious opportunity for a joke), but instead informed her that I would have sat there, with my hands on the wheel (so as to not frighten the officer) and plead mercy on him to let me go see my wife – the whole time knowing that he is well within his power to detain me while he writes me a ticket. However, I was once taught that the best way to get out of a ticket is to do nothing that could frighten the cop – probably why I only get warnings and usually do not get cited when I get pulled over.

I don’t know if that police officer is going to lose his job, or not. He may, and that is the price that public servants pay for making mistakes. For 90 seconds he did the right thing. But for the 11 and a half minutes he made serious mistakes he may pay with his job…However, I don’t believe this case is as cut and dry as the media is making it out to be.

Or, Angie, for that matter…but when it comes to issues like this, I’ve learned that she is usually more right than wrong, so I listen to her carefully.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Coupon Craziness

Let me start by saying that we are incredibly blessed. I have a good paying job that does not involve digging ditches or other manual labor. Angie and I have sacrificed little even when we decided that she would stay home to be a full-time homemaker. Even as the economy tanks and many lose their jobs, mine seems to be relatively secure. We have much to be thankful for...

Over time, Angie and I have come to learn that our finances are about enabling us to do things that are important to us. To give the kids advantages and experiences, to share with friends and family, to help support causes in which we believe are just some examples. However, what we never figured is that we could actually CONTROL our money instead of having it control us.

We've gone through a couple of different classes with church. I fully understand that the church has a vested interest in our finances. If we were able to live in a way that honors God, there would be more for supporting the church. I'm not naive enough to miss the point that this benefits the church as well as benefits us. However, the benefits to our family have been astounding. The most drastic of which just happens to be our connection to our money...it's been an eye opening and freeing journey.

However, the one thing that Angie and I have been unable to do is live completely within our means. We've built up a huge debt load three times and each time have worked to eliminate it (we are currently in our third reduction right now). We built a budget last year, but even on paper we were negative. We just couldn't get to a balanced monthly budget. It's almost like we knew we'd live negative and use a bonus or an income tax refund to get out of the hole we built.

A couple of weeks ago, this changed. I blogged about the Financial Learning Experience hosted by Joe Sangle. It was a life changing three hours. We learned one simple truth:

Income - Outgo = Exactly Zero (EZ)

To do this not only did we need to change our habits, we needed to change our plan. We immediately moved to a two week budget to match my pay checks. We used Joe's budget planner to get this done. It reduced the number of categories we had to budget for from about 40 to 10. It helped us spend the money on paper before we spent it for real.

In order to get a balanced budget, we needed to change some things. An alteration to the W4 resulted in more cash coming in. We changed our auto insurance carrier and saved $400 per year. We reduced our health insurance withholdings, but must go to plan doctors or pay a premium.

And, we've started cutting coupons.

I've never been a real fan of the coupon thing. It always seemed kinda cheesy to work to get things for reduced prices. A couple of beliefs caused this attitude; 1) I always thought there was value in paying. For example, the more you pay, the more quality you get. This is one of the reasons that I go to the dealer for routine maintenance on may car. And, 2) I also valued my time as being more valuable than any possible amount saved.

That's changed. Angie and I sit and do the coupons before we purchase things now...this includes before we go out to eat. In fact, with the economy so tight, there are deals to be found everywhere. Save $2 on a burger. Save on car repairs. Get a free Dr. Pepper. If you just take the time, the savings can be considerable. Angie and I have saved over $70 in a little more than two weeks. If we save even $50 between paychecks, that's $1,300 per year. That may not be a huge amount in the grand scheme of things but every penny counts.

Especially when you are looking for financial freedom.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

The ABC's of the WBC

I have to admit it - I am totally digging the World Baseball Classic. Ultimately, it is just a competitive version of spring training, but there is something appealing to seeing Derek Jeter next to David Wright on the same team.

It seems as though all of the competitors are really into it, as well. As I watch the US team pull away from the team from Venezuela, I see them taking extra bases, moving over runners, and all the other "little things" that make baseball such a wonderful game.

Typically, you only see that kind of play in the post season, but seeing it in March is very cool, and it is whetting my appetite for the start of the MLB season in April.

I understand that the timing of the tournament is not perfect as players are really only starting to get into game shape as they develop their timing. However, I also understand that there is no perfect time. If they waited until after the regular season, it would be anticlimactic. Holding the WBC during the all star break doesn't make any sense either, as it would diminish the midsummer classic that is the all star game.

I think the only way to really accept the WBC is to understand what it is about. It's about marketing and spreading baseball to countries that do not have a real big baseball heritage. For example, in this year's tourney is South Africa, Italy and the Netherlands. These teams aren't expected to go very far, but it is fun to watch them play. The power houses like the US and teams from the Caribbean are all made up of current and former big leaguers. Not so much the other teams.

But, in the end, it isn't about the players and where they come from. It is about the competition and the pure play of what I believe is the PERFECT game. It's about playing for pride the same way you see exceedingly wealthy players perform in the Olympics (baseball is no longer an Olympic sport, so the WBC is meant to replace that forum).

Ultimately, what I find most appealing is that you are watching some of the best in the world play - play for pride - their own and that for which they have in their country. And steroids or multimillion dollar contracts are not part of the discussion. That will return in a couple of weeks and then we can watch multimillionaire jerks just being Manny.

In the end, I'll be there, soaking it all in. I love this game.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A (Wii) Fit With Technology

I just finished reading an article about a company who makes heart sensors to work wirelessly with the iPhone to track heart rate during workouts. Their apps allow you to track workouts and workout intensity. It's amazing how technology and biology continue to meld. Interestingly enough, I started working out this week in my living room following my Mii on the TV. Angie and I bought Wii Fitness based on the numerous endorsements we received from family and friends. We've been playing with it all weekend and today Angie and I figured we might as well step up our play.

I've done 30+ minute sessions of yoga, strength exercises and aerobics. Surprisingly, I was sweating pretty good at the end of the workouts. The yoga is surprisingly hard. I've typically stayed away from yoga because, 1) it looks doofy and 2) I'm not a subscriber of the spiritual aspect. However, I have been real surprised how difficult it is. I did Warrior, Sun Salutation, and tried Tree. My legs were burning. I loved it and can't wait to get better at it and more flexible because of it.

I did upper body, abdominal, and leg strength training. Pushups, jackknives, and lunges. Even though the workouts only took a couple of minutes each I could feel the burn. I'm feeling pretty spent right now.

Lastly, I ended with a couple of balance games (for fun) and with a run. Running in place with my Mii keeping up with a pace coach was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Combined with the scores that you receive for each event, there is a competitive aspect that I find appealing, as well.

Ultimately, I don't know if you'd call the workouts we are getting as real strenuous. I do know, however, that it is getting us of the couch, getting us to move our bodies, get our heart rates up and getting a good sweat on. Perhaps this will be a good reintroduction to exercise and perhaps an improvement in the quality and length of our lives.

Either way, it is pretty fun.