Sunday, April 26, 2009

Not Quite to Paris

When I was younger, I wasn't the type to commit to things. I didn't do anything for the long haul. Not sure if this was a personality flaw, or just a quirk, but I typically never completed the things I started. I'd do something for a while and give it up for another activity. Even before high school ended I no longer played sports, having opted out for employment.

I'm sure you why I thought of this, other than I was thinking about my marriage. Today's probably a good day to do this, as Angie and I celebrate our eighth anniversary today. It's amazing to think that we've been together this long. I know eight years pales in comparison to many of your marriages, and that is fantastic. I'm glad that God has blessed your marriage and I pray that he continues to do so, but keeping the above in mind, eight years seems implausible.

At least as far as the old me goes. The new one, not so much. I grew out of that "never completing anything" stage. Angie might argue this point if she looks around that house at all the incomplete 'honey-do' items, but I am talking about the bigger items.

Work items get completed...not that there was really ever a problem here. I am a self-started and understand what work provides for my family and I.

School will get completed. I may be on the 20 year plan, but I will earn my degree. In fact, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I expect to complete my last two classes by Christmas 2010. Eve though I plan on getting my MBA, I really see the undergraduate degree as the completion of my long elusive goal.

Finally, my marriage. Angie and I have our ups and downs, and sometimes our downs are pretty down, but we both enjoy the safety of our relationship - as we both have committed that divorce is not an option. We came to this decision several years ago during a particularly down period. We came to it after we both recognized that we are both selfish, broken people in a union sanctified by God. Because of this we also came to understand that we needed to honor our union and work through any issues that we might have. This had a profound impact on our marriage. Basically, we know that we can be honest which each other in safety and that we know the other isn't going to bail at the first sign of another down period.

Fortunately, we've grown in other meaningful ways, as well. We've come to understand that marriage isn't about what we can get out of it, but about what we can put in.

That alone has made things so much better. You see, it's freed us to be everything that we are meant to be to each other. The complement of each other - one half of one.

Now, if I can just see through my commitment to get the landscaping done.

Happy Anniversary, baby. The Paris hotel in Las Vegas this year, and Paris, France by number 10...

Previous anniversary posts:
2008, 2007, and 2006


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Taxing Situation

I knew the letter wasn't going to be good before I opened it.

Sort of like when you were waiting for that college acceptance letter. A thin envelope was bad news. In today's case, it was from the IRS and the letter was fat.

I opened it. According to some yahoo in our federal government, I owe several thousand dollars from 2007 Federal income tax. Basically, someone needs a new hammer and they want me to pay for it.

My first reaction was one of fear. Holy crap, my tax guy messed up. I can't afford to pay this. Does he guarantee his work? What are we going to do?

However, as this matter has stewed a little, my fear has turned to anger. There are interest charges of 131, 92, 92 and 76 days. There are no penalities, but a bunch of warnings in the letter that they are next if I don't resolve this quickly. Isn't there a statute of limitations for tax refunds? And, what the hell are they picking on me for? I pay my taxes, I don't go out of my way to find bullshit exemptions, I work hard, I'm not asking for a handout or a bailout, I support my local church and I'm not defaulting on my mortgage or my credit card debt - what gives?

I finally read through the documentation closely. Admittedly, I don't understand half of it. However, it seems as though the government is stating that I didn't prove my charitible contributions for the year. When they reduce my contributions, my tax burden goes up. The letter states, "

Since you did not establish that the amounts shown were (a) contributions, and (b) were paid, the amounts are not deductible.

Ok - I think I know what they are saying. So, since I am the type to save every receipt since the inception of the cash register, I go into my files and voila - I find my 2007 return and all supporting material. I have the receipt from church stating that my contributions were, in fact, the very amount that the IRS is questioning.

So, tomorrow, I'll call my tax guy. I'll discuss it with him and we'll appeal their adjustment. And, with luck, we'll tell the IRS where to go. Who says you can't take on city hall?

I'm just thankful that the yahoo who reviewed my return doesn't work for something important, like the TSA.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Excellence Expected

A leader that I work with recently said in a meeting that she expects excellence when she deals with the services organizations of companies that she patronizes. In her opinion, it stemmed from the fact that she works and leads a services organization. Although I don't lead one, I completely agree with her. Because of our technical support background, we are uniquely in tune with service, when it is done well and when it is lacking.

I've blogged numerous times about those "lacking experiences". Whether the company was American Airlines, Emerson, or Comcast - I have not pulled my punches when I thought their service was crap.

I hope that I haven't been reluctant when I've seen an organization go beyond...

Note, that I didn't say do it well. I believe that every organization must do it well, as a minimum. What I mean is when an organization goes above and beyond. When excellence of performance is systemic and is celebrated. I'm talking about when a company, organization or group have it in their DNA to be the best.

I believe I work for a company that does this. I believe that mediocrity is frowned upon and that excellence is expected. If I didn't feel like the organization didn't celebrate the "job well done" I wouldn't work there. However, that isn't the purpose of this post. Rather, I'd like to celebrate another found example of excellence expected - at least in services.

The Texas Rangers baseball club seems to have it right. Unfortunately, I don't mean on the field (although, with some pitching, they might be excellent). Additionally, I am not talking about the concession. Irrespective of the ridiculous prices, I don't believe there is any excellence in the concession. The soft drink taps weren't working, the food is mediocre, and - sorry, I can't get past it, the prices are larceny.

However, there were of a group of people there that understood that excellence is an attitude...and even a day after the game, I still remember how helpful and friendly they were - and ultimately - their presence is what I still hold from the game. I don't know what you call them, but they were the individuals that were around the stadium who asked if we needed anything. Some held signs that said, "How Can I Help You?" Some just gave off the vibe that said, "I don't mind helping you, so please ask" instead of the "I work for minimum wage, so don't bother me....besides, I won't know anyway". The "ushers/assistants/concierge" people helped direct us to the girl scout parade, to the best viewing for pictures, to the bus between parking and the stadium, to a bathroom, etc." They also were turned away several times because we didn't need anything.

Most importantly, they provided a sense that the Ranger's organization really appreciated our dollars being spent at the ball park. To me, that's the greatest sentiment any company can convey to its customers.

Now, if they could do something about those $3.75 hot dogs - that would be excellent.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Play Ball

About this time two years ago, I posted about a Springtime ritual...Opening day for Major League Baseball.

I love baseball. I love everything about it. I truly think it is the perfect game. The dimensions have never changed....there is something special about the baseball field (diamond) where there is 90 feet between bases or 60 feet 6 inches from the pitching rubber to home plate. Four balls for a walk or three strikes for an out seems to be the perfect ratio....Ultimately, the fact that there is no clock, and that the game isn't over, "'till the fat lady sings" is part of its perfection.

I understand that the game has been marred by the widespread cheating that occurred during the "steroid era". I agree that this has tarnished much of the history of baseball during this time. This is unfortunate because history is part of what makes baseball so special - in fact, it may be history which fuels my passion for the game. Previous to this era, you could realistically compare achievements of old with achievements of new. My heart holds a special place for the debate as to who was the greatest <<>>. The great thing about the debate is that you could compare two players from different eras because their was a continuity in the numbers. AND, that there really is no right or wrong.

I really enjoy the strategy of baseball, as well. Hit and run, sacrifice bunt, moving the runners, taking an extra base, hitting the cutoff, etc. It's the small things that cumulatively result in wins for a team over the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season of 162 games.

Perhaps my love for the game ultimately stems from the fact that it is played in summer, and that it starts during a season of renewal. Springtime is a period where everything begins anew...the flowers, wildlife, and my chosen team's chance of winning the pennant.

Today is opening day, so Let's Go Mets!


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Silly Monkey

I don't remember how she got the nickname, but it has stuck. The amazing thing to me is that she doesn't mind. Even though every little thing that I do that garners attention embarrasses her, I can scream out "MONKEY!!!!" to her and she doesn't mind.

The monkey I am referring to is Marissa - my stepdaughter who turned thirteen today.

I told each of the kids that I was going to post specifically about them on their birthdays, so here is Marissa's.

Marissa is at that weird age...not quite a young woman, but no longer a little girl. What is so great about Marissa is that when she isn't worried about what others are thinking - she is amazingly fun. She can laugh and carry on with the best of them...and she has a great sense of humor, which adds to the fun.

She is very athletic, too - probably the most naturally gifted of all the kids. Although she doesn't cheer or tumble anymore, she was amazing. She easily could have been a gymnast. She plays volleyball now, and is naturally good. She would be excellent at basketball, too, if she liked to play.

Ultimately, however, the best way to evaluate how special Marissa is is to look that the company keeps. She has excellent friends, which tells me that she is excellent in return. I know that because I see glimpses of it when she isn't being moody or selfish. She has a wonderful heart and it is reflected in the friends with which she surrounds herself.

As she matures, I hope and pray that her awesome heart continues to shine and that she continues to be happy in all that she does.

Happy Birthday, Marissa. I love you.